That was a lot fun!
The Toronto Maple Leafs were able to secure their third win of the season with a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. This came largely on the back of their second period, where at one point Toronto was outshooting Winnipeg 19-1. That’s obviously not something that’s going to be sustainable over a larger sample, but it was nice to see the Leafs’ top tier talent take over the game for stretches.
To break things down in some more detail, let’s dive into the individual player grades.
Game Puck: Auston Matthews (C, #34) — There were a few great candidates in this game. I decided to go with Matthews, but there aren’t any wrong answers among Toronto’s $11 million forwards – they were all dominant at even strength.
Matthews did an excellent job of getting to the dangerous areas on the ice, generating eight scoring chances from the slot. One of them was a knuckler off the cross-bar on the power play. When he wasn’t able to get to the middle, Matthews used his speed and length to hold onto the puck and wait for an opening.
That’s just silly.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — He also had a fantastic game, picking up that rebound goal seen above and an empty netter at the end of the game. What’s funny is I thought his impact on the game defensively stood out more than anything.
We’ve come to expect Marner to make game-breaking plays off the rush, but I don’t think we give him enough credit for how far along he’s come defensively. He has a knack for picking off passes in all three zones, which is part of the reason he’s become such a great penalty killer.
My favourite play of his was this “pick and pass” in the offensive zone.
His ability to think the game faster than his opponents is what’s separated him offensively at every level. Watching him develop this aspect defensively has been quite the treat to watch.
John Tavares (C, #91) — I can’t get over his ability to stick-handle through traffic and generate offense from high-danger areas. NHL defenses are designed to not let you get there and Tavares somehow manages to find a way multiple times every game. He fired 9 shots from the slot in this game, a few of them by singlehandedly cutting through the defense and creating his own shot.
Coaching Staff — Playing 11 forwards and 7 defensemen is something I’ve advocated for in the past. Bottom-half-of-the-lineup players hate it, but it gives you a chance to get an extra shift for one of your star players and have some more flexibility on your blue line. Kudos to Sheldon Keefe & company for following in Jon Cooper’s footsteps; I think it’s a good strategy more NHL teams should be implementing. Let’s also give Toronto’s coaching staff some credit for getting another strong 200-foot performance from a team that we know isn’t always the most defensively responsible.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — Transition defense isn’t sexy, but it’s how you prevent goals in the modern game. Brodie wasn’t giving Winnipeg’s forwards any room when they approached Toronto’s blue line, forcing a lot of dump-ins, which led to quick retrievals and breakouts the other way.
He also might’ve saved the game with this slide at 6-on-5.
He’s not the dynamic one on his pairing, but I loved what I saw from him in this game. Tight gap defensively, smart passes under pressure in the defensive zone, and boom — you’re up the ice and back on offense.
Zach Hyman (RW, #11) — I still think it’s a bit much to ask Hyman to be the primary driver of offense on Toronto’s third line (at least he’s had to be so far this season). Then again, maybe I need to give the man some more credit.
He was able to generate eight shots from the slot in this game, putting him in the Matthews & Tavares neighbourhood. Some of those are jam plays on the power play, but most of the offense Hyman creates is by getting to the dirty areas in the offensive zone, winning the puck back, and driving it through the defense.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — If you don’t mind scrolling back up to Matthews’ section, check out how far down Holl skated in for that one-timer. Most defensemen play it safe and fire a low-percentage shot from the boards or blue line in that situation, but Holl had the presence of mind to jump into the slot and significantly boost his team’s chances of scoring.
Now, he didn’t look great on the goal Toronto gave up, but we’ll break that down in more detail when we get to Kerfoot’s section.
Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — There was one point where Thornton found himself on the left wall of the power play. He made a gorgeous little feather pass to Matthews in the middle of the ice for a quality chance. The rest of his game was pretty quiet, although we did get to see his usual solid board play and heady passing in the offensive zone.
William Nylander (LW, #88) — After an underwhelming first period, Nylander opened up the game with this pass to Tavares.
That’s a fortuitous bounce to land on his stick, but man did he get Connor Hellebuyck to bite on that fake shot. Nylander did a good job of stripping pucks in the offensive zone with some well-timed stick checks, although I’d like to see him move his feet a bit more often towards the end of his shifts.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — The box score numbers don’t reflect how strong Mikheyev was on the backcheck in this game. He’s such a powerful skater when he gets going, which is what allows him to seemingly skate through defenses when he wants to. His limited offensive skillset is going to prevent him from converting on those chances as often as you’d like, but he’s a guy I’d trust out there in almost any situation because of how responsible he is defensively.
