Michael Hutchinson stole the Leafs two points on the road.
That wasn’t a typo. Toronto was outplayed by Calgary for two periods, but the game remained tied 2-2 heading into the final frame.
Thanks to some strong play from their second line — and Noah Hanifin doing his best Kris Russell impersonation — the Leafs were able to pick up a pair of goals in the third period, defeating the Flames by a final score of 4-2. That’s not exactly how you draw it up, but there were definitely some positives Toronto can take out of the game.
To help break down some of those down, along with the negatives, let’s dive into some individual player grades!
Game Puck: The 2nd Line — Toronto’s top line wasn’t quite clicking tonight, which forced the trio of Alex Galchenyuk, John Tavares, and William Nylander to be the catalysts offensively.
They didn’t disappoint.
After a nice give-and-go with Morgan Rielly, Nylander finds Tavares backdoor on this play, who then makes a brilliant one-touch pass to Galchenyuk for the open net.
If I had to pick one player on the line who impressed me most tonight, it would be Tavares. He’s looked much more confident in his puck-handling lately, breaking down defenders in 1-on-1 situations before threading his next pass.
That isn’t to say his linemates played poorly. Nylander was dynamic in transition, using his speed to carry the puck up the ice and make some high-skill plays after gaining the zone. He did fan on the 2v1 pass Tavares slid across to him earlier in the game, but he was otherwise one of Toronto’s most dangerous forwards.
Galchenyuk finally got rewarded for all his hard work with an easy little tap-in. He didn’t look as impactful on the forecheck tonight as he has in previous games, although we’re still seeing things from him without the puck that Michel Therrien wouldn’t have believed if you told him five years ago. “He’s getting in the shooting lanes defensively and blocking shots? Who is this guy?”
He’s Alex Galchenyuk, and I think he can still contribute to an NHL lineup.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — I loved his give and go with Nylander leading up to the Galchenyuk goal. It was Toronto’s most dangerous rush opportunity of the evening, which is something of a specialty for Rielly. He also scored Toronto’s first goal 58 seconds into the game.
Even if I have a few nit-picks about his transition defense tonight, we have to acknowledge that he made big-time plays that directly resulted in goals for his team. Most defensemen can’t do that.
Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — Who would’ve thought Hutchinson would be ranked so high after giving up this stinker?
There’s no way around it, that’s a terrible goal to give up.
The fact that he followed this up by stopping 23 of Calgary’s next 23 shots is remarkable. It isn’t easy for goaltenders to shake off bad goals like that, even at the NHL level, so credit where credit’s due. Hutchinson was spectacular in the second period to keep Toronto in the game.
There was a sequence of saves when Calgary had a power play that were all Grade-A scoring opportunities. We’re talking shots from the slot, in tight, deflections, and Hutchinson stopped them all. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he’s probably the main reason Toronto won tonight.
What a time to be alive.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — It’s been fun going through the evaluation process on TJ Brodie this season. He’s so patient in his approach to the game, taking his time on breakouts before finding the right pass, which is often an “underneath” option to get one of his forwards into open ice.
When you combine good puck-moving with a tight gap defensively, you’re going to tilt the ice in your team’s favour. The Leafs generated seven more scoring chances than their opponent when Brodie was on the ice at 5v5 tonight, which backs up what my eyes were seeing. It was another solid 200-foot performance for him.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — Nothing impacts your results more than the quality of your linemates. Spezza has been playing with Joe Thornton and Alex Kerfoot lately, which can’t be easy. Despite this, he’s still generating lots of offense almost singlehandedly.
This all starts from 200 feet away, where Spezza has arguably been Toronto’s most composed forward with the puck when starting the breakout (other than maybe Nylander). I love the way Spezza takes his time to wheel back and let his teammates change before charging up the ice with speed. It still works, even at age 37.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — He’s such a consistent defender that I get worried about repeating myself when I do these report cards. You probably already know he’s good at defending the rush, so should I waste your time by telling you he thrived there tonight?
What if I told you he did a great job blocking passes through the middle of the ice? Oh, and you’ll never believe this: He was effective on the PK, clearing the puck multiple times. At some point, a player is who he is, and at age 32, I think we all realize what Muzzin is: an effective NHL defenseman.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Despite a bad fumble on one of his breakouts, Holl was solid in this game. His ability to skate back defensively and get his stick in the way really helps him close the gap in transition defense. He wasn’t as active as usual jumping up in the rush, although he did make a few nice little passes to advance play up the ice.
