The Maple Leafs took care of business against the severely-slumping Sabres on Saturday night, scoring shorthanded, on the power play (x2), and at five-on-five (x2) while keeping a clean sheet defensively at even strength.

And they looked pretty good doing it in their new retro jerseys.

Your game in 10 on tonight’s 5-2 win:

1.   It was good to see the Maple Leafs pick up a no-sweat win over a slumping team, specifically a nuisance rival in the Sabres, and put a should-win game firmly in hand within the first 20 minutes. The start was just okay, but the power play got the team going after an offensive-zone penalty by the Sabres’ fourth line. The Leafs built on the momentum from there and never looked back. At last, there was no funny business against the Sabres this time around.

We mentioned in the last game review that we hadn’t seen enough of this kind of win where the team establishes a lead, builds on it, and simply puts the game out of reach. That was reflected in the Leafs leading just 13 minutes/game on average entering tonight compared to over 20 minutes/game last season, and they also had just two games in their opening 15 where they won by a margin of two or more goals excluding empty netters.

You can debate whether the Pittsburgh game matched this same description given the Penguins made it 3-2 in the second period, but it’s two games this week where the Leafs stormed out to multi-goal leads and then closed out the two points in the third period without much stress. That’s much more like last season’s standard.

2.   The first couple of shifts for the Auston MatthewsWilliam Nylander line didn’t go well in the matchup against the very dangerous Skinner – Thompson – Tuch unit for Buffalo. Matthews broke up a play at the defensive blue line and sent Michael Bunting in alone for a chance he didn’t finish, but otherwise, the Thompson line was owning the puck and buzzing inside the offensive zone. 10 minutes into the third, Keefe decided he needed to be proactive before any damage was done by shifting Mitch Marner back with Matthews.

Against teams with one loaded line like Buffalo, it’s clear by this point that Keefe is going to trust Matthews-Marner in the head-to-head more than Matthews-Nylander, with Tavares-Nylander in behind them hopefully taking advantage of softer matchups (which didn’t happen nearly enough last season, but it’s looking much more promising this year).

And it’s perfectly fine for Keefe to make the adjustment to the matchup game in front of him. There are situations where Matthews-Marner makes the most sense. Mixing it up is more about keeping options available as and when they’re needed should it turn stale over a season or playoff run, as we’ve seen happen too many times late in playoff series.

Different teams will present different challenges; we saw a Jersey team on Thursday that runs a really balanced approach on their lines, and we’ll see the same against the Islanders on Monday. We’ll see what Keefe does for the start of the next game now…

3.   It was nice to see the third line come through with a 5v5 goal to make it 2-0 in the first period. While it’s been tough sledding for Keefe to find a combination that works, it’s definitely a start to at least have three players playing their natural positions with Pontus Holmberg down the middle, Pierre Engvall on LW, and Calle Järnkork on the right.

As opposed to forcing him into the responsibilities of center duties, Engvall is at his best when he is using his legs and long reach to generate pressure on the forecheck and recover pucks as the first man in. That’s exactly how the 2-0 goal developed.

4.   Calle Järnkork has had some long stretches of blending into the background so far this season, but dating back to his first game of preseason, he is showing that when he gets an opportunity in the slot, it’s often on and off his stick quickly and into the top corner of the net. He’s been a reliable 15+ goal guy year and year out over his career. He has just 28 shots on goal through 19 games, but he is currently shooting over 14%, and he’s finished many seasons in that range over his career.

The line was the Leafs‘ best from a shot attempt and expected goals perspective — both metrics were over 70% in their seven minutes and change of 5v5 ice time. We’ll see if it can build on this headed into tougher matchups against deeper teams in NYI and NJ.

5.   As for the 3-0 shorthanded goal late in the first period, there was something that felt really deja vu-y about a shortie involving David Kampf, a slick drop pass on a breakaway by Mitch Marner, Mark Giordano, and a player from the other team barrelling into the net… and then it hit me.

Marner’s shorthanded drop pass goal versus Seattle last season was finished off by Kampf before Giordano — at the time a Kraken defenseman for a couple more weeks before the Leafs acquired him at the deadline — went flying into the net trying to chase it down.

Can’t beat ’em? Join ’em.

Last season, in the wild 10-7 win over Detroit in February a few weeks after that Seattle game, we also saw Michael Bunting pull off the same drop-pass-to-the-trailer-while-on-a-breakaway play to set up Marner for a tap-in goal (his fourth of the game that night). It’s a cool play that they’ve clearly played around with in practice and whip out every now and again when the opportunity is there.

I am not sure how the play would’ve worked out if Owen Power didn’t go barging through the crease and into his own net — Giordano kind of took the drop pass awkwardly on his backhand initially — but all is well that ends well.

6.   Speaking of David Kampf and Mark Giordano, they were workhorses in a game loaded with Leafs penalty-killing time. They logged over six minutes apiece on the PK in addition to Justin Holl, who was really solid and finished a plus-two (including winning a battle prior to the 5-1 goal) while leading the team with 24 minutes in TOI.

Holl wasn’t on the ice for either of the Sabres power-play goals (it was Rielly-Benn for both), and he logged 12 shifts and nearly nine (!) minutes of ice time in the second period alone — including over three minutes of shorthanded ice time — as the Leafs ran into penalty trouble in the middle frame. Those are not easy minutes by any stretch, and he came out with a “low-event break-even” by shot attempts and chances in his ~seven minutes against the Thompson line.

Holl deserves more recognition for performances like this. We all know how many mentions he gets when he shows up anywhere in the general proximity of a goal against.

7.   It was a bizarre game in regards to ice-time allocation due to all the special teams time and the game being firmly in hand for the Leafs.  Based on a cursory check, 14:06 is the lowest TOI figure of Auston Matthewsentire NHL career outside of the one time in October 2018 when he left the game hurt. Perhaps a little bit of load management there with a busy stretch upcoming.

If we’re being picky, a 5v5 goal for Matthews would’ve been the cherry on top of this win, but I did like how he battled in this one (even picking up a debatable illegal-check-to-the-head penalty that I don’t think he knew much about). He came out after that penalty and continued to be physical. The hatred that’s developed between Matthews and Rasmus Dahlin is a fun subplot in the Buffalo-Toronto rivalry.

8.   Speaking of ice time, John Tavares — who played 14:05 tonight — is down at 17:18 in average time-on-ice this season, which would be the lowest of his NHL career if it were to remain that way.

Less seems to be more so far. That was a beautiful aerial area pass for William Nylander to skate onto for the 5-1 goal, to go along with his 1-0 power-play goal. He and Nylander are the first Leafs to 10 goals this season, both achieved in the same game.

There have now been eight goals this season where Nylander and Tavares combined directly (as in one scored and the other provided the primary assist). That happened 19 times total last season, so they’re currently on nearly double the pace as last year.

9.   It’s a shame the Leafs ran into such penalty trouble in this game or it may well have been Matt Murray‘s first shutout as a Leaf. He emanated calmness from the crease with how well he tracked pucks and how big and square he was to shooters throughout the game. He maybe could’ve done a better job holding onto the rebound for the 5-2 goal, but other than that, I thought it was one of his best games in terms of holding onto pucks.

Outside of a dodgy second period in Pittsburgh, the Leafs are so far putting him in a position to succeed by limiting grade-As and odd-man chances against, and he’s held up his end of the deal by quickly earning the trust of those playing defense in front of him.

10.   I know it’s annoyingly early to be talking trade deadline, but such is life in this market when we know everything is about what happens in the Spring. I don’t see how you can look at how the Leafs are playing defensively overall this season, what they’re getting out of their goaltenders thus far, their 5v5 offensive numbers, and conclude anything other than spending the cap space and assets on an impact forward — either a C or a LW — is the primary move to be made this season based on what we’ve seen through 19 games.

The Giordano trade was the big move at the last deadline because there was so much uncertainty around Jake Muzzin‘s status at the time. Fast forward six months, Giordano has been re-signed and Muzzin’s injury troubles are persisting. Getting a steady and reliable veteran defenseman like Giordano signed to a sweetheart deal in the offseason took care of a number of the question marks on the defense with regard to the hole left behind by Muzzin.

It’s not a perfect unit, but it’s solid with TJ Brodie healthy, it’s eight deep with NHL options, and the Leafs play structurally sound team defense. Maybe injuries or under-performance on the blue line or in net and/or Nick Robertson‘s emergence (if he actually gets an extended run of opportunity at some point) changes the calculation over time, but it’s a pretty straightforward call at this juncture.

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts