Sometimes you run out of juice.
The Toronto Maple Leafs generated the majority of the scoring chances in the first two periods, but fatigue seemed to factor in pretty heavily in the third. Vancouver ended up winning the game 3-1 thanks in large part to a stellar game from their goaltender.
As Daryl Morey would say, humans love narratives. I don’t want to harp too much on the “second half of a back-to-back” aspect of things here, but watching the game live, you certainly got the feeling that Toronto was running out of energy after the second intermission. The numbers back it up, too.
This is a weird one to evaluate. We’ll try our best as we go through each player individually.
It’s time for some Leafs Report Cards!
Jake Virtanen Thatcher Demko Road Trip Fatigue
Actual Game Puck: William Nylander (LW, #88) — Since this is a post-game Leafs column, we’ll give the Game Puck to Willy Styles. He was Toronto’s most dangerous player offensively, creating lots of quality chances with his passing in the offensive zone.
This is one example, where Nylander finds Ilya Mikheyev out front. These “behind the net” passes are super valuable: they lead to a much higher shooting percentage than the average pass.
East-west passes in the offensive zone also help boost your shooting percentage, which Nylander was able to pull off a couple of times tonight. He was also able to create his own shot a few times, but he somehow ended the game without recording a point.
Sometimes the bounces don’t go your way.
Pierre Engvall (C, #47) — And sometimes they do.
As Ray Ferraro broke down on the broadcast, #58 on Vancouver (Marc Michaelis in his first NHL game) failed to take away the middle lane here. That’s not to take anything away from Pierre Engvall, who continues to look more and more confident off the rush.
He’s always had a heavy shot. It’s just a matter of shot selection sometimes with him. Earlier in the game, he took a turnaround wrister from the boards, and the Leafs lost possession.
If he could turn down some of those bad shots and look to use his size more to get into better shooting positions, I think he could start producing much more offensively at the NHL level.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — Check out that one-handed drop pass he makes to Engvall in the clip above. Not too shabby for a player who generates more offense at 4v5 than he does at 5v5.
I’m not kidding.
Kinda strange stat building on something from @jtbourne
today: The Leafs generate nearly as many expected goals with Mikheyev on the ice on the penalty kill (1.69 per 60 minutes) as they do with him on the ice at 5v5 (1.93 per 60).
— draglikepull (@draglikepull) March 3, 2021
It’s actually not surprising when you consider Mikheyev seems to get at least one PK rush chance per game.
Now if only he could convert on a few more of those chances.
Zach Hyman (RW, #11) — He did a great job driving the bus offensively for the HEM line (MEH line? ZIP line?), then complemented Matthews-Marner well in the third period.
With his ability to win pucks back and tilt the ice at 5v5, you can really play this guy anywhere. Zach Hyman also had a dominant stretch of PK play where he was a nightmare to deal with on the forecheck.
Snakebitten — Auston Matthews and John Tavares combined for 15 shot attempts, 12 chances from the slot, and 0 goals. That, my friends, is what you call rotten shooting luck.
Both players had plenty of Grade-A scoring opportunities, but the pucks just weren’t going in. Credit to Thatcher Demko for some stellar goaltending. Matthews had a few one one-timers; Tavares was open in tight a couple of times. It didn’t matter. The other team’s goalie was better tonight.
As a side-note, Tavares and Matthews swapped roles on the power play a couple of times, with Tavares running things from the left half-wall and Matthews filling in the bumper role in the middle of the ice.
That did not work.
They’ve looked much more dangerous with Matthews roaming the perimeter and Tavares available in the middle for quick one-touch passes or one-timers.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — He’s still got it at age 37. At even strength, Spezza obviously needs to be sheltered at this point in his career, but he’s still quarterbacking Toronto’s second-unit power play at a high level.
He got a couple of slap shots off from “his spot” on the power play, followed by a seam pass to Nylander. Later in the game, Spezza found Tavares out front for a quality chance.
Then there’s my favourite moment of the game: Spezza ignoring the youngsters and gaining the zone himself at 6v5.
The research indicates he’s still Toronto’s most effective zone entry wizard with the man advantage. Some of it must be competition effects, but I think his direct north-south approach is something a lot of talented puck carriers could learn from.
The Rielly-Brodie Pair — I came across a fascinating stat before the game.
