John Tavares (2g, 1a) and Frederik Andersen (38 saves) led the way as the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up their second consecutive win to start their four-game Western road trip.

Your game in ten:

1.  The review has to start with current team MVP Frederik Andersen tonight — he helped the team settle in after a somewhat slow first five minutes and he was basically the sole reason the team held onto the lead with huge saves after the 1-0, 2-0, and 2-1 goals. After they took the lead, the Leafs gave up four clear-cut breakaways and a couple of partial breaks, and Andersen totally shut the door — he made the two breakaway saves against an elite finisher in Brock Boeser look almost easy, in addition to big saves on some dangerous looks for Elias Petterson (who also rang the iron with the score at 2-1). He’s reading plays and shooters so sharply that he is consistently one step ahead of whatever is developing in front of him.

This was a fun, fast-paced, 50/50 game in the first 40 minutes, and the Leafs didn’t give up many clean looks from the house during that time while generating the better chances offensively, but it turned into an onslaught by Vancouver in the third with the Leafs in possession of the lead — they gave up both quantity and quality in the first 15 minutes before, to their credit, they pushed back and ended the game with the 3-1 goal and 4-1 empty netter.

Andersen was the first star and is now sporting a scintillating .939 save percentage over his last eight starts. There has been talk of a non-back-to-back Michael Hutchinson start during this Western road swing, but by virtue of where the Leafs are in the standings, you’ve probably got to strike while the iron is hottest and keep it rolling here — the Leafs need to go on a tear to make up ground and Andersen’s totally dialed in right now.

2.  Easily lost in the panic throughout Leafs Nation over their first 30 games: Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman, and John Tavares have spent a total of 26 even-strength minutes together so far due to injuries to all three players at different times. They’ve outscored the opposition 3-0 in that small sample, along with a 60% share of the scoring chances.

This was one of the best and most consistent lines in the league last year, played the toughest minutes of any line on the team, and set up everything else for the Leafs matchup-wise. It has the ideal mix of ingredients: a high-end 200-foot center with elite finishing ability, an elite playmaker on the wing, and an elite forechecker and persistent net-front guy on the other wing. Having this trio healthy and rolling is a huge development for the team.

It was almost as though Keefe needed to put Hyman down on the third line on his strong side in order to run the full, “We’ve got to try all the things Babcock wouldn’t” gamut, but now that Hyman’s legs are underneath him, you don’t mess with the level of success this line typically creates.

3.  When you combine the Tavares line reuniting, Andersen’s play, and Nylander and Matthews rolling like they are — think about this: we’ve never seen what the team looks like with the Matthews-Nylander and Tavares-Marner duos at the height of their combined powers due to various contractual and injury situations since Tavares signed in Toronto — it’s hard for me to be too down on the team’s playoff odds even after the tumultuous first 30 games it went through. This group can absolutely go on the run needed with these pieces in place, health permitting.

4Zach Hyman’s trajectory since returning was somewhat to be expected — he came out with a lot of adrenaline in his first game, the lack of game reps caught up to him for about 5-10 games afterward, and now he looks like he’s fully back up and running in the last couple of outings. Before the 2-0 goal, many players wouldn’t have matched that effort on the forecheck — he was over 30 seconds into his shift, the period was winding down into the final seconds, and Hyman dug in and breathed down the defender’s neck, closing off the time and space and hurrying a blind play up the wall (before heading to the net), leading to the goal.

Staying engaged on the forecheck with the score at 3-1 led to his empty-netter as well. I’ll never forget the time against LA where Drew Doughty was heard on the mic yelling “Are you f*%& kidding me?” and tried to punch Hyman in the back of the head mid-play after he forechecked Doughty so persistently behind the net on the penalty kill (Doughty tried to turn away and outwait him, with Hyman refusing to relent/turn back as many would in that situation). Hyman never just goes through the motions on a forecheck and he is so hard to shake.

