Guess who’s back? The Leafs’ shooting percentage!

Coming into this game, Toronto’s shooting percentage was just a hair over 6% at even strength.

The Leafs have actually been leading the league in 5v5 scoring chances this year, which isn’t rare for a team that’s ranked top two in that department every season since Auston Matthews joined the league, but the pucks just hadn’t been going in to start the year.

They went in tonight.

As a hockey nerd, I love me some regression to the mean. That 5v5 shooting percentage is officially up to 7% now, inching closer to the 9% they’ve been averaging since the talent infusion of 2016.

It helps when you have gamebreakers like Mitch Marner finally looking like himself. William Nylander flying up the ice to create rush opportunities shift after shift doesn’t hurt, either.

What’s funny is this game ended in a 4-0 shutout victory and it’s hard to remember Jack Campbell even doing anything for the majority of Tuesday evening. It was a well-earned team shutout, and I for one can’t wait to dive deeper into it.

It’s time for some Leafs Report Cards!

5 Stars

The First Line — It was quite the top six-bottom six divide tonight with respect to controlling play. Toronto’s big guns absolutely dominated an injury-riddled Golden Knights team, whereas the Leafs‘ bottom six actually got outplayed most shifts. More on that later.

For now, let’s break down William Nylander and Auston Matthews‘ stellar performances. Nylander started the opening shift with a breakaway, which was a sign of things to come. He got behind Vegas’ defenders multiple times off the rush, eventually scoring a goal on one of his breakaways with a Phil Kessel Special: beating the goaltender far-side just over the pad.

By now, we all know how skilled Nylander is with the puck on his stick, but it’s his commitment to getting the puck back that’s really impressed me this season.

This isn’t the Nylander your dad’s been yelling about for years. He’s winning 50-50 battles to regain possession — and those takeaways are leading to dangerous chances offensively.

With Matthews, I thought it would be fun to keep track of each scoring chance tonight. He finished with a team-high eight chances from the slow, so I had my work cut out for me.

Here’s what I ended up with:

  1. One-timer off of an east-west pass
  2. Rush chance from the left side of the ice
  3. Quick wrister from the slot
  4. Shot from the left dot after an OZ cycle
  5. Catch and release PP goal off of a Nylander cross-seam pass
  6. Changeup off the rush almost slides through Robin Lehner
  7. Trailer off the rush, bounced off a leg
  8. Rebound goal in tight after a Rielly pass to the net front

It’s also worth noting that Matthews had some nice backchecks tonight to complete his 200-foot game. You don’t out-chance your opponents 17-3 by accident, which is what the Leafs did with Matthews on the ice tonight at 5v5.

Last but not least, Michael Bunting was an excellent complement to his skilled linemates on Tuesday night. He was deferring to them off the rush, as he should, and going hard to the net every time, as he should.

The end result was a bunch of rebound chances from in tight. He didn’t convert, but if he has another game like this he probably will — the expected goals gave him a 67 percent chance of scoring tonight (0.67 xG). Bunting also picked up a primary assist by sending Nylander up the ice on his breakaway goal.

For my money, it was the best performance we’ve seen from a Leafs line this season.

Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — We go from a strong ensemble to a one-man show. This is the version of Mitch Marner we all love watching. He looked confident and creative out there, wheeling around the zone with ease as he surveyed the ice for options.

My favourite plays of his tonight were his passes from up top, although I’m sure his Maxim Afineganov-esque goal is what you’ll be seeing on the highlight reel.

Plays like these remind me of the London Knights days.

Back to what as I was saying, Marner made most of his best plays tonight from the perimeter, and more specifically, from the point.

In the modern game of hockey, you need to bring a forward up high in the offensive zone if you’re going to create any space. Marner is excellent at navigating that space, knowing when to fill in for a defenseman at the blueline and reading the play fast enough to make quick decisions with the puck under pressure.

Off the cycle, I’ve always loved Marner as the high forward patrolling the point. It’s part of the reason I’d love to see him move to that spot on the ice more often with the man advantage as a distributor.

We all know he’s not a shot threat. You know it, I know it, and opposing defenses sure as hell know it. One way to counteract that is by moving Marner to a spot on the ice where no one expects him to shoot, allowing him to wheel and deal as a passer from the top (with tons of ice to work with) much like he does at 5v5.

I miss watching this version of Marner so much. Here’s hoping he can maintain this level of confidence and creativity in his game.

4 Stars

Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — This might’ve been his best game of the season, which unfortunately, isn’t saying much. In the neutral zone, this looked much more like the Jake Muzzin we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. He was stepping up at the right time to break up Vegas’ rush chances before they materialized.

Muzzin also played strong 1v1 defense when the situation arose. He also provided a physical element by closing out hard on checks at the blueline.

Marner’s LinematesJohn Tavares set up Marner’s highlight-reel opening goal and earned himself a few quality chances in this game by going hard to the net. In fact, the following play on PP1 made me wonder why the Leafs don’t get the puck down low to Tavares more often with the man advantage.

Skating is going to continue to be a talking point for Tavares as he ages into his 30s, but he still has one of the best set of mitts in tight among NHL forwards. The Leafs should probably look to feed him the puck more often when opposing PKs keep overcommitting to Matthews on the half-wall.

