It was a Good Friday for some Leafs hockey.
My apologies for the awful pun. Five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime weren’t enough for the Winnipeg Jets or Toronto Maple Leafs to settle this one, so we had to settle for everyone’s favourite way to end a sporting event: a shootout.
Jason Spezza scored the game-winning goal there, while Jack Campbell made a few more key saves en route to the 2-1 victory. That’s his eighth win in a row this season, which has to be the main storyline coming out of this game considering his stellar performance.
Let’s dive into some individual player grades to help sort out the rest of the game. I think we all know who we’re going to start with.
Game Puck: Jack Campbell (G, #36) — Just when you think his .948 save percentage coming into the game was wildly unsustainable, he stops 31 of the Jets’ 32 shots on Friday night, bringing him up to .951 in his eight games this season. That’s obviously going to fall back down to earth over time, but it speaks to how well he’s played this season.
Campbell was forced to make a few diving saves down the stretch, sprawling across his net to deny backdoor passes. That happened a bit too often for my liking, and I say that referring to the Leafs‘ defensive play in the third period. When your team gives up quality chances, though, it’s your job as a goaltender to come up with those saves.
Mission accomplished tonight for Campbell, who really seems to be solidifying himself as Toronto’s starting goalie moving forward.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — Right from his first shift, you can see the type of impact he was having on the game. Hyman’s ability to get in on loose pucks and prevent the opposing defenseman from making the play they want to make is what makes him such a great F1 forechecker.
That type of presence allows his skilled linemates to come in and scoop up the puck with plenty of room to make a play. Hyman also negated two icings with his hustle, a stat that I’m sure he would rank near the top of the league if it was publicly available.
Sportlogiq, we’re going to need your help on this one.
The Muzzin-Holl Pair — I’ve been really impressed with this pairing all season, and tonight was no exception. Jake Muzzin does such a great job defending the rush, breaking plays up before the Jets’ speedy forwards had a chance to gain the zone.
Here’s a quick example.
Muzzin makes plays like these with consistency, which is why his team usually ends up on the right side of shots and scoring chances at 5v5.
Justin Holl has a similar impact defending the rush, using his legs to stay with opposing forwards and often getting his deceptively long stick on the puck to break up plays. On the breakout, he got himself open on the right side of the ice a few separate times to get Toronto out of trouble. From there it was a clean zone entry the other way and sustained pressure.
One final note is that both players looked great on the penalty kill, not allowing the Jets to complete any dangerous passes through the middle of the ice.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — Hyman might’ve been the energizer bunny tonight, but Marner was the primary puck carrier. He sliced through the defense on multiple occasions, deking his way into the high slot. Marner wasn’t able to complete those plays with a quality shot, although he was looking to shoot more overall at 5v5.
On the power play, he probably should’ve picked up an assist or two tonight. He completed a seam pass to Auston Matthews at one point, then at 4v3 in overtime he threaded another one to William Nylander. He even put the puck on John Tavares’ tape in tight, but sometimes the pucks don’t want to go in, especially when Connor Hellebuyck is locked in.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — His shootout goal was genuinely hilarious, almost losing the puck at one point, regaining control, and then out-waiting Hellebuyck for the deke back across the grain. At 5v5, he picked up another point on his drop pass to Travis Dermott, keeping Spezza on pace as the team’s Points/60 leader.
It also moved him into the Top 100 in NHL history among point producers.
That’s not a bad list to be joining.
Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — Let’s give my man some credit, he scored a goal! Yes, it was a flukey one from the blueline, but like Jeff O’Neill said in his video breakdown, Dermott getting that shot off quickly allows it to get through traffic before the goaltender has a chance to track it.
I’m not advocating for more 0.01 xG shots from the Leafs, but getting pucks through has been a massive concern for Dermott at the NHL level. Here’s hoping that these plays give him some more confidence moving forward. He could certainly use some on the offensive side of center ice.
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — Dermott’s partner on the third pair wasn’t too shabby either on Friday night. Bogosian was at his best on the penalty kill, blocking backdoor passes by “standing in the right spot” as Mike Babcock would say.
As always, Bogosian would go for that pinch or two offensively where he finds himself way deeper in the play than you’d probably like. Then again, for Sheldon Keefe’s possession-style of game to work, all five skaters need to be in constant motion. Keep those legs moving, Bogo!
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — I didn’t love his game defensively tonight; there were a few times he was supposed to be the high forward (F3) and he didn’t get back in time to prevent the 3-on-2 rush. Offensively, though, he was Auston Matthews tonight, generating nine shot attempts and seven chances from the slot, leading the Leafs in both categories.
Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — Fun fact: rebounds tend to have the highest expected shooting percentage, which makes sense considering the goalie is usually out of position. With that in mind, Kerfoot grabbed a rebound in this game and passed it east-west to Bogosian. It didn’t go in, but that’s a really high-percentage play offensively.
Kerfoot also did this on the cycle, which was pretty impressive.
It doesn’t look like much, but that hit the post. That’s a good job by Kerfoot to create his own shot with his shiftiness, and more importantly, actually shoot the puck when he’s in a good shooting position.
I’ve been liking his game more and more these last few games. It’s good timing, too, with the trade deadline coming up in just over a week.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — After taking a hard spill into the boards early, Brodie bounced back and looked like his usual self defensively. He wasn’t able to take away the 2-on-1 pass (for once) after Morgan Rielly pinched a bit too aggressively, resulting in the Leafs‘ only goal against.
That said, Brodie was making calm plays with the puck and appeared to be in the right spots defensively aside from that 2-on-1 rush, at least to my eye test*.
*The same eye test that believed in Travis Dermott, so it could be faulty.
Pierre Engvall (C, #47) — He’s becoming one of the weirder players for me to evaluate lately. I love his tools as a player; watching him skate the puck up the ice like a gazelle on skates is something to behold. He then crosses the blue line and he can’t make a play, which is the infuriating part of watching Pierre Engvall.
There aren’t too many players with his elite size-speed combo, but there are a lot of NHLers who can read the game faster and make the next pass. Whether it’s a 2-on-1 or an opportunity to get the puck across the crease on the cycle, Engvall tends to be late on those decisions, which really hurts his offensive upside as a player.
Maybe you accept the fact that he’ll never be anything more than a bottom-six grinder. I just find that to be a disappointing ceiling for a player who can do the things he can do.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — In a similar vein, does anyone expect Mikheyev to convert on a 2-on-1? He got another one tonight and skated himself into the corner, which killed any chance of getting the pass across, eventually resulting in Mikheyev shooting it himself from the hashmarks.
His defensive value is undeniable; forcing turnovers in the offensive zone leads to quality offense. That’s how he set up Tavares for a partial breakaway. Much like Engvall, though, it can be frustrating when Mikheyev finds himself in situations where he has to make an offensive play.
Simply put, I’m not sure if he can, which is weird considering the flashes of skill we saw last season. Part of me wonders if his stick-handling and shooting ability will ever be the same after suffering that nasty wrist laceration.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Oh Rielly.
You need to take chances to create goals, and no one is a better example of that than Morgan Rielly. He’s still coming out on top in the aggregate this season, but he didn’t make enough positive plays with the puck tonight to make up for that whoopsie.
Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — If he had a different name on the back of his jersey, I’m sure he’d be hearing it from Leafs fans on the internet. Think of the way we treated Jimmy Vesey this season.
Thornton is reaching the point this season where he seems to float in and out of games. There are times the puck will land on his stick and he’ll make a great play, saucing his teammates into an open patch of ice. Then another period will go by and you’ll forget #97 is playing.
I still think he needs some rest, which I’m hoping the Leafs will be able to give him after the trade deadline passes. My assumption is that they’re keeping him in the lineup to maximize their cap space. After April 12th, this man needs a night off.
Coaching Staff — I’m not one to panic, but the Leafs’ power play hasn’t been inspiring a ton of confidence lately. The good news is that they rank fourth in the NHL in shots and expected goals at 5v4 since March 1st. They’ve just been shooting zero percent on their last 24 power plays.
I’ll give the coaching staff some credit for trying different things, but throwing Muzzin out on PP2 isn’t exactly the gamechanger I think fans were hoping for. Keefe chose to put his four best forwards on the ice in overtime for the 4v3 power play, which led to a bunch of quality chances.
It’s also worth noting the team has been playing extremely well at 5v5 lately, to the point where they look like one of the truly elite teams in the league. At the end of the day, though, Toronto’s power play is a big part of what the team is built on, and it’s the coaching staff’s job to get that clicking again.
The Tavares Line — Yeesh.
The trio of Alex Galchenyuk, John Tavares, and William Nylander got absolutely filled in at even strength. Their first period was atrocious, although they did start to look more like themselves towards the end of regulation. I’m not going to sugarcoat this; a $20 million line shouldn’t be spending the majority of their night stuck in the defensive zone.
This wasn’t their night.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — In a similar vein to my Thornton comments, ask yourself what we would be saying if the jersey read “Vesey” instead of “Simmonds” when #24 turns the puck over on the breakout. He hasn’t looked good at 5v5 since returning from his injury, which is putting it nicely, if we’re being honest. Even at 5v4, plays were dying on his stick when the Leafs tried to gain the zone.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The Leafs controlled 53 percent of the shots and 63 percent of the expected goals at 5v5. That’s another game where they’ve dominated the run of quality chances.
Tweets of the Night
Game managing a hit from behind boarding call against a superstar in OT is certainly an NHL decision.
— Platinum Seat Ghosts (@3rdPeriodSuits) April 3, 2021
“Gotta let the boys play,” I was told.
I've seen numbers all over the place, so I wrote about how much money the Leafs can add at the trade deadline: https://t.co/b3rBqnYlIs
— Earl Schwartz (@EarlSchwartz27) April 2, 2021
Do yourself a favour and follow Earl. He knows more about the CBA than I’ll ever dream to — I’m convinced it’s Brandon Pridham’s burner account.
Leafs at 62.5% expected goals tonight at even strength.
They're at 64.5% over their last seven games, their highest sustained stretch of the season. 5-1-1 record over that time frame.
Their very strong 5-on-5 play is negating the power play issues right now.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) April 3, 2021
This has been my biggest takeaway from Toronto’s past month. Despite a shooting percentage of zero at 5v4 lately, the Leafs’ elite 5v5 play has been carrying them to some deserved wins.
Throw in a bit more puck luck with the man advantage and we’re looking at a pretty scary team here. Some might even refer to them as a Juggernaut.