The Maple Leafs avoided a letdown game against a basement-dwelling opponent, absolutely destroying the Ducks by a score of 9-2.

Despite the notable absences in the Leafs’ lineup, Toronto took care of business and then some against the Ducks on Saturday night. Auston Matthews stayed red hot, William Nylander registered his 500th career point, and Bobby McMann kept his string of surprise offense and overall strong play rolling. 

Your game in 10:

1.  With John Tavares out of commission for this game, there was added pressure on the top line to carry the load offensively. It didn’t take them long to get on the scoreboard.

Matthew Knies broke into the offensive zone and attempted to make a move to the inside, but Radko Gudas ended up swatting the puck into the corner and boxing Knies out. Knies peeled off as he saw Mitch Marner racing to the corner, and Marner beat Gudas to the puck and poked it behind the net back to Knies. As he swung behind the net, Knies made a subtle play with a defender bearing down on him, buying himself half a second to feather a pass out front. That pass perfectly made its way onto the stick of Auston Matthews, who made no mistake. 

There have been a number of reminders this season that Knies is a rookie who is still adjusting to the NHL level, but on this goal, we saw the very promising high-level instincts in terms of the poise and patience to wait an extra half second for the passing lane to open up.

2.    With the Leafs on a power play, after the first unit failed to score (despite several great chances), the makeshift second unit took the ice.

Nick Robertson went up and down the left boards playing give and go with Knies and McMann, but he couldn’t turn it into anything. Eventually, the puck bounced back to Max Lajoie, who gave it back to Robertson with space. Now that he had a moment to breathe, Robertson was able to find McMann in the middle. Evidently, McMann’s amazing snipe from the game against the Blues earlier in the week was no fluke.

It was easy to forget for most of this season that McMann lit the AHL on fire from a goal-scoring perspective with 18 goals in 18 games to start last season. He can bury when he has the opportunity and the confidence on his side.

3.   The Leafs weren’t done with their fast start. After a TV timeout, they lined up for a faceoff in the offensive zone. Max Domi won it back to William Nylander, who passed it back to Jake McCabe. In normal circumstances, one might criticize a low-percentage shot from the point with no traffic in front, but McCabe fired a perfect shot off the post and in.  

McCabe is now up to five goals and 19 points in 47 games, which is a nine-goal and 33-point pace over 82. It’s a very noteworthy offensive contribution on a blue line that sorely needs it — especially with Rielly out of the lineup.

A few moments later, the Ducks found themselves on the man advantage. Credit where credit is due, Ryan Strome sent a beautiful cross-ice pass to Frank Vatrano, who beat Martin Jones to get Anaheim on the board.

4.  Any hopes of a comeback for the Ducks were quickly dashed once the Leafs went back to the man advantage. The Ducks’ PK was hilariously passive against the Leafs‘ top unit, allowing them to whip the puck around with ease. Matthews, Timothy Liljegren, and Nylander were able to rip passes along the perimeter before Nylander eventually said enough’s enough and fired one into the top-shelf. 

The goal marked 70 points on the season and 500 in the career for Nylander. While his production has taken a small dip since signing the big extension, Nylander is still on pace for 110 points (technically 109.8) this season. Pretty, pretty good!

5.   Everything was coming up Leafs tonight — even scoring chances developing out of plays that didn’t seem particularly dangerous. 

On a man advantage, the Leafs were cycling the puck around the perimeter, and the only time anyone threatened the middle of the ice was when Nylander tried to make a move just outside the crease but was denied. The best goal scorer in the world buried one anyway, giving Matthews his second on the night (everyone knew there was more to come).

6.  As if three power-play goals weren’t enough, the Leafs decided to make it a 4/4 to start the game. 

It’s been well-documented that Tyler Bertuzzi has been going through a bit of a slump. Nothing major; just one of those one-goal-in-32-games type of slumps. 

To say he needed one is underselling it by several orders of magnitude. So, naturally, after receiving a pass from Matthews with the goalie down and out, Bertuzzi hit the post. Thankfully, Matthews found him in front for a redirect to make up for it.

It was nice to see Marner — who had half an empty net at one point — and Matthews — who probably could’ve shot and scored with the goalie all out of sorts — hold out and try to set up Bertuzzi to snap the slump, which he finally did. With a game well in hand, getting a slumping teammate off the schneid is one of the few meaningful developments still possible on a night like this. Good leadership was on display here.

7.   I’m not sure there is anything I could say that hasn’t already been said to describe Auston Matthews. He’s been scoring at an absurd pace all season, and 70 goals is starting to feel more like an inevitability by the game. 

With yet another hat-trick, he’s up to 48 goals on the season — a 75-goal pace in 81 games. Just for good measure, his third of the night was also his fifth point of the night, the first five-point outing of his career.

There’s not much else to say. Matthews is a mutant, and even though he is below the points pace of a Kucherov, he is definitely forcing his way into the Hart Trophy conversation with this completely insane — unprecedented in the modern era — goal-scoring pace this season.

8.   In an impressive effort, Bobby McMann worked his way through Gudas to draw a penalty, and after recollecting himself, he was able to circle back to the net and bury a backdoor feed from Domi. 

After the goal, Gudas gave McMann a cheap shot in the back. It wasn’t a particularly hard cross-check nor one that would cause any sort of injury, but Domi wasn’t having it and gave Gudas a few shots of his own. 

It was symbolic of Gudas’ night. He fought Domi early on but ducked Ryan Reaves multiple times in this game. It didn’t stop Reaves from running around after Gudas all game long trying to draw him into another fight.

It was clear there was still some leftover emotion from the fans and team regarding Gudas screaming in Joseph Woll’s face following the Panthers’ series-winning goal in Game 5 last spring. Between Rielly’s response in Ottawa and the approach to Gudas tonight, it was really encouraging to see the team show they don’t have a short memory or a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to opponents gloating at their expense.

9.  As you might expect, the third period of an 8-1 game wasn’t exactly memorable. After the Ducks scored to make it 8-2, Sheldon Keefe challenged for goalie interference — which was still worth it in order to stand up for Martin Jones and his save percentage. It clearly was goalie interference, and it got called back almost instantly.

Aside from that, the third was pretty much garbage time. The Ducks scored a consolation goal courtesy of Ryan Strome, and Nick Robertson answered with a low shot through the goalie’s wickets to take us to our final score of 9-2.

10.  If you’ve been following the Leafs for a while, it’s often felt like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” Catch-22 for the Leafs in these games whereby matchups against bottom-feeders are dismissed if they win them and blown up into a Category 5 shitstorm if they play down to their opponent (a little bit of the latter is justified given the Leafs have blown games and partially lost opportunities at divisional titles due to lost points against bad teams).

It would have been a shock to absolutely no one if the Leafs came out flat and lost this game, and we all know how the news cycle would have gone in the aftermath (should they actually sell at the deadline!!!??)

To their credit, the Leafs came out flying and left zero doubt against the 30th-ranked Ducks. 

Gameflow 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heatmap 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Maple Leafs 9 vs. Ducks 2