After outclassing the Vancouver Canucks in their previous two meetings, it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who got outplayed for the majority of Monday night’s matchup.
After 40 minutes, the shots on goal were 27-7 in Vancouver’s favour.
In typical Leaf fashion, Toronto kicked things into gear against a weaker opponent in the third period, ultimately winning the game 3-1. Coaches never love it when you get rewarded for an inconsistent effort, but at the end of the day, you’ll take those two points in the standings.
We don’t need to sugarcoat it — this was mostly a terrible game to watch as a Leafs fan — but the Leafs did find a way to flip the switch and win an ugly game with a push in the third period. It’s what star talent can do, and it’s what good teams need to be able to do at times. Here’s hoping we can take a few things away from tonight’s performance by breaking down each player individually.
It’s time to hand out some report cards!
Game Puck: Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — It’s always nice when your goaltender can steal you a game like this. The Leafs spent the first two periods stuck in their own end, forcing Andersen to come up with a few big stops to keep his team in it.
His best save of the night came on this 2-on-1 pass that got across.
To put it bluntly, the Leafs got outshot 32-19 and won the game 3-1. They have their goaltender to thank for that.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Sometimes Rielly’s desire to join the play as a fourth forward can cost Toronto defensively. Tonight, it really helped them open up space offensively and dominate the puck when he was on the ice.
His goal was a perfect example of how you can use motion to disrupt a set defense.
That’s a lot of ice to cover when you’re in man-to-man defense.
Rielly also did a much better job tonight at killing plays early at the blue line when defending the rush. It’s been a part of his game that I’ve often criticized, so I have to give credit when it’s due. This might have been his best game of the season, despite his teammates not showing up until the third period.
Mikko Lehtonen (LD, #46) — His defensive partner didn’t give him much help on the breakout, but I really liked Lehtonen’s game. He did a great job on retrievals, skating back on loose pucks, and making a quick decision under pressure to get the puck going up the ice.
Lehtonen also looks much more confident carrying the puck up the ice with speed, which is how he gained the zone singlehandedly on the power play. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s been getting more consistent ice-time lately; it can often do wonders for a defenseman’s game.
Travis Boyd (C, #72) — He’s become the drop-pass maestro in these last few games, using his speed to gain the zone in transition before dropping it to a trailing teammate off the rush, usually Jason Spezza. I also love the way Travis Boyd looks to create offense from behind the net, which is historically a high-percentage play.
Now, he did get filled in at even strength, but I have significantly more positive notes jotted down beside his name than an Alex Barabanov or Jimmy Vesey. Is that a personal bias on my part? Maybe. We’ll have to keep an eye on Boyd’s 5-on-5 results to see if this becomes a pattern over a larger sample.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — It feels wrong to not have Spezza next to Boyd here; they’ve played so well together. I’m a big fan of the passing sequences they’ve been able to create in transition – that’s how you score goals in the modern game.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — Whenever a line seems to be struggling, the Leafs throw Hyman out there for a shift or two, and all of a sudden they’re playing in the offensive zone again. That’s the kind of impact he has at 5-on-5 by winning puck battles below the goal line and securing possession for his more skilled linemates.
We’ve all seen it. We all know what we’re getting from Hyman on a nightly basis. It makes writing this section feel almost pointless, but alas, I’ll tell you what you already know. Zach Hyman is an effective hockey player.
Ilya Mikheyev (RW, #65) — In a similar vein, we know what to expect from Ilya Mikheyev most nights. Relentless puck pursuit; strong penalty killing; at least one shot from the slot that hits an NHL goalie in the logo; and a solo rush where he can’t quite finish the play.
We saw all of that on Monday night. We also saw him strip Quinn Hughes on the forecheck and create an easy goal for his linemate, Alex Kerfoot.
We can make jokes about Mikheyev’s lack of finishing touch, but that’s one heck of a play. There aren’t too many forecheckers in the NHL who can make Hughes look that bad on a simple puck retrieval.
Rasmus Sandin (LD, #38) — I was really looking forward to breaking down Rasmus Sandin’s first NHL game since March 10th, 2020. That was before the world went into COVID lockdown, which feels like ages ago.
He played five minutes tonight.
