The Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t quite hold on down the stretch.
After leading for the entire game, the Leafs gave up the game-tying goal with under a minute left in the third period and ended up losing in overtime 3-2 to the Montreal Canadiens.
That’s the type of sentence that makes your stomach turn as a Leafs fan. Sure, these last few games don’t really matter, and yes, tonight’s result actually improves Toronto’s chances of facing the worst playoff team in the division, Winnipeg, in the first round.
It still leaves a sour taste in your mouth, though, especially considering the Canadiens have been missing their best player, Brendan Gallagher, not to mention their second-line playmaker, Jonathan Drouin, who’s out for personal reasons.
Re-reading all of that, it would appear this isn’t going to be the most positive addition of Leafs Report Cards. What’s weird is Toronto actually dominated the run of play at 5v5, so this is definitely going to an interesting one to compartmentalize.
It’s difficult to rationalize things on an emotional night like this, but we’ll try our best anyway. Let’s get to the individual player grades!
Game Puck: Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — A lot of my friends have bugged me for how critical I am of Rielly defensively, so it’s only fair that I praise him for his dominant nights offensively. His goal from the point was a bit lucky, although it takes skill to get pucks through traffic with consistency, which has always been an area of strength in Rielly’s game.
My favourite play of his was off a faceoff win in the offensive zone, where Rielly activated down the left wall (like always) and completed a pass to Alex Galchenyuk in the slot. Rielly is at his best when he’s using his speed to get up in the play, creating mismatches for the opposition, and then passing the puck into dangerous areas instead of trying to force shots from distance.
He was making all the right decisions in that regard tonight, which is why his numbers ended up being so positive at 5v5. Even in overtime, he turned down a decent look so he could get the puck to Tavares in a great shooting position. The puck ended up hitting the post, but those are the types of high-value passes you want to be creating.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — I always like tweeting this out at the end of Leafs games.
Alright Leafs fans, who are we thinking for:
a) Most impressive player tonight
b) Least impressive player tonight
— Ian Tulloch📊 (@IanGraph) May 4, 2021
Even if I don’t always agree with the fanbase, it’s nice to get a decent idea of what everyone’s thinking immediately after the game.
Personally, I rated Muzzin in the 5-star department for the entire night, yet most Leafs fans had him as their b) for the least impressive player on the ice. Why the disconnect?
My theory is that we tend to remember more of the plays towards the end of games (last few minutes of the 3rd and then OT tonight), which weren’t exactly Muzzin’s finest shifts. You’re probably yelling at this paragraph right now, “didn’t you see that brutal turnover late in the third!?”
Yes, but I also saw Muzzin killing plays in the neutral zone all night despite playing top competition alongside an AHL D partner. That isn’t meant to criticize Timothy Liljegren — who’s looking more and more like an NHL defenseman — just a reminder that your “quality of teammates” has a massive impact on your 5v5 results.
Monday night was another example of Muzzin’s ability to tilt the ice regardless of who he plays with or against. The Leafs out-chanced their opponents by five when he was on the ice tonight, which isn’t a coincidence. You end up on the right side of these things when you’re consistently making plays that strip your opponent of possession.
Jack Campbell (G, #36) — This was such a strong performance for Campbell, it’s a shame that he allowed the Philip Danault goal at the end of the third period, which was a very save-able shot in tight. Backbreaking goals like that often make us forget just how well the goaltender played prior to allowing a soft one, so let’s go through some of Campbell’s best saves of the night.
He made a couple of big stops on Cole Caufield from the right dot, despite getting beat by the rookie in OT due to a great screen in front. Campbell also stoned Nick Suzuki and Eric Staal from the slot, not to mention this highlight-reel save.
His lateral movement from side-to-side was phenomenal in this game. Now, you’d like to see Campbell read the seam pass on the Tyler Toffoli power-play goal a bit quicker, but for the most part, this was an excellent game for Toronto’s goaltender. Keep this game in mind the next time someone brings up “Wins” as a meaningful goalie stat — because it isn’t.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — Another game, another Auston Matthews goal. What else is new?
When you think of Matthews putting the puck in the net, the first image that pops into your head is probably his curl-and-drag wrister, or maybe his one-timer from the right side of the ice. We don’t tend to think of him as a Joe Pavelski tip-artist in front, but he has a knack for getting his stick on point shots in those situations.
It’s just another example of his incredible hand-eye coordination.
