Everything’s coming up Maple Leafs.
Your game in 10:
1. The Leafs came out and dominated the first 15 minutes of this game like it was one long power play. The early signs of a good night to come were clear to see as Auston Matthews and William Nylander worked a gorgeous give-and-go-and-one-touch-drop-pass play for a near-Nylander goal that would’ve been a goal-of-the-year candidate if Nylander wasn’t impeded (somehow, no call on the play). Matthews sliced through the Kings’ defense on his next shift as well for another dangerous look.
The Leafs were stringing shifts together, winning the lion’s share of the puck races and battles, extending cycles, owning the puck, and generating some looks while the Kings packed the house and Jonathan Quick started strong in net. John Tavares also had an empty-net opportunity roll off his stick on the Leafs‘ first power play.
The offensive-zone time was clocked at six minutes for the Leafs to the Kings’ 58 seconds in the first 15 minutes of the game. It’s as dominant of a start to a game as you’re going to see without a puck entering the net.
The Kings gained their footing a little bit in the final five minutes and drew a power play off of a Mark Giordano high-sticking call, which is when Ilya Samsonov needed to spring into action on a couple of half-chances for the Kings. Samsonov has shown impressive focus in these types of situations — kind of similar to the SJ win in his first game back from injury — where he is largely standing idle for long spells in the game.
2. A few minutes into the second period, this game looked like it could go the way of a nail-biter where the Leafs own the puck most of the night and struggle to bang down the door while the Kings attempt to rope-a-dope them by jumping on mistakes the other way. Enter Zach Aston-Reese‘s big hit on Arthur Kaliyev.
started with this hit by Zach-Aston Reese on Arthur Kaliyev pic.twitter.com/KGH2DUiguZ
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 9, 2022
It led to a slash (should’ve been called spearing, really) by Blake Lizotte and a fight between the two, sending the Leafs to the power play. There wasn’t much doing for the top power-play unit before, to the surprise of many, Pierre Engvall dragged and ripped a perfect shot into the far side of Quick’s net to open the scoring.
ZAR is a really reliable player defensively, makes good decisions with the puck, and has been a nice complement to Kampf in that regard this season, but this is another asset to his game that we hadn’t seen all too much of yet — and it should be especially handy to have around at playoff time.
It’s not often that we see the Leafs build momentum off of a big hit (and a fight), which is another feather in their cap during this amazing run in which they’ve won in all kinds of ways.
3. From there, as a somewhat fragile team that has had to outscore a lot of its problems this season, it felt like the Kings started pressing after conceding one. There were two good plays by Pontus Holmberg (prior to the David Kampf 2-0 goal) and Michael Bunting (prior to the William Nylander 3-0 goal) in the neutral zone to bump the puck into a good spot while under pressure, sending the Leafs in alone on Quick.
The finishes were both clinical in their own right. With a heart rate that seemingly never breaks 80, Nylander delivered an almost casual-looking finish around Quick, and Kampf elevated the puck nicely for his fourth of the season. He’s not in those positions all too often, but Kampf has shown a quiet knack for finding the opening when alone in front of the net.
At this point, after three goals in 66 seconds, the shots were 22-7, the score was 3-0, and the shot attempts were 35-14. Utter domination by the Leafs.
4. I was curious to see how the Leafs were going to manage the game from here as it turned into a bit of a “points night” feel. A rare bit of sloppiness with the puck from the Leafs with around 11 minutes to play in the second led to Ilya Samsonov’s best save of the game on a one-time opportunity for Viktor Arvidsson, which was maybe more important than it seems in terms of preventing the game from becoming a competitive contest at 3-1.
The Leafs were right back in business shortly afterward. Mitch Marner still needed to etch his name on the score sheet, and he did just that with a shift where he came over the boards and made it feel inevitable. First, he fired a shot toward the net that was blocked, but he was quicker than every Kings defender in collecting his own rebound. He then fired a puck in for a tip opportunity. He then set up behind the net, caught an edge, and set up a John Tavares scoring chance with a saucer pass while seated on the ice.
Seconds later, he pounced on a Kings turnover and one-timed it into the net with the confidence of someone who now has a point in 21 straight games.
BUZZIN TO TWENTY ONE!! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/fYVJhuQy84
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 9, 2022
5. The stick to the head leading to the five-minute major and game misconduct to Pierre Engvall was more inadvertent — albeit a little reckless — than it was malicious. It looked worse than it was, and the recipient in Sean Durzi sold it for the call.
Pierre Engvall gets a major and he's out of the game pic.twitter.com/fnSvJseKwp
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 9, 2022
Even though it was 4-0, the subsequent five-minute power play was a path back into the game for LA. Similar to their four-minute kill the other night against Dallas (who also owns a top power play), tonight’s five-minute penalty kill by the Leafs against the hottest power play in the league was mighty impressive.
