Auston Matthews stole the show by becoming the 21st player in NHL history to hit 60 goals in a season as the Toronto Maple Leafs downed the Detroit Red Wings 3-0 at Scotiabank Arena in an incredibly lopsided affair. 

Matthews scored two goals, a pair of tallies sandwiched around a goal from John Tavares created by a great pass from William Nylander. In net, Jack Campbell stopped 20 shots for his first shutout since New Year’s Day.

With two more points tonight, the Maple Leafs have clinched home ice in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their 30th home win of the season sets a new franchise record, and they continue to extend their franchise record for most points in a season with 113.

Your game in 10:

1.   Before we delve into the game, let’s talk about a few personnel factors at play. The Leafs re-inserted Jake Muzzin into the lineup after his most recent ailment, while Justin Holl was scratched to make room. With Michael Bunting missing his second consecutive game after tweaking something in his lower body, Nick Robertson was called up from the Marlies to play in his place. Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds were out of the lineup as Colin Blackwell and Nick Abruzzese suited up on the fourth line. Keep track of all those changes?

As for the opposition, the Red Wings iced an extremely-depleted roster tonight. Star Dylan Larkin and young forward Filip Zadina are both out for the season with injuries. Moreover, Tyler Bertuzzi, one of the team’s leading scorers, is ineligible to play in Canada due to his COVID-19 vaccination status. Thus, the lopsided beatdown that unfolded is not necessarily unexpected. But boy, was it a beatdown.

2.    The first period didn’t bring about any goals for either side, but it was a period decisively dominated by the Leafs.

Ilya Mikheyev went on a mini-break very quickly, but Alex Nedeljkovic was up to the task in net for the Red Wings to snuff it out. Something I wrote in my game notes that was especially true of this period and continued to be later in the game: “The first period was played nearly entirely in the Detroit end.” We use shot attempts as a proxy for possession, but sometimes they can understate how lopsided a game is when a team is cycling in the offensive zone but not throwing pucks at the net all the time.

That’s pretty much what was happening in this game. The Red Wings did a pretty good job in the first two periods of clogging up the neutral zone and causing Toronto to play dump-and-chase. The problem for Detroit is that once the puck was dumped in, they had severe problems getting it out. If they did, it was seldom a clean zone exit with possession. Rather, the modal outcome was a flip to center ice for a frantic change before a Leafs defenseman pounded it back in, starting the cycle over again.

The forechecking pressure and puck possession cycling in the offensive zone was superb for the Leafs in the first and throughout the game. Detroit created one good look (in my opinion) on Jack Campbell, and Natural Stat Trick attributed them with two high-danger chances in the first period. That’s it.

The Leafs produced five at 5v5 in the first period and owned over 70% of the expected goals, scoring chances, high danger chances, and shot attempts in that frame. Dominant.

3.     While the Leafs didn’t score in that first period, it was another frame of Auston Matthews looking excellent without the puck going in. He fired a one-time blast off of cycle in the first:

When the Leafs got their first power play in the opening period, they were clearly trying to tee him up. The trend of AM34 looking superb without scoring a goal seeped into the second period, as my first note of the frame was this stop from Nedeljkovic on the Toronto superstar:

Sometimes you can tell by watching the tape when a player is completely locked in, and that was Matthews from the jump.  I thought Alex Kerfoot looked good on that line in the place of Bunting and Mitch Marner was fine, but Matthews was the one driving play.

In the words of Red Wings color announcer Mickey Redmond on the Detroit feed, “When Matthews is on the ice, it’s absolutely mayhem for the defense.” That was 100% true tonight; each time he had the puck, Matthews seemed like a threat to score.

AM34 was zooming around the ice, hounding the puck, firing shot after shot at the net (he finished with seven), and dominating the flow of the game. It took quite some time for Matthews to break the ice, but we could all feel it coming.