Matthews was also getting himself into good shooting positions tonight, finishing the game with a team-high five chances from the slot. I also wanted to bring up just how good he is at ending his shifts with possession, always making sure he makes the right play to an open teammate before hopping off the ice. It’s something Tyler Dellow made me think a lot about when he wrote this piece, and I’d wager Matthews is still elite in that department.
Alex Galchenyuk (LW, #12) — This was the type of 200-foot game Galchenyuk needed to keep himself in consideration for a playoff roster spot. Lately, the second line’s 5v5 numbers had been dipping to the point where they were actually underwater in shot differential. That isn’t in the case anymore after Galchenyuk & Co. outshot their opponents by eight at even strength tonight.
Numbers can often tell us “what” happened at 5v5, while video is a great way to learn “how” a player achieved those results. In this game, Galchenyuk was making plays up the ice in transition, which we’ve come to expect from him. More importantly, he was using his stick to break up passes in the defensive zone, especially in the third period when the Leafs were holding a lead.
A one-game sample of Galchenyuk battling in the corners and screening the goaltender on a Rielly point shot isn’t enough for us to “delete” the previous 500-plus game sample of him being a negative impact NHL player. That said, he’s looked much better without the puck in Toronto than his previous stops, to the point where I still think there’s a case to play him in the top six so you can move a Zach Hyman or Nick Foligno to the third line.
The 3rd Line — Speak of the devil! The combination of Mikheyev-Kerfoot-Simmonds has always been a weird one, but they found a way to completely dominate play in the first period. They took the foot off their gas after that, eventually finishing the game break-even in scoring chances.
It’s easy to make fun of Ilya Mikheyev for failing to score on an empty net (again) when he got his shot blocked towards the end of the game. We could also criticize him for some of the passes that were bouncing off his stick tonight, but that feels unfair considering how much value he provided away from the puck.
With Alex Kerfoot, I’m torn at this point, because I love him on the penalty kill. He’s so good at picking off passes and creating rush opportunities the other way. At 4v5, he’s one of Toronto’s more valuable players. At 5v5, I just don’t see much evidence that he’s been effective this season.
That said, he did complete a few high-leverage passes in the offensive zone tonight. It’s also worth noting Sheldon Keefe & Co. trust him in late-game situations (i.e. 5v6 in the last two minutes, or on the Matthews-Marner line in the final 10 minutes with a one-goal lead).
Finally, let’s give Wayne Simmonds some credit for pulling off a backdoor pass to Kerfoot, which isn’t typically something you expect from your net-front presence. Unfortunately, he also allowed a seam pass defensively, forcing Campbell to bail him out with a ten-bell save. You’d also like to see Simmonds generate some more offense from the dirty areas; he finished the game with only one shot attempt and zero chances from in tight.
Tavares-Nylander — If all you did was check the box score, you’d think William Nylander was gooning it up with two penalties. If you watched either of those calls, I’m sure you’d argue neither was a real penalty. As a side-note: what is a real penalty in the year 2021? Certainly not cross-checking or tripping.
Getting back to some actual analysis, Nylander was getting pushed around a bit by Montreal tonight, although he did push back a few times and regain possession on the cycle. He has a better stick than you think defensively, which is how he created a breakaway for himself.
His linemate, John Tavares, had a few great moments. There was the slick toe-drag to get himself in tight for a quality scoring chance. He also had a monster shift on the cycle, eventually drawing a penalty on Jeff Petry. Finally, he hit the post in overtime, because of course he did.
Tavares ranks third last among NHL players in shooting luck according to Moneypuck.com — he should have six more goals this year based on the quality of shots he’s been generating.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — This was another typical TJ Brodie game. He looked composed on breakouts, played a tight gap in transition D, and of course, timed his 3-on-1 slide perfectly in overtime. He did have one major gaffe in his own end — in my notes I jotted down that “he Barrie’d it” — but Brodie was able to recover with a strong defensive play.
Travis Dermott (RD, #23) — The fact that I didn’t think much about Dermott tonight is probably a good thing. After all, he’s playing a more defensive role now on his wrong side. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that’s new for him at the NHL level. He hasn’t looked fazed from playing the right side so far beside Rasmus Sandin.
Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — His stint on the Brooks-Spezza fourth line was pretty eventless. Then he got a look with the big boys and picked up an assist, which puts him on a six-game point streak. How many of us saw that coming?
I still don’t think Thornton-Matthews-Marner is the best version of Toronto’s first line, but the fact that they’ve been so effective in a large sample has to matter at some point. Thornton isn’t what he used to be, but he can still “win” his area on the ice, which is below the goal line in the offensive zone.