A look at which players have the highest quality-per-shot numbers at 5v5 this year [h/t Moneypuck]
1. Auston Matthews, TOR
2. Zach Hyman, TOR
3. Ethan Bear, EDM
4. TJ Brodie, TOR
5. Morgan Rielly, TOR
More on Matthews and more leaderboards in the thread…
— HBF Analytics (@HBFAnalytics) March 4, 2021
A lot of that is because of Matthews’ freakish ability to generate high-quality shots, but the defensemen contribute to it as well. For example, Rielly threaded a pass to Thornton in the slot. He was a major factor in transition, getting Toronto’s breakout started through the middle of the ice, which gave them more space to gain the zone.
I liked Brodie’s game tonight, too. He played a tight gap in the neutral zone, forcing a lot of dump-ins. There were a few times the pairing got hemmed in a bit too often, which has been a common trend all season if we’re being honest.
It’s good to know they drive shot quality at an elite level — because they seem to keep getting outshot at even strength.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — We’ll make this one quick. His partner had a nightmare game and Muzzin still managed to drive play in a positive direction. The Leafs out-chanced the Canucks 11-4 when Muzzin was on the ice and broke even when he was off the ice.
He forces pucks loose, settles things down, and gets the puck going in the right direction. This just in: Muzzin is an effective NHL defenseman.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — In a similar vein to the Matthews and Tavares section, Marner easily could’ve finished the game with a couple of points. The Matthews-Marner partnership created a few really good chances off of give-and-goes, but nothing could get past Demko.
Didn’t Really Think About You — This can be a compliment or an insult depending on how you take it. Here’s a list of players I didn’t end up with many notes on:
Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — Loved his gap (what else is new?), but I’d like to see him use his skating ability to get himself open in the offensive zone. Toronto’s possession game is all about movement without the puck, and Dermott can do a much better job of that on the cycle.
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — Just your typical Zach Bogosian night.
Nic Petan (LW, #61) — Aside from his great play out of the corner to Rielly, he didn’t look super dangerous offensively. That said, it was a great play.
Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — It was nice to see him playing with a bit more confidence after his two-goal game the other night. He only had one quality chance, but he earned it by stick-handling his way into a good spot.
Alex Kerfoot (LW, #15) — How many 2-on-1 passes does this guy need to make before he finally gets an assist? Tavares put his over the net, while Mikheyev (shockingly) failed to score on his.
Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — Sheldon Keefe didn’t play him in the third period. After the game, he said it wasn’t because of an injury, but at age 41, maybe Joe Thornton shouldn’t have been playing at all on the second half of a back to back.
There's no reason to play Joe Thornton on a b2b
— J (@Account4hockey) March 5, 2021
Tim Duncan load managed for the San Antonio Spurs later in his Hall of Fame career. Maybe this is the Leafs’ version of it for Thornton? Definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Getting walked by Jake Virtanen isn’t something you want on your resume.
Having it happen twice is downright sad.
I’m a big fan of Justin Holl’s game, but this just wasn’t his night.
Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — Speaking of Jake Virtanen, this puck can’t go in.
What’s frustrating is that Hutchinson actually had some good moments in this game. He made a big save on Bo Horvat right after letting that goal in, which is exactly what you want to see from your goaltender.
The issue for me was that there were too many juicy rebounds tonight, which has always been a concern with Hutchinson.
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 quick look at the 5v5 expected goals by period:
- 1st: 70% Toronto
- 2nd: 60% Toronto
- 3rd: 45% Toronto
Do with this information what you will.
Tweets of the Night
I’ve missed doing this section. It’s actually a lot of fun when you find the right tweets!
— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) March 4, 2021
Dom’s model has officially pronounced Matthews as a more valuable hockey player than McDavid. I’m sure no one in Western Canada will have a problem with this.
i want so badly to believe in this third line. I like the players on it. I like the idea of it. I like that it reminds me of a badger, a giraffe and a cheetah with a machine gun
— Acting the Fulemin (@ATFulemin) March 5, 2021
We need a buddy cop movie where Mikheyev, Engvall, and Hyman all go digging into the corners for clues.
— Wayne Gretzky (@WayneGretzky) March 5, 2021
RIP, Walter. I can’t put into words what you’ve meant to this sport as Canada’s hockey parent.