Tonight’s edition of Hockey Night in Canada gave us our first Leafs vs. Canucks matchup of the season.
In Toronto’s first look at the Bruce Boudreau era in Vancouver, fans were also able to get a good look at trade candidates like J.T. Miller and Luke Schenn. After the Calgary Flames snapped Toronto’s six-game winning streak on Thursday, the Leafs were back to their regular lines with Wayne Simmonds returning to the lineup:
#Leafs in warmup:
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) February 12, 2022
The Leafs certainly deserved to win this game, but the Canucks somehow stole a 3-2 victory. While the first period was fairly even, Toronto outshot Vancouver 24-7 in the second and 16-6 in the third. Thatcher Demko saved 51 of 53, pretty much single-handedly delivering the Canucks the win.
Let’s get to the report cards.
The Third Line — First and foremost, it was great to see Ondrej Kase back on the ice after leaving Thursday night’s game early. He set up a nice chance early, looked good on the penalty kill, and tipped home a power-play goal for his ninth of the season. Kase, who continues to look like a perfect third-line winger for this team, was the best player on this line tonight.
Ilya Mikheyev looked good on the penalty kill, finished with five shots on goal, and drew a penalty after beating Luke Schenn out-wide in transition; Keefe rewarded him with some shifts up on the John Tavares line. David Kampf was a bit quiet offensively (as per usual), but the Leafs had 83% of the expected goals at 5-on-5 when he was on the ice, which led Toronto’s forwards.
They failed to score at 5-on-5 (like every other forward line), but everyone played fairly well in this one. The Canucks basically generated absolutely nothing when they were on the ice, so the checking line did their job tonight.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — Matthews had one goal and seven shots, which is what we’ve come to expect from him. His line dominated in the second and they didn’t give up much at the other end, either. It was a bit of a slow start for Toronto’s top player — at least by his standards — but Demko was the only thing stopping him from a multi-point game. Matthews now has 33 goals on the season, which leads the team by 17.
John Tavares (C, #91) and William Nylander (RW, #88) — This duo created chance after chance tonight and both ended up with an assist on Matthews’ power-play goal. They combined for nine shots, many of the high-danger variety. Tavares set up Nylander for a breakaway in the third and his assist basically gave Matthews an empty net to shoot into. I thought Nylander was Toronto’s best player in the first. The top power-play unit also looked great all game.
I would give them five stars offensively; they’d each have left Vancouver with a multi-point game if it wasn’t for Demko’s terrific performance. However, they were both involved in Vancouver’s eventual game-winning goal, as Tavares’ pass was a bit sloppy and Vancouver scored just seconds after Nylander couldn’t handle it. I don’t think either of them was solely responsible for the goal, but the neutral-zone turnover leading to a goal against keeps them out of the five-star category tonight.
Jason Spezza (C, #19) — Spezza set up two good chances in the first period and registered an assist on Kase’s power-play goal. He also set up a nice chance in the third, so he was pretty dangerous offensively in under nine minutes of ice time.
His line was Toronto’s worst in terms of expected goal percentage, but I don’t think that was necessarily his fault. I thought about giving him five stars, but we didn’t see all that much of him tonight.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — Marner was Toronto’s best player in the second, setting up plenty of good scoring chances that didn’t wind up in the back of the net. His line was a bit quiet in the first, but he ended up with five shots on goal and plenty of nice passes. While he failed to register a point, he was definitely in the four or five-star territory offensively.
He should have been called for a terrible penalty after he tripped Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the offensive zone with the Canucks in the early stages of a power play at that point. Marner got awfully lucky that the refs missed it; it would have given the Canucks an extended 5-on-3. Other than that, he was quite effective.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — Muzzin was on for two goals against — one at 5-on-5 and one on the penalty kill — but neither goal was particularly his fault. The Leafs had 83% of the game’s five-on-five expected goals when he was on the ice, which led the team.
