Two good teams, fans back in the arena, and the NHL season entering the stretch drive. You can’t really ask for much more on a Thursday night.

The Leafs delivered with a victory that never really felt in doubt.

Your game in 10:

1.  It was great to have fans back in the arena. Even with just 50 percent capacity, you could feel a buzz in the rink. The Leafs players, certainly excited to have fans back in the building, came out flying. Auston Matthews scored on a breakaway on the first shift of the game following a bit of a lucky bounce and a great outlet pass from TJ Brodie.

That breakaway move is well unstoppable – a small backhand-forehand move before shooting low blocker (when you’re a lefty). Evgeni Malkin, who was watching from the other bench, has made hay with that move for years. Matthews used to love going five-hole on breakaways (he had another breakaway in this game where he went there) and did it regularly when he entered the league. He then added a good backhand-move wrinkle, and now this lower blocker goal.

On the shift afterward, Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander broke in on a 2v1, but Pittsburgh played it well.

2.  From there, the Penguins seemed to wake up a bit and generated a bit of a pushback. The first instance came off of a bit of a miscommunication behind the net between Jack Campbell, Rasmus Sandin, and Jake Muzzin.

In particular, Sandin sent Muzzin a really difficult pass to handle as a lefty; you couldn’t help but think of the adjustment involved in not only moving to the other side of the ice but also playing with a left-handed partner instead of a right-handed partner.

Campbell stood tall on the ensuing chaos. He also stopped Jeff Carter on a breakaway and made a big save on Bryan Rust on a bank off of the backboards from a point shot.

In the first five minutes of the game, the crowd screamed “Soup!” three times and chanted Go Leafs Go — on a weekday game, in the middle of the regular season. Yeah, I’d say there was a buzz in the rink.

3.  While Jack Campbell did make a number of good saves in the first, it felt like the Leafs generally controlled play and were able to create offense pretty consistently. They put 15 shots on net in the period.

The third and fourth line combined for a sequence where they hemmed the Penguins in their zone and the Leafs won battle after battle to keep the puck alive. David Kampf missed a golden opportunity at one point. They had a power play in the first that was buzzing with chances, ripping cross-ice passes, and generating the looks that they wanted – it just didn’t cash in.

Late in the period, while shorthanded, Tristan Jarry made a great save on Ilya Mikheyev. The Leafs pushed to extend the lead all period, but Jarry was really solid.

4.  In the second period, the Leafs were able to finally find that second goal. This one came by way of the man advantage on a play we haven’t seen nearly enough this season: Morgan Rielly simply keeping it and skating it in himself.

We’ve said it most of the year: The drop-pass breakout works. Yes, it looks bad when it doesn’t, but it works so often it’s worth trying almost all the time.

The Leafs are on track to have a historically great power play.  Any criticism is nitpicking at this point; they aren’t even showing chinks in the proverbial armour. But that play is regularly there for Rielly, and he rarely takes it.

It serves as a reminder for not only Rielly but the entire league. If you blatantly cheat on the drop pass, he can make you pay. It might not always result in an end-to-end highlight-reel goal, but it will be an easy entry.

5.  Not to be outdone, the Leafs’ penalty kill was also buzzing in this game. Through three power plays, the Penguins generated no shots on goal.

The speed of Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot was driving them absolutely nuts, whether it was through the neutral zone to prevent entries or cutting off passing lanes and dumping the puck down the ice. They were able to transition up the ice more than a few times and actually create some rush offense while penalty killing.

On one play, Kerfoot tried flipping a puck over the Penguins defenders to a streaking Mikheyev (who ended up losing an edge and falling into Jarry). On the Penguins’ fourth power play, they did get some shots on net, but Jack Campbell stood tall before the Leafs went down the ice and David Kampf put home a shorthanded goal on a beautiful play by Rielly.

In the third period, the Leafs went to a penalty kill while up 4-1 and spent most of the time creating chances against the Penguins. All the while, who led the Leafs’ defensemen in shorthanded time on ice? Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl.

With all the talk about Rasmus Sandin moving into the top four, Holl still played about four minutes more than him (due to the penalty kill).

6.  We talked about Morgan Rielly’s goal and noted his great assist on the shorthanded goal, but we needed to designate another point to Rielly absolutely buzzing throughout the night and having himself a game.

He went pointless on the road trip and returned home to fans in the arena and some extra pep in his step. He was creating offense all night, regularly spending time below the top of the circle in the offensive zone — and when Rielly gets moving around in the offensive zone, you almost always know he’s going to have a night.

The only real blemish Rielly probably wants back came he got caught slightly behind Malkin on a Penguins transition and had to take a penalty. He took another penalty later on, but I thought it was a bad call/a bit unlucky more than anything else. On the night, he finished with 21:21, a goal, an assist, and three shots on goal.

7.  Pittsburgh came out in the third period and made a predictable push to get back into the game – and they accomplished their mission early, scoring three and a half minutes into the period.

There has been a lot of talk about Rasmus Sandin moving into the top four; to me, that goal is the kind of thing you expect from a young defenseman. It’s fine that he pinches in – he had the support and should pinch if he does — but he can’t let the winger beat him down the ice easily after he steps up.

In this case, Jeff Carter beat him, he got the puck back right away, and he carried it up ice. The rush is no longer a simple 2v2, adding a level of complication to defending the play. The defense broke down, the Penguins drove the net hard, and Malkin cashed in on a rebound that Campbell had no chance on.

8.  As has been the case for this team most of the season, when the Leafs need a big play, the top line delivers. They did yet again in the third period, with Michael Bunting finishing a beautiful backhand saucer pass that he had to knock down out of the air before tucking it home nicely.

That play is more difficult if you’re righthanded, obviously, and that’s the way old linemate Zach Hyman shoots. At this point, it’s not hyperbole to suggest he’s more or less replacing Hyman. He doesn’t bring the penalty killing and almost certainly can’t carry a line like Hyman can (nor is he as good defensively, if we are being honest), but in terms of the forechecking and goal production – he’s on pace for about 28 now – it is more than enough for Matthews and Marner.

Add in the gamesmanship he brings to this team with his ability to draw power plays, Bunting’s value is through the roof here.

9.  This is a game where the checking line was so important for the Leafs. David Kampf played against Sidney Crosby more than John Tavares or Auston Matthews and held his line goalless. To be clear, Matthews played around a minute less against Crosby, so they went head-to-head quite a bit still. That said, if you have the de-facto third line contributing in that way and then mix in the Leafs’ special teams and their elite top line, they are going to be a tough out for anyone.

The Kampf line played the most with the Morgan Rielly pairing, the Tavares line played primarily with the Travis DermottJustin Holl pairing (which was lowkey solid if unspectacular, which is fine for a third pairing), and the Matthews line split their time between the Rielly pairing and the Jake Muzzin pairing (with a shade more to the Rielly side). The breakdown makes more sense when you consider that the Tavares line played regularly against the Malkin line.

10.  There has been a good amount of talk lately about how to split the goalie workload. I have said multiple times that I wouldn’t just hand Jack Campbell the net as if he is the unquestioned starter. While I still think that’s true, games like tonight will go a long way towards quieting the doubts.

Campbell was really sharp all night and made a number of saves in high-percentage areas. The Penguins pushed for 50 shots in this one, and they didn’t completely lack in quality. I certainly wouldn’t call this game a masterclass from the Leafs’ defense by any means, but if Campbell is going to play that well, it will make up for a lot of their miscues.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Leafs 4 vs. Penguins 1