In addition to the continued excellence of goaltender Joseph Woll, the Maple Leafs were far more efficient offensively against a shot-happy, frustrated Capitals team in this 4-1 victory on Tuesday evening.
Your game in 10:
1. There was a good jump in the Leafs’ step to start the opening few shifts of this game. First, there was an offensive-zone shift from the top line (including one ambitious one-timer from the blue line by Auston Matthews), and shortly thereafter, there was a great look in the slot for Matthew Knies on a nice feed from John Klingberg as he jumped up. And then another offensive-zone penalty struck, this time on David Kampf.
This one was nearly really costly. It allowed the Capitals’ big guns to feel the puck early and fire a ton of rubber at the net (five shots from Alex Ovechkin alone, and shots were 7-0 Washington to start the game). In a mad scramble late in the power play, the Caps scored a goal (ruled a goal on the ice) that was called back for goalie interference following a wise challenge from Sheldon Keefe, who used a timeout to be extra sure.
The Leafs got away with it (barely), but those are the types of penalties the team has to avoid — both in general but especially early on the road against a desperate team whose offensive stars are hungry to get going early in the season. No harm was done in this one, but the sloppy offensive-zone minors have been a pattern the Leafs really have to clean up.
2. The Leafs scored on a power play of their own to open the scoring. A weak goal from an odd angle through Darcy Kuemper marked Morgan Rielly’s first of the season.
Give Rielly immense credit for not only playing great hockey at five-on-five in the wake of his removal from PP1 but also going ahead and scoring the team’s first goal by a defenseman this season anyway — on the power play, to boot.
The second unit had some spark on both of the power plays in the first — between Rielly, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Max Domi, there are a number of players on the unit that have played prime PP minutes in previous stops/seasons, and the group has looked hungry when it gets its time on the ice. To Anthonys’ point from today’s notebook, if not splitting up the units more equally in terms of talent, the Leafs might be wise to empower that second unit a little more.
3. This game could’ve gone a very different way in the first 25 minutes if not for Joseph Woll‘s lights-out play. In large part due to the penalty trouble in the first and the Capitals’ eagerness to pound pucks on net from anywhere and everywhere, the shots were 18-5 for Washington early in the second period. It wasn’t all empty calories, either, as among those shots were an Ovechkin breakaway save (followed by an Ovechkin penalty shot save) and a few other quality looks. There was also a Kutznetsov goal post (Woll was beaten on that one) before all of a sudden, it was 3-0 Leafs in the span of less than a minute and a half.
4. William Nylander — superb again in this game — closed fast as the first one in on the forecheck, John Tavares was a horse on the puck down low, and after a good pass from Tyler Bertuzzi to the opposite point, Morgan Rielly showed immaculate patience with the puck. He outwaited the pressure until Tavares opened up toward the side of the crease for a redirect to make it 2-0 Leafs.
On full display on this goal were a couple of the things that make Tavares so dominant below the circles. Along the end boards, he first held off two Capitals defenders to free the puck up for Bertuzzi before immediately heading to the front of the net and totally claiming the real estate there by the winning inside positioning on the defenseman, who was basically a passenger on the play with Tavares setting up shop and being so tough to move.
Nylander, Tavares, and Bertuzzi put together some really promising, dominant O-zone shifts in this game.
5. The next time William Nylander touched the ice after the Leafs’ 2-0 goal, he was receiving a breakaway pass off of a line change from the bench. Auston Matthews picked him out from his own zone, and Nylander did what he does better than anyone on the team off the rush: stick a leg out, make it impossible to defend for the defender hounding him on his backside, cut in on the net, and finish it off in alone.
That was three goals on eight shots for the Maple Leafs at this point in the game, and now five goals in six games for Nylander this season.
6. Make it four goals on 12 shots for the Leafs as of late in the second period. Power play goals don’t get much easier than Auston Matthews’ 4-0 goal. Working the goal-line-to-one-timer play we’ve seen a bunch this season under Guy Boucher, it doesn’t get much simpler/wide open for Mitch Marner and Matthews. A total breakdown from the Capitals/missed assignment from Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Matthews and Marner’s line was outshot 8-0 at five-on-five in this game to go along with a 16% CF and a 17% xGF. Overall, they are sitting at five goals for and five goals against while on the ice together at five-on-five. Individually, Matthews has two five-on-five goals and Marner has zero; they have four power-play goals between them (one for Marner, three for Matthews) and two goals with the net empty, so their offense is predominantly coming in man-advantage situations so far.
This duo has really not gotten going this season yet at five-on-five, and so far, it’s basically the one thing Keefe hasn’t changed about his lineup.
7. The Leafs gave one back before the end of the second period on the power play — Alex Ovechkin with 10 seconds left — as their penalty kill continued to look out of sorts in this game. The PK is sitting at just 75% so far this season, and it could’ve been worse after they got away with one on the first-period kill.
On this goal, Auston Matthews‘ inexperience in these situations was evident. He was puck-focused, never shoulder-checking while abandoning the middle ice to join three other Leafs on the same corner of the ice, leading to an easy goal for Washington.
It’s not that Matthews can’t be an asset when used in spurts on the PK — he clearly can be, and an elite 200-foot player like him will figure it out over time — but he is currently second among forwards on the team, only slightly behind Mitch Marner, in PK time on ice (over two minutes per game). That probably is not going to/shouldn’t last, especially with the overall consideration of conserving Matthews’ energy levels a little bit more than the 24 mins/game he had been playing entering tonight’s game.
8. On that note, it was positive to see Sheldon Keefe roll the lines over the boards in the second half of the game with the Leafs up 3-0 and then 4-0/4-1 on the road. All the Leafs forwards fell in between 11-19 minutes, and the fourth line played between four and five minutes in each of the second and third periods. The fourth line of Noah Gregor, Ryan Reaves, and Pontus Holmberg was the only Leaf line even on shot attempts (although the xGF was ugly), and it was good to see them get some play after they barely touched the ice surface in Tampa as the Leafs chased the game.
There were a few good chances against in the third period that Woll was more than up to stopping, but by and large, it felt procedural in a good way for the Maple Leafs (short shifts, mostly managing the puck well) as far as a close-out period on the road is concerned.
9. This was a strange game to evaluate. It certainly wasn’t the team’s A game, and the numbers looked awful — shots were 37-17 in favour of Washington, expected goals at five on five were 2.18 – .87 in favour of Washington — but there are also some score effects in there with the high shot volume from an offensively frustrated, trailing team. With even average goaltending on the Leafs’ side, it’s more of a 4-3 type of game, but the Leafs also had spells of dominance where it felt like they could score at will if they needed to, and the game felt basically over early in the second period.
It’s going to be easy to suggest Woll should take the ball and run with it for a while, but the Leafs need to keep the big picture in mind. Woll hasn’t played more than 30 games in a season since his first professional year with the Marlies back in 2019-20 (even then, only 32 games played) due to injury issues. Sure, in the strange hypothetical where the playoffs started tomorrow after only six October regular-season games, it’s definitely Woll starting Game 1, but they need both goalies rolling, and it’s the time in the schedule to stick with the plan they laid out in advance vs. riding a hot hand for weeks at a time. As a huge Woll fan from his early days with the Marlies, I still feel I’d be remiss not to remind everyone that Samsonov was the Leafs’ best player in round one vs. Tampa last spring.
10. Only in Toronto: