After a shaky first five minutes, the Maple Leafs took control of this game and cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Kraken thanks to a dominant showing from the top six and a great performance from Ilya Samsonov.

It’s hard to top this for an opening act to the Western road trip. The scoring contributions came from the usual suspects plus a couple of defensemen, and the Leafs won a fairly low-stress game. 

The Leafs are now up to a record of 25-0-1 when they score four or more goals in a game. Seems good!

Your game in 10:

1.   After Friday’s game, it was refreshing to watch the pace of play to open this contest. But Seattle’s speed was a challenge for the Leafs to withstand early on as they struggled under pressure inside their own end.

The Kraken forced multiple turnovers in the opening five minutes and opened the scoring through Vince Dunn. Seattle also nearly made it 2-0 multiple times, including a missed breakaway and another great chance off of a defensive-zone breakdown that forced Ilya Samsonov to make a big stop early, one that shouldn’t be forgotten as a key moment in the game despite the lopsided final score line. 

2.   After the opening flurry from the Kraken, the Leafs were able to settle down and start completing plays with the puck. Toronto began to establish its forecheck and cycle while taking back control of the game.

The Leafs forced some turnovers down low, one of which led to their first goal of the game. John Tavares feathered a pass out front for William Nylander, but it didn’t quite connect. Fortunately, the Leafs retained possession and the puck bounced back to Timothy Liljegren, who crossed it over to Mark Giordano. Giordano threw a simple shot on goal that squeezed through the pads of Phillip Grubauer. 

3.   The John Tavares line wasn’t done there as they scored a second goal in a similar fashion just a few minutes later.

The puck was swung back to the point, where it was thrown on goal by Justin Holl with heavy traffic in front. This time, the puck didn’t go straight through, but it did find its way onto the stick of John Tavares, who buried it into an open net behind Grubauer for his 27th of the season through 60 games, tying last season’s total in 79 games.

The combination of Tavares and Ryan O’Reilly has been exceptional on the forecheck and especially at creating havoc in front of the net. When this Leafs team isn’t scoring goals, it’s rarely due to a lack of offensive-zone possession time and much more often due to an inability to generate enough productive activity on the interior of the slot right above the blue paint. The ROR addition — and the effect it’s having on Tavares as well — appears to be just what the doctor ordered (now let’s hope it translates to those elimination playoff games!).

In his first period with his new linemates, Nylander looked sharp, with the Kraken struggling mightily to dislodge him from the puck in open ice. This trio ended up controlling 100% of the expected goals in the first period and creating two actual goals. About as good a period from a line as you can get.

4.   The Leafs extended their lead to 3-1 thanks to more good work from below the goal line.

Michael Bunting and Mitch Marner got in on the forecheck and won a battle to gain possession down low. Marner began to push toward the net, causing three Kraken skaters to flock to Auston Matthews to prevent a one-timer look in the low slot.

In the process, Seattle left Timothy Liljegren all alone on the other side of the ice, where Marner found him with a nifty feed through the seam. The Leafs added another goal from a defenseman as Liljegren leaned into this one and ripped it in with confidence.

That tally capped off a pretty dominant period for the Leafs even when taking into account the rough opening five minutes. The Leafs controlled 80% of the expected goals in the opening frame, and after getting outshot 4-0 in the first four minutes, they outshot the Kraken 20-3 over the final 15 minutes of the period.

5.   That momentum didn’t really carry over into the second period, though. Seattle started to push back and generated more shot attempts inside some spells of offensive-zone pressure, forcing the Leafs’ skaters to defend and step in front of more shots.

One of those blocks stood out above the rest. Mark Giordano entered the NHL record books, passing Kris Russell for the most blocked shots in league history (at least since the stat was first recorded in 2005-06).

Debating the overall importance of the blocked-shot statistic as it pertains to winning hockey games is a discussion for another day; stepping in front of 2,045 shots is no easy feat to accomplish and speaks to Giordano’s competitiveness and ability to stay healthy late into his career while playing such a fearless game. Congratulations to Gio.

6.   The big storyline entering the game was the swapping of Mitch Marner and William Nylander on the top two lines. Nylander fit in effectively with his new line, resulting in a few goals, but a big part of the motivation behind the switch was livening up Matthews’ offensive game.

Very quickly, the Marner and Matthews pairing returned to its old ways, executing give-and-go plays and performing circus passes with regularity. It was pretty evident from early on in the game that the breakthrough was coming. 

Just over four minutes into the second period, the reigning MVP found the back of the net with a baseball-style swat out of the air to grab his first in five games.

7.   Despite the Matthews goal, the Leafs were on their heels for much of the second period. The Kraken really started to find their legs as they tried to dig themselves out of a 4-1 hole.

Seattle generated nearly two expected goals (1.89) in the second. They pressed and pressed but couldn’t solve Ilya Samsonov.

The Kraken’s best opportunities came late in the period when Leafs’ skaters were trapped for over two minutes without a change. Once again, Samsonov was up to the task, and the Leafs escaped the second period without surrendering a goal in large part thanks to their netminder.

8.   I mentioned that the Matthews/Marner combo was back to their old ways in this game. Well, it turns out another feature of Matthews’ game also returned in Seattle: multi-goal efforts.

For just the third time this season, Matthews scored more than one goal, and this one came off of a vintage passing play that we’ve come to expect from the two superstars. 

Marner had himself a night distributing the puck. He’s now up to 54 assists on the season through 60 games — a pace of 73, which would set a new career high and would also be the third most in a single season in Leafs’ history. He’s racked up eight helpers in his last two away games alone.

As for Matthews, he’s obviously had a bit of a down year offensively by his standards as the goals have not come in bunches as they did a year ago. But with #34, you never know what he might be able to accomplish in the remaining 22 games if he catches a wave of confidence and momentum.

9.   The home/road splits for Ilya Samsonov this season have been rather strange and hard to explain, but it was encouraging to see such a strong road performance out of him in this game.

There were several great saves from him throughout this game, but I was most encouraged by how well Samsonov was tracking the play in front of him and how quiet he was in the crease. If there is a consistent criticism of Samsonov when he’s off his game, it’s how (over)active he becomes in the crease, but he did a great job of staying in position even when there was chaos in the form of traffic or a lot of pre-shot movement.

After a couple of down games following an illness, Samsonov has put together back-to-back very steady performances in the Leafs’ net. Next up is a big test against the league’s top offense in Edmonton on Wednesday.

10.   While Ilya Samsonov did have a really good game that shouldn’t go under-recognized despite the five goals of run support, this was a pretty clean road game in general for the Leafs, particularly with how they closed it out in professional fashion without any funny business in the third period (unlike in Buffalo).

There were stretches here or there where the Leafs were giving Kraken the puck back and struggling to cope with their speed and tenacity on the forecheck, but the Leafs’ ability to return to their structure allowed them to survive those moments, and they did not give Seattle much of anything off of the rush, which was critical to limiting their offense.

The Leafs’ top six was dominant, and Samsonov played one of his better games of the season. The defensive unit didn’t have its best game, but they didn’t implode, and the team defense was again solid. A good road win to kick off the five-game trip.

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts