Has Connor Hellebuyck been holding the Winnipeg Jets back? My column.

The Leafs dominated the run of play in their previous two games against Hellebuyck and the Jets. That was not the case tonight.

Paul Maurice decided to go with Laurent Brossoit in net, which must have energized the team because they looked much better at even strength. Thanks to a few power-play goals in the third period, aided by a bench minor and “questionable” penalty calls, Winnipeg was able to defeat Toronto by a final score of 5-2.

I’m sure this will be an emotional one for fans. Let’s all take a deep breath and do that one thing you know will calm you down after a third period like that.

Did you do it?

Awesome, it’s time for some report cards!

4 Stars

Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — His line didn’t quite have “it” tonight, but Marner did everything he could to help open up space with some shifty moves. He pulled off a few little jump dekes to avoid contact while still maintaining possession of the puck.

That’s how he started the PK rush leading to a primary assist.

Believe it or not, this was Toronto’s first shorthanded goal of the season. They actually generate the most 4v5 scoring chances per 60 in the NHL, so maybe this is a sign of things to come. They weren’t going to keep shooting zero percent on all of those rush chances.

Getting back to Marner, one thing that stood out to me was just how fast he was skating back to cover for pinching defensemen. The Leafs love to get Rielly-Brodie in motion when they’re cycling in the offensive zone, but that can only work if the forwards buy into the system and consistently cover as the third forward (F3). Marner has been excellent in that regard this season.

William Nylander (LW, #88) — This might be the best stretch of hockey we’ve seen him play.

William Nylander is on fire offensively right now, using his speed in transition to back off defenders and create something dangerous with that open space. One thing I noticed is that he was also using his speed well defensively in the neutral zone, skating stride-for-stride with Nik Ehlers at one point — something none of Toronto’s players have been able to accomplish in this series.

Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — I know Sheldon Keefe said that he didn’t think anyone had a good game tonight, but I disagree. Jake Muzzin did a great job standing up on opposing Jets forwards in transition, killing plays early in the neutral zone. We’ve come to expect that from Muzzin.

What we typically don’t expect is him jumping up in the offensive zone and creating chances. He had that shorthanded goal off the rush on the PK, not to mention sneaking backdoor at 5v5, where he received a great pass from Ilya Mikheyev.

I’m not used to seeing Muzzin as active in the OZ as he was tonight, but he looked good doing it. Maybe that’s something the Leafs should encourage him to do more often.

TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — He’s been earning his paycheck with defensive plays like these.

That’s textbook 1-on-1 defense against Kyle Connor.

TJ Brodie has a knack for getting his stick on the puck in these situations. You’ve also probably noticed he has a habit of breaking up 2-on-1 passes with a well-timed slide in the defensive zone.

The most efficient offense in the NHL is created off the rush, with a pass through the middle of the ice. Brodie’s great at preventing that, which is confirmed by both the eye test and the numbers.

Not a bad acquisition by Kyle Dubas.

3 Stars

John Tavares (C, #91) — One of the things that stood out to me tonight was how well Tavares was able to get body position, boxing out opposing players before going into a 1-on-1 puck battle. This was most noticeable in the defensive zone, which helped Tavares scoop up loose pucks and start the breakout for Toronto. His drawn penalty on Mark Scheifele was because of one simple thing: body position.

Now, Tavares did get burned by Mason Appleton when he was supposed to be covering for a pinching defenseman, but Frederik Andersen bailed him out with a big save* on the ensuing 2-on-1.

*Insert joke about how it was Andersen’s only big save of the night.

The Third Line — This play technically didn’t exist because of a hand pass, but my word, what a shot from Pierre Engvall.

The tools on this guy are ridiculous. He’s a 6’5, long dude who can absolutely rip the puck. Offensively, I’d love to see him use that heavy wrister more often from good locations like this.

Defensively, it’s crazy how much ground he can cover in a short amount of time. There were a few separate instances on the backcheck where you’re thinking, “there’s no way Engvall’s going to catch him,” and he does. By a lot.

Ilya Mikheyev was also showing off a bit more offense than we’re used to seeing. He pulled off a few separate “spin moves” in the offensive zone to create some space off the cycle. That’s how he ended up finding the room to deliver a backdoor pass to Muzzin, who was denied by Brossoit.

