They’re not all going to be pretty.
The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Calgary Flames on Sunday afternoon by a final score of 3-2. All three of Toronto’s goals deflected off of a skate and in, which is a nice microcosm for how this game went.
To break things down in a bit more detail, let’s dive into the individual player grades.
Game Puck: Jack Campbell (G, #36) — Talk about a gutsy performance. Towards the end of the game, it was clear Campbell was in some serious pain after tweaking his left leg. It didn’t help when Matthew Tkachuk landed on top of him after a scrum in front of the net.
Shenanigans aside, that’s a big-time save by Campbell considering the circumstances. He was forced to make some crucial stops on Tkachuk earlier in the game, not to mention a sharp-angle Johnny Gaudreau shot that Campbell fought off with his shoulder.
Sometimes I get a bit uncomfortable with how much we glorify pro athletes for fighting through pain — they aren’t gladiators — but Campbell certainly looked like one this evening.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — You’ll never believe this, but Ilya Mikheyev got another breakaway.
I want to make the easy joke about him failing to convert (again) on one of these chances, but Mikheyev did hit the top corner there. He’s making a habit of blowing by defenses with his deceptively powerful skating stride.
What impressed me more was this play he made later in the game.
We’re used to seeing him rip a low percentage wrister from the top of the circle there. Instead, he looked for the better option and was able to complete a cross-ice pass to Pierre Engvall off the rush.
Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — I’ve really been enjoying his game lately. Kerfoot looked much more dangerous off the rush on Sunday, using his quickness to elude forecheckers in the defensive zone and then transport the puck up the ice with his speed. Kerfoot didn’t get rewarded for it on the scoresheet, but he created a couple of great opportunities with his passing. As always, he had a great stick in the neutral zone, picking off passes and making life difficult for Calgary’s forwards to gain the zone in transition.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that Muzzin led the team in shots, especially since they all came from the outside. Then again, one of them trickled in off a skate, so what do I know?
The reason I’m giving Muzzin four stars has absolutely nothing to do with his shots from the point; it’s because he shut things down defensively. Muzzin was great at stepping up on opposing forwards at the blue line while playing his usual steady positional defense in his own end.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — With Matthews noticeably fighting through pain, Marner was forced to do the heavy lifting in transition. I wouldn’t say he did an A+ job in that department, although he did make a nice move to gain the zone prior to Muzzin’s goal.
When we’re evaluating Marner’s play, what it really comes down to is his passing. Did he make any game-breaking passes? I would argue yes.
If Matthews catches that clean, there’s a good chance it’s in the back of the net. Later in the game, Marner made a creative little backhand flip-pass to find Spezza backdoor on the 2-on-1.
Marner finished the game with two assists. What’s funny is that they probably shouldn’t have come on the goals that did go in, but rather the ones that didn’t. Hockey’s a weird sport.
Zach Hyman (RW, #11) — Here’s a fun stat: the Leafs out-chanced the Flames 13-2 when Hyman was on the ice. They got out-chanced 7-24 when he was off the ice.
His teams have always performed better at even strength when he’s on the ice and it’s because of plays like these.
Now, we have to remember that he took two penalties late in the game when his team was protecting the lead. Then again, his tripping penalty was a bit of a phantom call*.
*homer bias in full effect
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — I’m torn on this grade because Rielly put up three assists in this game, but all of those goals were the result of a weird bounce off a skate. We’ll give him some credit. After all, he did make a few nice passes through the middle of the slot.
Just keep in mind this was Toronto’s “prettiest” goal night.
William Nylander (LW, #88) — There were a few shifts where Nylander was absolutely flying in transition, lugging the puck from defense to offense. He made a few nice passes after gaining the zone, but what really impressed me was his puck pursuit on the forecheck. He’s never going to be a guy who mashes his opponent through the boards (see: Simmonds, Wayne), but he was getting his stick in. the right spots as an F1 forechecker, which is what you want to see from him.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — His goal was a bit of a fluke, much like Toronto’s other goals, deflecting off of his own skate by accident. Simmonds was actually making some nice passes up the ice in this game, even sending Mikheyev in alone for a breakaway.
Let’s be honest, though, this is what most Leafs fans care about.
Dirty hit? Grit? Veteran presence? Whatever you want to call it, that’s why there was a market for Simmonds this offseason.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) and TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — They don’t play on the same pairing, but they both played a solid 200-foot game on Sunday. Holl did a good job keeping the play in front of him off the rush, while Brodie impressed me with his ability to away passing lanes.
That’s a backdoor tap-in if Brodie doesn’t take the pass away.
The Bottom Pair — This was a solid game for Zach Bogosian defensively. He made a few key blocks on the penalty kill, looked more confident with the puck on his stick, and oh yeah, he shoved Tkachuk off of his injured goaltender. Travis Dermott hasn’t been making any game-breaking plays, but he’s also been looking much more confident lately.
This puck retrieval and slip pass really stood out to me.
If Dermott can make these kinds of plays with consistency, he’s going to earn more trust from the coaching staff.
John Tavares (C, #91) — Aside from a couple of nice passes here and there, this was an off-night for Tavares.
The Fourth Line — You don’t expect much from a fourth line, but I’d like to see more from Jason Spezza at even strength. His impact on the game offensively isn’t anywhere near where it was last season. Alex Barabanov had a breakaway, but he also allowed multiple passes through the slot when he was F3 on the play. Pierre Engvall was probably the most effective of the trio, using his speed to help Toronto win the neutral zone battle when he was on the ice.
Here’s a look at his best play of the game.
Salary cap be damned, Engvall is one of Toronto’s 12 best forwards. Find a way to keep him in the lineup. Yes, I’m talking to you, Brandon Pridham.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — We have to acknowledge the obvious caveat that Matthews was playing hurt in this game, but he wasn’t able to accomplish much of anything in the first two periods. This was a pretty bad look on Calgary’s first goal.
It’s worth noting that Matthews did look noticeably more engaged in the third period.
Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — Hockey is a strong link sport. Jimmy Vesey is a weak link. I understand that Toronto’s cap constraints are going to force them into situations where they need cheap depth to fill in the Top 9, especially when injuries hit. I’m just not convinced Vesey is the right player for that role.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The Leafs actually got outplayed at even strength, controlling only 48 percent of the shots and scoring chances.