The two-game suspension for Auston Matthews is now over, and the Maple Leafs went 2-0.
If we can take away anything, it should be that this team is far more capable of playing well defensively than they had been of late. The Leafs played two good games against two good teams and won fairly comfortably in both.
At times, they might be guilty as a team of relying too much on Auston Matthews. Without him, it seemed like they each dug in a little extra and the results speak for themselves. Hopefully, they can keep this going when he returns now.
Your game in 10:
1. This was a really tight game between two very good teams through most of the first period. There was no space, the checking was super tight, and both teams were having issues gaining the zone cleanly due to the back pressure.
There was also a nice buzz in the arena (once again, love fans being back in the arena!). The Leafs‘ top line of Michael Bunting – John Tavares – Mitch Marner had the team’s two best shifts of the first period. The first one was an extended cycle; there wasn’t much that came out of it, but they tilted the ice for the shift and they were really the first Leafs line to accomplish that in the game.
The line then created a great chance later in the period when they forced a turnover and Tavares fed Bunting who was all alone in front.
2. I have to keep harping on this: The starts of games and periods from this team are leaving something to be desired. Brady Skjei was in all alone to start both periods. You can argue the first one was based on a fortuitous bounce, but it was still Carolina controlling play in the Leafs‘ zone to open the game.
The Leafs had zero shots on goal through six minutes in this one. Against Dallas on Tuesday, they were shotless through the first four minutes.
3. As much as we’ve heard about the season Frederik Anderson is having for Carolina, the first goal was a reminder of the Freddie fans saw a little too often towards the end of his Leafs tenure. Ilya Mikheyev flew down the wing (after starting the play in the Leafs’ end), threw a backhand on net, and Andersen got caught cheating over. It wasn’t a particularly great goal, but the Leafs will certainly take it considering some of the goals they’ve seen go in their own net over the past few weeks.
Nothing like a little luck here and there #LeafsForever | #LeafsgoBrách☘️ pic.twitter.com/eadmSUP0eH
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 17, 2022
Mikheyev was absolutely flying throughout the night. He deserved a goal and probably more. He was one of the Leafs’ best forwards in this one.
The saucer pass from Justin Holl was also gorgeous – he’s quietly approaching two months of playing really well now, by the way. Good for him. The criticism reached unfair heights at one point.
4. The Leafs put together two great penalty kills in the first period and tacked on a third one for good measure in the third period. The best scoring chance overall on those three penalties actually went to Ilya Mikheyev off the rush.
The Leafs did an excellent job at pressuring Carolina and making it super difficult for the Hurricanes to really set up and create looks. It was a lot of outside shots from the half-wall or the point. We talk about it a lot when it goes against them, but they generally did a good job of clearing rebounds off of those shots as well.
The Hurricanes weren’t getting inside, and when they took the point shots, it was a lot of one-and-done opportunities. It had to feel good for Dean Chynoweth to oversee a penalty kill that looked so good against his former team.
5. Mitch Marner extended the lead later in the second with a great shot to the low blocker side off the rush. It was nice to see him keep it and shoot – a far, far cry from last year’s playoffs, where he basically had the yips. We can only hope he keeps riding that confidence heading into the playoffs this Spring.
There’s luck and then there’s magic 🍀🪄 pic.twitter.com/KW8GVMmZQ9
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 18, 2022
In the two games without Auston Matthews, I thought Mitch Marner was their best overall player by a notable margin. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of just how good he is when he’s playing beside probably the best player in the league. Marner was absolutely dancing tonight, and the shift after he scored, he threw a pretty good hit on a Canes defenseman after he dumped the puck.
It’s also a reminder that even though the Leafs are loathe to split up Matthews and Marner (and truly, it is understandable), he’s more than capable of carrying his own line.
6. The shutout streak finally ended in the third period for Erik Källgren. It was a bang-bang play as a shot deflected off Ilya Lyubushkin and right on the stick of Ethan Bear, who wasted no time in hammering it home. It was a tough play to follow for a goalie, and there is not much you can really say to anyone on that specific play. That’s hockey sometimes.
It should be noted, too — building off the start-of-periods point — that while the Canes didn’t exactly create a ton to start the third, it was another one where they came out and started to tilt the ice.
7. I thought David Kampf was quietly really solid in this victory. He played 17:54 on the night, which is tied for his fourth-highest ice time total on the season. He didn’t do anything special on the night, but he was just a rock and a central figure on the elite penalty kill.
His line kept things simple, and while they gave up some scoring chances, nothing was of the five-star category. The Leafs have chased this type of checking center for years (Tomas Plekanec, Brian Boyle, Riley Nash, etc.), and now that they have a good one, we can see why.
8. That’s now a three-game goal-scoring streak for Ondrej Kase. When he came back from injury, it took him a few games to find his form, but he’s moving well out there. The goal was a gorgeous passing play between him, Kerfoot, and Nylander’s saucer pass.
Lean green scoring machine 🟢#LeafsForever | #LeafsgoBrách☘️ pic.twitter.com/o7FPR8Ac9F
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 18, 2022
Kase played 15:04 in this game, which is above his season average, and he scored the goal with two additional shots on net. He was out there in the final minute of the third when the Leafs were protecting the lead and Carolina had their goalie out.
One thing Kase appears to have toned down is his approach to forechecking. I am not sure if it’s on purpose or if he’s a little hesitant since returning from injury, but he certainly hasn’t been as noticeable when it comes to his kamikaze style of forechecking.
9. Two games for John Tavares centering the top line, and two great performances from him. Tonight, he almost scored what would have been his nicest goal of the season after walking Jacob Slavin off the rush – that’s one of the best defensemen in the league.
What changed? The thing that stands out the most: He did not have to forecheck as much. He was often able to simply go to the net and screen the goalie/look for deflections. It’s really what he does best.
When Tavares plays with Kerfoot and Nylander, he has to do a lot more digging, and while he’s capable of doing it, the issue is how long it takes him to get there. With Bunting and Marner able to generate more in-zone offense and do a bit more of that wall work, Tavares was able to make himself an outlet for in-tight passes and quick one touches. That’s his game. He can’t keep up with the speed of Kerfoot and Nylander off the rush.
This was a nice reminder that some of the talk of Tavares’ aging is way overblown.
10. Another solid game for Erik Källgren. Carolina scored right at the end of the third, which was unfortunate, but all in all, he has given the Leafs everything they could have hoped for so far.
It’s interesting that the shot clock attributed 36 shots on net to the Hurricanes, but it really didn’t feel like they created much of anything. There were a lot of outside shots; a lot of junk. Källgren didn’t have to make too many saves of note (though he did have a nice one on Skjei).
There certainly wasn’t anything in the way of side-to-side, one-timer, or odd-man rush type of opportunities. That’s the type of hockey the Leafs should be playing: Make teams earn it, and keep things simple defensively.
That is the type of structure that Jack Campbell performed so well in back in November.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts