You’re going to laugh when you see the heat map in this one.
Despite out-chancing Winnipeg 51-20, Toronto lost the game 4-3. Much like Thatcher Demko’s performance in the Leafs‘ last two losses, Connor Hellebuyck stole the show for his team.
That’s nothing new for Hellebuyck, who has been stealing games the Jets don’t deserve to win for years now. Before I get carried away with the rest of the Winnipeg jokes in my back pocket, we should probably get around to analyzing some hockey.
Let’s dive into the report cards!
Game Puck: Zach Hyman (RW, #11) — I’m not quite sure when Zach Hyman turned into a dominant transition player, but he’s been carrying the load for Toronto’s third line these past couple of weeks.
He’s still doing his usual Hyman things below the goal line, winning pucks back for his team. What I find most impressive is that he’s combining that possession driving ability with more high-skill plays to create offense.
Whether it’s a drop pass to Tavares off the rush or a sliding the puck over to an open Pierre Engvall in the slot, Hyman is finding a way to create offense for himself and his teammates.
His price tag isn’t getting any cheaper with these types of games.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — It’s been pretty clear that Matthews isn’t comfortable shooting right now after jamming his wrist into the boards a few games ago. For a guy whose entire offensive game is built around his shot, you’d think that would render him pretty ineffective.
A clearly banged up Auston Matthews plays 22.5 minutes tonight, scores twice, fires six shots and wins 13-of-18 faceoffs.
Shot attempts were 21-7 when he was on the ice.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) March 10, 2021
The fact that he was able to pull this off while visibly looking like a shell of his former self is a testament to Matthews’ talent. On the power play, it was pretty obvious he didn’t want the puck on the perimeter, so he got himself to the high-danger area and deflected a Morgan Rielly point shot for Toronto’s first goal of the game.
At 5-on-5, he was able to use his passing to get Mitch Marner open in some good shooting positions.
At 6-on-5, he went with his power-play strategy: go to the net and see what happens.
It’s crazy that you can take away Matthews’ superpower (his shot) and he still finds a way to bury two goals while absolutely dominating possession at even strength. The Leafs just might have a player here.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — With Matthews picking up two goals, the narrative is naturally going to be more about him, but Marner was actually the one driving most of the offense tonight with his quick one-touch passing. It helped Toronto get up the ice and into the offensive zone, where Marner fired a team-high 11 shot attempts and nine chances from the slot.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — This is a tough grade because Rielly was excellent prior to the “Big Mistake” everyone’s going to remember. To help recap things, he threaded a few great breakout passes to get Marner some chances off the rush.
He also should’ve picked up an assist on this play.
How does Ilya Mikheyev miss that? It’s not like he has a long track record of whiffing on Grade-A scoring chances.
Offensively, Rielly was dynamite. Unfortunately, this is the play he’ll be remembered for tonight.
Puck-moving defensemen need to take more chances with their team down by a goal in the third period. I can live with that higher-risk pass. What I can’t live with is Rielly looking lost (again) when defending the rush.
The Tavares-Nylander Combo — Speaking of players who were robbed of assists, William Nylander easily could’ve had a few in this game. He did finish the night with one assist on Matthews’ 6v5 goal, but he could’ve picked up another two if Alex Kerfoot was able to finish on Nylander’s passes out front.
His linemate, John Tavares, also had a strong night. That line dominated the run of play at even strength, out-chancing the Jets 13-3 when Tavares was on the ice. He also made a big impact as the sixth attacker, helping keep possession in the offensive zone before finding Matthews in front for Toronto’s third goal of the game.
Alex Kerfoot (LW, #15) — He had a few shifts where he was actually the most dangerous player on the ice, wheeling around the offensive zone with his speed and threading saucer passes through the middle of the ice. That entire line was buzzing.
The reason I have him graded a notch below his two linemates is that he flubbed a few Grade-A scoring chances, most notably an open net that he shot directly into Hellebuyck’s chest.
Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — He’s looking way more confident with the puck on his stick lately, driving his way to the net and creating a few scoring chances. Sometimes he’s thinking shoot-first off the rush when there are better options available, but I’d rather Vesey be confident in his shot than… whatever he was in the first 15-20 games of the season.
Defense — It’s hard to measure in pro sports, but I liked what I saw from TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian defensively. No, they weren’t paired together, but they did a great job taking away the middle of the ice in their own end.
Both players tend to be the last line of defense for Toronto when they’re on the ice, and I thought they did their job in that regard, preventing backdoor passes and getting their sticks on the puck when it approached the high-danger areas.
Coaching Staff — Remember when we graded the coaching staff after every game? Why not bring that back? I think it leads to some interesting talking points. Here are a few things that stood out to me:
- They ran with Muzzin-Bogosian and Dermott-Holl for a large portion of the game
- Matthews isn’t playing the half-wall on the PP anymore with his wrist injury
- Hyman got moved up to get Matthews-Marner going (and it worked)
I can’t say I disagree with any of these decisions, but from a coaching standpoint, Toronto’s penalty kill has been a cause for concern lately. We’ll have to see if they’re able to clean things up over their next few games.
Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — Because I know everyone is going to bring it up, here are the four goals Andersen allowed:
- 1st goal: PP deflection
- 2nd goal: deflection off Matthews’ skate
- 3rd goal: Behind the net pass to Connor
- 4th goal: Odd man rush off of a turnover
You can’t blame a goaltender for last-second deflections, but you’d like to see a save on one of those last two shots. Eventually, teams are going to generate high-quality chances at some point, and it’s the goaltender’s job to make a big save.
Hellebuyck was better at that than Andersen tonight. Sometimes the game of hockey really is that simple.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — I’m having a bit of an existential crisis right now. The Leafs out-chanced the Jets 19-4 when Muzzin was on the ice at 5v5, and I didn’t think he played particularly well.
Are my eyes deceiving me? Do we overvalue more visible aspects of play while undervaluing all the little things defensemen like Muzzin do well? Was Toronto’s top six carrying him tonight?
Frankly, I’m not sure. What I do know is that Muzzin was fighting the puck a bit on the breakout in this game, although he was making his usual smart pinches in the OZ to maintain possession. He was also able to create a few rebounds with his point shot.
As someone who already spends way too much of his life thinking about hockey, I’m probably going to lose sleep over this grade.
“How were his 5v5 results so good!?”
Hyman’s Linemates — There really is a drastic drop-off between Hyman and his puck hounds on the third line. As much as I love watching Ilya Mikheyev force turnovers or Pierre Engvall skate the puck from the DZ to the OZ, it’s Hyman who’s driving this line.
His lengthy minions did their usual thing without the puck, but you’d like to see them contribute a bit more offensively considering the quality of chances they’re getting.
The Old Guys — Poor Joe Thornton didn’t look up to speed tonight, which obviously was never his strong suit, but he was really behind the play on a few different sequences. Jason Spezza still looks comfortable quarterbacking the power play, but at 5-on-5, this was a quiet night for him offensively.
Travis — Boyd and Dermott both struggled in this one. The fourth line wasn’t able to get much of anything going, while Dermott was the only Leafs defenseman to get outshot at even strength.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — It didn’t start out well for Justin Holl, turning the puck over behind his own net a couple of times and dragging down a Winnipeg forward.
It didn’t get better.
I’m not sure who he’s covering there, but it isn’t Kyle Connor, who’s scored 30+ goals in three straight seasons.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.