At least they kept it close.
The Toronto Maple Leafs dominated the Vancouver Canucks for a second time in a row on Saturday night, winning the game 5-1.
Part of me wonders how seriously we should be evaluating these games considering how terrible Vancouver has looked at even strength this year. They’ve only controlled 46 percent of the shots and 44 percent of the chances at even strength this season — that’s worse than Ottawa – including truly shocking defensive metrics.
Then again, it’s my job to evaluate every Leafs game, so let’s take tonight’s results with a giant chunk of salt as we dive into the individual player grades.
Game Puck: Auston Matthews (C, #34) — Sometimes you just have to shake your head.
The creativity to get around the defender is one thing. Following it up with a deceptive release off the bar just seems unfair.
Matthews’ ability to get the puck off his stick at unique angles is what makes his shot so difficult for NHL goaltenders to stop. Check out how lost Braden Holtby looks on the next one.
That gives Matthews 10 goals in 11 games. He’s probably not going to keep scoring on 17.4 percent of his shots like he has been this season, but he’s a career 15.8 percent shooter. Much like Steven Stamkos in his prime, Matthews combines elite shot volume with an elite shooting percentage.
That’s a rare combination.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — I couldn’t believe how often Marner was shooting tonight. He finished the game with a team-high 12 shot attempts and nine scoring chances. Zero of them found the back of the net, but Marner still managed to pick up three assists.
His best play came off the rush, dancing his way into the middle of the ice after gaining the zone and then finding a streaking Mikko Lehtonen down the wing.
Speaking of Lehtonen…
Mikko Lehtonen (LD, #46) — Talk about an offensive explosion. That backdoor pass to Hyman off the rush is a high-skill play for a defenseman; most guys are shooting there. Lehtonen picked up another assist on a point shot that got deflected by Wayne Simmonds in front. He easily could’ve had a third assist on a similar play to John Tavares earlier, but the deflection hit the post.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — While he was really effective there earlier in his career, how many of us predicted Simmonds would become a JVR clone on Toronto’s top-unit power play?
That’s a filthy goal after getting Holtby to bite on the fake pass. As we mentioned, Simmonds added another goal later in the game via a deft deflection.
It is worth noting that the Tavares-Nylander combination has struggled to create much in transition with Simmonds, which was a similar trend when he played lower in the lineup. When it comes to the front of the net, though, he’s clearly making a big impact.
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — Remember when Mike Babcock used to talk about players “standing in the right spot” on defense? Zach Bogosian comes to mind. He’s been a steady presence in the defensive zone.
And then you’ll see him activate in the play and wonder where the hell did that come from!?
Bogosian makes a play or two like this every game. It’s in his back-pocket, but I’d like to see him pull these out more often.
Travis Boyd (C, #72) and Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — I’ve really been enjoying these two at even strength lately. Boyd dished a few nice passes to Spezza in this game; one of them coming from behind the net, the other being a drop-pass off the rush.
On the power play, Spezza has been a zone entry machine. He flies up the ice with speed and finds a way to gain the zone with possession. It’s the same strategy he used last season, leading the team in success rate on power-play entries.
Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — It’s always a bummer when a goaltender loses their shutout in the last couple minutes of the third period, especially as the refs start to manage the game.
There’s not much Andersen could do with Brock Boeser tipping that puck at the last second, but honestly, he probably didn’t deserve the shutout to begin with.
Andersen got beat earlier in the game on a shot from distance that was called back because of an offside that occurred over 10 seconds prior to the shot – something the NHL really needs to fix, in my view, although the offside was a blatant missed call in this case. He also got beat on an Elias Pettersson wrister on the power play that hit the crossbar.
Elias Pettersson hits his 7th post or crossbar of the season.
No one else in the NHL has more than 3. #Canucks
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) February 7, 2021
That’s good luck for Andersen and truly awful luck for Pettersson.
The Rielly-Brodie Pair — It’s always fun watching these two pass the puck back and forth before deciding on the right play up the ice on the breakout. Morgan Rielly was jumping up in the play, as usual, while Brodie was timing his 2-on-1 slides perfectly, as usual. Defensively, there were a few shifts where the two got stuck in their own end, but overall, it was a solid night for both players.
The Muzzin-Holl Pair — These two were burdened with the task of defending the Miller-Pettersson-Boeser line. They did a pretty good job, although Muzzin did get beat once by Pettersson for a partial breakaway that probably should have resulted in a hooking penalty.
John Tavares (C, #91) — His deflection on a Lehtonen point shot hit the post as we mentioned before, but Tavares also missed his assignment after a Rielly pinch, leading to a 2-on-1 for Vancouver. We’ve seen Tavares take over games at even strength before with his nifty stick-work out of tight spaces.
This was not one of those games.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — I tend to praise Hyman for his work as the “third wheel” on Toronto’s top line. Tonight, it felt more like the Matthews & Marner show at even strength. Hyman chipped in a goal with a great net drive off the rush, but he wasn’t dominating puck battles as ruthlessly as we’ve seen in the past, at least based on my eye test.
The Third Line — The combination of Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot, and Ilya Mikheyev hasn’t been able to create much offensively, which doesn’t exactly come as a shock. Vesey keeps firing wide-angle shots from the left side of the ice. Kerfoot hasn’t been able to create much in transition this season. Mikheyev is still forcing OZ turnovers with his active stick, but he hasn’t been able to penetrate the middle of the ice lately.
William Nylander (LW, #88) — After drawing two penalties in the first five minutes of the game, Nylander wasn’t much of a factor in this game. He finished as Toronto’s only skater with a negative shot and scoring chance differential at even strength.
Nic Petan (LW, #61) — His linemates played really well in this game. Unfortunately for Petan, he was the one who kept turning over the puck along the boards. When your coach only plays you eight minutes in a blowout victory, that’s pretty telling.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
That pool of red you see is indicative of the fact that Toronto controlled 66 percent of the scoring chances in this game. That’s two games in a row they’ve dominated Vancouver at even strength.
Will it be three in a row on Monday?