If you wanted entertainment, you got it.
The Leafs and Oilers got off to a back-and-forth start in the first period, with Edmonton handily coming out on top in scoring chances. Things started to tighten up later in the game, although the Oilers continued to control the run of play against a Leafs team that was finishing up a four-game road trip with its 10th game in 18 nights.
In the end, Connor McDavid put the game away on a pass from Leon Draisaitl in overtime, winning the game 4-3.
Let’s do what we always do here and go through each Maple Leafs individually. It’s time to hand out some grades.
Game Puck: Auston Matthews (C, #34) — He was Toronto’s most dangerous offensive player by far in this game. Matthews led his team with seven shot attempts and five scoring chances, finishing the game with the best scoring chance differential at even strength. The numbers met the eye-test here. Matthews was dominant at 5-on-5 despite his team not playing its most well-rounded game.
He was able to generate his own shot in a variety of different ways on Saturday night. Some of his chances came off of speedy zone entries, where he stickhandled his way into a good shooting location. Some of them came when you didn’t expect it, namely his backhand in the second period that nearly caught Mikko Koskinen off guard.
Throw in a few Grade-A chances created with his passing, and you have a dominant game that probably should have resulted in more than one point in the box score.
Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — It’s rare a goaltender who allowed four goals earns such high praise, but when you stop a 2-on-1 with 10 seconds left in the 3rd period of a tie game, it starts to make a bit more sense. The first 10 minutes of the game included multiple clear-cut chances against, including a 2-on-1, a penalty shot, and a partial breakaway.
Frederik Andersen was the difference between one point in the standings for Toronto and zero, which is what they deserved if we’re being honest.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — A lot of us have been complaining about Marner not taking over the game at 5-on-5, myself included. Plays like these will definitely help change that narrative.
He’s such a creative passer, always looking to make that one extra pass that the goaltender isn’t expecting. With John Tavares as his most common linemate in 2018-19, Marner ranked third in primary assists that season. Can he do that again with Matthews as his most common linemate in 2021?
I don’t think it’s a crazy question.
John Tavares (C, #91) — Players who average close to a point per game for their career tend to have a trademark skill that separates them from their peers. For Tavares, I’d argue it’s his puck skills and strength on his stick in tight spaces.
The hand-eye coordination it takes to pick up some of the assists he picks up is wild (see: the tip prior to the Hyman goal). I wish I were that good at my job. This was Tavares’ third multi-point game of the season.
William Nylander (LW, #88) — Evaluating Nylander on a nightly basis for the last few years has been interesting, to say the least. You start to notice certain patterns after a while; such as the pattern of him consistently gaining the zone off the rush because he’s one of the most talented puck carriers in the NHL. When he gets an opportunity in tight, you’ll notice the pattern of quick hands. It’s how he scored his goal this evening. He was a whisker away from playing overtime hero as well.
Then you’ll hear people complain about the pattern of him taking the end of shifts off, which can end up costing you a point in 3-on-3 overtime. Frankly, the line change maybe could’ve been a little more urgent, but I’m not too concerned about it.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — He actually drove some offense by himself tonight, getting a few shots off from dangerous areas. Simmonds did a good job of winning battles in his areas of the ice. Plus, he pulled off a nice pass on the power play.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — I never thought Hyman would be the net-front presence on a successful NHL power-play unit, but it’s happening. Toronto has two lethal power-play units so far this season, ranking first in every metric whether you look at shots, chances, or goals. Hyman scored a goal on one of those power-play units tonight.
I’d say Manny Malhotra’s doing an A-plus job so far.
Ilya Mikheyev (RW, #65) — It shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore when he lugs the puck on the PK and kills off the final 11 seconds of a penalty kill by himself. He’s an effective penalty killer.