4.      The penalty kill has been a topic of discussion in Leaf-land recently after allowing far too many PPGs in the last few games to Tampa and Florida. While the Red Wings’ power play minus Larkin and Bertuzzi is a far cry from what those two teams can load up on a unit, it was still an opportunity for the Leafs to make a few adjustments shorthanded in one of their final tune-ups before the postseason.

Toronto had to kill three penalties tonight, the first of which came at 6:12 of the second period after Nick Robertson was called for high-sticking. I thought the PK was okay, and Natural Stat Trick shows them limiting high-danger chances pretty well throughout the night, although a handful of scoring chances did seep through.

The first kill saw Jack Campbell make one stop of consequence. The second one at the tail end of the period was notable for a diving shot block by Alex Kerfoot:


The final kill came in the third, and the only good look was nearly a goal as Jakub Vrana rang the post for Detroit from the right circle. The Leafs did a solid job taking away the change-of-sides pass that hurt them against Tampa on the PK, but puck movement was a tad too easy (the stop Campbell made on the first PK was an obstructed pass to the slot) and shooting lanes were a little too open for my liking.

Let’s call it a decent showing shorthanded, but there is still some room for improvement headed into the last game of the regular season.

5.    Alex Nedeljkovic was terrific for the Red Wings tonight. He helped keep the doors closed for a long time in this game and prevented the floodgates from ever fully opening.

Moritz Seider’s stellar defensive play took away a clean pass from John Tavares to Jason Spezza that Spezza still nearly batted out of the air and into the net, but with each close call, you knew a goal was coming soon. It finally did, and Spezza played a part.

The fourth line was in the midst of transitioning into the first line after a good offensive-zone shift by the bottom unit, leaving Spezza on the ice when Auston Matthews stepped on. The wily veteran used his long reach to guide the puck to the net front, where Matthews snagged it, deked Nedeljkovic, and slid it into the net:

What I like about this goal is the anticipation from Matthews. He read the play perfectly, identifying that Spezza had a shot to come away with the puck into the slot and knowing what was coming next. Matthews saw open ice in the slot and moved himself to it, while Detroit’s Michael Rasmussen was caught puck-watching. Great goalscorers know how to routinely put themselves in the right positions to score, and Matthews is the great-est goalscorer in the NHL right now.

That was point #995 for Spezza, who suddenly has a four-game point streak going. After a long slump, the old goat has turned it on again, and the Leafs have won the xG battle when he is on ice in four of his last six games.

Compared to fellow vets Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds, Spezza is the one who I think has to be in the playoff lineup. He still has far more scoring touch, is getting hot at the right time, and offers considerable value in 6v5 and 5v4 situations.

6.     Another veteran I had my eye on tonight was Jake Muzzin. Muzzin returned from his second concussion, played four games (where I felt he looked improved compared to a dreadful performance for much of the year), and then has been out a week with a mysterious ailment.  Back in the lineup tonight, I thought it was another good game for him.

Sure, it was a good game for just about everyone, but Muzzin and TJ Brodie graded out as Toronto’s best defensive pairing tonight by the metrics, which lines up with the eye test. Mark Giordano and Timothy Liljegren were on ice for a bad giveaway by Giordano, while Morgan Rielly and Ilya Lyubushkin weren’t all that noticeable (not necessarily a bad thing, I will say).

Meanwhile, Muzzin and Brodie were engaged and quite noticeable. Muzzin drew a penalty, his good defensive stick shorthanded cut off a possible high-danger pass, and he was confidently moving up in the offensive zone to create offense. He put a couple of shots on net, and at 20:38 TOI, he was Toronto’s third-most used defenseman tonight. Brodie, at 21:41, finished with the most ice time.

I wrote this in a previous game review, but the nice thing about the Muzzin-Brodie pairing is that it doesn’t require Muzzin to be the defensive titan he was expected to be at the start of the season. It allows him to take a few more chances and tap into that offensive upside that’s often been underrated over his lengthy NHL career, which he’s looked comfortable doing in the five games since returning from injury.

