Another game, another shutout from your backup.
It was 3-0 Toronto after 20 minutes. Now, we’ve all seen the Leafs blow big leads before, but they found a way to keep Connor McDavid & co. off of the scoreboard for a second time in a row with two different backup goalies in net. That’s no mean feat.
I’m not sure how many people would’ve predicted that after it was announced Michael Hutchinson would be starting tonight’s game. As you might’ve guessed, his will be the first individual performance we dive into tonight.
It’s time for some Leafs report cards!
Game Puck: Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — Who would’ve thought that after four starts this season, Michael Hutchinson would be rocking a .943 save percentage? Good for him. He was fantastic tonight, particularly early on in the game.
This was one of his 31 stops on the night. Some of the others that come to mind include a big blocker save on Dominik Kahun; denying Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in tight to start the third period; or squeezing Jesse Puljujarvi’s wrist shot under his arm enough to get the puck to roll by the post.
Oh yeah, Connor McDavid:
We’ve made a lot of jokes at Hutchinson’s expense over the past couple of years. Now it’s time to give him some credit — he’s been playing some of the best hockey of his life in 2021.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — His first period was arguably Rielly’s most dominant offensive stretch of play this season. He was jumping up in the play, as usual, and finding a way to get passes through the seam in the offensive zone.
Rielly followed this up with a clapper on the power play to give Toronto a multi-goal lead. He had opportunities to pick up more points, including a breakaway where Mike Smith denied him on the backhand.
It is worth noting the Rielly-Brodie pair got hemmed in a few times by McDavid, but they didn’t get burned off the rush, which is your biggest concern when you’re defending #97.
Zach Hyman (RW, #11) — All hail the HEM line.
The trio of Hyman-Engvall-Mikheyev may not have the most puck skills, but they find a way to force pucks loose and capitalize on those turnovers while being responsible defensively. What’s crazy is that Hyman has become the primary offensive driver on the line, which makes sense when you see his two linemates, but it’s amazing to see #11 out there making crafty plays to generate offense.
As you can see from Hyman’s mitts on that backhand goal, there’s a bit of finish there. If only he could pass some of that onto his Russian linemate.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — One of these days, Ilya Mikheyev is going to score off the rush and it will be glorious.
That day is not today.
The inner nerd in me is screaming “unsustainable” — he’s got to convert on these high-quality chances eventually, right? Even a fourth-line NHL shooter will score on a few odd-man rushes.
This is just strange.
Pierre Engvall (C, #47) — It looks like Pierre Engvall is starting to realize how to take advantage of his gaudy tools. At 6’5, with his speed, it’s crazy how much ground he can cover in a short amount of time.
It’s a big reason why Engvall is able to transition the puck so easily from the DZ to the OZ. Zone entries are great, but the best way to create efficient offense is to complete a pass after gaining the zone, which is an area of Engvall’s game I’ve been critical of in the past.
He was excellent in that department tonight.
Keefe had high praise for Engvall today and it's not hard to see why. He won't get an assist on this goal but this play in transition is a big reason it all happens.
Great pass by Rielly, better finish by Hyman. pic.twitter.com/rjTwoxrHYp
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) March 2, 2021
If Engvall can use his speed to start more passing sequences off the rush, it’s going to lead to more goals for Toronto’s bottom six.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — Here’s a breakdown of who McDavid faced at 5v5 tonight.
As I’m sure you noticed, TJ Brodie is at the top of that list. It isn’t easy to hold McDavid scoreless, which is why I have Brodie ranked so highly tonight despite his underwhelming 5v5 metrics.
There were a few times McDavid had a chance to break down Brodie in 1-on-1 situations and he wasn’t able to, with the veteran defender finding ways to get his stick on the puck.
William Nylander (LW, #88) — He was Toronto’s only player with a positive shot differential at even strength. He also picked up two points: an assist on the power play and a goal out of nowhere.
I’m sure Mikko Koskinen truthers weren’t too happy with that one, but give Nylander credit for batting the puck out of the air and getting himself a partial breakaway followed by a slick finish.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — This wasn’t the dominant performance we saw on Saturday night against Edmonton, although we still got some glimpses at what makes Marner such a unique player. At even strength, he was able to stick-handle his way into dangerous spots in the offensive zone, which helps break down the structure and create an opening.
On the penalty kill, Marner chased down a loose puck and found Zach Hyman, who fanned on the backhand at the backdoor to make it 4-0. Later that period, he hit the top corner of the cross bar on the power play with that wrist shot he’s been trusting lately.
Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — Again, this was not an A+ game for the Thornton-Tavares-Marner line. That said, Thornton still looked in his element below the goal line.
He’s so good at threading passes from behind the net that lead to high-percentage chances.
With the goaltender stuck on the goal line, it gives the shooter lots of net to find an opening.
The Muzzin-Holl Pair — Despite getting burned badly once, Jake Muzzin did quite well in his minutes against McDavid. His best plays, in my opinion, came low in the defensive zone, where Muzzin was able to separate opposing forwards from the puck.
When it comes to Justin Holl, you’ve probably seen the memes by now.
McDavid saw Holl coming for him and panicked pic.twitter.com/dFwov5PBXn
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 2, 2021
Now, getting lit up in shots and chances against at even strength isn’t a great recipe for success moving forward, although score effects play a role. Holl spent too much time in his own end tonight, but the fact that he helped hold McDavid scoreless is another notch in his belt.
Is Justin Holl Connor McDavid’s Kryptonite?
The Dermott-Bogosian Pair — This has been the third pair that’s consistently yielded the best results at even strength this season, which is why it’s nice to see Travis Dermott steadily earn a bit more ice time. He finished with 14 minutes tonight.
Both players defended well in transition. They also defended Hutchinson after he got bumped by Darnell Nurse late in the game. Zach Bogosian quickly challenged him to a fight, which Nurse declined. That didn’t stop Dermott from finding a dance partner in Josh Archibald.
John Tavares (C, #91) — The box score says that he had five shots from the slot and his line actually out-chanced the opposition at even strength. Personally, I think that had more to do with Marner’s play at even strength.
Tavares is finding the soft spots in the offensive zone, but he still hasn’t looked super dangerous in transition. I did like his breakaway pass to Rielly after drawing in three Edmonton defenders.
Alex — Barabanov & Kerfoot are getting grouped together tonight. Unfortunately, it’s because neither of them played that well. Barabanov looked completely outmatched a few times by Leon Draisaitl, getting bullied in 1-on-1 situations.
Kerfoot was active on the PK. At even strength, he wasn’t able to accomplish much of anything. Both forwards finished with zero shot attempts, which is a pretty good indicator that you’re not super involved offensively.
The Fourth Line — Travis Boyd finished the game with zero shot attempts and, frankly, zero memorable plays offensively. Jimmy Vesey continues to make little to no impact at even strength. Jason Spezza actually had a couple of good passes in this game, most notably his slip pass to get Justin Holl in lots of open ice.
He also got dusted by McDavid, but what are we really expecting here?
The combination of Vesey-Boyd-Spezza has controlled under 40 percent of the shots at even strength — that’s typically The Mendoza Line of 5v5 metrics. For comparison’s sake, the trio of Petan-Boyd-Spezza has controlled 66 percent of the shots in their time together.
We’re obviously dealing with small samples, but the numbers indicate what a lot us have been seeing: Jimmy Vesey shouldn’t be on that line.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
- 1st Period: 50%
- 2nd Period: 12%
- 3rd Period: 33%
They went into a defensive shell after the first intermission, but they also kept McDavid off of the scoresheet (again) and defended well as a team down the stretch in the third period to preserve the Hutchinson shutout.