So that’s what goaltending looks like!
The Toronto Maple Leafs outplayed the Calgary Flames at even strength for the second night in a row. This time around, they had Jack Campbell in net, who put on a stellar performance en route to a 2-0 Leafs victory.
It’s obvious what the major storyline is coming out of this game, especially considering Frederik Andersen’s poor run of play recently. Goaltending typically dictates the outcome of hockey games, so when a strong team finally starts to get some saves, it makes a big difference.
Without further ado, let’s dive into some individual player grades for tonight’s game. I wonder who’s going to be ranked the highest…
Game Puck: Jack Campbell (G, #36) — If there’s one Leaf who deserves a stick-tap tonight, it’s Jack Campbell.
What stood out is that most of his saves tonight were composed. He was deflecting pucks off of his blocker into the corner and controlling his rebounds well on point shots.
Then he reached back into his bag of tricks for another highlight-reel save.
A night like this would’ve been special even if Andersen had been playing well lately. The fact that he hasn’t is going to give Campbell some real runway moving forward.
It’s Soupy’s net to lose now.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — It feels boring to keep saying “Muzzin holds the line well” in these postgame report cards, but then you’ll see a goal created off of a smart pinch and it’s easier to see the value of holding the blueline.
Muzzin makes plays like these all the time, except they usually don’t lead directly to a goal. It’s little plays like these that add up over time, resulting in the Leafs controlling the run of play when their best 5v5 defenseman is on the ice. And yes, that’s Muzzin.
He played 25 minutes tonight, most of which came against Matthew Tkachuk. The two were battling all night long in front of the net and along the boards. In the end, Muzzin came out on top with respect to shots, goals, and penalty differential.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — It’s so much fun watching the Rielly-Brodie pair share the ice with Matthews-Marner. The fifth player in that situation will head to the front of the net, whether it’s Zach Hyman, Joe Thornton, or Wayne Simmonds tonight.
The other four skaters are in constant motion, which opens up passing lanes for a player like Rielly to do some damage. Toronto outshot Calgary 10-0 and out-chanced them 5-0 when Matthews and Rielly were on the ice together.
Rielly also took out two Flames players like they were bowling pins on the Hyman goal, but the clip I’m more interested in showing you is a defensive decision he made in the third period.
Understanding the game state is important here. The Morgan Rielly we know and love chases after that loose puck 10 times out of 10, but knowing his team is up by two goals in the third period, he makes the smart decision to not get burned for an odd-man rush late in his shift.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — If you want to watch his goal again, scroll back up to the Muzzin section. Spezza still has a wicked release, a nifty set of hands, and the passing ability to find open players backdoor. It’s why he still leads the Leafs in Points per 60 — at even strength and on the power play.
He’d be on pace for 48 points in an 82 game season, despite averaging only 10:24 a night. That’s insane for an NHL player earning the league minimum.
Zach Hyman (RW, #11) — His most memorable shift of the night was when he harassed Rasmus Andersson on the forecheck, forced a turnover, and then did this right afterward.
Hyman finished the game with seven chances from the slot, including this insurance goal.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — One of the things I love most about Brodie’s game is how he handles elite puck carriers in one-on-one situations. Here’s a quick look at him defending Johnny Gaudreau in open space.
Kevin Bieksa loves to talk about “quiet feet” when you’re defending the rush. Brodie does a great job of keeping Gaudreau in front of him without giving him too much room, all while keeping his feet quiet in the middle of the ice.
Brodie also made a few slick passes under pressure to beat the infamous Darryl Sutter forecheck, similar to last night’s game. It is worth noting Brodie jumped over the boards a tad early, leading to a Too Many Men penalty that Leafs fans certainly weren’t upset with on the internet.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — In my post-game tweet where I crowdsource Leafs fans’ opinions, I noticed a few people didn’t like Marner’s game tonight. Personally, I thought he looked great.
He was making creative plays off the rush right from the get go. In the offensive zone, he pulled off a few shifty moves, including a spin move to create space for himself. My favourite offensive play of his was this pass across to Matthews on the power play.
Throw in some stellar penalty killing, including a drawn penalty to end Calgary’s power play, and I’d say that’s a pretty good night for Marner.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — That clip above says it all. Matthews generated a team-high eight chances from the slot in this game. He did have some trouble getting around Chris Tanev, who looks like he’s turned back the clock this season.
The one thing I wanted to note about Matthews tonight is that his stick-handling looked better. Nagging wrist injuries are naturally going to impact a hockey player’s shooting and puck-handling abilities, which is why it’s nice to see Matthews progressing in both of those departments lately.
He’s still not 100%, but he’s getting closer.
Wayne Simmonds (LW, #24) — When you’re evaluating a player like Wayne Simmonds, I think you have to ask yourself, “What is he supposed to provide as a player?” Are you expecting him to receive passes at an A-plus level in the offensive zone? Probably not, because he really struggled in that department tonight.
If we accept that’s not what we’re looking, how about we ask ourselves, “Did he bring his team energy tonight?” Unequivocally, the answer to that question is yes. I’m not sure how to measure it, but when Simmonds is running into opponents on every shift and hyping up his teammates from the bench, you can see it has a tangible impact on the rest of the team.
Do I still qualify as a nerd if I believe in momentum?
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Leading his team in ice time tonight, Holl played 25:27 of solid 200-foot hockey. He was activating on the breakout to give his forwards an extra option heading up the ice. Holl also did well to limit Calgary’s rush opportunities, getting his stick on pucks in transition.
MikhEngvall — It’s hard for me to separate these two in my head. Both Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall have a knack for getting their long sticks on loose pucks in the offensive zone. They also have a tendency to shoot from too far away, but they make up for it with their relentless puck pursuit.
When it comes to Engvall specifically, sometimes I find myself asking “What is this?”
A player who has the tools to do that should probably be creating more offense. I know he’s already 24 years old, but does anyone else see a raw hockey player that could develop into something more offensively?
Coaching Staff — Credit where credit is due: The Leafs have continued to play stellar 5v5 hockey lately. It’s certainly nice to get some goaltending, but the bigger takeaway here for me is that the Leafs significantly outplayed Sutter’s Flames in back-to-back games.
Now, we should probably touch on the power play getting a bit predictable.
Flames Wedge+1 is overplaying on Matthews, Matthews doesn’t want the puck since he’s pinched off, Rielly keEPS FEEDING HIM.
THERES A REASON MATTHEWS KEEPS PASSING BACK TO YOU. SPREAD THE ICE. PASS IT TO MARNER.
— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) March 21, 2021
It’s good that the Leafs recognize Matthews is their primary option, but when the opposing team is overcommitting to it, you need to go with option number two or three.
In football, if the opponent was double-teaming your #1 receiver, you’d look to take advantage of the open space on the other side of the field. I think the Leafs could benefit from that mentality when teams load up on Matthews.
John Tavares (C, #91) — The frustrating part about assessing Tavares’ performance is that he was fantastic on the power play, but underwhelming (again) at even strength. At 5v4, he was able to generate lots of quality chances from the slot in that “bumper” role. He even got a great rush opportunity on the power play.
At 5v5, he wasn’t able to accomplish much of anything in transition. Tavares is still great in tight spaces lower in the DZ or OZ, but if you watch him closely when play is moving up the ice, he hasn’t looked nearly as dangerous this season as in years past.
Alex Galchenyuk (LW, #12) — I’m rooting for the Alex Galchenyuk experiment as much as you are, but I didn’t think he looked great tonight. Aside from a few decent passes at his own blueline, Galchenyuk was a liability in transition to my eye-test, losing the puck on a few different occasions in the neutral zone.
What’s weird is that puck-carrying has always been a strength of Galchenyuk’s.
That 81 on the graphic indicates that Galchenyuk’s Controlled Zone Entry % ranks in the 81st percentile among NHL forwards over the past four seasons. He’s good at carrying the puck up the ice — he just wasn’t tonight.
Alex Kerfoot (RW, #15) — Aside from a breakaway on a Rielly stretch pass, this was a pretty quiet night from Kerfoot. He did have a nice little rush in the third period, although it ended with a soft wrister from distance. Missing the empty net as the clock expired might have been the perfect microcosm of his time as a Maple Leaf.
Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — Earlier in the game, Thornton was making a few heady passes to reverse play to the weak side. Unfortunately, he faded as the game went on, which makes sense for a 41-year-old playing on the second half of a back-to-back.
In related news: why is Joe Thornton playing on the second half of a back-to-back?
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — He did his job in that he boxed out opposing forwards in front of his net. The issue was that his pairing spent so much time on defense, getting outshot at 5v5 despite sheltered usage. Personally, I’d put more of that on his partner.
Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — I’ve spilled so much ink analyzing Dermott’s game, to the point where I get really frustrated when he has stretches of play like this. Anyone who watched his first few games as a Leaf knows he’s a dynamic skater, but he hasn’t been able to use it to effectively start the breakout lately.
I remain a Dermott truther for various reasons, but he isn’t helping my case with games like these.
William Nylander (RW, #88) — This was one of Those Nights for Nylander. He didn’t look super engaged without the puck, which is a big part of the reason his line didn’t have it very often tonight.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The Leafs generated 56 percent of the shots and 60 percent of the chances at 5v5. For the second night in a row, they controlled the run of play against Sutter’s Flames, except this time, they got goaltending.
Tweets of the Night
This one was technically tweeted during the day, but it was so funny I just had to post it here.
I trained an AI on the last fifteen years of Leafs games and then got it to predict the game tonight pic.twitter.com/uVMAieHVCR
— Acting the Fulemin (@ATFulemin) March 20, 2021
If you’ve ever scrolled through Leafs Twitter, this is 100% accurate.
— Arjun (@_marlanderthews) March 21, 2021
This was legitimately one of the coolest moments of the season. You’ve got to love that kind of passion from Simmonds.
If you could combine Pierre Engvall's play without the puck with Travis Boyd's play with the puck you'd have a solid top 6 forward.
— draglikepull (@draglikepull) March 21, 2021
Maybe the most obscure tweet to come across my timeline tonight. Also possibly my favourite.
Jack Campbell now has a .934 save percentage and 7-2-1 record since joining the Leafs.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) March 21, 2021
Is that good?
Is it a goaltending controversy if it’s as clear as today’s sunshine that Campbell should stay in the #Leafs net?
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) March 21, 2021
Yeah, it doesn’t seem super controversial to play the better goaltender right now.
Jack Campbell: "I appreciate every teammate of course and love them all."
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) March 21, 2021
You can’t make this stuff up, folks.