Sometimes the pucks don’t go in.
Despite controlling the run of play for the majority of the game, the Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t able to score on Monday night, losing 3-0 to the Calgary Flames. Posts were hit; cross-bars were pinged; pucks were swiped off the goal-line by Dave Rittich’s stick; but somehow, Toronto couldn’t find the back of the net.
There are much worse ways to lose a hockey game, especially when you’re missing your best defenseman (Jake Muzzin) and checking forward (Zach Hyman), not to mention your starting goaltender (Frederik Andersen).
It was very much one of “those games,” so keep that in mind when we go through these report cards.
Game Puck: Alex Barabanov (RW, #94) — That was Barabanov’s best game in a Leafs uniform by far. It obviously helps playing alongside William Nylander, but Barabanov was actually able to create some of his own offense on Monday night.
He looked most dangerous flying down the left wing off the rush, where he was able to generate a few quality chances. Barabanov rang a puck of Rittich’s mask, which deflected off of the cross-bar afterward. He hit Calgary’s poor goaltender again in the head with a hard wrister.
The Third Line — One of the biggest problems for Toronto this season has been the 5-on-5 play of their third line. None of the combinations have really worked so far.
In this game, the combination of Vesey-Engvall-Mikheyev yielded some very positive results. Jimmy Vesey caught some bad luck early on, catching an inadvertent Sam Bennett elbow to the nose. After getting attended to, he rejoined the game and was able to create a few chances on that third line.
His best opportunity came in tight after a Pierre Engvall pass from behind the net. Speaking of Engvall, I was a big fan of his ability to win pucks back in the defensive zone and transition play up the ice with speed.
This is what Engvall is all about.
Makes a strong play below the red line, then transports the puck up the ice. pic.twitter.com/Z6wMdFkWqD
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) February 23, 2021
He’s never going to be an offensive dynamo, but Engvall is great at getting the puck back and playing keep-away 200 feet from his net. It’s a valuable attribute in a bottom-six forward.
As for Ilya Mikheyev, he was able to break free for not one but two breakaways on the penalty kill. I wish I could tell you he buried one of them, but hockey is no fairy tale world.
The Third Pairing — I find it mildly hilarious that both Mikko Lehtonen and Zach Bogosian each fired six pucks at the net. You never want your offense coming exclusively from the blueline, but when you tilt the ice the way these two did tonight, it’s an easier pill to swallow.
Bogosian was fantastic on the penalty kill, stepping up on Calgary’s forwards at the blueline and preventing an easy zone entry. Lehtonen looked confident with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, but I’d still like to see him (and Bogosian) look for the pass more often instead of rifling point shots from 60 feet away.
Nic Petan (LW, #61) — We all know Petan can pass the puck. What most of us get frustrated with is his defensive play, which was excellent tonight. This was particularly noticeable through the neutral zone, where Petan fought hard to gain body position on the backcheck. He picked up a weak hooking penalty on one of them, but I’m happy to see that if I’m his coach. You can live with the odd penalty if it comes on a high-effort backcheck.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — As one of Toronto’s more consistent defensemen, it’s not always easy to pick up the little things Brodie is doing to help his team. Positioning himself in the right spot when defending the rush? Check. Efficiently moving the puck out of his own end? Check. Not getting burned when Morgan Rielly jumps up in the play? Check.
Brodie checks a lot of boxes as an NHL defenceman.
Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — The Leafs lost a game and it wasn’t because of Michael Hutchinson. As crazy as that may sound, he played pretty well in this game. His rebound control was a bit of an issue on the first and third goals, but we’ve come to expect that with Toronto’s #4 goaltender.
On a night when the Leafs‘ offense didn’t provide him with any goal support, Hutchinson actually kept his team in it. That’s all you can really ask from your backup, backup, backup goalie.
The Matthews-Marner Pair — We’ve grown so accustomed to Auston Matthews scoring a goal every game and Mitch Marner putting up a couple of assists. It’s truly weird to look at a box score and see zeroes beside their names in the points column.
Even on an off-night for him, Matthews was able to hit the post after a gorgeous feed from Marner below the goal line. Marner had a few other great plays in this game. He saved a breakaway with a diving poke check; defended a 2-on-1 well despite having his goalie pulled; he also drew two penalties from the right wall after juking out the defender.
The issue is that Toronto’s power play 0 for 7 on the night, which at the end of the day, falls on the star talent. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about 5-on-3 shot selection in Rielly’s section)
William Nylander (LW, #88) — He played most of this game with Barabanov and Alex Kerfoot as his linemates, forcing Nylander to dictate play himself in the offensive zone. He appeared to be up to the challenge early on, using his legs to create space for himself off the cycle.
I wanted to touch on something Ray Ferraro brought up on the broadcast: Nylander has a tendency to drop below the goal line when the Leafs use him on their top-loaded PP unit. He’s been doing this for a while now, to the point where I don’t think it’s him shying away from contact as much as it’s him trying to draw a defender out of the slot so he can saucer a pass to Tavares or Matthews for a one-timer.
He almost connected with Matthews on one of those passes from below the goal line, which are high percentage plays based on the latest research.
Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — I’m starting to think Kerfoot might be a winger. He’s looked much more effective streaking down the left wing to win puck races. With the way he’s been using his speed lately, I can’t imagine he’s someone opposing players love playing against.
Forecheck, backcheck, paycheck.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) and Travis Boyd (C, #72) — We’re going to group these two together because they play on the same line. Jason Spezza had a few good chances in this game, opting to shoot on a 2-on-1 with Kerfoot, which Rittich read the whole way. At even strength, it’s been cool to see some of the passing plays Spezza and Petan have been able to make off the rush.
Boyd isn’t someone I thought too much about in this game, although his penalty on Milan Lucic in tight might have saved a goal.
The DermottHollogist — Stop me if you’ve heard this before; Travis Dermott has a chance to prove himself in tougher minutes with Jake Muzzin out of the lineup. His first audition this season didn’t go too well. Justin Holl didn’t give him much help, with that pairing getting outshot in their limited minutes together.
We know these two have played well as a pairing in the past, both at the NHL and AHL level. Here’s hoping they can find that chemistry again sometime soon, especially if this Muzzin injury is more than just a night off.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — A 5-on-3 power play is an opportunity for your team to get the puck to one of your best shooters in a dangerous spot. As the point man, Rielly has the option of passing the puck to Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, Marner.
Instead, Rielly called his own number and launched a few point shots from distance. He has the worst shot of the five players on the ice. I can’t imagine how infuriating that must be for Matthews to watch the worst shooter on the ice look him off (again).
Now, I actually liked a lot of the plays Rielly made in this game. When he’s flying down the left wall in the offensive zone and threading passes through the middle of the ice, he’s creating efficient offense. I’d just like to see him take that deferential approach more often, especially when he shares the ice with Matthews.
John Tavares (LW, #91) — It’s getting to the point where I feel bad for Tavares, who was moved up next to Matthews and Marner until Keefe moved away from it after it failed to click. His shooting percentage is well below his career average this season, which history tells us should turn around soon.
Man that's a ridiculous save by Rittich. Tavares nearly had it pic.twitter.com/rwWIyp1Auz
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 23, 2021
That Sh% regression must be coming soon…right?
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The Leafs controlled 54 percent of the shots at even strength, 53 percent of the chances, and 0 percent of the goals. Sometimes hockey sucks.