That said, I don’t think that he was all that noticeable tonight and it’s not like he was driving a large portion of Toronto’s chances. Let’s call it an average game from Muzzin.
Alex Kerfoot (LW, #15) and Pierre Engvall (LW, #47)— These two don’t play together, but I grouped them together because I really don’t have much to say about either of them. Neither player was on for a goal for or against, but like most of their teammates, they spent the bulk of their shifts in the offensive end. They each had a nice play or two, but ultimately, they combined for one shot on goal in a game where the team manufactured 52.
The Third Pair — Sandin and Liljegren weren’t all that noteworthy tonight; neither was on for a goal for or against. In a fairly even first period, this pair was not on the ice for a single shot against during those minutes.
However, it’s tough to argue that either player was a major difference-maker. Sandin set up a couple of nice scoring chances, including a secondary assist on Kase’s goal, so I’d bump him up to a 3.5 star performance if we gave half-grades. Sandin only played 14:16; I think we should have seen more of him in the third period.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Rielly finished with a team-high eight shots on goal in this one and also led the team in ice-time by over four minutes. However, in addition to his tripping penalty to start the third, the Canucks generated quite a few chances of their own when he was on the ice.
His pairing finished as Toronto’s worst from an expected goals percentage perspective, but Rielly did help to create some good chances. Let’s call it a 3.5 star night for Rielly, but I’ll round down given that the team lost.
Michael Bunting (LW, #58) — I thought Bunting was pretty invisible tonight, especially considering that the Leafs generated 52 shots. His line actually played fairly well, but he looked like more of a passenger than a play-driver. I have high expectations for him at this point in terms of the impact he can make alongside Matthews and Marner. If I’m ranking his 44 games from this season, this one probably lands towards the bottom of the list.
Petr Mrazek (G, #35) — Mrazek allowed two goals in the first six minutes, but both were a little bit strange. His stick got caught in Horvat’s skate right before the first goal, giving him little-to-no chance on the play. The second goal came after a point shot deflected off of a stick in front then took a wicked bounce off Mrazek. He didn’t know where the puck was, and it was tough to blame him.
Mrazek was perfect for the next 22.5 minutes, but he then got beat off a rebound chance. While he didn’t have much of a chance on the shot itself, he could have controlled the rebound a little bit better. I don’t think any of the goals against were overly soft, but he did allow three goals in a game where he wasn’t challenged much. Two stars seems just about right.
— Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) February 13, 2022
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — Simmonds returned to the lineup after missing Thursday’s game, but he played just seven minutes in this one. The Leafs somehow got slightly out-chanced from an expected goals perspective when he was on the ice, which shouldn’t happen when your team outshoots the opponent 53 to 24. There were plenty of power plays in this game and he’s not on either special teams unit, so he didn’t get much ice time. The Leafs were trailing for much of the game and all of the third, which meant he wasn’t going to see a ton of ice.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — I’m a huge fan of Brodie’s game, but I was frustrated with him tonight. It looked like the Leafs were on the power play at times during their five-on-five play, but the puck seemed to die on his stick a lot. It felt like he could have had a hat-trick in this one — his teammates set him up for multiple quality chances — but he just couldn’t finish a play off.
He hit the post at the end of the first, took a holding penalty, and even had a weird shot on goal against Mrazek. He was under a 50 xGF% in a game where his teammates posted much better numbers. The strength of his game is in the defensive zone, but he was frustrating to watch in the o-zone in this one.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Holl was the main reason for the first goal against; he gave the puck away in the neutral zone and failed to do much about the counter-attack. He also took an interference penalty in the second. I thought about giving him two stars — the Leafs had an 82 xGF% when he was on the ice — but I’m not sure how much of that was his doing.
That first goal against was a major play in the game, and unfortunately, Mrazek couldn’t bail him out. I’d give him three stars if it wasn’t for that play, but it’s not like we can just ignore such a significant moment in the game.
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.