The Maple Leafs won their second in a row in less-than-pretty fashion on Wednesday night versus the Minnesota Wild, taking them up to 10-7-0 on the season.
Your game in ten:
1. This was no masterpiece from the Leafs perspective. The first period was carefully played – a lot of dump-ins and safe play, with neither team able to sustain much of a forecheck/offensive zone time (shots were 6-5 Leafs with 1:45 to go when Jason Zucker tied it up).
The Leafs grabbed the lead early in the second period before getting into some penalty trouble with three minors in the span of 10 minutes. Mike Babcock referred to the second frame as a good period for the team, but they started turning the puck over in the defensive zone (prior to all three penalties) and then the special teams time put them on the backfoot; their possession share at 5v5 was 34% and the Wild were credited with six high-danger chances at evens to the Leafs’ 1. Andersen played one of his better periods of the season in turning away 14 shots (11 at 5v5), including a crucial point-blank stop on Matt Cullen on a 2v0 down low just before Patrick Marleau scored the 2-1 goal.
The third period was again no oil painting. The broadcast crew was harping about the Leafs and faceoffs — really it was down to Nazem Kadri (14%) and Dominic Moore (38%) not winning their fair share there throughout the game — and some defensive-zone faceoff losses in the third period did make for some heavy shifts spent scrambling to get the puck back and out.
Even still, Babcock would have felt okay enough about how the team closed out the final period from the defensive perspective: The 3-2 goal came on a Wild power play, and they gave up just six shots at 5v5 in the final 20 (the Wild were also not credited with a single high-danger chance at 5on5, by Natural Stat Trick’s count).
2. I wouldn’t say it was the type of performance Babcock was calling for when he said the ugly win vs. Vegas was going to set the team up to really get going on Wednesday versus Minnesota, but it’s a win — a win without Auston Matthews – nonetheless.
3. While this one came off of a rush play versus a pass out of the corner, the goal Patrick Marleau scored had shades of his first as a Leaf vs. Winnipeg in terms of how he changed his flight path and found space in the slot. Chris Stewart was tracking him on the backcheck; rather than continuing his route for a potential cross-crease pass – which is what Stewart was guarding against, visible in his stick placement – he reads off of Hyman, pulls up on a dime and is open for an easy pass for the one timer. The players with elite speed that can stop up like that are extremely difficult to defend against, to state the obvious.
Good patience by Zach Hyman there, too, as far as recognizing he had an extra beat available to pick out the right pass, while Connor Brown tied up a man and took the goalie’s eyes away.
4. A small note while on the Hyman – Marleau – Brown line: Connor Brown is taking a smattering of faceoffs this year, partially because of the two wingers on the PK but also some at even strength on his strong side (he took six versus Marleau’s three last night). He’s 50% on the year on 36 draws.
5. Another note on Connor Brown: With his good play in defensive zone to intercept the pass back to the point, he scored his fourth empty-netter since breaking the league full-time last season. That ranks tied for fourth in the NHL since the start of 2016-17, behind only Michael Grabner, John Tavares and Brad Marchand.
Both are small things but further testaments to Brown’s versatility and the wide variety of situations in which he can be relied on. The team’s swiss army knife.
6. There were audible gasps of anticipation in the ACC when Marleau beat out an icing as well as a few other times when he gained a head of steam throughout the game (he looks like he could play forever with that stride). For him to be able to step in as well as he has at center is speaks to the value of adding such a good, versatile veteran presence – provided it’s in the form of a player that can still execute at a high level, which Marleau certainly still can.
I thought this was the second game where it was apparent that the two veteran adds the team made over the offseason in Marleau and Ron Hainsey played significant roles in gutting out a win while the Leafs weren’t at their best – the other was in Anaheim. Both are playing major roles and doing admirable work so far.
7. With 13 points, Morgan Rielly is just about halfway to last season’s point total of 26 in just 17 games – a 60+ point pace. Going back to the playoffs, he’s piled up 18 points in his last 23. He nearly scored a goal early in the first simply by getting the puck through – which we highlighted in the last game review with video – and then picked up the assist on the Nazem Kadri goal that way as well. He’s revealed a few tricks up his sleeve this season, changing his shot angles and pulling shot blockers left and right with fakes in order to manufacture shooting lanes.
Rielly was probably better for having gone through the experience last year, but the difference between playing on a pairing with a rookie in extremely tough minutes and receiving no power play time vs. playing with a steady veteran and getting power play time (with the confidence that begets) is playing out in front of us here.
8. Yet another game in which Josh Leivo hopped back into the lineup and played a big role in a Leaf goal. Although it wasn’t credited as a point, his second and third efforts on the forecheck led to Connor Carrick’s game-winner. He got his stick inside on Kyle Quincey on the initial dump-in before hustling the puck down at the half-wall, jumping on a turnover and throwing the puck on net, creating the scramble in front before Carrick threw it on goal. To me, Leivo is second to only Matthews as far as board work on the team. It remains pretty hard to wrap the head around that he’s not in the lineup every night.
He was understandably a little bit jittery on the power play (the Leafs had no SOG on their two PPs); the power play is as much about timing and tempo as it is a specific skill set, so he needs some reps.
9. In case you missed the pregame show, Mike Babcock went on with Darren Millard and explained the decision to go with Marleau at center over William Nylander in Matthews’ absence:
If we thought things were going real good in that area, we’d have him there. He was really rolling early. Hasn’t been quite as good lately. We want to catch him being good, not being bad. I think it’s easier on the veteran guy. More confidence right now in his game. Like I said, if it was going different, it might be different, but that’s our thinking on it.
While he didn’t slide into the C spot with Matthews out, using him on the wing of the Kadri line isn’t exactly a no-faith move by Babcock. Nylander led the team in shot attempt percentage (56%) on a night when only three Leafs (his line) broke even, picked up an assist, finished +1, and won 3 of 5 draws. He was taking center duties at times on quick breakouts and re-groups and was often the first forward back, or deepest in the D zone to help make short bump plays and exit the zone with control.
He’s made major strides defensively from the time he was getting bumped off of the Matthews line to avoid tough matchups on the road. He’ll get there in due time.
10. Frederik Andersen was the indisputable first star with 35 saves on 37 shots. The Deryk Engelland goal against Vegas wasn’t pretty and caused a stir, but he’s put a couple of wins together now and he’s never lost to the Bruins in his career (8-0-0, with a lifetime .944 save percentage). It looks Boston will be without Brad Marchand for at least Friday’s game. Good chance to really start stringing them together.
I’ve seen Freddie make better saves, but he was good. He won them the game.
– Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau