The bottom six drove the bus as the Toronto Maple Leafs overcame another early deficit to pick up a much-needed bounce-back win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.

Your game in ten:

1.  It’s fun to think back to 2015-16 Frederik Gauthier and compare it to the Goat we see today. When he first turned pro, the Marlies/Leafs’ development objectives with Gauthier were to:

  • Improve his overall puckhandling ability — particularly making plays/receiving pucks on his backhand
  • Improve his ability to generate speed through the neutral zone and cross over while skating. In junior, he often skated the entire length of the neutral zone in linear strides. Combined with weak puck skills, it meant Gauthier was limited to dumping in pucks and couldn’t impact the game much offensively
  • Continue to hone his faceoff and PK abilities

This clip below is a really good demonstration of his progress in areas 1 and 2:

The size, work ethic, hockey IQ, defensive responsibility, and coachability were always present, but the skating and puck skill improvements have come along steadily with each passing season. At 6’5, Goat has become a pretty tough guy to check as a result. He had a number of ice-tilting shifts and a goal-saving backcheck in the first half of this game. In the third period, he tossed over Luke Glendening on the d-zone draw before drawing the attention of two defenders at the net as the puck went in for the 4-2 goal.

That’s the other improvement that’s been visible to see in the early going of 2019-20 — in addition to gliding faster and getting to loose pucks quicker (and with control), he’s got a little more edge to his game so far this season.

He also won 100% of his faceoffs.

2.  This was Dmytro Timashov’s best game so far this season as well. He can close quickly and use his low center of gravity/thick lower body to his advantage when he’s got the bit between his teeth on the forecheck, as he showed when creating the 1-1 goal. His vision and passing abilities in possession are clear to see — on both goals he set up — and he also had a couple of nice moments defensively tracking back to break up plays. He’s not the owner of an electric top gear, but he can cover ice quickly in his first few strides.

3.  Last week, it was looking like Spezza and Petan were gaining a bit of an edge in the battle, but it’s turned around again quickly here as the rotation seems to be keeping the alternating crew on the fourth line wings playing with hunger and urgency. Nick Shore flashed some understated skills tonight — he showed good composure on the puck on his goal in front. He also controlled a pass with his feet and made a nice play off the rush for a scoring chance.

That line led all Leafs forward lines in total shots for at 5v5 (12) despite playing the least with just 7:58 at evens. They finished with two goals / zero against, a 67% possession share, and a 77% scoring chance share. They played up against Andreas Athanasiou’s line a good percentage of the time and finished with two goals for and a 9-0 advantage in shots in the matchup while starting four of those six shifts in the defensive zone (one in the neutral, one on the fly).

Those are really positive L4 minutes on a night when the top six wasn’t able to breakthrough.

4.  The power play also wasn’t able to break through, with the breakout struggles continuing tonight. It’s a little chaotic coming out of the Leafs’ zone at the moment and the up-ice pressure is causing them trouble. When players are thinking too much, it’s usually counterproductive, and the entries are not yet automatic/second-nature early in the year.

At risk of stating the obvious, the Leafs need to simplify their approach as opposed to forcing it (the drops and double-drops, forcing it through the middle). In Nylander, Marner, Rielly, and Matthews, they’ve got plenty of zone-entry wizards on the ice, but they’re not hitting the line at full speed and seem to be defaulting to their preplanned breakouts to the point of being predictable. It’s the coach’s job to put a structure in place, but the Leafs’ primary carriers should have the confidence to freelance within the structure. It doesn’t feel like the balance has been struck quite yet this year.

5.  In the clip below, keeping it as simple as hitting the line with speed, driving the puck deep, getting the D turned and outnumbered, and forcing a play on the D’s backhand is an advantageous position to be in — it can also break the structure of the PK right away.

6.  A team-leading six shots on goal tonight for Andreas Johnsson, who continues a really strong start to the season on the Matthews line. He tried three hard jam plays at the net that nearly went in for him, and created puck pressure and turnovers all over the ice.

Johnsson started his year off really slowly last season (three points in 18 games, 11:38 TOI average) after a poor camp and nearly became an afterthought on the team before finding his footing and confidence again with his late-November hat trick against Philadelphia. It’s good to see him hit the ground running this year after what looks to have been more of an “NHL summer”; he’s playing at his heavy-beyond-his-size, relentless best at the moment. The points aren’t really there yet — two in six — but they’ll come if he keeps this up.