At even strength, he was quiet for most of the game until a few rush opportunities presented themselves late. He was hauled down on one of them, with no penalty call, which I’m sure will lead to a rational discussion about officiating on social media.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — He was able to generate a few quality chances in this game. My favourite play Spezza made was a drop-pass to Matthews in the third period, getting Toronto’s star center into plenty of open space off the rush. Spezza also had a nice little fake slapshot and pass to the slot on the power play.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — I liked his entry defense for the most part, which is an important part of neutralizing McDavid’s impact. The issue I’ve been having with Brodie lately is his struggles with the puck beyond center ice.
Throughout his career, he’s been elite among NHL defensemen at gaining the offensive blue line with possession. He ranks in the 89th percentile over the last four seasons. That’s a repeatable talent.
The problem? We haven’t seen that type of impact yet from him this season. He isn’t gaining the zone in transition as well as he was in Calgary. I’d like to see more from Brodie when it comes to making plays with the puck on his stick at the offensive blueline. History tells us he’s been able to do it, so you’d have to think he starts to get the ball rolling in that department eventually.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — When you hear people talking about quality of competition, it doesn’t get any tougher than going up against this man.
If you haven’t seen the memes online yet, there have been a lot of jokes about Justin Holl “owning” Connor McDavid whenever they meet up lately. Unfortunately for Holl, that wasn’t the case in tonight’s matchup.
That’s a Gretzky-level pass from behind the net, but Holl did get beat to the net by his man out of the corner. In a similar vein, it’s not easy to defend a 3-on-1 rush in overtime when Leon Draisaitl is the puck carrier and McDavid is flying backdoor. It ended as you’d imagine it would, with #97’s hands up in the air, celebrating the game-winning goal.
Honestly, I thought Holl did the best job of any Toronto defender at keeping McDavid in front of him off the rush. As you’ll see from the clips that come later, the Leafs‘ defense had some trouble with that.
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — When Bogosian activates into the play, he’s surprisingly effective. He nearly connected with Tavares on a backdoor pass off the rush, not to mention the time he joined the rush as a fourth option and missed the net by inches.
Does he need to play 56 games? That’s a conversation for another day.
Mikko Lehtonen (LD, #46) — If we’re being honest, Travis Dermott has looked better than Lehtonen at even strength, but the more important factor is how comfortable Lehtonen looks on an NHL power-play unit. Does he provide more value there than TJ Brodie? A few errors tonight aside, I think the answer to that question is yes. Is that worth the 5-on-5 downgrade from Dermott?
I would argue no, which I’m sure comes as a surprise.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — This was a rough night for Muzzin.
That’s my early-season pick for Goal of the Year. The problem was that it almost happened again a few minutes later.
We’ve seen the Muzzin-Holl pairing do a solid job defending McDavid in the past, but Muzzin got burned pretty badly twice. He also swung and missed at a puck with 10 seconds left in the game.
Sometimes it’s just not your night.
The Forgettables — We’re going to lump a few Leafs in here. Alexander Barabanov did try a dangle or two, but more importantly, he seems to be losing every puck battle along the boards. Pierre Engvall struggled to make positive plays with the puck on his stick. Jimmy Vesey carried the puck a few times early on, then I completely forgot he was playing. Alex Kerfoot got stuck in his own end for most of the nice, although I did like his little drop pass to Simmonds for a scoring chance.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — It’s time to talk about Morgan Rielly.
We all know the high-value plays he can contribute to offensively by jumping up in the rush. The tradeoff is that a lot of those chances come back the other way when a forward is covering for him. That’s how Draisaitl burned the Leafs with a drop-pass assist to Nate Archibald — because a forward was covering and the ensuing 3-on-3 defense was poor.
What I didn’t like tonight were his gaps.
Watch how much room Rielly gives opposing forwards when he defends the rush.
That play could’ve been killed well before Edmonton gained the zone.
Here’s another quick example.
This led to 40 seconds of zone time for Edmonton. If you’re wondering why Rielly ranks on the bottom of the Leafs in shots and chances against at even strength, it’s because of plays like these.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The Leafs only controlled 43 percent of the shots and scoring chances at 5-on-5. Frankly, they were lucky to come away with one point in this game.