Coaching Staff — It was really cool to see Keefe trust Sandin with PP1 minutes even after making a mistake that resulted in an odd-man rush against. The coaches clearly want to see what they have in the blue-chip prospect heading into the playoffs (and offseason).
I also liked the way Keefe tried a few different players with Matthews-Marner following the Nick Foligno injury. We got to some first-line Jumbo Joe, then later in the game, Kerfoot got his first look of the season alongside the team’s two best players. That’s consistent with how Kerfoot has been played this season, in a more defensive role when closing out leads.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — You know what they say: a 2-on-0 is the worst rush in hockey.
Wait, they don’t say that? Well, maybe they should after tonight. If you didn’t get a chance to watch Marner get too cute on the overtime breakaway with Matthews, it’s hard to watch. Marner ended up getting to close to the net before delivering the backdoor pass, which missed Matthews.
Marner also had a few rough moments defensively, failing to take away the seam pass to Toffoli on his power-play goal. He also failed to prevent a 2-on-1 pass as the last man back. Marner did help make up for that by batting a puck out of the air to prevent a breakaway at the end of the power play, not to mention the breakaway he created on the PK by picking Alex Romanov’s pocket.
All in all, though, this wasn’t Marner’s best game. You’d like to see more from him offensively, defensively, and in transition.
Rasmus Sandin (LD, #38) — That 2-on-1 pass Marner failed to break up? It was because Sandin turned the puck over at the blueline. Keefe kept him out there as the PP1 quarterback even after his mistake, which was nice to see. Unfortunately, there were multiple occasions where Sandin and Matthews weren’t on the same page, resulting in a loss of possession.
Sandin was still showing off some of his high-end passing ability on the breakout. He’s so confident with the puck on his stick despite facing pressure, which allows him to shake the first forechecker and start the rush for his team. That’s how he gained the zone by himself at one point on the power play.
There are still aspects of Sandin’s game that need refinement. For example, in the last 10 minutes of the third period, while holding a one-goal lead, he almost got beat for an odd-man rush against. He was able to recover, which was the case after most of his mistakes tonight, but you’d still like to see him position himself better defensively late in games when leading.
Timothy Liljegren (RD, #37) — There are two ways you could look at this:
- He played shutdown minutes with Muzzin and didn’t look completely out of place, which is a huge positive for a guy who’s playing only his second NHL game since the pandemic hit in March 2020.
- Liljegren turned the puck over behind his own net way too many times, trying to do too much on the breakout instead of making the simple pass.
I lean more towards door #2 tonight, but maybe I’m just a pessimist.
Brooks-Spezza — This has been a fun duo to watch over their last few games, but if we’re being honest, tonight was an off-night for the line. Adam Brooks was dumping it in too often and wasn’t able to win pucks back in the offensive zone. Jason Spezza didn’t appear to be skating too hard on Monday night, especially on the PK, where he tends to get lost in coverage whenever he’s stuck on the ice following a faceoff loss.
Nick Foligno (LW, #71) — This sucks.
Maple Leafs forward Nick Foligno (upper body) will not return to tonight’s game in Montreal.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) May 4, 2021
Foligno only got to play nine minutes before leaving the game after this harmless-looking stop in front of Jake Allen. I could bring up his big hit on Jon Merrill tonight, or some of his one-handed stick-checks, but the only question on Leafs fans’ minds right now is if he’ll be okay moving forward.
I can’t answer that for you right now, so let’s hope we get some good news from the PR department in the next 24 hours.
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 63 percent of the shots and scoring chances at 5v5 tonight. Another fun fact: 2-on-0 breakaways result in a goal 35 percent of the time on average.
My one true passion in life is giving Leafs fans numbers that I know deep down are just going to hurt you.
Tweets of the Night
Josh Anderson on potentially playing the #1 seed Leafs: "The only reason they're in first place is because they beat us so many times"
— J (@Account4hockey) May 3, 2021
No, this isn’t a real quote, but it’s a pretty good parody of what most Canadian hockey fans have been complaining about this season.
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) May 3, 2021
As someone who wasn’t sure whether TJ Brodie could win the tough 5v5 minutes without Mark Giordano, I was so wrong.
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 4, 2021
You really have to tip your hat to the NHL Department of Player Safety for handling things so well over the last few years. Tom Wilson clearly “gets it” now.
Timothy Liljegren is killing penalties.
Sheldon Keefe: pic.twitter.com/2X4NSJ0Ox9
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) May 3, 2021
This is such a vibe for these last few meaningless games down the stretch.