7.  Slow starts remain a concern for the Leafs early this season after another early goal against tonight. I recall going through stretches of last year talking about the exact same thing. Based on the numbers, it turns out the Leafs were roughly a middle-of-the-pack team in scoring first in 2018-19, but the first period was clearly their worst, with the quality of their starts a point of lamentation at different times throughout the year. The Leafs scored 76 goals in first periods last season and allowed 70. In the second and third periods, they scored 100 and 104, respectively.

My theory on it is simple: Typically, they’re not a team that establishes much of a forecheck early in a game. The first couple shifts of any game are usually choppy, so the ability to flip a puck in, finish a check, and cycle the puck down low is usually the most effective approach early on in the night. Being so skill-and-speed oriented, it seems to lend itself to the Leafs wading into games while they’re still finding their feet, feel and rhythm with their first touches of the night.

8.  This is a problem that is definitely worsened by the absence of Zach Hyman, who almost always starts on time and brings the kind of repeatable efforts and overall skill set the Tavares line is clearly missing a little bit right now. All of that said, Anthony’s point from the last review is bang on: Tavares and Marner should be able to make just about anything work together. Kapanen looks awkward on the left, to be sure; I can’t tell if it’s that he’s added a bit of weight/is a touch slower this season, or if it’s just that he’s not comfortable on the left wing needing to stop up/drive on his backhand. He looked much more comfortable when he switched wings with Marner. But the Tavares-Marner duo still has another level to find at 5v5 — underlying numbers (which were quite good tonight) aside.

9.  Rasmus Sandin and Cody Ceci could’ve played this better, but I was stupefied watching Kasperi Kapanen on the 3-2 goal… He identifies the open man and sees the danger developing, but goes with a couple of one-foot push-offs and a casual one-handed stick sweep?

Just so it’s not all negative on Kapanen tonight — nice flip pass for the Mikheyev goal.

10.  The easy move many will call for is moving Trevor Moore up to LW on the Tavares line and Kapanen back to RW on L3; that, or Ilya Mikheyev up, Moore to the left on L3, and Kapanen to the right of Kerfoot. But it’s hard to argue with the efforts of the Matthews, Kerfoot, and Gauthier lines when taken in totality over the six games so far.

You’d like to see more in-game audibles called by Babcock — which has been a point of frustration for some time — but I do think the reaction has been a little overboard this week. There has been a lot of roster turnover here for a top-six team from last season; despite that, I’ve really only hated one of their games (vs. Tampa), and they’ve got points in four of six games with Frederik Andersen mired in an early-season mini-slump that he’s hopefully now emerging out of. The Rielly – Ceci pairing is a cause for concern — it’s giving up way too many clean looks — but I’m going to take 10-12 games minimum to really evaluate where this team is at to start the year.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs 5 vs. Detroit Red Wings 2

Game Highlights: Leafs 5 vs. Red Wings 2

Mike Babcock Post Game: Leafs 5 vs. Red Wings 2

On the fourth line’s performance:

They were good. I started the Goat or Shore line — whatever line you want to call it — in the d-zone every time and they seemed to win the draw and play in the offensive zone, so that was a good line for us. Kerf’s line with Mooresy and Mikheyev is getting better each and every game and they’ve been good for us lots of games. That’s positive.

On whether he trusts his fourth line more than a year ago:

Goat has another year in the league. Shoresy is a right-hand faceoff guy. We didn’t have that. They are just not getting the same situation they were a year ago. I thought [Timashov] had a heck of a game. The goals and that stuff were a bonus, but I thought he played real well.

On Timashov showing he can make the step this season:

This league is a real good league. It is hard to be good in the league. Some guys that are in good in [the AHL], it doesn’t transfer to the NHL. But the guys who can skate and process information, it normally transfers. In his case, it looks like it is.

On whether he liked the response from his team after a 7-3 loss to Tampa:

We talked a lot about that: How hard can we work? We thought our work ethic was really good in camp and really good at the start. We liked it all the way through. We didn’t like it last game, but to me, that has got to be our calling card. If we go to work, our talent will show. You’ve got to outwork the other team — that’s the bottom line. I liked our consistency and our patience in our game. When they scored, we didn’t get off track. We just played the next shift.