That was such a weird game.

The Leafs didn’t deserve the two points tonight, but they’ll certainly take them. Given the goaltending matchup and lineups, this always felt like it was going to be a strange game.

Sheldon Keefe brought his blender with him to Buffalo, as all four forward lines had a different look in this one. Ondrej Kase moved over to the left side to play with Matthews and Nylander, Nick Ritchie moved up to play with Tavares and Marner, and Alex Kerfoot moved down to play with Engvall and Kampf. Joseph Woll made his NHL debut, while Travis Dermott and Kirill Semyonov drew in for Rasmus Sandin and Wayne Simmonds.

Despite the rough night, the Leafs picked up a 5-4 win thanks to Morgan Rielly’s goal in the final seconds. Let’s get to report cards.

5 Stars

The Third Line — Alex Kerfoot moved down in the lineup to play with David Kampf and Pierre Engvall tonight in what ended up being Toronto’s best line. Kampf scored a weird goal just a few minutes in, while Kerfoot and Engvall both played a role in Rielly’s game-winning goal. Kerfoot drew the penalty that gave the Leafs their only power play of the night, and Engvall contributed by threading him a great pass. The line had an expected goal percentage (xGF%) around 90% while taking plenty of defensive zone starts. It’s tough to ask for more from your third line.

Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — He scored the game-winner with 12 seconds left, picked up an assist on Tavares’ power-play goal, and led the team with four shots on goal. He also made a sweet pass to set up Matthews in the second, although that wasn’t rewarded on the scoresheet. Perhaps he was a bit lucky tonight — the Leafs were just even in terms of expected goals during his minutes — but he certainly deserves five stars for putting an end to that dreadful hockey game.

4 Stars

Joseph Woll (G, #60) — Giving a goalie four stars after he gave up four goals might not be a popular decision, but I’m doing it anyway. He was quite unlucky tonight. His team was terrible in front of him. Jeff Skinner’s goal came off a perfect bounce off of the boards, Tage Thompson’s goal was a bullet into the corner of the net, and Skinner’s second goal of the night wasn’t on him, either. I wish he saved Dahlin’s point shot, but he had Marner’s stick in his hand at the time. He made some nice saves early on.

This is a goalie who hasn’t put up great numbers at the AHL level. I don’t know what everyone else was expecting, but that type of performance was pretty much what I was hoping for. He picked up his first NHL win in the building that was drafted in, and the Leafs got two points that they did not deserve. Congratulations to Woll for the win in his first career start.

Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — Spezza’s key takeaway set up Toronto’s third goal. He didn’t do much else — the Leafs got out-chanced during his minutes — but that assist was huge. His 11 xGF% doesn’t look great, but he played better than that suggests, and you can’t complain about a key assist in just nine minutes of ice time.

3 Stars

The Second Line — They weren’t able to score at 5-on-5, but they certainly outplayed the Matthews line and they were able to contribute in other ways. John Tavares tipped in Rielly’s point shot on the power play to score his 100th goal as a Leaf, I thought Mitch Marner was their best forward in the first period, and Nick Ritchie generated some good chances early on. This line didn’t give up much the other way. I can’t give them four stars, but they were at least half-decent tonight.

Toronto’s Second Period Goal Scorers — Ondrej Kase and Michael Bunting both scored tonight, but neither player was particularly special. Bunting had a wide-open net for his goal, while Kase scored from a weird angle after fanning on his initial shot. Kase wasn’t the main reason for his lines struggles, but I’d probably put Nylander back on the right side next game, as that line simply wasn’t great tonight. I didn’t hear Bunting’s name very often tonight, but he scored, and that keeps him out of the two-star territory.

T.J. Brodie — The Leafs won his 5v5 minutes 3-0. He also had a key blocked shot on the penalty kill. However, he did take a penalty and wasn’t overly noticeable in this one. I’m giving him three stars for a rather average game.

2 Stars

The Two Other Defense Pairings  — Rielly was the only defenseman who stood out in a positive way for me tonight, and I gave Brodie a bit of a pass since he was a +3. The other four defensemen get two stars tonight; I didn’t notice many positive contributions. Timothy Liljegren created a couple of good chances early, but he and Travis Dermott were on for a couple of goals against, and the Leafs didn’t generate much offensively when they were on the ice. Jake Muzzin had a particularly rough shift in the second. His partner, Justin Holl, was rather invisible.

Kirill Semyonov (C, #94) — I liked his energy and skating ahead of Bunting’s goal, but he was on for two goals against in less than 10 minutes of ice time. He looks like a perfectly fine 13th forward, but he wasn’t overly noticeable tonight. The Leafs got outplayed during his minutes.

1 Star

Auston Matthews and William Nylander 

Leafs fans expect a very high standard of play from these two, but they were both invisible tonight. Nylander had a rough giveaway in the second that led to a good chance the other way, and he was benched towards the end of the third. Matthews played well in those final minutes, but he took the first 57 minutes off, and that’s simply not what’s expected of him.

Their new linemate, Ondrej Kase, wasn’t the reason for this line’s struggles. Matthews had just one shot on goal through the first 57 minutes — a gift from Rielly rather than a chance he generated by himself.


Heat Map

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


Tweets of the Night


Final Grade: D

The Leafs were up against Aaron Dell and the Buffalo Sabres tonight, but they only mustered 13 shots through two periods. While they were playing on the second half of a back-to-back, the Sabres were, too, so that’s no excuse. They didn’t deserve the win tonight. 34 and 88 pretty much took the night off. That being said, a win is a win, so they avoided an “F” grade in this one.