He’s back.

Auston Matthews scored the game-winning goal in overtime to help the Toronto Maple Leafs secure a 4-3 comeback victory in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers. It was his worst chance of the game, but sometimes you need a bounce.

Speaking of bounces, the Leafs rang four pucks off the iron in this game. When you combine that with Mike Smith’s tremendous goaltending (yes, you read that right), it felt like one of those nights where the pucks just didn’t want to go in.

Thanks to some stellar play from the Galchenyuk-Tavares-Nylander combination in the third period, Toronto was able to climb back into the game. It was certainly an entertaining affair, so to help break things down in more detail, let’s go through each player individually.

It’s time for some Leafs Report Cards!

5 Stars

Game Puck: Auston Matthews (C, #34) — His shot is back.

That’s the hardest we’ve seen Auston Matthews shoot the puck since jamming his wrist into the boards on February 24th. He uncorked another powerful one-timer later in the game, which Smith denied.

Matthews also fired a strong wrister off the rush that rang off the post — one of his team-high eight shot attempts on the night. He tied John Tavares for the team lead in chances from the slot with six, although it was a weird bounce off of Darnell Nurse’s skate that ended up finding the back of the net.

Sometimes this sport is weird.

John Tavares (C, #91) — This looked much more like the Tavares you pay $11 million for in free agency. He was able to create offense in transition by stick-handling his way into dangerous areas. Using those quick cuts to buy himself an extra bit of space in the offensive zone, Tavares was able to beat the goaltender clean three separate times.

Two of those hit the post, but the third found its way across the goal line.

Tavares was all over the ice tonight. You’d think the coaching staff would give him more than 15:04 of ice time on nights like these.

More on that later.

Alex Galchenyuk (LW, #12) — Do yourself a favour and watch his pass to Tavares again. Now compare it to this play.

Those are two high-level passes. He didn’t get rewarded with an assist on this one, but he did pick one up on William Nylander’s game-tying goal. Galchenyuk also hit the crossbar with a strong wrist short.

It was very noticeable how much more dangerous the Tavares-Nylander line was in the third period after Galchenyuk replaced Wayne Simmonds. His speed and creativity with the puck opened up a lot more options for that line offensively.

Even if we assume Galchenyuk gets bumped down the lineup once the Leafs make their trade for a top-six forward, it’s clear that he and Spezza can generate offense together in the bottom six. He’s a player.

4 Stars

William Nylander (LW, #88) — He’s not Connor McDavid, but he gave Edmonton’s defenders similar trouble when he attacked them off the rush with his speed. A few examples include:

  • Walking Ethan Bear and drawing a tripping penalty
  • Forcing a NZ turnover & completing an east-west pass to Hyman on the ensuing 3-on-1
  • Nearly fooling Smith with a backhander off the rush

Nylander was also getting his stick on pucks in the defensive zone, which isn’t always his strong suit. Again, you’d like to see him get more than 15:40 of ice time when he’s dominating play in transition.

Again, more on that later.

Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — I’m not sure when Spezza became a defensive specialist, but between PK faceoff wins and strong stick-lifts, he made a big impact in this game without the puck.

When the playoffs begin, I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw a Spezza-Galchenyuk “pairing” in Toronto’s bottom six. They looked awesome together tonight.

Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — Chris Cuthbert called him “Mr. Fix-It” on the broadcast, which is an apt description. Need someone to carry the load for a Mikheyev-Engvall line? Hyman can fix that! What about when you really need a goal in the third period? Just throw Hyman out there alongside Matthews-Marner.

His work without the puck goes without saying at this point. It’s been his play with the puck that’s impressed me most this season. If you go through Corey Sznajder’s manual tracking data, Hyman actually leads the Leafs in zone entry rate with possession of the puck. He’s also completing high-level passes (i.e. a 2-on-1 pass across to Marner, or a backdoor pass to Matthews in the third period).

3 Stars

Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — He had a couple of great scoring opportunities where he tried to go high-glove on Smith. Marner wasn’t able to convert, but his shot looks like a much bigger weapon this season. He’s getting lots of power on his wrister, and heck, even his one-timer on the power play looked pretty good.

Passing-wise, he made a few nice one-touch plays to get Matthews in open ice. Defensively, Marner was getting his stick on passes through the middle of the slot, which is a crucial aspect of preventing goals.

Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — I loved his play in the first half of the game. Rielly was creating transition opportunities for his team, skating his way into the neutral zone before threading a few slick passes to an open teammate for the clean entry. As the game wore on, he wasn’t as dangerous offensively, but he also didn’t give up too much defensively, which is a good sign for him.

Pierre Engvall (C, #47) — He literally tried and failed to punch a puck in the net. His reward? A goal, because the game of hockey makes no sense.

Aside from that weird play, Engvall was making an impact with those long strides on the forecheck, getting his stick onto loose pucks before the Oilers’ defensemen could make a play. He got caught covering no one in the slot on the Tyson Barrie goal, but credit where credit’s due: that was one heck of a pass by Leon Draisaitl.

Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — Much like Engvall, he was disruptive without the puck, which helped his team regain and maintain possession on multiple occasions. Offensively, I’ve always given Mikheyev a hard time for his shot selection, which is why I wanted to pull up the following clip.