Jason Spezza (C, #19) — Are we really obsessing about faceoffs again? I’m glad Spezza is winning draws at an elite level – it gives the Leafs a specialist option on special teams – but let’s remember that even-strength faceoffs don’t really matter that much. What happens after the faceoff is much more important, and frankly, I’d like to see more from Spezza in that department offensively.
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — Was that Erik Karlsson wearing #22 for Toronto? In all seriousness, Bogosian had his best shift of the season when he was circling around the offensive zone, getting himself into open ice and making the next pass. I’d love to see him show off some of that edgework more often in the offensive zone. The rest of his game wasn’t anything special, but it wasn’t an abject disaster, which should keep Leafs Twitter off of his back for another…48 hours?
Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — There weren’t too many stand-out moments for Dermott aside from what I thought was a soft holding penalty*. He did have a few nice slip passes on the breakout and smart keep-ins at the offensive blue line.
*At some point, I’ll need to acknowledge my Dermott bias
Mikko Lehtonen (LD, #46) — It’s tough to evaluate a #7 defenseman who plays less than 7 minutes, but I really liked this play Lehtonen made on the breakout to get Hyman into open ice.
We’ll see if Toronto’s coaches ever trust Lehtonen enough defensively to get him some more minutes. When the puck is on his stick, he clearly has some talent.
Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — Aside from Kyle Connor’s snipe off a cross-seam pass, Andersen wasn’t really tested in this game. This was probably his most difficult save.
That’s two games in a row the Leafs have been able to limit their opponents to very few Grade-A scoring chances. Based on history I doubt that’s going to last, but it’s certainly been nice to see for once.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — I love it when Rielly jumps up in the play as a fourth forward to help give his team numbers off the rush. I hate it when Rielly takes unnecessary shots from the blue line, especially when he’s on the ice with the world’s best 5-on-5 scorer.
I’m also not a fan of how often he gets burned off the rush.
This happens far too often for a player with his skating ability. He made some incredible plays off the rush offensively, but there are still quite a few flaws in Rielly’s game I’d like to see him correct.
Alexander Kerfoot (C, #15) — Justin Bourne had a great breakdown on Twitter explaining how Kerfoot blew his coverage on the Kyle Connor goal.
have a guy low. Only he doesn't, Connor has gone high, he should go get him, leave D 2-on-2 low.
3)Holl is low w/ no one, goes to grab WPG low F, but Kerfoot is on him. Now Connor coming downhill
4)Maybe 24 could've been back lower in slot, but Holl caught in no man's land now. pic.twitter.com/bhMZ9YEJ4W
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) January 19, 2021
Concern for Leafs in giving up that goal, is that's their "shut-down" group w/ Kerfoot at center. Couple misreads on his part throw things outta whack.
1)Puck's high, 3 WPG Fs low, he should grab one. Ws on opposing D.
2)Puck goes back high, this time he realizes he gotta… pic.twitter.com/WDw33MNhFQ
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) January 19, 2021
We’ll show you the clip below, but keep an eye on #15 and remember he’s centering what’s supposed to be the Leafs’ checking line.
I’ve watched this play more times than I’d like to admit. Personally, I’d like to see Holl react a bit quicker there on the pass through the middle of the slot, but Bourne’s right. Kerfoot needs to take his defensive role more seriously. It’s part of the reason I was shouting at my TV when he nearly got caught for an odd-man rush with a 1-goal lead and 10 minutes remaining.
Jimmy Vesey (RW, #26) — He made a clever pass on the penalty kill to turn a 2-on-1 into an Ilya Mikheyev breakaway. When it comes to his impact at 5-on-5, though, I have to be honest – I’m just not seeing it with Jimmy Vesey. He’s failing to make skilled plays off the rush; pucks seem to die on his stick in the offensive zone; aside from a few nice backchecks, I don’t really see what he does to drive results.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — As much as I love the idea of Wayne Simmonds, watching him get caved in at 5-on-5 every night is a worrying trend.
Wayne Simmonds had a -68.71 relative xGF% against the Jets tonight. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that.
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) January 19, 2021
You don’t need to be a stats nerd to know that’s bad.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — He did have a few big hits on Nik Ehlers and Blake Wheeler, although the only play fans will remember is Muzzin’s turnover in the defensive zone that led to a goal against shortly afterwards. I’m never a fan of overreacting to one “big mistake” an NHL defenseman makes in any given game, but even if we excluded that turnover, this wasn’t Muzzin’s best night.
He looked hesitant on the breakout, circling back and forcing those dreaded stretch-pass dump-ins instead of making the pass north up the ice when he had the chance.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The Leafs controlled 61 percent of the shots and 70 percent of the scoring chances at even strength. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.