The excessive shorthanded time lately plus the injuries have meant a bunch of different players rotating through the units at different times, but it hasn’t seemed to matter much, which is a testament to the structure in place under assistant coach Dean Chynoweth. They’re looking prepared and well-drilled right now when defending entries, and the reliable goaltending certainly helps when they’re defending in-zone. Each PKer looks confident simply executing on their part and looking after their area of the ice knowing the goaltender is exuding tons of confidence from the crease. Marner’s confidence is visibly translating onto the PK with the leadership he is showing there as well.
6. As mentioned, it easily could’ve been a “points night” sort of mentality for the Leafs, but their details stayed sharp right through the finish to secure Ilya Samsonov‘s much-deserved first shutout of the season. Mitch Marner continued to lead in this respect late in the game, digging deep on the backcheck to jam up Alex Iafallo on a Kings rush with the score at 5-0 after Auston Matthews padded the lead on a good pass from behind the net by William Nylander.
Don’t look now, but Matthews’ five goals in the last six games represent his best goal-scoring stretch of the season. It isn’t coming in the form of hat tricks yet, but it’s coming.
7. The nature of the game allowed the Leafs to ease TJ Brodie back into the lineup with under 10 minutes of even-strength ice time, although it added up to 17 minutes total with all of the penalty-killing time. His partner, Connor Timmins, picked up his first point as a Leaf on the power-play goal by Pierre Engvall. It’s an easier game to look good in when the Leafs own so much of the puck, but Timmins contributed to that with his poise and puck movement. He’s settled in well after finding his footing in the final 40 minutes in Dallas.
A right-handed shot with some size who can move and shoot the puck is a nice addition to the Leafs’ depth chart. It gives them more flexibility/options and makes them flush with eight or nine NHL options on the blue line when healthy — provided they can keep him in the organization as more bodies return (he is waiver eligible).
8. It feels like the SBA fan atmosphere takes enough criticism that we should acknowledge when the home crowd is as fantastic as it was tonight. Any crowd would be fired up by a big hit, a fight, and a few quick (and pretty) goals inside a few-minute span, but when the Leafs were up 3-0 and Mitch Marner stepped over the boards, you could really feel the buzz of the crowd willing him on to extend the points streak.
When Sean Durzi played up the Pierre Engvall high stick and the refs handed out the ejection and major penalty, the crowd rode Durzi relentlessly the rest of the night, even mixing in a Bronx cheer when he botched a drop pass on the power play.
We’ve seen many local players (and former Leafs, in Durzi’s case, technically speaking) come home, play motivated hockey in front of dozens of friends and family, and oftentimes score for the visitors. This time, the local kid was greeted with a 5-0 shutout loss and relentless jeering.
9. The one and only negative in this game for the Leafs was the first-period injury to Nick Robertson, who looked to have injured his shoulder pretty badly after engaging in a shoulder-to-shoulder battle for the puck in the Kings’ zone and falling awkwardly (Robertson hadn’t touched the puck yet, which led to an interference call).
I didn’t have too much of a problem with the intent behind the contact from Matt Roy — players engage each other in that manner heading into 50-50 puck battles along the wall all the time, and Roy was just stronger on that one — but the outcome was very unfortunate with how awkwardly Robertson fell to the ice.
The injury history with Robertson is a long one already in his short pro career, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already worried about his body holding up before this incident based on said history and the vulnerable situations Robertson often finds himself in on the ice. He plays a courageous game for someone his size, but as much as luck always plays the biggest role here, staying healthy is also a skill (to some extent) that is going to be necessary for Robertson to enjoy a long career in the league.
The timing of the injury as Calle Järnkork‘s absence opened the door for Robertson to claim a more permanent lineup spot is sort of been exactly how it’s gone for Robertson’s fortunes since he graduated to the pro level. The good news is that he’s a hardcore worker who has been diligent and resilient in his injury rehab before.
10. This win was another box checked for the Leafs on their incredibly impressive recent run of 13 straight games with at least a point (10-0-3).
They weren’t able to break through in the first period against a team packing the house despite loads of offensive-zone time in the first period, which are circumstances in which we’ve seen the Leafs throw points away before. They stayed patient, got a big hit and a fight from a depth player in Zach Aston-Reese to help get them going, received multiple depth contributions on the score sheet (Pontus Holmberg, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf) to go along with three goals from the big guns (William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner), and simply blew the game wide open.
That’s now consecutive shutouts from two different goalies against two opponents with a top-10 offense and power play. Offensively, the Leafs’ 39 scoring chances at 5v5 were a season-high tonight, as were their 17 high-danger chances.
You’d struggle to find a time in recent seasons when the Leafs have looked like a more complete team than they do right now.
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts