Why snort cocaine and ride a motorcycle out of a helicopter when you can simply watch Toronto Maple Leafs hockey?
There are obviously some concerns to be had about this 17-goal spectacle (specifically Leafs goaltending related), but this was a ton of fun.
Your game in 10:
1. It takes some kind of goaltending performance to nearly overshadow what may well be a couple of career games for Mitch Marner (a natural hat trick, four goals, six points) and Michael Bunting (one goal, five points).
We’ll make sure not to let it detract from those performances here in this space. This was really special stuff again from the top line. They’re having fun out there right now — no better demonstration of it than Bunting perfectly replicating Marner’s feat from just a few weeks ago by drop passing one onto a platter for an empty-net tap in on a breakaway, as if that’s something where you can take a mental note to return the favour.
Even when Hyman-Matthews-Marner was rolling at its best, we haven’t seen this level of dominance before from the team’s top line in the Matthews era. They inspired a lot of confidence that even as the goaltending was melting down, that line could hop over the boards and go get the Leafs another one.
2. The way they’re finding each other with the puck is so fun to watch, but then layer on top the extra efforts they’re making to get pucks back, and “unstoppable” (Sheldon Keefe’s words tonight) becomes the correct description. Watch what Matthews does immediately following up on his initial shot — bullies the Detroit D off of it, then battles to get to the net and create space — allowing Bunting and Marner to do the rest.
Despite a one-point-in-seven-games start, Marner is now playing at a 105-point pace over 82.
3. Some other performances that might get lost in the shuffle of this one: Justin Holl came out of it a plus-three with three assists, two of which were really nice primary helpers — one off of a stretch pass where he picked out Nylander at the far blue line from below the goal line, and another a beautiful no-look feed from behind the Detroit net to Bunting for his goal.
Holl has really struggled at times to settle down and make clean plays with the puck, so the fact that he bought a little time, got his head up, and fired a stretch pass to William Nylander on his second shift of the game coming out of a healthy-scratch stint is an encouraging sign. He played 20+ minutes including four minutes on a penalty kill that was critical in helping the Leafs avoid collapsing entirely. It’s clear he and Jake Muzzin were bringing the worst out of each other, but he’s looked better next to Sandin and now TJ Brodie (who finished this one plus-four and paired well with Holl on the PK as well).
It’s going to sound strange to read in a game where they conceded seven, but there wasn’t too much to dislike about the new defense pairings overall. Brodie is a stabilizing presence to play with and it was a good audible by Dean Chynoweth to slide Holl in next to him in his return to the lineup after Travis Dermott was ruled out.
4. It’s been common to see Holl written off with speculation about freeing up the $2 million in cap space, but ice time talks, and Dean Chynoweth clearly doesn’t think he’s a lost cause. When he was a healthy scratch in late October, he played 21 minutes in his first two games back, and tonight’s game followed that same pattern. I still think the coaching staff knows they really need him and are invested in working him through the kinks this year (which seemed to start with some conditioning issues related to an illness and it snowballed a bit on him).
5. Quietly, David Kampf is up to 10 points in his last 13 games. He scored a couple of hilariously flukey goals earlier in the season, but he’s made a few nice plays during this stretch, including a good tip for his goal tonight and a smart play on the massive shorthanded tally where he set up Ondrej Kase in the third period.
Kampf continues to take care of business in the faceoff circle (75% tonight) and give the team safe minutes — his on-ice expected goals against per 60 is tied with Matthews and Mikheyev (a much smaller sample for Mikheyev due to his injury) for best among Leaf forwards, and the team is at break-even in its scoring chance share with him on the ice. His zone start percentage is tilted towards his own end more than any other player in the league — he’s bottom of the NHL (min. 500 mins played) in offensive-zone start percentage at 18.13.
6. When you consider how little Kampf is giving up in his own end (plus his penalty-killing utility) with this deployment, it certainly elevates his value beyond that of any old 30-point player. The Leafs are getting a lot of bang for their buck at $1.5 million.