The scoring chances were 8-3 at 5v5 with Muzzin on the ice, and the Leafs owned ~86% of the expected goals with Muzzin and Brodie on the ice in Evolving Hockey’s numbers. If the playoffs were starting today, I think the three pairs we saw tonight would be my three pairs.

7.    The Leafs were skating an experimental line of Ilya Mikheyev with John Tavares and Nick Robertson on the second line, but that started to change in the early third period. It was only a minute after I wrote in my notes that Robertson had shifted down and William Nylander had moved up that Nylander and the captain hooked up for a magnificent goal:

That might be one of the best two or three passes that Nylander has made all season. Out along the boards shielding the puck from the defender with his back to the intended target, in one spin-o-rama motion, he flung it right on Tavares’ tape for an easy tap-in.

Two more assists tonight for #88 bring him up to 78 points on the season as he continues to pad his career-high. I’m not sure if he’ll play in the final game (see point 10 for that), but it’s been a season to remember offensively for the Swede. Now, we’ll see if he can manufacture another playoff showing like last season.

8.     When Tavares scored that goal, the game felt close to over. The Red Wings were continuing to get sat on in their own zone and could do next to nothing at 5v5. At that point, the game became just an exercise to see whether Matthews could hit 60 goals in the final 16 or so minutes.

When the Leafs were set to go on the power play for the second time of the evening, all the attention turned to Matthews. Guess what happened next?

It’s pretty fitting that Matthews’ 60th comes on a vintage wrist shot as he’s got one of the best the game has ever seen — perhaps the best since Joe Sakic. That goal put Matthews into an elite club to score 60, made even more impressive when we remember he did it in just 73 games and in the 21st century.

Only Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos have done it this century, and Matthews is the first member of the Toronto Maple Leafs to achieve the feat. A living legend playing before our eyes, and the possible 2021-22 Hart Trophy Winner.

9.      Once Matthews extended the lead to 3-0, it was pretty much cruise control. After the Leafs killed that third penalty off, Jack Campbell was able to coast to his first shutout since New Year’s Day.

He only needed to stop 20 shots to post the shutout, but he still looked calm and confident doing it. I would not describe this as a terribly difficult clean sheet, but there were six high-danger chances against by Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, and he stopped all of them.

Campbell’s positioning looked very sound, his rebound control was stellar, and he showed off a quick glove, too:

Campbell is now 7-0-1 in eight starts since returning from injury, posting a .922 SV% in that span. If we distill it down to just the last four starts, he’s stopped 116 of 123 shots (.943) and saved 1.82 goals above expected, allowing just seven total goals for a GAA below 2.00.

It’s the first stretch of four-straight appearances with a save percentage above .910 since November when Campbell was lighting the world on fire. Some are fretting about Tampa playing their best hockey in a couple of months right before the playoffs — which is true — but so is Campbell, who is arguably the most pivotal piece for Toronto’s side in the upcoming series.

It’s hard to have reasonably imagined Campbell could look any better when he returned from injury at the start of April having been in meltdown mode just three weeks prior.

10.    This win locked down home-ice advantage for the Leafs, which could be crucial. For the first time since 2004, they will have home ice for game one of a series that will be played in front of a capacity crowd. In a series that figures to be as tight as the one against Tampa will, it could mean a lot.

With home-ice wrapped up, the Friday night game against Boston doesn’t appear to have much meaning, and I’m curious to see what Sheldon Keefe does personnel-wise.

TJ Brodie has been an ironman who has appeared in every game this season, so it could be a chance to rest the veteran defenseman. Morgan Rielly is in the same boat as a candidate for rest. We learned today that Rasmus Sandin will be back, so he will sub in for one of those two. iI you wanted to take both out, Justin Holl is available, too.

Will John Tavares be given another load management day? Perhaps Mitch Marner? It should be interesting, and there’s a bit of a tactical decision to be made. On one hand, making sure key players enter the playoffs with a full tank is important. On the other hand, playing close to a full lineup to make sure there’s no rustiness or the intensity doesn’t drop off just before the postseason could be an attractive option. We shall see on Friday.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Leafs 3 vs. Red Wings 0