Well, they certainly didn’t blow a 5-1 lead this time.

The Toronto Maple Leafs exploded offensively in this game, leading by a score of 6-2 after 40 minutes. Score effects took over from there, with Toronto getting out-chanced 20-5 at even strength, although they were actually able to hold a four-goal lead against the Ottawa Senators tonight.

The final score was 7-3, although it felt a lot closer with Michael Hutchinson in net and the Senators hitting four posts. You figured the Leafs were going to need a few extra goals to secure the win tonight, and they didn’t disappoint.

Let’s dive into some individual player grades now, with the caveat that the game was more or less over after two periods. Then again, when have Leafs fans ever trusted a multi-goal lead?

5/5 Stars

Game Puck: The Thornton-Matthews-Marner Line

I’ve had a lot of discussions with people about the effectiveness of Joe Thornton in a first-line left wing role. “He’s too old to play that many minutes; you need to shelter him at this point in his career; he’s just too slow” – I’ve heard all the arguments against playing him there.

But when you can control play from below the goal-line and thread passes to star talent, I think you’re getting the most out of Thornton’s talents.

There were a number of times Thornton would take one touch on a loose puck in the corner and chop it to an area where Matthews or Marner could pick it up in open space.

When you get players of their calibre in open space, good things are going to happen.

Sometimes they don’t even need that much space to create a goal out of nothing.

Nights like these are fun. I don’t expect Matthews to score four points every night, but with that shot, he’s a threat to score multiple goals on any given night. He only scored two against Ottawa in this game, but with the chances he generating, it could’ve easily been three or four.

When Thornton-Matthews-Marner share the ice, the Leafs are controlling 68 percent of the shots at 5-on-5. That ranks first in the NHL among lines with at least 50 minutes together; ahead of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak; ahead of Landeskog-Mackinnon-Rantanen.

They’re first.

You obviously want to see them do it against tougher competition than Ottawa, but that’s an excellent indicator of future success.

4/5 Stars

William Nylander (RW, #88) — Call me a Nylanderthal all you want, but he was flying tonight. The Leafs have weirdly struggled at times to get through Ottawa’s neutral zone trap this season, with Nylander being the exception.

He finds ways to pick up speed in his own end and create a rush chance at the other end by weaving through the neutral zone. Now it’s one thing to obsess over “zone entries,” but what makes Nylander close to a point-per-game player is the fact that he can make that next high-level pass after gaining the zone.


Another goal from in tight, huh? Interesting. Where did he rank last season in that department? Asking for a friend.

Alex Kerfoot (LW, #15) — Last season, the combination of Kerfoot-Tavares-Nylander controlled 56 percent of the expected goals at even strength over a 195 minute sample. That’s really good. Tonight helped show us a couple good examples of why that was the case.

Kerfoot was able to use his speed to win loose puck races, which helped get that line set up in the offensive zone. It also helped him generate a Grade-A scoring chance on his first shift. On the penalty kill, he was able to break free for a 2-on-1 and get the pass across to Rielly, who wasn’t able to convert.

Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Evaluating Rielly from night to night can be a wild ride. The other night, he was giving up way too much defensively. Tonight, he was able to dominate play, although it helps playing with that Thornton-Matthews-Marner line.

Whenever the Leafs had possession in the offensive zone, Rielly was looking to create passing lanes by wheeling around the zone. It helped create that Matthews wrap-around goal. Rielly also did a great job using the middle of the ice on breakouts to help the Leafs gain the zone easily in transition.

Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — Defense isn’t sexy. Just ask the NBA’s best defensive player.

Jake Muzzin is Toronto’s Rudy Gobert. He’s usually their last line of defense and, as such, has to make subtle plays away from the puck to minimize his team’s chances of giving up a goal. Most of us aren’t watching that — because it’s boring — but he’s always been great in that regard.

What you don’t always expect are nifty little saucer passes in his own end to start the breakout, or a slap-pass leading to a deflection goal.

