Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

How are you feeling about your team’s 5-4 win tonight, Kyle Dubas?

That about sums it up, but we’ll try to fill in the details in the game in 10:

1.  I didn’t feel good about this game even at 4-1. Two of the Leafs goals were power-play tallies, and two of the goals really shouldn’t have gone in on an NHL goalie, particularly Pierre Engvall’s fourth of the season where Kevin Lankinen totally lost his net and got beat clean on his short side. Perhaps the Leafs “earned” some of these points with those dominant 5v5 performances where they were goalie’d earlier in the year, but it doesn’t mean the process was good enough, and it should be triggering urgency on the heels of a 6-3 loss to Winnipeg, a sloppy win similar to tonight’s against Columbus, and Thursday’s defeat to Tampa Bay.

Over an 82-game season, good teams win some games on the back of special teams and goaltending, but they need to get their 5v5 execution level back on track. It is well below a Stanley Cup contention standard and far below their November standard where they were routinely putting together clean, business-like wins over inferior opponents.

2.  Sheldon Keefe mentioned the other day that the rise in goals against is not necessarily on the team’s defensive play so much as how they’re managing the puck and losing their numbers up the ice, leading to scrambly situations and odd-man opportunities against before the Leafs even get a chance to defend with structure.

We saw plenty of that in this game, including for the 1-0 goal right out of the gates where they lost F3 and then David Kampf and Justin Holl failed to communicate/read the situation properly on the 2v1 against, effectively turning it into a 1v1 between Jonathan Toews and the goalie. At 4-3 in the third period, they again lost F3 (Tavares), leading to a Patrick Kane breakaway.

They are also not looking like a synced-up team through the neutral zone at the moment, whether it’s overhandling the puck and skating themselves into traffic or attempting high-risk east-west passing plays across the neutral zone. The lines that kept it simple by getting pucks in behind the defense and building offense from the goal line out — Bunting, Matthews, and Kase did a good job of it consistently; the fourth line (Clifford – Engvall – Steeves) had its moments as well — were the most successful throughout the game when it came to generating offensive-zone time and scoring chances.

3.  In this game, what we also saw, in addition to the odd-man chances against, was the team not defending particularly well even when inside their five-man structure inside their own zone. Access to the net was met with little resistance; they were losing the majority of the battles and races along the walls as well. The score was 4-2, but the shot attempt share was 60/40, the shot share was 67/33, and the expected goal share was 65/35 for Hawks after 40 minutes.

4.  Is Petr Mrazek the Ondrej Kase of goaltenders? The talent and the passion in his game are obvious and compelling to watch, but he seems like a hazard to his own safety at times in the process.

It’s not easy to do what he did: off for nearly six weeks, in just his third game this season, and he was beaten on an unstoppable shot by Jonathan Toews for his first shot of the night.  You can quibble about battling through screens or deflections for maybe one of the two (4-3 or 4-4) goals from distance, but he was the only reason the 4-1 lead wasn’t erased much sooner with the number of grade-A chances in behind the defense the Leafs gave up off the rush and around their net.

Mrazek is definitely a starter talent and a fun-to-watch, athletic save maker, but we need to see him string together a stretch of good health and form before we can express much confidence in what the Leafs have in him this season.

5.  You can’t really accuse Sheldon Keefe of sitting on his hands in this game; just as many of us did, he was reading the tea leaves correctly on the precariousness of the multigoal lead and was trying to be proactive, starting his fourth line for an offensive-zone shift after a TV timeout at 4-1 to send a message, mixing up the lines and defense pairs, etc. He tried to jolt the team out of the habits that were asking for trouble, but when the compete level and attention to detail aren’t there, the result was pretty inevitable.

6.  If you don’t think the Jake Muzzin hit was a good, clean open-ice body check, well… you’re either wrong or you want to eliminate hitting from the game altogether. The principal point of contact was the shoulder despite the confusion of the broadcasters. Great hit.

7.  The fact that the Leafs can be short one of their big four (Marner), playing a bad game overall, and a line with Michael Bunting and Ondrej Kase (making a combined $2.2 million) is giving them their best minutes is a testament to the work management did in the free-agent bargain bin last offseason. It goes without saying this is not the kind of depth they had available last season with the likes of Jimmy Vesey and Joe Thornton.

Kase is also filling in really well on the penalty kill and the power play, providing a right-shot option they can easily shift the puck to at the left side of the net down low, where he plays with courage and is capable of finishing or making a play. He flashed his ability to bury with a beautiful roof-job vs. Tampa, and he made a play from that area of the ice tonight for the 3-1 Matthews goal. He’s also fully capable of helping the team set up the zone on entries.

Both plays can plug in just about anywhere in the lineup and be trusted to bring a reliable effort and contribute. Kase, in particular, gave them 19+ all-situations minutes tonight with an assist and four shots on goal.

8.  A good welcome-to-the-NHL moment for Alex Steeves leading to the 4-4 goal. Under siege as the Hawks sent everyone on the forecheck in the final 10 minutes of the third period in a one-goal game, the puck should go off the glass and out, not back into trouble.

The Leafs really invited the Hawks back into this game just as they did against Columbus on Tuesday; the challenge for the coaching staff is getting their message to resonate when the final results were positive.

9.  I have no idea why Justin Holl felt the need to intervene in the 50-50 puck race between Kristians Rubins and Phillip Kurashev on a loose puck outside of the left faceoff dot. It’s such a poor read of the situation instead of just protecting the middle of the ice; that’s just a free goal to give up out of nothing — a total gift back into the game. You can understand his illness and injury (affecting his offseason and training camp) resulting in some general sluggishness out there, but the bizarre decision-making is hard to excuse.

Jake Muzzin helping turn what should have been a rim-out play at the end of a long PK shift into a scrum, a lost puck battle behind the net, and a goal against to start the comeback at 4-2 was also ugly.

These two continue to really fight it. What do Keefe and Dean Chynoweth do with their D pairs heading out onto the road into the McDavid and Draisaitl matchups on Tuesday? Unquestionably, improved forward support is a big piece of the equation, but there will be nowhere to hide. Kristians Rubins — who took a penalty and was on for a few against — saw less than 10 minutes of ice tonight despite Chynoweth going with a more balanced look to the pairings. If Travis Dermott is ready to go (and he sounds close), it seems like Muzzin – Liljegren, Dermott – Holl would probably be their best bet.

10.  Anthony wrote the following in his notebook earlier this week following the Winnipeg loss:

The neutral zone was wide open. They were giving up odd-man rushes with regularity. Their high forward was non-existent for long stretches. When missing key players, a team needs to double down on its core identity (and for the Leafs, as we’ve said repeatedly, it’s a great team defense with a high-end goalie so far this season). It’s time to get back to it.

This has not happened at all in the three games since. On their last road trip, the Leafs looked like a finely-tuned machine, rattling off wins while playing their best 200-foot hockey of the season. There needs to be a recommitment to the details that made them so successful as they travel through Western Canada this week.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts


Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts


Game Highlights: Leafs 5 vs. Hawks 4