Only one half of the rink needed to be flooded.

This was one of the weirder games I’ve graded. At even strength, the Toronto Maple Leafs out-chanced the Montreal Canadiens 13-2 in the first period, got out-chanced by Montreal in the second period 17-4, then did the out-chancing themselves again in the third period 18-8.

In total, one end of the rink had 48 chances while the other had 14. I’m honestly not sure what to do with that information, but it’s quite strange. At the end of the day, Toronto won this game 3-2, although the massive swings in momentum made this a tough one to evaluate.

We’ll try our best as we dive into the individual player grades.

5 Stars

Game Puck: Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — He was all over the ice in this game. Marner has evolved into one of the league’s best players in all situations, so why not break down tonight’s game into three separate categories for him?

1.  Offensively, he was dynamic with the puck on his stick. Here’s a quick look at my favourite sequence of plays from Marner.

He’s so creative in open space. The puck-luck Gods didn’t reward him with a point here, but those are the types of special plays that break down defenses. Marner also did a great job of reversing play to the weak side of the ice in the offensive zone, which is how he found Zach Bogosian sneak into the slot for a Grade-A chance.

2. In transition, he was confidently skating the puck up the ice. Nerds like me love to ramble about zone exits and zone entries — because they matter. Marner is one of the best wingers in the NHL at advancing play up the ice with possession, which he was able to accomplish on multiple occasions this evening.

3. Defensively, Marner has come a long way over the past couple of years. He’s so good at reading the play and jumping the passing lanes at just the right moment. It’s made him an effective checker at 5v5, penalty killer at 4v5, and even a guy you want on the ice in 5v6 situations.

Marner leads the NHL in minutes played and it’s because of nights like these.

Auston Matthews (C, #34) — He started off the game with a smooth wrap-around goal, although Jake Allen probably should’ve got his pad on it. Later in the game, Matthews decided to go coast to coast.

Zach Hyman taps it in at the end there, but that’s all Matthews. He picks the puck in the defensive zone, dances around Tyler Toffoli, gains the zone, and creates the juicy rebound for Hyman off of the net drive.

That’s another goal and an assist for Matthews, putting him on pace for 62 goals and 106 points over an 82-game season. If there was any concern he’d lost his scoring touch after the wrist injury, it’s quickly vanishing.

Another concern I’ve heard people bring up about Matthews in years past was his conditioning. “He led Toronto forwards in total shifts that Game 7 under Babcock, but he kept coming off the ice early.” Well, he’s looked pretty darn good late in shifts this year while averaging a career-high 22:01 minutes per game.

This is the 200-foot version of Matthews we’ve all been waiting for. It’s too bad Connor McDavid exists; otherwise, this would’ve been the clear MVP year for him.

4 Stars

Alex Galchenyuk (LW, #12) — I still can’t get over how well Galchenyuk has played in a Leafs uniform. The things I’m looking for away from the puck (positioning, effort, winning 50-50 battles) are the parts of his game that have impressed me the most. He hustles in on the forecheck and gets back on defense, which isn’t a sentence I thought I would be typing about him.

He’s also been making some filthy plays to gain the zone in transition.

His skill and passing ability allow him to keep the play moving when Toronto is building up the ice with speed. There have been wingers on this line for whom the puck dies on their stick after crossing the blue line this season.

Galchenyuk isn’t one of them.

Jack Campbell (G, #30) — Analytics be damned, this man just won 10 games in a row.

Now, I’m sure Jack Campbell would’ve liked the first goal back, getting beat five-hole by Corey Perry. He didn’t have as much of a chance on Perry’s second goal, which came off of a rebound. If we’re assessing his play as a whole, he stopped 32 of 34 shots, keeping his team in the game after they stopped skating in the second period.

He didn’t have to pull out too many highlight-reel saves to earn the W tonight, but he found a way to get the job done yet again.

The Rielly-Brodie Pair — Part of me wishes we got to see a Muzzin-Brodie and Rielly-Holl experiment at some point this season, but I can understand why the coaching staff has settled in on this combination.

Morgan Rielly is a fourth forward when he’s on the ice, constantly jumping up in the play to put pressure on the defense. With a playstyle like his, you need a TJ Brodie type who can help cover up for some of the dangerous chances you’ll inevitably be giving up the other way. Brodie is the best Leafs defenseman I’ve seen in the last decade when it comes to taking away passes through the middle of the ice. He timed up another 2-on-1 slide tonight perfectly.

Rielly was super active offensively, even by his aggressive standards. Honestly, I think that’s the best way to get the most out of his skillset. He’s never going to be a great rush defender, so why not unleash him to roam around the offensive zone? At least you’ll be maximizing his offensive talents that way.

It worked out in Toronto’s favour tonight, out-chancing Montreal 14-7 when Rielly was on the ice at 5v5.

Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — Shocker, I know, Ian Tulloch thinks Travis Dermott played well. Where have I heard this one before?

It’s nice to know that the coaching staff agrees, giving Dermott a few extra shifts towards the end of the game even though they were holding a lead. He usually doesn’t get those minutes.

The biggest thing I noticed from Dermott tonight was his ability to move play up the ice with the puck on his stick. Offensively, he was activating in the OZ to keep pucks alive. In transition, he was completing the next pass instead of instinctively dumping it in.

Even though Marner’s pass doesn’t connect here, that’s still solid process from Dermott. If he can continue to make plays after crossing the blue line, it’s going to help him maximize that skating ability.