Muzzin’s always had the LA Kings habit of launching low percentage shots from the blue line, so the fact that he’s looking for more slap-passes is a great sign. Anytime you can get some extra offense out of Muzzin, you’re just adding to what he already brings defensively.

Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — It’s not as easy playing with Petan-Boyd as it is with Matthews-Marner. Despite having a lower quality of linemates than his veteran counterpart, Spezza has still been able to create some offense.

He’s obviously not as fast as he once was (was he ever that fast?), but when he gets going, his ability to stick-handle through traffic helps him gain the zone and create chances off the rush. He’s still doing it on the power play at an elite rate. It’s crazy.

3/5 Stars

The Vesey-Engvall-Mikheyev Line — You take one look at those names and immediately don’t feel great about it as an NHL third line, but give these guys some credit, they actually played pretty well. Jimmy Vesey was skating noticeably better tonight, although he had a bit of Jake Virtanen-itis off the rush; he wasn’t able to do much with it.

Pierre Engvall was sloppy in transition early on, but his puck pursuit in the offensive zone helped Toronto force a few turnovers down low. One of those resulted in a goal for Ilya Mikheyev. By the way, am I the only one who was half-concerned when this shot went in?

That’s just what Mikheyev needs: to get rewarded for firing a wrist shot from 50 feet away.

Guys who were “fine” — This is my cop-out for players I didn’t have a lot of notes on, but played “fine” in my opinion. TJ Brodie looked good in the neutral zone and was even able to connect on a few stretch passes up the ice. Justin Holl was Justin Holl; much like Zach Hyman, he plays a predictable but effective game at even strength.

Travis Boyd played with energy, connected on a few nice passes in the offensive zone, and got stapled to the boards, which you can count on at least once per game at this point. I didn’t love the way he defended Tim Stutzle on his goal, but Hutchinson has to make that save.

2/5 Stars

Nic Petan (LW, #61) — As a long-time Nic Petan truther, I’m starting to lose faith. He doesn’t look great on the power play, which is where you’d hope a great saucer passer could provide value. At 5-on-5, he isn’t doing enough to make me think he’s earned a full-time roster spot.

Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — There are a lot of people in Toronto who don’t trust Hutchinson, including Sheldon Keefe. He even considered playing Frederik Andersen on the back-to-back before finally announcing that Hutchinson would start.

Can you really blame Keefe? Hutchinson got beat more than just the three times by the Ottawa Senators. We could’ve given the cross bar the Game Puck tonight.

1/5 Stars

John Tavares (C, #91) — In a game where all of Toronto’s lines were roaring, Tavares had zero shot attempts after 40 minutes. It was confusing.

He was able to score in the third period, but it was a product of:

a) His teammates force-feeding him the puck to get him going

b) Matt Murray giving up an unscreened wrist shot from distance

How many times does the average NHL goaltender stop that? 99 times out of 100? I’m happy for Tavares, who’s finally starting to get some Sh% luck, but this just wasn’t a great game for him.

0/5 Stars

The Lehtonen-Dermott Pair — Anyone else remember the Hunlak era?

There isn’t any other way to put it. This pairing was awful tonight. They got lit up at even strength, allowing 25 more shots than they generated — against the Ottawa Senators. How is that even possible?

This game wasn’t a great argument for moving Dermott over to the right side. It also wasn’t great for the “more skill on the blueline” movement. Maybe Dermott-Bogosian just works?

Heat Map

Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

This would’ve looked a lot better for Toronto after 40 minutes. Here’s a quick look at scoring chances by period.

  • 1st Period: 10-4 Toronto
  • 2nd Period: 9-6 Toronto
  • 3rd Period: 20-5 Ottawa

Maybe Hutchinson wasn’t that bad.

Game Score

Game score is a metric developed by The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn to measure single-game performance. You can read more about it here.

Final Grade: A-