He’s a perfect 4C, and it’s probably enough to be content with that kind of production at 3C provided you have both of your 11+ million centers producing at the rate they should be offensively and Spezza chipping in enough beneath Kampf, but I wouldn’t say the five-on-five offense of John Tavares or Jason Spezza has been where it should be this season. Among NHL players with a minimum of 400 minutes played, Spezza has fallen to 303rd in the league with 1.22 pts/60 a year after he finished third in the NHL in the category at 3.11/60. Tavares is 156th in the NHL in goals per 60 at 5v5 and 80th in points per 60.
A lot of options open up if they were to add a good 2LW option next to Tavares. They are less reliant on forcing Tavares and Nylander together, and if depth scoring started to dry up, they could then pivot and run Kerfoot-Nylander as two-thirds of another line with enviable depth throughout the lineup.
7. The Leafs gave up seven goals on 1.7 expected goals against based on the shot location data. Never seen anything quite like it.
The one Wings goal off the rush was a solo effort by Lucas Raymond that Timothy Liljegren could’ve backed in a little less on, and it took a deflection off of him on the way through and found a hole in Petr Mrazek. On the 7-6 goal, there wasn’t a Leaf within reaching distance of Michael Rasmussen, who was able to traverse the crease and apply the tip without any obstruction.
But in no way did the Leafs hang their goalies out to dry. There weren’t goals flying in off of breakaways, 2-on-1s, or backdoor tap-ins. The first goal was a bad rebound right into the slot, two of the others should’ve been routine saves off of shots from the point or sideboards, and another was a gift on a Campbell misplay behind the net.
8. I don’t know what everyone is so bent out of shape about. Jack Campbell actually had the best save percentage of the four goalies to appear in the game…
Kidding aside, I wrote this after the last game:
You have to go back to Mrazek right away if you’re Sheldon Keefe.
It’s clear to me Keefe has prioritized getting Campbell rolling again over channeling Mrazek’s momentum and getting him into more of a groove. It seems that he thinks Campbell is his best goaltender — to be fair to Keefe, he was giving them elite goaltending with almost no blips on the radar for about 40-45 games between last season and the start of this one, so there is some loyalty there. But he’s now lost the benefit of the doubt (five or more goals against in six of his last 13, .897 since Dec. 1), especially when the leash shouldn’t be as long as other established starters in the league. This is not a unique insight, but Campbell has never done this before workload-wise. We’re at game #52 and he surpassed his NHL career-high in games played six games ago.
9. Just a few days ago, Kyle Dubas explicitly mentioned not yo-yo’ing Nick Robertson and giving him a good stretch of time to dominate in the AHL coming off of such a disjointed couple of years for his development. What changed? The conspiracy theorists among us are no doubt thinking “showcase!” ahead of the deadline.
Occam’s razor suggests that they knew they might be short on bodies on this trip with the flu bug, they were also going to be playing in his hometown, and they probably wanted to reward him for his professionalism with his injury rehab and subsequent play since returning.
Not a bad first game for him — lots of energy, three shots on goal, a near goal on a wraparound attempt, and a boarding penalty in just under 10 minutes of ice time.
10. The narrative is always lurking about this team’s mental fragility (fair enough until the team proves otherwise in the playoffs), but I don’t think that’s what we saw tonight — not with how they responded in critical moments as the game threatened to get out of control. They picked up their goalies’ slack tonight and did what they had to do in order to pull the game out of the fire, and it was encouraging to see the third line come up with two of those goals in the third.
The real concern is that these goaltending issues aren’t coming out of nowhere. At five-on-five, they have the worst goaltending in the league outside of New Jersey over the last three months. You have to give Mrazek a real chance to show what he can do with some consecutive starts so that you’ve got all of your cards on the table before you make a decision about what to do at the deadline. Their .888 five-on-five save percentage since Dec. 1 will be the team’s ultimate downfall and will quickly change around all of Dubas’ priorities if it doesn’t turn around soon.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts