What a weird game.
Monday night’s rematch between Toronto and Calgary started off really slow, which we should’ve expected considering it was the second half of a back-to-back. Things started to pick up after the first intermission, then all hell broke loose in the third.
After a bizarre series of events down the stretch, including the Leafs conceding a shorthanded goal and then scoring an actual real power-play goal 45 seconds later, Toronto was able to pull out ahead, eventually defeating Calgary by a final score of 5-3.
Tonight’s outcome was largely dictated by Auston Matthews, which is who we’ll be starting with in the post-game report cards.
Game Puck: Auston Matthews (C, #34) — He’s quickly erased the doubts concerning his wrist. Just look at how much power he gets on this shot.
As a side note, does anyone else miss the William Nylander zone entry, pass to Auston Matthews, bar-down goals? Mitch Marner has obviously solidified himself as the better player, but it doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate some of the magic that Nylander-Matthews can still pull off in transition.
Matthews led the Leafs in shot attempts (10) and scoring chances (8) tonight, which isn’t a surprise considering how often he was getting himself into good shooting locations. With the way he can stick-handle through traffic and quickly get his release off, it makes sense that he tends to be the team leader in those categories.
He also picked up a garbage goal off of a rebound, which ended up being the game-winner.
They’re not all going to be pretty. That last one gives him 27 goals in 36 games, which is 0.75 goals per game. Over the course of an 82 game season, it would put him on pace for 62.
This guy just might be good.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — I know he didn’t score tonight, but he probably should have considering how many dangerous chances he was creating. Ilya Mikheyev did a great job at driving hard to the net when given the opportunity, drawing two penalties by doing so.
No, he didn’t score on his breakaway, and no, he couldn’t complete the pass across on his 2-on-1, but at some point, we have to give him credit for singlehandedly generating these opportunities with his speed and relentlessness. I’d like to think the goals will come eventually if he keeps getting to the high-danger areas like he did tonight.
The Second Line — There was a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for this line tonight. For example, they generated a couple of goals because of some nice puck movement in transition, not to mention John Tavares scooping up a loose puck in the slot and rifling it off the top corner and in.
So what was the problem?
Tavares’ line got caved in for the majority of their shifts, allowing the Flames to outshoot and out-chance them at 5v5 by a significant margin — 15-7 in shot attempts, and 12-4 in scoring chances. That’s not entirely Tavares’ fault. Alex Galchenyuk blew a few assignments defensively, although his quick passing off the rush helped the line gain the zone on multiple occasions.
We already broke down William Nylander‘s nice play on the Matthews goal, but it was a nice microcosm of his talents. Nylander did a great job transporting the puck up the ice, especially in the defensive zone, where he was able to shed the first forechecker and start the breakout for Toronto.
Individually, there were components from all three players that I quite enjoyed on Monday night. The issue is that, collectively, the line was less than the sum of its parts. Some of that pertains to defense, getting the puck back, and establishing a stronger cycle game. Those are areas I’ll be watching closely in their next couple of games, especially considering all of the rumours surrounding the left winger Toronto will likely be trading for to fill Galchenyuk’s spot on that line.
Jack Campbell (G, #30) — Part of me wanted to move Campbell into the 4-star club, but the rational side of my brain told me I couldn’t give a goaltender who allowed three goals and posted an .896 that strong of a grade. To play devil’s advocate, some of those were very difficult saves.
Campbell made a few big stops down the stretch, including a few glove saves on Mikael Backlund and the highlight-reel snag on Matthew Tkachuk that you just watched.
He didn’t need to steal his team two points tonight — he was “only” good, which is what you’d ask from an NHL-calibre starting goaltender.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — His partner had a rough night, which we’ll get to at the end. It isn’t easy playing with a defenseman who’s constantly pinching in the play, often forcing you to cover up for his ice in odd-man rush situations. Considering the hand TJ Brodie was dealt tonight, I thought he did a very good job at preventing Calgary’s forwards from creating anything super dangerous in transition.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — We’ve reached the point where it goes without saying what he does without the puck, but if you’re looking for some tangible evidence of its value, here’s a great piece from Travis Yost today about Zach Hyman’s impact at 5v5. Unsurprisingly, it’s very positive.
Tonight was exactly his most dominant performance, but he was still winning pucks back in the offensive zone that he had no business getting. Overall, he wasn’t a major factor in the outcome of the game at 5v5 (a low event night, with three shots for and four against at 5v5), but his work at the net front on the power play helped the Leafs get their badly-needed breakthrough for the game winner.
The Third Line — Much like the second line, there were a few excellent shifts from Alex Kerfoot, Joe Thornton, and Jason Spezza tonight. One of them resulted in the opening goal.
Prior to Kerfoot picking the puck up behind the net here, it was Thornton who was working that part of the ice, winning 50-50 battles and keeping Toronto on the cycle in the offensive zone.
They also got significantly outplayed at 5v5: 14-8 in shot attempts, 9-2 in scoring chances. Ice tilt was in full effect; they got outshot by 10 and out-chanced by eight when Kerfoot was on the ice, which can’t happen consistently when you’re already being sheltered.
The Muzzin-Holl Pair — Ray Ferraro mentioned on the broadcast just how often Sheldon Keefe has been relying on this pairing lately, turning to Justin Holl for 20+ minutes in high-leverage situations. The fact that he’s getting that kind of recognition is pretty cool considering how Mike Babcock used him, but overall, he and Jake Muzzin didn’t have their strongest showing at even strength.
We saw some of the usual positives from each player. Holl was great pinching down the right wall in the offensive zone to keep plays alive. Muzzin was excellent at defending the rush and making simple passes under pressure. But again, they were outshot and out-chanced (11-3) by a significant margin at 5v5.
Good players tilt the ice in their team’s favour, which is something Muzzin has done throughout his entire career. He just didn’t accomplish it tonight, which happens.
Pierre Engvall (C, #47) — When I watch Pierre Engvall pick up a puck in the neutral zone, blow by his man, and burst up the ice for a 2-on-1, I get pretty excited. There aren’t too many human beings that big who can move that fast on an ice surface. Then he’ll botch the next pass and I get super frustrated.
I sense that Keefe goes through this with Engvall, too. He sees what I see; a freak of nature who can burst through NHL defenses for odd-man rushes seemingly at will. If he could connect on a few more passes after gaining the zone, his point production would skyrocket.
Plays like these give me hope.
Despite the fact that he turns 25 next month, I still see a pretty raw hockey player in Engvall. I think there’s another gear he can hit offensively, and it starts by completing more of these types of passes.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — That above clip isn’t exactly how you draw it up, but when you’re a net-front presence like Simmonds, a lot of your goals are going to be ugly. It was nice to see him find the back of the net here because, frankly, I’m not sure how many more positive notes I had on Simmonds tonight.
He’s still bringing that physical component you expect him to, including a Mighty Ducks-style hip check on Milan Lucic in the third period. My biggest problem is that plays are dying on his stick, both at 5v5 and 5v4. You’d think he could just stand in the crease on the power play, but teams are daring the Leafs to pass him the puck on the entry, where he tends to fumble it and turn it over before PP1 can get set up in formation.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — In a similar vein, Marner was “alright” in this one. By his lofty standards, though, we’ve come to expect more. I still think we need to give more credit to Marner’s defensive impact on the game, where he’s often the first forward back covering for a pinching defenseman. Most of us tend to only focus on the offensive side of Marner’s game, which wasn’t at his best tonight.
The 3rd Pair — We’re starting to see more flashes of assertiveness from Travis Dermott when he’s carrying the puck, which is a positive sign. I’ve found his game too tentative on the offensive side of center ice. That’s why I was so thrilled when he got a puck through traffic right before the Spezza goal. It’s an area of Dermott’s game that needs significant improvement, and we saw some of it tonight. The downside is that he got outshot and out-chanced in cushy minutes, as did his partner, Zach Bogosian.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Offensive defensemen need to take risks. That’s the name of the game. When those risks lead to more pros than cons, you’re happy. The box score will tell you that Rielly ended up above 50% in both shots and chances at 5v5, so why do I have him ranked at the bottom here?
Well, for one, this wasn’t a great look.
Rielly isn’t keeping track of his man here and plays Andrew Mangiapane too loosely, allowing the Flames back into the game with a goal late in the period at a time when they looked to be fizzling out of the contest.
It’s just one play, but I try to take notes on all of the major moments I notice from players. There were several occasions where Rielly was caught cheating for offense, resulting in his team giving up a big play the other way. He also took himself out of the play on the shorthanded 2v1 against leading to the 3-3 Flames goal, where you’d like to see him take away the passing option.
Coaching Staff & The Power Play — Despite Matthews finally breaking the PP goal drought after a Sheldon Keefe timeout, the power play didn’t break even tonight overall with the shorthanded goal against, and I still have concerns with the way those units are being run. The research that shows top-loading PP1 is the way to go. My theory is that getting more talent on the ice helps teams gain the zone easier, allowing them to set up in formation and pick defenses apart from there.
The Leafs were having way too much trouble gaining the zone at 5v4 for a team with their talent. Some of that comes down to having a Simmonds on PP1, which opposing PKs can exploit by targeting him on entries. Toronto needs quicker puck movement on their power play both before and after gaining the zone.
The easiest way to accomplish that? Put more skill on the ice together.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Shots were even, but the Leafs actually got out-chanced at 5v5, controlling only 47 percent of the chances from the slot.
Tweets of the Night
Perhaps Auston Matthews’ greatest strength is that he literally never has to settle a pass. He’s just immediately into whatever handle he wants to do. It’s remarkable.
— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) April 6, 2021
You could rifle a slap-pass in Matthews’ general direction and he’d still catch it and shoot it all in one motion. It’s insane.
Opposing teams just overstack the non Simmonds side of the blue line on the entry because they can easily pressure him into a turnover when he's the one entering the zone. Not sure he should even be on PP2 at this point.
— J (@Account4hockey) April 6, 2021
It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who notices this.
Jack Campbell's last loss came before the pandemic started. We were all young then.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 6, 2021
Remember what life was like back in the beforetime? Me either.