Auston Matthews returned to the lineup and collected a goal and an assist for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they breezed past the dreadful Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 5-2 at Scotiabank Arena.

An eventful first period gave way to a lopsided Leafs victory as they bounced back from Saturday’s disappointment to throttle Chicago. William Nylander and John Tavares chipped in goals, as did a pair of defensemen in Conor Timmins and Rasmus Sandin, and Ilya Samsonov made 27 saves in the winning effort.

Your game in 10:

1.   Well, that was a fast start, wasn’t it? In the moments following the opening faceoff, Morgan Rielly uncorked a dagger pass through the neutral zone to William Nylander breaking into the zone. The Chicago D were split too wide and the closest one — potential trade target Jake McCabe — bit the dust, giving Nylander a quick dash in on Petr Mrazek. Nylander had no trouble finishing:

For Nylander, that’s goal #30 on the season, just four off from tying his career high. If he stays healthy, he’s almost certain to smash right past it and is now on pace for 45 this season.

As for Rielly, I wanted to shout him out. The offense is starting to come more steadily for the Leafs‘ highest-paid defenseman. He now has a point in five straight games, he’s finally scoring goals, and he’s looking far more confident. The first few weeks after his return from injury were brutal, but the last few weeks have stabilized and Rielly is starting to return to his form for last season. A positive sign as the Leafs will need this Rielly in the playoffs.

2.   Before I was done writing the note down from the first goal, the Blackhawks struck right back — again with a possible trade target playing a central role. Energetic bottom-six winger Sam Lafferty has emerged as a possible underrated trade deadline target to juice the PK of a contender, and tonight he showed what his speed and tenacity can do on the forecheck at 5v5, too.

After Calle Järnkrok backtracked into his own zone and attempted a cross-zone pass for Timothy Liljegren, Lafferty’s speed allowed him to slash down the slot and break it up, and then he flashed some nice hands in tight with this silky finish past Samsonov:

From a Leafs‘ perspective, that sort of dangerous blind pass into the middle of the defensive zone is all too familiar when it’s intercepted and leads to a goal. Those sorts of turnovers have killed Toronto over the years, including in a couple of big games, but I’m sure you all know that.

From Chicago’s perspective, the play showcases a lot of Lafferty’s appeal. From an eye-test perspective, he had the best night of all of the Blackhawks’ trade targets. Would I pay much for him? No, and the reported trade price of a second or third-rounder from the rumor mill today is way too high for me, but he has a role as a speed demon PK specialist who occasionally provides a spark at 5v5, and the fact that he is right-handed is notable.

3.    The game didn’t stay tied for too long. The Leafs dumped the puck down the ice from their own side of center into the glove of Mrazek, who froze it, which has the same effect as an icing: Chicago couldn’t change and Toronto could.

The Leafs went with the John Tavares line for the OZ draw, which was won back to Rasmus Sandin. He walked down the wall and lifted a puck into the crease before Connor Murphy deflected it into his own net:

It goes without saying that a team as overmatched as Chicago should, uh, avoid putting the puck into their own net. Not too much else to say here other than that putting pucks in dangerous areas sometimes earns a bounce.

4.    The barrage of first-period action was far from finished. Next up was a disallowed goal, which normally wouldn’t be mentioned in the context of a game with this much scoring anyway, but it was too beautiful to be omitted.

15 seconds after the Sandin goal, Mitch Marner put on his magician’s hat and dazzled. First, he broke up a potential Blackhawks zone exit before cutting inside, deking through several bodies, and sliding a pass to Alex Kerfoot, who fired it into the empty net:

……. except that Kerfoot was clearly offside on the far side during the entry. Luke Richardson challenged and the goal was disallowed, temporarily stopping the bleeding and keeping the game at 2-1 Toronto.

Still, the brilliance from Marner and the pathetic defense from Chicago are worth highlighting. The Leafs were deking and passing right through Chicago’s defense all night long like a steak knife through warm butter. This one didn’t count on the scoreboard, but it did for anyone tracking the feel of the game and how poor the Blackhawks were inside their own end.

5.    Speaking of which, the horrendous Chicago defense wasn’t done gifting the Leafs some goals in the first period. The next one actually counted.