The 1st Line — Even when they’re having what clearly looks like an off-night, all Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner need is one shot to beat you.
That was Matthews’ first shot on goal of the game. It was looking like this might be his first night without one since November 29th, 2017. Instead, he buries his one quality scoring chance of the night. I wish I was as good at anything as Matthews is at shooting a hockey puck.
It’s also worth noting this wasn’t Zach Hyman‘s most impactful game. We all know how well he’s played this year, but tonight wasn’t his night. He took a penalty 200 feet away from his own net and wasn’t a major factor without the puck, which is a rarity for him.
The Bottom Pair — I was messaging one of my buddies about Travis Dermott after the following play.
That’s what I want to see more of from him. He’s a good skater; he should skate more to help his team create chances offensively.
The rest of his game didn’t go as well, particularly on the defensive side of things. It didn’t help that Zach Bogosian was fighting the puck for the majority of the night. I did like the way both players were moving around the OZ on a few of their cycles, but again, they need to do a much better job at getting pucks through.
Coaching Staff — Has anyone brought up the power play in Toronto recently?
There are some positive indicators there, particularly the shot generation from the slot, which is where you want to be getting chances. The rebound recovery is a weird one. Most of the research on rebounds suggests it’s a very flukey aspect of the game, but Simmonds was generating the most rebound chances in the NHL prior to his injury. Maybe there’s something there?
With respect to Toronto’s 5v5 play, tonight obviously wasn’t their best night. If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, though, I think we’d all agree this is the tightest in-zone defense we’ve seen from a Leafs team in a long time. The coaches definitely deserve some credit for that, even though they couldn’t quite get the boys going until the third period.
“We miss Zach Hyman” — Here’s a quick look at Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall‘s 5v5 numbers with vs. without Hyman.
- Scoring Chances: 66% with Hyman, 50% without
- Shots: 59% with Hyman, 49% without
Thanks to Natural Stat Trick for helping outline what a lot of us can see; that line doesn’t dominate play without Hyman. It is worth noting that Engvall made a few nice plays tonight off the rush, especially when he connected on a pass to the slot after gaining the zone.
Overall, though, I find myself concerned with the effectiveness of these two players without Hyman running the show. We haven’t spent much time talking about Mikheyev’s underwhelming 5v5 results this year, so now might be a good time. I like his hustle without the puck, but a lot of plays have been dying on his stick.
“We really appreciate Jason Spezza” — He’s been carrying Joe Thornton and Alex Kerfoot at 5v5 lately. I genuinely feel bad for Jumbo Joe, who I’m convinced would look much better if he was given the occasional night off from time to time. The season seems to be wearing on him at this point.
There are a few times a night Kerfoot will pick up some speed in the neutral zone and I get excited about what he’s going to do next. Then he either dumps it in a corner or fires a muffin wrist shot from distance, neither of which are great outcomes off of a zone entry.
“Am I still injured?”
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — Much like Thornton, I feel bad for Wayne Simmonds here. Prior to suffering his wrist injury, he was making a big-time impact on the power play. We haven’t seen that since Simmonds’ return. He did have a bit more jump in the third period, which is a good sign, although his inability to complete passes when his team is moving up the ice is still a major concern for me.
How many 5v5 minutes can you play him in a playoff game?
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Did Hutchinson just steal the Leafs two points?
- 1st Period: Out-chanced 9-8
- 2nd Period: Out-chanced 7-5
- 3rd Period: Did the out-chancing 12-6
Better late than never, I guess.
Tweets of the Night
Bogo has basically been what we collectively hoped the Leafs could turn Polak, Hainsey, and Ceci into
— Dril Nylander (@LeBronMaclean) April 5, 2021
Tonight wasn’t Bogosian’s best game, but it turns out when you shelter a player of his ilk and put them in a position to succeed, they can post some positive results. If only the Leafs had done that with Ron Hainsey or Cody Ceci in years past.
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE https://t.co/2gklbL2BPh
— Steve “Dangle” Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) April 5, 2021
It was only a matter of time before Galchenyuk finally potted one. He’s been playing too well not to find the back of the net.
Leafs once again get by playing just OK but coasting by on the backs of **checks game notes** Michael Hutchinson and Alex Galchenyuk?
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) April 5, 2021
Sometimes your elite talents need to steal you a game.