Last (and least) is Alex Kerfoot, who was a bit of a third wheel at 5v5, although he did have a couple of nice rushes with the puck. He made a bigger impact when Toronto had four skaters on the ice, forcing the turnover on the PK that led to the Muzzin goal, as well as drawing a tripping penalty on Pierre Luc Dubois at 4v4 by moving his feet.

Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — If you watch the Nylander goal again, you’ll notice Thornton makes a great little one-touch pass to create the 2-on-1. I didn’t love Thornton on the power play tonight; he turned the puck over a few times and took an interference penalty.

Justin Holl (RD, #3) — He had a few ups and downs in this game. The Nik Ehlers 2-on-1 earlier in the game was his fault, but at the same time, Holl helped create the Nylander 2-on-1 goal, so we’ll call that a wash.

With Muzzin jumping up into the play so often at 5v5, Holl was forced to sit back more often, which doesn’t make for a super noticeable game — it’s hard to take notes on the guy who isn’t even in the frame.

2 Stars

Coaching Staff — I’m not sure if I should be laughing or terrified.

Keefe was not happy with the officiating down the stretch in the third period, which is understandable considering some of the calls. That said, he essentially put the game to bed by picking up a bench minor there, forcing his team to kill two full minutes of a 5-on-3.

If we’re talking about actual tactical decisions, I loved the fact that he ran with a 4-forward power play at 4-on-3, putting his four best players on the ice when the Leafs really needed a goal.

Auston Matthews (C, #34) — Without his A+ shooting ability, Matthews has been forced to become more of a passer these last few games. He’s still making an impact in that regard, starting the breakout with some slick passes and looking to connect on those dangerous east-west passes in the offensive zone, which he connected on with Rielly off the rush.

All of that said, it feels weird watching Matthews without his shot. He just doesn’t look the same, and it shows on nights like these. The Hyman-Matthews-Marner line got filled in at even strength.

Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — There are shifts where I marvel at Rielly’s skating and creativity in the offensive zone. Then there are shifts where he’s the first one in on the forecheck and five seconds later, Andersen is facing a 2-on-1. We could talk about his interference penalty on Ehlers, but honestly, that one was pretty dicey.

The bigger concern to me is the fact that Rielly got outshot again at even strength, this time by a significant margin (19-11 shot attempts). He creates so much offensively, but if you give it all back on defense, how much is that really worth tonight?

The Fourth Line — We can go quickly here. Jimmy Vesey really struggled to complete passes up the ice, as did Travis Boyd. That resulted in them getting hemmed in the DZ for most of their shifts, although Jason Spezza was able to generate a few sharp-angle shots that looked somewhat dangerous. Spezza also failed to pick up anyone on the backcheck of Winnipeg’s first goal, which was a bad look for him (and Travis Dermott).

1 Star

Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — When was the last time a Zach Hyman line got out-chanced by eight shots from the slot? Tonight just wasn’t his night.

The Bottom Pair — Zach Bogosian had a few rough moments with the puck, including a failed dump-in that led to a Blake Wheeler breakaway, where Bogosian slashed him at the end and picked up a penalty. He did close out well in transition defense, finishing his checks on Jets forwards as they crossed the blue line.

Travis Dermott was the nearest defender on two goals against, and frankly, you could make a good case that he was the “most guilty” Leaf on both of them.

Someone’s got to pick up Appleton there, whether it’s Spezza or Dermott. We’re not going to bother showing the other clip, but Dermott got caught chasing the puck behind the net, which led to a pass out front for a goal.

Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — Yikes.

He’s been a hot topic lately. Since we all do it on Leafs Twitter anyway, let’s go through each of the five goals Andersen allowed.

  • 1st goal: Backdoor pass
  • 2nd goal: Double deflection
  • 3rd goal: Pass out front, five-hole
  • 4th goal: Screen & Ehlers snipe
  • 5th goal: Beat clean from the left dot

With goaltenders, you’ll either hear fans scream, “He has to make that save!”, or, “He had no chance on that one!” Frankly, the first two probably fall in that second category, but there were some saveable shots that Andersen let past him tonight.

That doesn’t mean he’s a bad goaltender. It means he had a bad game.


Heat Map

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

The Leafs got significantly outplayed, controlling only 40 percent of the shots and chances at 5v5.


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.


Tweets of the Night

Good question, yes.

This made me laugh out loud. Kevin Bieksa sure is one funny dude.

They tweeted this before the third period in Toronto’s game. I know the EvolvingWild twins are really good at coming up with predictive metrics at their website, but now they have predictive tweets!?


Final Grade: F