Good process, bad result.
Despite controlling 62 percent of the scoring chances at 5v5, the Toronto Maple Leafs ended up losing in overtime to the Edmonton Oilers by a final score of 3-2.
Connor McDavid was actually held pointless in regulation thanks to some excellent defending from Toronto’s shutdown pair and good team defense through the neutral zone. He and Leon Draisaitl had a lot of trouble advancing the puck up the ice and creating any kind of dangerous offense in transition, which is usually their forte.
As always, we’re going to go through each player individually to help guide our thoughts on this game. It’s time to dive into some Leafs Report Cards!
Game Puck: Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — I’m not sure what it is about these Next Generation games, but they seem to bring out the best in Marner.
That’s one heck of a play to stay onside, maintain his speed, cut around Tyson Barrie, and roof it as he drives his way to the middle of the ice.
The creative juices were flowing for Marner tonight. He was dancing with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, looking to set up Auston Matthews in good shooting positions.
It’s also worth noting just how strong defensively Toronto’s top line was against McDavid & Co. Marner in particular was excellent at backtracking through the neutral zone, forcing multiple turnovers by skating back hard and getting his stick on pucks.
The Galchenyuk-Tavares-Nylander Line — Why trade for Taylor Hall when you have Alex Galchenyuk?
In all seriousness, while it is a low bar, Galchenyuk has been the best left winger on that second line for Toronto this season. His speed and skill through the neutral zone allow John Tavares and William Nylander to make high-level plays in transition, resulting in a lot of quality scoring chances off the rush.
What I find most impressive is how engaged that line has looked without the puck, which hasn’t exactly been Nylander or Galchenyuk’s calling card throughout their professional hockey careers.
The effort from The Tavares/Nylander line tonight have been too-notch. Great battle on pucks. Mostly note cause it gets noted when 88 isn’t doing it 👍🏻
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) March 30, 2021
Forecheck, backcheck, paycheque. We’re used to seeing that type of effort from grinders in the bottom six, but when your high-skill players are 110% committed to getting the puck back, it makes you much more difficult to play against.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — He played 15:34 against McDavid at 5v5. The Leafs generated 15 chances from the slot in those minutes. The Oilers only had four.
That really says it all. Muzzin was dominant in this game, killing plays early before McDavid had a chance to gain the zone with speed. He also did a great job keeping pucks in offensively, hemming Edmonton’s top line in their own end for long stretches.
Muzzin’s best play of the game was when he scooped up a “pop-up” (or “fly ball”) in the neutral zone and quickly reversed it to his partner to start the breakout, which led to Marner’s goal.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — Much like Marner, Matthews did an excellent job backtracking in the first three periods, getting in McDavid’s way to make life difficult on him. This would’ve been a 5-star night for Matthews if he had given that same defensive effort in overtime.
I don’t tend to place a lot of weight on 3-on-3 play; it’s not something that’s going to actually matter come playoff time, but that’s a bad look for Matthews. If he puts his head down and skates back after missing his shot, the Leafs might’ve picked up another point in this game.
Then again, they might not have made it to overtime if Matthews didn’t do this.
His wrist has been looking better and better with each passing game. The amount of power he’s been able to get on his shot has been noticeably harder in these last two games, to the point that he looks like he’s almost back to 100%.
That last goal puts him on pace for 61 goals across an 82 game season. I say he does it.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Noted McDavid stopper, Justin Holl was also excellent tonight. Personally, I thought Muzzin was the more impactful player defensively, although Holl also made life difficult for Edmonton’s top line by gapping up in the neutral zone. He also made some great breakout passes to get his team up the ice, including a stretch pass that helped spring Marner for Toronto’s first goal of the game.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — If you watch that Marner goal again, Hyman makes a great play on the entry to delay for an extra half-second so Marner can sneak behind his defender. Hyman also made a few nice behind-the-net passes to Matthews, although it was his defense that mainly stood out to me.
There were multiple times McDavid or Draisaitl tried to fire an east-west pass in the offensive zone, only to have Hyman pick it off and start a rush chance the other way. John Tortorella would’ve been proud of the Leafs tonight; their sticks were in the right spots defensively.
Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — After his first couple shifts, I jokingly jotted down “Kerfoot leads the team in Zone Entries Leading To Nothing per 60.” (Pierre Engvall would like a word)
Right after I typed that, Kerfoot went on to make a few great plays after gaining the zone:
- Setting up Joe Thornton for a quality chance off the rush
- Dropping it to Nylander for a nice hard shot in transition
- Making another great drop-pass later in the game for a scoring chance
He also got the puck across to Ilya Mikheyev on a 2-on-1. You’ll never guess what happened next.
Will this poor guy ever convert on one of these?
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — That 2-on-1 you just saw was mostly thanks to Spezza, who held onto the puck for an extra second on the breakout before threading the needle to Kerfoot between Edmonton’s two defenders. He also made a great stretch pass up to Thornton earlier in the game, although it’s worth pointing out Spezza was responsible for allowing a seam pass defensively at 5v5, which rang off the iron.
Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — What do you look for when you evaluate Dermott? I like to keep an eye on his gap in transition (solid tonight), his first touch on puck retrievals (also solid), and how well he advanced play up the ice.
It’s that last part where Dermott has frustrated me most this season, often settling for dump-ins instead of creating clean entries for his team in transition. He looked noticeably more assertive with the puck on his stick in this game, particularly in the offensive zone, where he stepped into the open ice and let a few shots go from decent areas.
Those are positive signs, but I’d love to see him create more for his teammates on the breakout rather than just skating to center ice and firing it in — anyone can do that.
Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — Since I already know how Leafs Twitter does this, let’s go through each goal:
- Breakaway, backhand through his five hole
- Weird bounce off of Kyle Turris’ knee
- 2-on-1 pass across in overtime
You’d love to see your #3 goalie come up with an extra save on one of those, but they’re also very high-percentage chances. Hutchinson’s rebound control scared me a bit early on, although he started to settle things down as the game progressed.
Did he lose this game for the Leafs tonight? No, and that’s about as much as you can expect from the #3. That said, a .870 save percentage isn’t going to earn you too many wins in this league.
Coaching Staff — We need to acknowledge that Sheldon Keefe and his coaching staff have been able to consistently get strong results at 5v5 from this team, especially when you look at more repeatable metrics such as shots or scoring chances.
I don’t think the power play is going to keep shooting zero percent, as they have in their last 19 opportunities. That said, you can increase your chances of scoring by getting more puck movement and motion when your 5v4 unit is set up in the offensive zone.
Things have felt far too predictable lately on Toronto’s PP, which is something the coaches can absolutely address.
10-Foot Long Sticks — Maybe the reason Ilya Mikheyev never scores on these 2-on-1s is because his stick is taller than him. I’m obviously exaggerating here, but it’s pretty noticeable just how “long” he plays relative to his height, where he’s listed at only 6’2.
Players like him and Pierre Engvall reap the benefits of playing with a super-long stick; it allows them to be first on the puck when they forecheck and disrupt opposing players when they backcheck. When it’s time to finish in tight, though, you’re wishing you weren’t holding a canoe paddle.
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — He seemed to be fighting the puck a bit tonight, missing on make-able passes up the ice. That didn’t stop him from jumping up in the play when he thought it was the right time, including an F1 forecheck where he was the first Leaf in the offensive zone.
You have to give the man credit, he isn’t afraid to try to make a play, which I honestly respect.
Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — As much as we all love Jumbo Joe, he hasn’t been playing his best hockey lately. He’ll get his stick on loose pucks in the offensive zone, which has value, but he’s really been struggling to make plays in transition. At one point, he had a 1-on-1 in open ice against Ethan Bear and turned the puck over.
On the power play, I’m not sure how to maximize his talents, but I’m certain it isn’t in the middle of the ice as the bumper. Maybe if they move him down closer to net front, he could slide himself below the goal line and look to thread passes similar to how Nylander or Marner do when they’re in that “net front” role.
The Rielly-Brodie Pair — This wasn’t their best night.
An offensive zone faceoff shouldn’t result in a breakaway. TJ Brodie mishandled the bouncing puck, while Morgan Rielly got caught staring off into space as the last man back. Again, 3-on-3 OT is hardly worth analyzing, but he could’ve played the 2-on-1 better as well.
Rielly did have a few strong offensive shifts, activating down the left wall to help Toronto start their “wide cycle” in the offensive zone, with all 5 players in motion. Defensively, the pairing had a few rough moments, including a Brodie bobbled puck in the corner that led to the Turris goal shortly afterward.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — I don’t want to be too mean to a player who I genuinely like as a human being, but I’m struggling to find ways Simmonds provides value at 5v5 in this last stretch. Pucks were dying on his stick in the defensive zone, which is why his line spent so much time there.
Yes, he throws his weight around every so often along the boards, but if you’re constantly chasing the puck and failing to make plays up the ice, you’re not helping your team win.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
You can choose to take solace in the fact that Toronto dominated the run of play in this game (controlling 62 percent of the scoring chances at 5v5), or be frustrated that they only came away with one point. I can’t make that decision for you.
Tweets of the Night
Sheldon Keefe has hit the 82-game mark as Leafs coach. His record over parts of two seasons: 49-25-8 (106 points). Not bad.
— Dril Nylander (@LeBronMaclean) March 30, 2021
Does this mean he’s off the hot seat?
toronto being last feels right in this regard https://t.co/8lmAUIEBqe
— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) March 29, 2021
The Leafs currently rank dead last when it comes to puck-luck off of posts and crossbars, which seems like something that should regress (upwards) over time. That means more goals for Tavares, Matthews & company.
PHI, down 3-0 to BUF entering third, wins 4-3 in OT
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) March 30, 2021
Just remember Leafs fans, it could always be worse.