What a weird game.
After outshooting the Calgary Flames 10-1 in the first period, the Toronto Maple Leafs got hemmed in their own end for about 30 minutes straight. It wasn’t until Calgary tied the game in the third period when Toronto started to kick things into gear again.
The final score was 4-3 Leafs, but there was a lot of junk in there. To help guide my thoughts on this bizarre night, let’s go through each player individually.
Game Puck: Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — Full disclosure: I was planning on giving his partner this award, but after Muzzin flipped the puck at Matthew Tkachuk when the final buzzer rang, he gave me no choice. In a game that was completely devoid of emotion from Toronto’s side, it was nice to see someone genuinely try to get under their opponent’s skin.
I’d say mission accomplished.
Jake Muzzin flips the puck at Matthew Tkachuk at the end of the game. Tkachuk throws a fit on his way off pic.twitter.com/yR4UeKXe7P
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 27, 2021
Muzzin did actually make some great plays in this game despite his poor on-ice numbers. It was his puck retrieval under pressure and first pass that ended up leading to Wayne Simmonds’ goal. Muzzin also made a great stretch pass up to Pierre Engvall, who sauced Travis Boyd into open ice for his first goal of the season.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Boy, is he ever looking confident with the puck lately. Holl does a great job of settling things down on the breakout when he needs to, but he also knows when it’s the right time to jump up in the rush and make a play.
That’s essentially a low far-pad “pass” to Simmonds off the rush, who taps it home for the easy rebound goal. Holl isn’t exactly known for his offense, but that brings him up to five assists on the season now in eight games.
Remember when Mike Babcock healthy scratched him for two seasons?
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — As I’m sure you saw in the Holl clip above, Simmonds got rewarded for driving hard to the net. He was one of the only Leaf playing with energy after the first period, finishing his checks, and skating back hard on defense. Simmonds also made a great play to beat Jacob Markstrom to a loose puck behind the net, centering it out front for Vesey, who almost converted on the chance.
Pierre Engvall (LW, #47) and Travis Boyd (C, #72) — This was the first night Toronto’s fourth line was able to muster any kind of offense. These two connected on a great play off the rush.
Engvall made a similar play the other night to get Alex Barabanov in alone for a breakaway. It’s plays like these that make me think he should be a regular in the lineup, even with his $1.25 million cap hit.
Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — He had to face quite a few deflections and rebounds in this game, which are historically high-percentage chances. Considering the difficulty of the shots he was facing, this was a strong performance for Andersen.
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — The same could be said for Bogosian. I’ve made it no secret I am typically not a fan of the bottom pairing “brute” types, but he made some great plays with the puck on his stick in the defensive zone to help get play going in the right direction. Bogosian did get stuck in no man’s land on the Milan Lucic goal, but that was after a weird bounce off a skate.
His best defensive play of the game was taking away this Johnny Gaudreau 2-on-1 pass.
Taking away those high-value passes is so important in the modern game.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) & Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — Here’s the frustrating part about evaluating the Leafs. Their top-end talent can breeze through a game at even strength without making a major impact, then pull a rabbit out of a hat and win the game. I wasn’t a fan of Matthews and Marner getting stuck in their own end for long stretches after the first intermission.
I was a fan of this.
That’s a special play by two special players. Calgary’s penalty kill needs to do a better job of taking that seam pass away, but Marner absolutely launches it at Matthews and he’s still able to corral it for the quick catch and shoot release. It’s part of what makes him such a unique player.
A simple but underrated skill for skaters who want to play on the PP:
Get really good at catching hard passes.
Marner put a lot of juice on that cross-seam pass & Matthews was able to catch and shoot it top shelf on the same touch.
— Jack Han (@JhanHky) January 27, 2021
Matthews’ ability to make that play is what separates him from other NHL players, but I’d like to see him have a bigger impact on the game defensively with his tools. Maybe I’m overreacting. Heck, Marner could win the Art Ross at this rate and we’d probably still be complaining about his underwhelming impact at 5-on-5. That’s obviously a bit of an exaggeration, but just remember that points don’t always tell the whole story.
Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — For my money, this was Vesey’s best game in a Leafs uniform. He looked confident skating the puck up the ice with speed, which is how he helped create Toronto’s first goal of the game.
Ilya Mikheyev (RW, #65) — After seeing Mikheyev’s name next to John Tavares and William Nylander in the line rushes, James Mirtle sent me a message reading the Russian translation for stone hands. I don’t take kindly to the slander of everyone’s favourite soup enthusiast.
Do those look like stone hands to you?
William Nylander (LW, #88) and John Tavares (C, #91) — They each had a few moments offensively, but we’ve come to expect more from these two at even strength.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — Let’s just say he’s had better games. Hyman looked solid defensively, although he wasn’t able to make as major of an impact with his puck pursuit as we’re used to seeing.
Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — Coming into the game, I was expecting Kerfoot to be the one driving the bus on his line, but I actually had a lot more positive notes on Vesey and Simmonds. Maybe that speaks to Kerfoot’s subtle game. Maybe this just wasn’t his night. Or maybe (God forbid), I’m not as good at evaluating 20 players in the same game as I’d like to think I am.
My bet’s on the latter.
Mikko Lehtonen (LD, #46) — It was cool to see Lehtonen get a look on a power play unit with star talent. He looks like he’s in his element when he walks the line. The issue is that he looks out of his element in the defensive zone, where he spent the majority of his time before Sheldon Keefe pulled the plug on him in the third period.
The Rielly-Brodie Pairing — What does it say about me when Rielly has two assists and I didn’t think he played well? Frankly, I’d argue that secondary assists are overrated when you’re passing the puck on the perimeter to Marner or Matthews (just ask Nikita Zaitsev). The concerning part to me was how much space Rielly was giving up behind him off the rush, which TJ Brodie could have done a better job defending. This is a few nights in a row Toronto’s “top pairing” has struggled at even strength – and I put that in quotations because they’ve clearly been outplayed by Muzzin and Holl when you look at the on-ice results.
Joey Anderson (RW, #28) — His noteworthy moment of the game was a puck-over-glass penalty with 2:19 left in the third period while his team was protecting a one-goal lead. We’ll need much more of a sample here before rushing to judgment.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
I don’t usually do this, but take a look at the running shot count at 5-on-5.
That, my friends, is what we like to call score effects.