Anthony’s point below is spot on about the PK boost as well:

5.  As for Pontus Aberg on the Matthews line, the composition just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. A skilled creator-type like Pontus Aberg needs touches (and probably power play time) to get going; with Matthews and Nylander, there is only so much puck to go around. They’re better complemented by a Hyman, Johnsson, Moore or Engvall worker-type who can establish a forecheck and get the puck back for the other two, be at the net, make a play when needed, and hopefully finish off a chance when it comes. I don’t doubt Aberg would pick up a point or two if Keefe stays with it just given who he is playing with, but Engvall might look a lot better there as the team waits for Trevor Moore to return. The issue here is a Petan – Spezza – Aberg line isn’t a serious fourth-line possibility in my mind.

6.  On Josh Leivo’s 2-1 goal, how many whacks at Andersen would it have taken for a Leaf to put someone on their behind? 5? 6? At least Kasperi Kapanen finally pushed back on JT Miller on a separate play later on, but that sequence was tough to watch. It arguably could’ve been called dead, but play to the whistle there. Beyond protecting your lead, protect your MVP goaltender.

7.  Justin Holl called it “kind of embarrassing” how many clear-cut opportunities the Leafs gave up in the third period — there is no doubt the team has a long way to go in how it manages games. The turnovers in dangerous spots in the defensive and neutral zones, and propensity for leaving star forwards all alone in behind the D, led to chances against that easily could’ve turned this game on its head if not for Frederik Andersen.

It actually started immediately after the 2-0 goal with Kasperi Kapanen in the final 10 seconds of the second period. The team was up 2-0 and needed to burn 10 seconds of clock to take a multi-goal lead into the second intermission. With time to make a decision, he tried to make a backward pass through a Canuck player to the last man back, leading to a turnover and a grade-A look for the Canucks just before the buzzer. The right play was simple — turn it back up the ice toward the wall and away from danger, and chip it up the boards if need be. Really poor situational awareness there.

You can see plenty of instances where the Leafs are enjoying their new freedom to make more plays in riskier spots on the ice (on entries, through the middle of the d-zone, etc) but then can run into trouble when they lose their sense of time / place / situation, leading to turnovers and transition opportunities against. Vancouver is a team well positioned to take advantage of that, but fortunately, Andersen was there when needed.

8.  Another example was just before the 2-1 Leivo goal where Brock Boeser went in alone for one of his two breakaways in the third. There was a worse than 50-50 puck race situation on the wall — Aberg didn’t have the inside track on it — and Barrie sort of drifted into no-man’s land on the right wall, giving JT Miller the space to pick his head up and make a play without putting himself in a position to cut out a pass, while Morgan Rielly watched on from the other side and Boeser escaped. Rielly – Barrie played a decent game overall and need to stay aggressive to be effective, but they need to be smarter in those situations also.

9.  Occasionally, you’ll see Justin Holl use his frame to stop a cycle and wish he would assert himself that way a little more often, but he’s been relatively steady defensively (getting burned once by Quinn Hughes tonight aside) and is showing confidence/familiarity with Keefe’s systems skating the puck up ice and getting involved offensively. He pulled off a nice juke to walk in off the blue line at one point and also was in on two of the Leaf goals — one with a shot from the point off the backboards leading to the Matthews goal, and another pinching in off the point and showing good poise to slide the puck back to Tavares for the 3-1.

10.  With Tyson Barrie up well over 20 minutes and Holl over 18, that leaves the Leafs in a position where Cody Ceci is in the more suitable 17-minute range (also partly due to less special teams time). While the Leafs are still going to give up their fair share (or more) with that top four on the ice, that’s probably the best of a sub-optimal situation on the whole. Ceci has now been below 18 minutes in two of his last three games — something to watch there as Keefe may be more in touch now with the reality that less is more with Ceci and that there are two better RHD options on the roster at the moment. Keep in mind, though, that the Muzzin – Holl matchup pair controlled 12% of the shot attempts versus Pettersson and Boeser (2 for, 15 against) and 0% of the shots (0 for, 8 against) in 8:30-9:00 minutes head-to-head at 5v5.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Vancouver Canucks

Heatmap: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Vancouver Canucks

Game Highlights: Leafs 4 vs. Canucks 1