As the Leafs were cycling all around the Blackhawks’ defense in the offensive zone, William Nylander turned on the jets. He zoomed along the blue line, barely keeping the puck onside while Patrick Kane more or less gave up on trying to pursue him. Nylander then dropped a dime to Auston Matthews across the zone, and #34 ripped it by Mrazek:

There are so many problems here for the Blackhawks. Max Domi and Kane are just standing around up high, and Philipp Kurashev drifted down towards the net rather than checking the cross-seam pass. These kinds of passes were there all night long against the Blackhawks, who are a composition of downtrodden and untalented players who have lost the will to try in a lost season.

In that period, the Leafs’ stars were feasting on them and tilting the ice. Toronto owned 75% of the high-danger chances in the first period and generated 19 scoring chances at 5v5. In some ways, it’s a small miracle that Chicago only allowed three goals.

As for Matthews, it was an excellent return to the lineup — a goal and an assist, no signs of hindrance from the injury, and expected goals of 89% while on the ice at 5v5. Pretty good!

6.    The second period got off to a much better start for Chicago than the last one. Jake McCabe broke up a Nylander rush in the neutral zone and passed it ahead to Max Domi, who waited for Kurashev the trailer to arrive and then teed him up for a snap shot past Samsonov:

Max Domi hasn’t been talked about much as a Leafs trade target — and I’m not sure what kind of interest there is out there around the league — but this play is Domi at his best: Good vision and a decent set of hands to set up his teammates for scoring chances. Unfortunately, we also saw the downside of his career-long commitment to never playing defense on the previous Leafs goal, so those are the two sides of the coin with him.

7.     The game stayed within just one goal for about seven minutes until Toronto got its padding back. It never really felt close, but until the margin returned to multiple goals, you couldn’t totally say the home team was out of the woods.

Thankfully, they were gifted the fourth goal thanks to Old Friend Petr Mrazek. He came out to play the puck behind the net, had it roll under him, and Alex Kerfoot won the race to it. Kerfoot flipped a backhand pass out front to John Tavares, who fired it into the empty net:

Mrazek is having a brutal season, but just as I recommended the Blackhawks’ D not put the puck into their own net, I’d also strongly advise their goalie to be in the net when shots are taken. It is generally a better way to play the position.

8.    The Leafs put the game fully out of reach before the second period was over with another tally from a defenseman.

Conor Timmins, back into the lineup for the scratched Justin Holl, received a pass from the wall up to the point from Matthews and released a bomb through traffic that beat Mrazek:

There was not much Mrazek could do on this one with multiple layers of a screen in front of him.

Timmins is in a tough position because he’s probably the seventh defenseman on the team, but he’s also a good enough defenseman to play regularly for an NHL team. I like the idea of drawing him into the lineup every few games as a way to keep him fresh in case another injury pops up. He made the most of his time tonight, scoring the goal, grading out excellently at 5v5 (69.07% xGF%), and also trucking Sam Lafferty right as he stepped out onto the ice. I’ll be curious to see if Keefe gives Timmins another game on Saturday.

9.     After the Leafs were up 5-2 following the first 40, not much else happened of note. In the back half of the game, there were more penalties, but the Leafs did little on the PP. In fact, the best looks for either team on special teams were shorthanded chances for Toronto.

Alex Kerfoot and Calle Järnkrok went on a 2v1 rush, as did David Kämpf and Mitch Marner as well as William Nylander and Zach Aston-Reese. If that’s not enough evidence that the Blackhawks are a comically terrible hockey team, I’m not sure what is. Sheldon Keefe summed it up pretty well in the postgame comments:

This is a game where the Leafs will take the two points and move on. If they lose it, it’s a problem. If they win, there’s not much to take away from it. The Blackhawks — tired in a back-to-back, no less — are not a respectable enough opponent to read anything into this game, and unfortunately, the Leafs will play them again on Sunday. As the endless stream of trap games continues, I’m ready to watch the Maple Leafs play real teams again.

10.    I suppose I have one more point left, even though I just told you this game is devoid of any meaning beyond “Blackhawks = bad,” so let’s check in on Ilya Samsonov.

I didn’t mention him much in the first nine points, but that was mostly because he didn’t have a whole lot to do tonight and played acceptably in the process. Nothing too spectacular, and nothing woeful.

27 saves on 29 on shots looks like a good night, but most were of the very low-danger variety. Natural Stat Trick recorded him facing 1.64 xGA, while Money Puck was a bit more favorable to the Blackhawks at 1.81 xGA. In allowing two goals, that’s a marginally negative night, but there is nothing to get up in arms about here.

Samsonov is now 16-2-1 at Scotiabank Arena this season, which is a pretty sweet clip.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts