The Toronto Maple Leafs bounced back from a poor showing in Detroit with a good come-from-behind win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Your game in ten:

1.  The Leafs were looking for a better start after a lifeless first period in Detroit and they responded well with a fast start in this one. The high-danger changes were all Toronto in the first period (5-1 TOR vs PIT, 3-2 in the second) and they controlled shots/shot attempts throughout the game. They also heavily controlled overall scoring chances through 40 minutes (17-9 in the 1st, 14-9 in the 2nd). In the third period, while Pittsburgh was pushing to tie the game, the Leafs gave up more than a few good looks, but Garret Sparks was solid and the Leafs dug in for some key blocks (including an inspired one from Mitch Marner), defensive plays, and got a few breaks around the net.

The Leafs typically play Pittsburgh well — they’re more willing to trade chances with you and the game will usually open up for stretches of time, suiting the Leafs just fine. It also helped that the Malkin-less Penguins were in a back-to-back to close out a four-games-in-six-nights stretch, with the Leafs fresher off the break.

There is plenty to be encouraged about the way the Leafs have played against good teams of late in general, though (BOS, TB, WSH, PIT). Now, with Ottawa and Anaheim coming up on the schedule, they need to end the recent trend of playing down to lesser opponents (COL, who had lost 9 of 10, ARI, DET, FLA).

2.  Much maligned recently for failing to live up to the contract and playing standard he’s set for himself, the bye week seems to have allowed Patrick Marleau to reset and get himself dialled in for a stretch run. Marleau won the draw back for the 2-2 Dermott goal, one of nine draws he won on 14 attempts, and picked up an assist for his third point since the break (plus-four, six shots on goal, 83% on the dot). He was also battling hard in front tying up Kris Letang prior to the Matthews goal, and his skating legs look rejuvenated.

As mentioned in the last review, Marleau deserved more benefit of the doubt than he was getting knowing his history and the fact that he finished last season with 10 goals and 21 points in 26 games followed by four goals in the playoffs. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a similar ramping-up process before the playoffs.

3.  No surprise, Morgan Rielly was really jumping and engaged from puck drop. He’s become one of Toronto’s most consistent performers night in and night out and is controlling the game from the back end defensively and, obviously, offensively.

We’re seeing early evidence of how the coaching staff — and d-partners in question — are going to approach the lefty-righty situation — by keeping it dynamic and fluid. Muzzin on the right where he can open up for a one-timer in the offensive zone, with Rielly on the left (like on the game-winning goal), or using Gardiner and Dermott for an offensive zone draw, with Dermott on the right (the 2-2 goal), is the type of creativity that makes a lot of sense with the options at the Leafs’ disposal. The Leafs have four skilled, mobile puck movers on the backend now and it opens up plenty of options.

That goal Rielly created for the game-winner (driving down the wall and firing the puck into a good spot) isn’t something he can do on his backhand on the right in the offensive zone, but it also can open up shooting angles and creates an inside-outside drive option off the rush, and it’s just a matter of him figuring out the different wrinkles and the different situations that suit him best. Last night was a good indication the new pairing is going to be able to figure this out quickly.

The Muzzin-Rielly pairing controlled over 60% of the shot attempts and scoring chances in the Crosby matchup and picked up the game-winning goal with Crosby on the ice.

5.  We’re already seeing why Jake Muzzin is such a welcome addition to the team. He’s constantly disrupting defensively, laying down picks, holds and interfering with offensive traffic. We also saw him jump onto a dangerous rush with Rielly at one point and lay this big hit on Jake Guentzel.

It was telling how the crowd reacted to that hit. It was a solid hit, but it wasn’t exactly a Don Cherry Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em candidate, and yet the SBA responded like it was an end-to-end goal. The Leafs really needed this element.

6.  The Leafs surfed off the crowd buzz after that hit. For those wondering about the Leafs’ home record this season, there is no simple answer there, but body contact does help bring quiet crowds to life and bring the team into a game/others into the fight when not much is doing. This isn’t “old school” hockey talk — it’s a reality of a contact sport.

7.  No points in this one, but Kasperi Kapanen was a difference-maker from a momentum perspective throughout the game (probably had some money on the board). He was really effective driving in off the wing and cutting across the net (something the Leafs don’t do enough of). He was playing pissed off and it suits him well when he does. It was one of those nights where whenever he went over the boards, something was usually happening, with Penguins simply unable to contain him at various points.

8.  The two early goals were “coulda had it” goals (vs. “shoulda had it”) against, but Garret Sparks settled in as the game wore on with one of his best games as a Leaf to date. He was sucking up rebounds and placing the ones he couldn’t hold onto into safe areas of the ice, and generally looked more quiet and composed in the crease.

9.  Mike Babcock would’ve seen the tape of the Leafs’ last win over Pittsburgh and no doubt noticed the effort the Tavares-Marner line put in against Sidney Crosby in the Leafs’ 5-0 win, so he went back to it, and it turned out to be a nice pre-game adjustment (Crosby’s goal came on the PP).

In nearly 30 minutes head to head with Crosby at 5v5, Tavares has edged him out in the shot attempt share (37-35), split the shots on goal, out-scored him 3-0, and out-chanced him 23-14.

10.  The HNIC intermission segment made it sound like a five- or six-year deal for Auston Matthews is getting close if not imminent, and that should be an interesting deal when it comes together.

It sounds like it will come in between $11 and 12 million, which explains why the eight-year option is seemingly off the table, as $12.5-13 or above is going to be tough to fit in with Marner due up this summer, Morgan Rielly due up in three years, and Frederik Andersen signed for two more seasons.

Optically, a medium-term deal that like with a superstar that sets him up to become a UFA smack dab in the middle of his production prime (26-27) simply feels wrong, but logistically, it’s a case of ensuring the Leafs can indeed keep the 5-6 year Cup window (not including this season) ajar. Lots can change as far as the cap — there is a possible lockout looming as well — and Priority A is ensuring the Leafs can keep the band together for a 5-7 year window versus capping themselves out too soon and cutting it short.

It does suck, though — franchise cornerstones like this should get max-term deals so there is no doubt about where he’s going to spend his 20s and hopefully his entire career. Not ideal.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Pittsburgh Penguins


Condensed Game