The Maple Leafs put together an impressively complete four-line effort in Boston tonight, with the only cause for concern being three injury situations that forced two of their right-handed defensemen and their current starting goaltender out of the game.
Your game in 10:
1. The Leafs were entering this two-game set against high-end Atlantic Division opponents with a few key storylines to watch: Do they look like a team that can compete with their depth over three or four lines against the best in the league, or are they a one-line show that isn’t getting enough offense if it’s not Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and their power play winning them games? Well, the two wins over Boston and Florida could not have played out much better in this respect.
The Leafs received scoring contributions from eight different goal scorers over the two games — all four lines contributed in tonight’s win — including 5v5 goals from Colin Blackwell, Alex Kerfoot, David Kampf, Ilya Mikheyev, and Morgan Rielly off of the blue line.
Dating back to last season when the Leafs dropped Hyman to L3 and waxed the Oilers 3 straight times, they have pretty well looked awesome every single time they have spread out their talent across three lines instead of loading up two (with heavy minutes to boot).
— Anthony Petrielli (@APetrielli) March 30, 2022
After we criticized their starts to games plenty in this space, they also took the lead inside the first five or so minutes in each game, which is incredibly important against good teams, particularly at playoff time. Both games were closed out with multi-goal advantages without too much of a concern in terms of managing the lead to the finish.
Two regular-season contests do not a season make, but those are markers of a better prepared, more balanced Leafs team.
2. The Bruins scored their two late goals and made it halfway interesting, but the Leafs’ approach in the third period for the most part was business-like and necessarily boring given the circumstances (down two defensemen, up four goals, a rookie goalie in net). They didn’t overextend themselves offensively, the forwards made simple plays and got pucks out, and they kept their shifts short so their tired defensemen weren’t bogged down for too many long own-zone shifts. There were a lot of icings in the mix, but in the circumstances, plenty of stoppages to slow the game down and not allow the Bruins to gather much momentum made for sensible game management by the team overall.
3. I take no delight in pointing it out as I am a big fan of the player and person, but it probably isn’t getting enough attention just how far Jason Spezza‘s numbers plummeted this season from third in the NHL in points/60 last season to 322nd this season (prior to tonight’s game, min. 400 minutes played).
Undoubtedly, a big part of the solution is discontinuing the Spezza-Simmonds partnership which has never really made any sense, but I think shifting Spezza to the wing in favour of a player with a better motor over 200 feet of the ice surface, such as Colin Blackwell, makes a good amount of sense as well. We’ll see where Blackwell’s faceoff numbers settle in this season — historically, they’re not too bad at 48.8% over his career — and they can insulate him with Spezza taking the right-side draws.
The fourth line led the team with 79% share of the shot attempts and 83% of the expected goals in addition to getting the team on the board early with the 1-0 goal off of a nice feed from Spezza and backhand redirect by Blackwell.
4. With the 2-1 goal tonight, Morgan Rielly now has goals in two straight after going 17 without scoring, a span that included just seven assists and a minus-nine plus/minus. Rielly’s momentum this season was sacrificed a little bit due to the circumstances beneath him on the defense corps, forcing him away from his usual partner in TJ Brodie, and throwing him in next to Liljegren in assignments Liljegren wasn’t ready for before settling in next to Ilya Lybushkin recently. For a team that does not generate much goal production off its blue line relative to other high-scoring teams, it is a quietly important development that he is emerging from his offensive rut.
5. It was interesting to see Michael Bunting all the way down below 11 minutes time-on-ice in this game, which is his lowest TOI figure since joining the top line full time. After his offensive-zone tripping penalty (leading to the 1-1 power-play goal by David Pastrnak) plus the two off-setting minors, it’s the first time we’ve seen the coaching staff show a little hesitance around his ability to keep it on the rails in a situation where the team needed to play disciplined and protect the lead.
Staying on this side of the line discipline-wise is key when it comes to keeping leads against good teams with good power plays, especially a team like Boston that was attempting to goad the Leafs into rolling around in the mud with a multi-goal advantage.
6. Hopefully, Ilya Lyubushkin is okay, as I’m becoming a big fan of the tone he’s helped set for the Leafs of late on the blue line, including against Florida, where he confronted Mason Marchment after he buzzed Petr Mrazek on the first shift and then stepped up and dropped Marchment at the defensive blue line shortly thereafter. He’s a capable defender of the rush and forces the opposition to keep their heads up through the neutral zone, including landing a good hit on Taylor Hall that led to the retaliatory cheap shot.
He makes the Leafs a harder team to play against, and in addition to the stable veteran presence of a Mark Giordano, it makes the Leafs D core a more well-rounded, playoff-ready unit than it was six weeks ago.
7. A sucker punch to the side of the head/jaw is objectively worse in its intent than the Auston Matthews cross-check that was an exchange of blows between two willing combatants (and led to a two-game suspension). Rasmus Dahlin also stayed in the game after the Matthews cross-check, whereas Ilya Lyubushkin could not continue tonight with an apparent head/face injury after Hall’s punch. Matthews had a hearing scheduled before the game was even over against Buffalo. Tonight, the silence is deafening from the DoPS. Curious!
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) March 30, 2022
8. I thought this was a rough game from TJ Brodie, who was directly involved in three Bruins goals, seemed to continually lose his stick in the third period, and got walked around a number of times, but that was probably in large part a byproduct of his ballooning time-on-due due to the absences of two Leafs defensemen, forcing him to play over 26 minutes. Outside of Brodie, though, the Leafs’ defense looked again quite solid as a unit.
Mark Giordano played nearly 15 minutes at 5v5 (third among Leafs D) and the Leafs gave up a total of two scoring chances in those 15 minutes. He’s played extremely poised, simple, and effective in all three games so far, and he looks to be an invaluable stabilizing influence next to Timothy Liljegren.
The only reservation for the Leafs tonight is how potentially costly this win was from an injury point of view with Justin Holl and Lyubushkin exiting the game with apparent head/face injuries. Those are two of the team’s three right shots that were giving the Leafs solid minutes of late.
9. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse… What a season from hell this is turning out to be for Petr Mrazek. Just as he was gaining some traction with his play — back-to-back strong starts against New Jersey and Montreal, and a good start to this game including a backdoor save in the first minute — the groin injury flares up again, sending him out of action for who-knows-how-long.
Erik Kallgren did let three past him, but he faced 26 shots and acquitted himself well in a tough situation. This was the second time in his very short NHL career (the first being when Mrazek fell apart against Arizona and Kallgren made his NHL debut in horrible circumstances) that he was thrust into a less-than-ideal spot and responded with a lot of composure in the crease.
The Leafs entered the third period down two defensemen (and were icing the puck a ton accordingly), the crowd at the TD Garden was raucous, the refs appeared to have no idea what they were calling, and Kallgren hung in there well and made some solid saves.
Fortunately, Jack Campbell appears to be very close to a return, but if he’s not quite ready, we may see a game with a Kallgren-Hutchinson tandem this Thursday.
10. It’s been noticeable to me just how high Mitch Marner likes to sit when waiting on the weak side of the power play this season. The snapshot below is just prior to the Leafs’ 5-1 goal that stood up as the game-winner via the power play.
There isn’t much sense in him creeping toward the top of the circle sniffing out one-timers, and in addition to the obviously open passing lane, this allows him to get in motion and move downhill when he receives the puck in space. Be it a slap pass into the net-front or bumper, or drawing in a defender and laying it off, Marner attacking downhill in motion — changing his angles and using his elite vision — is much more dangerous than he is from a more static position in more limited room.
Marner was brilliant again tonight in all situations.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts