Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press

A Joseph Woll shutout, just like we all expected!

The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the New York Islanders by a final score of 3-0 on Sunday night. To be honest, I was preparing for a lot worse considering the circumstances. Woll got beat up in his last game, and the team was playing on the second half of a back to back coming off their first loss in a while.

It didn’t seem to matter.

The Leafs impressively controlled the run of play from start to finish, outshooting and out-chancing the Islanders in their own building in what was their fourth shutout victory in the month of November. As much as that narrative would make a John Tavares storyline more interesting, his line couldn’t really get things going in this game for Toronto.

Once again, it was the Kampf-Kase line making the biggest impact at 5v5. Sometimes you have to eat crow in life, and I don’t mind doing it here. I didn’t think that combo was going to work, but they’ve looked phenomenal to start the season.

Another duo that looked great was the Bunting-Marner “pair,” which isn’t something I expected to really say this season. Both players had an excellent game in their own respect, but it was their give-and-go passing with each other that really stood out to me.

We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves here. Clearly, I just want to get into the player analysis, so let’s just give the people what they want. It’s time for some Leafs Report Cards!

5 Stars

Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — He potted two goals tonight. One came on a backdoor pass from a teammate, while the other was a short-handed breakaway goal. Surprisingly, Marner hasn’t been that productive on the penalty kill throughout his career, especially as a goal-scorer. It was great to see him finish on one of those chances because I’d like to think there is a higher ceiling for him offensively at 4v5.

Even if you remove those two goals, this was a great game for Marner because he was dictating play with his passing. I really liked the way he spread the puck around the offensive zone, using the full width of the ice to find open teammates at 5v5. Now, the 5v4 play could probably use some tinkering, even though that aspect of Toronto’s game has been significantly improved since last season.

The Ritchie-Kampf-Kase Line — Maybe Nick Ritchie can play on the third line? It’s clear by now that David Kampf and Ondrej Kase are going to do their thing as a yin-yang pair, with Kampf as the defensive specialist and Kase as the puck transporter who drives the bus offensively and has a near-death experience at least once per game.

One would naturally assume you plug the power forward in as the finisher, but it was Ritchie’s passing that impressed me the most in this game. He completed a couple of great feeds from behind the net that resulted in a shot. Those are really high-percentage plays in hockey, which is why I’d like to see Ritchie occupy that spot on the ice more often.

As much as it pains me to bring up Joe Thornton, one of the things he did well was getting below the goal line, using his body to shield the puck, and thread passes to open teammates from behind the net. Ritchie did that a few times in this game while doing an excellent job of using his frame to shield the puck. He also used his size to bulldoze an opposing defenseman on the forecheck.

If we can see more of this type of playmaking from Ritchie, I’m wondering if this trio might actually make sense together. At the same time, I’d imagine a lot of players would look good alongside this Kampf-Kase duo. They seem to have a good thing going right now.

Michael Bunting (LW, #58) — You only need to watch a couple of Michael Bunting shifts before you understand why Leafs fans are already in love with this guy. Not only does he go full-tilt into every 50-50 battle on the ice, he finds a way to draw penalties in the process. It’s tough to know how much to truly value this skill considering how often NHL officials even up the calls, but you have to hand it to the guy for drawing four penalties this weekend.

More importantly to me, Bunting was connecting on a lot of passes in this game. It was an aspect that’s concerned me in the past, so it was nice to see him be the connective tissue on a few passing sequences with his talented linemates. As a $900,000 winger playing with $22,543,250 worth of talent, it’s his job to make life easier for them and put the puck on their stick.

He did that in this game and then some. You don’t expect a guy like Bunting to make a backdoor pass, but he completed two of them tonight. One of them went in. Something tells me the stars might like playing with him if he can keep hitting them on the tape with those quick passes.

Joseph Woll (G, #60) — I feel bad nit-picking the poor kid on a night where he posted his first NHL shutout, but we’ll get this out of the way quickly.

I’ll never pretend to be a goalie expert, but rebound control is one aspect of Woll’s game to keep an eye on. His rebound save in this clip was probably his best stop of the evening, but you’d like to see him velcro in the initial shot, which he did on the following shift when Zdeno Chara blasted one into his chest protector.

Am I convinced the 23-year-old goaltender who hasn’t cleared the .900 Sv% barrier in the AHL is officially here to stay? Of course not. This position is voodoo, though, so I’m not ruling anything out.

4 Stars

Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — There were a few major positives to take out of this game for Muzzin. He made a brilliant stretch pass on the penalty kill to get Marner behind the defense for his breakaway goal. I also loved the way Muzzin moved up to the left dot to get himself in a shooting position on the following play.

This is a page right out of Ryan Stimson’s book. The Leafs appear to be going for behind-the-net passes more often this season and I’d argue it’s an excellent strategy. One-timers and passes that originate from below the goal-line result in goals much more often than other types of shots, which we know thanks to Stimson’s research. It’s cool to see some of these nerdy ideas put into practice more frequently.

Getting back to Muzzin, the most important part of his play is how well he defends speed off the rush. We know he can win physical battles in tight, but in open space, does he still have the foot speed to close the gap in transition?

Personally, I thought he looked excellent in that department tonight.

It’s only one game and, for the majority of these first 20, I think most of us would agree this hasn’t been Muzzin’s best stretch of hockey. He’s a weird player in that skating or puck movement have never been his strengths in his tenure as a Leaf, yet he still managed to dominate the run of play at 5v5 against top competition alongside Justin Holl over the last two seasons.

We’ll see if he can get back to Top Pair Jake Muzzin levels. This game was definitely a step closer in that direction.

Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — I can’t get over how much faster he looks this year. It’s helping him win more puck races and get to better spots on the ice with the puck. The poor man can’t seem to buy a goal, but he keeps generating quality shots night in and night out.

The Sandin-Liljegren Pair — Another night, another dominant display of puck possession from these two. Yes, I saw Rasmus Sandin‘s body fly through the air like a helicopter when Matt Martin destroyed him on the forecheck. And yes, I saw Sandin get beat wide by Kyle Palmieri off the rush, which led to a very good scoring chance.

At the end of the day, though, Toronto generated 16 chances when he was on the ice and only gave up eight. That’s a huge net positive. They’re generating those chances because of the fantastic puck movement when Sandin is on the ice. Timothy Liljegren going on an end-to-end rush doesn’t hurt either.

Every NHL team has a sheltered pairing, but none of them control over 65% of the expected goal share at 5v5, except Sandin-Liljegren and Sandin-Dermott. Both in over 100 minutes together.

I think this Sandin guy might be legit.

3 Stars

Auston Matthews (C, #34) — How do you critique greatness?

It’s a question I ask myself almost every game when I reach #34’s section. We hold Matthews to such unrealistically high standards, to the point that he can have a game where he generates eight chances from the slot and I’m asking myself “was that a two or three star performance?”

It’s absolutely absurd, and yet here we are.

My nit-picks of the night are:

  • He’s deferring way too much as a puck carrier, especially on the power play zone entries
  • There are still defensive lapses where he’s getting caught out of position
  • His dress code has ruined this team

Sorry, scratch that last one, I forgot that the Leafs are winning now because they banned T-shirts.

With respect to his defensive game, there are times he can get caught cheating a bit for offense, leaning a bit too heavily one way before the play quickly goes the other way and he gets burned for an odd-man rush against.

You could blame Brodie a bit there, too. It’s just one miscommunication between two players in the grand scheme of things, but there have been a few blown coverages by Matthews recently.

The good news is that Matthews has a few defensive superpowers already built into his repertoire.

If he could clean up some other details in his defensive game, I don’t think Selke consideration is insane, but he would need to really go for it without the puck. The reason I hold him to such a high standard is that I truly believe he could hit his ceiling as a 50-60 goal center who gets himself into the Selke conversation.

That’s not a player that’s ever existed in this league, but I think Auston Matthews could pull it off if we wanted to.

Pierre Engvall (LW, #47) — I know society wants me to criticize Pierre Engvall right now, but I thought he actually played pretty well. The Leafs had a set play for him to get a hard wrister off of an OZ draw and it almost fooled Ilya Sorokin. Later in the game, there was a rush where it looked like Engvall was going to take another low-percentage shot. He thought about it, then decided to drive towards the slot and get a quality chance off from much closer.

You really do have to celebrate the little victories in life.

Justin Holl (RD, #3)Full disclosure: I literally didn’t have any notes on him tonight, which might be a good thing. If I didn’t have to think about Justin Holl while he was on the ice for 20 minutes, it probably means he was more or less in the right spots defensively and avoiding any bad turnovers with the puck.

The Rielly-Brodie Pair — It’s not often you have a “quiet” Morgan Rielly night. Good or bad, they’re usually quite loud. If anything, TJ Brodie appeared to be the guy taking a few unorthodox risks offensively. Maybe he had money on the board because he was looking to uncork his slap shot from the point. As fun as it was, it’s probably for the best if he sticks to being the defensive specialist on that pair.

2 Stars

Jason Spezza (C, #19) — He’s truly a specialist at this point in his career, which means I have to assess him on a few very specific areas of his game. For example, Spezza is in charge of the PP2 zone entries, so when he fails to gain the zone after winding up with speed, that falls on him and no one else. He did make a couple of great passes at 5-on-5, which feels like something you could say about every game with Spezza.

Kerfoot-Tavares — The entire second line looked a bit off tonight, which is unfortunate with the homecoming boos raining down on John Tavares. He did have one night chance that Sorokin got a piece of with his shoulder, but from a pure “energy” standpoint considering the circumstances, this was an underwhelming performance from Toronto’s captain. I was hoping to see more from him in a game like this.

My expectations are obviously much lower for Alex Kerfoot and I’m not sure if he cleared them, at least at 5v5. I still love him on the penalty kill with the way he uses his speed to disrupt the breakout. He did have a great play where he intercepted a pass when Woll was out of the net, followed immediately by a Kerfoot drawn penalty, so there were some positives in this game. I just didn’t see the level of puck-transporting or passing that we’d expect from Kerfoot.

1 Star

William Nylander (RW, #88) — The bad Nylander games are no fun to break down. He didn’t have the usual jump in his step tonight, which is a big part of the reason the Leafs were stuck on defense when Nylander was on the ice. If you’re not going to move your feet to get the puck back, you won’t get the puck back.

As a longtime Willy backer, I’d like to think we can still acknowledge that nights like these do exist.

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, 64 percent of the scoring chances, and 66 percent of the expected goals at 5v5. Is that good?

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

Real toughness is almost dying to get another scoring chance.

This is the player I freaked out about in public when I first heard the Leafs signed him.

I’m sorry; this just appeared on my timeline and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Jay McClement ranked sixth in Selke voting back in 2013. Anything is possible.

Final Grade: A