John Tavares (C, #91) — The poor guy can’t buy a goal this season. He tied for the team lead with five chances from the slot, but not one of them could find the back of the net. If you look at the number of goals he was expected to score this year based on his shot locations vs. the amount he’s actually scored, the difference is 6.6 according to Moneypuck.

Translation: Tavares should have about seven more goals this season. Taylor Hall should have about six more. Let’s do the world a favour and put them on a line together.

Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — One of my friends messaged me during the game to let me know he was frustrated with the lack of physicality in Wednesday night’s Habs game. Personally, I loved Muzzin’s use of productive toughness, finishing his checks at the blueline and absolutely levelling Toffoli on an offensive zone pinch.

Muzzin also hit the post on a power-play one-timer, which might have given him a bit too much confidence to go for one again. He has a heavy shot, but you’re not going to score too many goals from 60 feet away in today’s NHL. While we’re on the topic of special teams, Muzzin was excellent on the PK (and 5v6, which is basically a PK), clearing the front of the net and getting pucks out of the zone whenever he had the chance.

3 Stars

Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — Did you realize that he played 22 minutes in this game? Frankly, I didn’t, which could speak to my incompetence while trying to grade 20 players. It could also reflect that this, maybe, wasn’t Hyman’s most impactful night.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought he played well defensively, and his shot block at the end showed what Hyman is all about. That’s why you have him out there so often in a game you’re leading in the third period. I just didn’t think he was dominating board battles the way he usually does. The goal was a nice little cherry on top, although that play was mostly a coast-to-coast highlight reel from Matthews.

Ilya Mikheyev (RW, #65) — Sharing the ice with Galchenyuk must have inspired Mikheyev to get creative with the puck; at one point he made a dazzling move on the entry, which I didn’t realize he could do. Mikheyev had another nice play offensively where he centred the puck for Tavares, leading to a Galchenyuk chance with Jake Allen on his back.

Coaching Staff — Here are a few of my biggest notes from a tactical perspective:

  • Loved Sheldon Keefe’s timeout at 5v3 to keep his top unit fresh for the next minute
  • Also loved the 5-forward PP unit with Marner at the top and Hyman as the net front (something to consider at 5v4 potentially?)
  • Toronto’s defensive zone structure has been noticeably better at keeping teams like Montreal to the outside when they’re cycling
  • Wasn’t a huge fan of the forward lines; would’ve preferred to see the talent spread throughout the lineup more without Nylander

2 Stars

“Not their best night” — You could say this about a few Leafs in this game, so why not group a few of them together.

We’ll start with Pierre Engvall. He was tasked with running a line alongside Barabanov-Simmonds, which isn’t exactly easy. I liked Engvall’s puck pursuit defensively and a few of his rushes up the ice with possession, although he struggled to generate anything dangerous once he got in the offensive zone.

Justin Holl had a few decent moments in transition defense, particularly against Jonathan Drouin, who’s one of the league’s better zone entry wizards. With the puck on his stick, though, this wasn’t Holl’s best night. He didn’t have any brutal turnovers, but he was struggling to complete the “next play” in the offensive zone, especially when he was forced into a shooting position. Getting pucks through has been an issue for a few Leafs defensemen this season.

I don’t want to blame Zach Bogosian whenever Dermott’s pair has less than stellar results, but when two guys play on the same pairing and they have significantly different 5v5 outcomes by the end of the game (i.e. Dermott at +6 shot differential, Bogosian at +1), it can be quite telling. Bogosian did well on the penalty kill, but my eye test agrees with the numbers here; he was a drag on possession tonight at even strength.

We should give Wayne Simmonds some credit for getting a few shots off tonight. That bizarre Barabanov-Engvall-Simmonds line was never going to be a killer combination offensively, so when the Wayne Train saw a decent opportunity to get his shot off, he went for it. He finished the game with 4 chances from the slot.

1 Star

Alex Barabanov (LW, #94) — He picked up an assist on a play where he failed to complete the pass. In fact, I’m not sure if he completed one high-leverage pass in this game. With Nylander missing tonight’s game due to possible COVID exposure, I know the Leafs had to dress someone, but I’m surprised they didn’t go with another option.

The “Fourth” Line? — Between Barabanov-Engvall-Simmonds and Thornton-Kerfoot-Spezza, I’m not sure which one is officially considered the fourth line. Both of them performed poorly tonight, although it’s the latter we have ranked at the bottom of our list.

Joe Thornton continues to make smart little passes around the boards on the cycle, but outside of those instances, he hasn’t been making an impact on the game lately. Alex Kerfoot has a few moments here and there where he’ll burst up the ice with speed. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to accomplish much after gaining the zone.

This puts Jason Spezza in the unfortunate situation where he has to drive the line. He couldn’t quite pull that off tonight, although he did have a few moments where he wound up in the DZ before zooming up the ice full speed. I love it when he does that.

Heat Map

Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

We brought up ice tilt at the beginning, and there’s a good reason for it. Here’s a breakdown of the 5v5 chances from the slot.

  • 1st Period: 13-2 Toronto (87%)
  • 2nd Period: 14-4 Montreal (22%)
  • 3rd Period: 18-8 Toronto (69%)

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

The Montreal Canadiens were a good team before they fired Claude Julien. They continue to be a good team under Dominique Ducharme.

Sometimes it’s the dumbest tweets that make me laugh the hardest.

This has nothing to do with tonight’s Leafs game. It’s just an awesome article by Shayna Goldman breaking down the nuances of the defense position.

I follow Dom for comprehensive hockey analysis…and stupid memes on Twitter dot com.

I’m sorry but this is adorable, even by Marner and Campbell standards.

Final Grade: 2/3 (periods dominated)