Now, Marner was the one doing most of the heavy lifting in transition and on offense tonight. Alex Kerfoot helped a bit, using his speed to get up the ice and apply pressure on the forecheck, although it was his penalty killing where he made the biggest impact tonight. Part of me wonders if he generates more rush chances at 4v5 than he does at 5v5.

Can someone with access to private data look into this for me? I’d love to know!

Jack Campbell (G, #36) — I can’t, in good conscience, give Toronto’s goaltender full marks for tonight’s shutout. No, he didn’t allow any goals, but the team barely allowed any scoring chances until the game was essentially over.

You can only stop the pucks that come your way, and luckily for Jack Campbell, not too many dangerous ones came his way this evening.

3 Stars

TJ Brodie (LD, #78) — The Leafs were living in the offensive zone when Brodie was on the ice, although I thought that had more to do with the forwards he was playing with; Matthews and Nylander did most of the puck transporting, not to mention generating all of the scoring chances.

That said, Brodie definitely looked better defensively tonight. There were still some iffy moments, but his rush defense certainly looked tighter. He also did a great job blocking passes through the middle of the ice, not to mention a key shot block or two from the slot.

The next step for Brodie is crisper breakout passes, which has strangely been a huge problem for him to start the season.

The Sandin-Liljegren Pair — I had to do a double-take when I found out Timothy Liljegren controlled over 90 percent of the expected goal share at 5v5 tonight. The main reason: Toronto didn’t give up anything dangerous when he was on the ice, mainly because they had the puck.

This has been the theme with Rasmus Sandin all season, who continues to lead the Leafs in shots and scoring chances against. Cushy usage obviously has something to do with that, but so does quick puck-movement below his own goal line. Frankly, I didn’t think either player played their best game of hockey this evening, but they completed enough passes to advance play out of their end and keep the puck in the offensive end.

When you do that, you’re going to have positive results at 5v5.

Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — We’re used to watching Rielly jump up in the rush every single time, so this was a bit of a quiet night in that respect. When the Leafs had extended zone time offensively, he would activate down the wall as usual, which is where picked up his primary assist to Matthews.

The Leafs gave up a lot defensively when Rielly was on the ice at 5v5 — 20 shot attempts against vs. 16 for, one high danger chance for vs. six against, and a shot share of 40% were the worst 5v5 numbers on the Leafs tonight. It shouldn’t surprise us anymore at this point, but when you’re that active in the OZ, there are naturally going to be rush chances coming back the other way when you can’t get back in time.

2 Stars

The Bottom Six — We’re grouping six players together here. On a night when the rest of the team went bananas, Toronto’s fourth line managed to get outshot and out-chanced while the third line hovered around even in a primary matchup against the likes of Peyton Krebs and Jake Leschyshyn — no relation to Dom Luszczyszyn.

We hear a lot about David Kampf‘s zone starts, but he started five in the defensive zone,  11 shifts on the fly, and another five in the neutral zone. His usage wasn’t the reason his line failed to generate any scoring chances tonight.

In Ondrej Kase, we’re talking about a player who’s been a top-30 NHL goal scorer at 5v5 throughout his career when healthy. He can get to dangerous spots on the ice and finish, but it’s tough to accomplish much offensively when you’re playing alongside a center who still has zero assists 10 games into the season.

Pierre Engvall didn’t frustrate me too much tonight, although he still has this terrible habit of launching bad shots from distance. The worst is when he’s skating away from the net (as usual), basically throwing up a fadeaway with zero chance of beating an NHL goaltender.

We all love your tools, Pierre. But please, use them wisely.

Nick Ritchie had one great chance early in the game off a Jason Spezza pass and then all but disappeared. His presence on the forecheck was nonexistent, since he arrived well after the puck had been moved.

Wayne Simmonds helped show what an actual presence on the forecheck could provide. Even when he was a tad late getting to the puck-carrier, the sheer force of his hits had a noticeable impact.

I’d like to think these type of plays have an effecton the 20-man roster, not to mention opposing defensemen who might be hearing the footsteps next time #24 comes in full speed.

Finally, Jason Spezza had a quiet night by his standards, and by that I mean he only generated two dangerous chances. One was a backdoor pass for Ritchie off the rush, the other was a wrister from distance that just missed high.

Travis Dermott (RD, #23) — He missed almost the entire second period after blocking a shot. When the X-rays came back negative, Dermott returned to the game, although it’s hard to get back into the flow of things when something like that happens. That said, I didn’t love Dermott’s game tonight, and I definitely didn’t love the 2-on-1 he gave up for no reason.

Heat Map

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 61 percent of the shots and 71 percent of the scoring chances at 5v5 tonight. My favourite stat-line came after the first period: scoring chances were 17-1 in Toronto’s favour.

This one wasn’t close right from the get-go.

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.

You can literally see the top six-bottom six divide (featuring Travis Dermott).

Tweets of the Night

From the man who brought us Mark Donk, I always get a good laugh out of Acting the Fulemin’s tweets.

Jason Spezza literally leads the NHL in Slot Passes per 60 minutes, which is a very strong predictor of future assists.

I’m just a nerd, standing in front of a blog, asking the Leafs to play Spezza with Kase — and anyone else who might be able to finish on these extremely high-value passes.

Final Grade: A