We can still break down some of the little things, like his gap control in transition, which continues to impress me.
Plays like these make me excited about Sandin’s long-term value at even strength. His ability to play a tight gap and move the puck are going to make him a nightmare to play against in transition when he enters his prime.
All of that said, this is stupid. Sandin sat out the first 12 games of the season and then got a whopping five minutes in his first game back in 11 months. He’s Toronto’s top prospect.
What’s the plan here, exactly?
Auston Matthews (C, #34) and Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — The great part about playing 11F-7D is that it allows you to give your best forwards more ice time. Matthews and Marner ended the game having played a combined 50 minutes.
Unfortunately, they got outplayed for the majority of those minutes at even strength. They weren’t too much better on the power play; Matthews kept missing Marner with a few easy passes along the half-wall.
The difficult part about evaluating these two is that they can have an off-night like this and still blow the game open on any given play.
Michael Jordan would be proud of Matthews’ push-off there, buying himself a few extra feet of space before firing the one-timer past Holtby. It wasn’t a great night for either player, but when their team desperately needs a goal in the third period, I’m not sure how often I’d bet against them.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — Rielly was the one driving the bus tonight if we’re being honest. Early on, I was really worried this was going to be one of those nightmare games for Brodie (i.e. the 2nd game of the regular season). His passes just weren’t connecting up the ice. He looked much better in the third period, but overall, this wasn’t his best night.
The Nylander-Tavares “Pair” — Here’s a list of their most common linemates this season courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:
- Jimmy Vesey
- Ilya Mikheyev
- Wayne Simmonds
The Nylander-Tavares pairing hasn’t looked as dangerous offensively as we’ve come to expect this season, and I think it has to do a lot with the team’s lack of options at left wing. Heck, it wasn’t until Hyman joined them for a shift in the third period that they actually started to open up some space in the offensive zone.
We know the Leafs are interested in adding a winger; Elliotte Friedman said as much during the intermission tonight. I’d imagine that winger gets a long look in the top six considering how poorly the other options have looked in that spot.
The Muzzin-Holl Pairing — They got caved under by Vancouver’s top line in this game. Taking those tough minutes is what allows Rielly to work his magic against second and third lines, but we’ve come to expect more from Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl. At even strength, they got out-chanced 8-0 by Vancouver. We know they can play better than that.
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — Using that same logic, Zach Bogosian can’t be getting out-chanced 10-2 at even strength. He was really struggling to move the puck in this game, often panicking in his own zone before firing it off the boards to nobody in particular.
I don’t mind the idea of Bogosian in Toronto’s lineup, but would it really kill you to healthy scratch him every now and again to get a closer look at some of these other defensemen? Just a thought.
Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — Other than “good stick in the DZ”, it’s becoming very difficult to find things Vesey does effectively at the NHL level. The puck seems to be dying on his stick whenever the Leafs are trying to create offense, resulting in teams essentially not worrying about him. It’s been killing the Leafs’ spacing offensively, particularly when he plays with Tavares and Nylander.
Alexander Barabanov (LW, #94) — In his one shift alongside good players, Barabanov made a defender miss along the boards and drew a tripping penalty. Part of me wants to believe there could be something there. Then again, I find myself having difficulty coming up with any particular attribute Barabanov possesses at an above-average level.
Wouldn’t we have seen it by now?
Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — Toronto started the season with Kerfoot as their third line “checking center” alongside Hyman and Mikheyev. That quickly fizzled out. Now we’re trying to figure out what he does.
Help secure puck possession deep in the defensive zone? Sure. Create transition chances for his team? Not really. I’ve actually been pretty disappointed in his lack of creativity off of the rush; he’s been quite easy to defend lately. Is he at least providing value on the penalty kill? Not tonight. In fact, he cost them a goal by not clearing the puck, allowing Vancouver to maintain possession and find the back of the net five seconds later.
He did score the insurance goal after an excellent play from Mikheyev, but I’m starting to get really worried about Kerfoot’s overall value as a player.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Here’s a fun breakdown of the scoring chances at 5-on-5:
- 1st period: 11-3 Vancouver
- 2nd period: 10-3 Vancouver
- 3rd period: 11-4 Toronto