That’s a great decision by Mikheyev to cut into the middle of the ice and use the defender as a screen. We’re so used to watching him cross the blue line and fire a low-percentage wrister from out wide. Plays like these will help him bump up his shooting percentage.

Converting on a 2-on-1 wouldn’t hurt, either.

Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Call me crazy, I thought he did a pretty decent job against McDavid tonight. Holl disrupted him on a few separate 2-on-1s. It was actually Jake Muzzin who was responsible for allowing the pass to Draisaitl on his goal.

Holl was also showing off a bit of physicality in his own end, pushing Oilers forwards off the puck behind the net to kill the cycle. It wasn’t a perfect game, but then again, it’s never going to be when the majority of your shifts are against this guy.

All things considered, I’d say Holl did alright.

2 Stars

The Dermott-Bogosian Pair — The numbers liked them tonight. The fans didn’t.

I think I fall somewhere in between. Despite their positive shot and scoring chance differential at 5v5, there were multiple bobbled plays by both players that stick out in my mind.

That could just be a bias, and it is worth noting I loved Travis Dermott’s assertiveness earlier in the game. When it comes to their play in the offensive zone, though, they can’t keep firing shots into shin pads. And Dermott can’t get caught in the neutral zone as he did for a partial breakaway late in the third period — that was nearly curtains.

Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — Alongside Matthews and Marner, he was able to continue the cycle in the offensive zone with some nice little passes around the boards. That said, he wasn’t able to create anything dangerous with them. Thornton did make a great play to get Kerfoot behind the defense, who fumbled the puck.

On the power play, I’m still trying to figure out what Jumbo Joe… does. I love him as a passer along the perimeter, but when the Leafs use him as the bumper in the middle of the ice, he’s the opposite of a shooting threat. It really kills the spacing.

Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — We all love Wayne Simmonds as a person. As a 5v5 hockey player, I did not love him tonight. He still provides value as a net-front presence at 5v4, but at even strength, he was a drag on every line he played with tonight.

The Big Mistake — Overall, this wasn’t a terrible game for Jake Muzzin or TJ Brodie. They made some nice passes in their own end, gapped up in the neutral zone, and overall, tilted the ice in their team’s favour.

When you make a “Big Mistake” against McDavid, though, the puck tends to end up in the back of the net.

Muzzin needs to get his stick on that pass. As terrifying as McDavid is off the rush, a cross-seam one-timer from Draisaitl is even more terrifying.

Now let’s take a quick peek at Brodie.

A 3-on-2 rush shouldn’t result in a partial breakaway, but when you’re this scared of the best player in the world, it can open up space for others to take advantage.

Jack Campbell (G, #36) — Darnell Nurse beat him clean from the left dot, which is a make-able save for Jack Campbell. He admitted that he was mad at himself after the game; that shot shouldn’t be beating him five-hole.

He had no chance on the McDavid-to-Draisaitl one-timer off the rush. The Barrie goal was also a difficult save, with Draisaitl’s pass originating from behind the net, which we know drastically increases your expected shooting percentage. To help redeem himself, Campbell came up clutch with a breakaway save on Nurse later in the third period.

All of that said, Campbell was .850 tonight. He can play better, and he knows that.

1 Star

Coaching Staff — It’s about time we talk about ice time allocation. You can’t keep playing Tavares and Nylander 15 minutes a night when they’re flying like this. It’s costing your team goals.

Speaking of ice-time allocation, I’m not sure why Thornton is still playing bumper on PP1. It hasn’t been an effective use of his skillset. When you’re trailing for the majority of the game and your 41-year-old veteran is playing more minutes than Tavares-Nylander, something has gone terribly wrong.

I like the way Sheldon Keefe adapts to a game’s circumstances when it comes to moving Hyman around the lineup or throwing Galchenyuk back up into the top six, but he also deserves some criticism for how he’s handled the minutes of his best players at times this season. Tonight was a perfect example.

Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — I love players who can transition the puck. Despite all of Kerfoot’s shifty little moves in the neutral zone, it doesn’t materialize into anything dangerous after he crosses the offensive blueline. He was also dumping and changing far too often for my liking, rather than reloading the breakout like the rest of his teammates.

Aside from some PK value, I’m really struggling to find ways Kerfoot impacts the game at this point.

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 slightly outshot the Oilers tonight and significantly out-chanced them, controlling 53 percent of the shots and 63 percent of the 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

Wait, Jimmy Vesey played for the Leafs?

This was my favourite chart from the Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference today, which was held virtually on zoom. It’s from Meghan Chayka’s keynote speech, breaking down how score effects impact rush chances vs. cycle chances.

It’s tougher for rush-based teams (i.e. Toronto) to generate offense when they’re trailing than a cycle-heavy team (i.e. St Louis), which makes the Leafs’ third-period comeback tonight that much more impressive.

Uh oh, Canada’s best 5v5 possession team in desperate need of a finisher just added a sniper who scored 30 goals in 31 games for the Wisconsin Badgers. It sounds like Cole Caufield is going to start out in the AHL, but would you really be shocked if he’s in a Habs jersey come playoff time?

Analytics be damned, “Wins” are now the only stat that matters.

Final Grade: A