Well, we’re four games into the 2020-21 NHL season and while their second game was one to forget, the Maple Leafs are 3-1-0 to start the year – coming up with arguably their best performance so far on Monday with a 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
It was a game where, prior to puck drop, they honoured both Martin Luther King Jr. and Willie O’Ree for their contributions to society and the game of hockey, respectively. But when the puck was dropped, it was all hockey and the Maple Leafs played a strong game at both ends of the ice.
With that, here are a few of the takeaways from the team’s third win of the young season.
Marner: A Maple Leafs’ Sniper
When you say sniper in relation to the Maple Leafs, more often than not you’re talking about Auston Matthews or William Nylander. That said, to start the year, Mitch Marner has become one of the team’s top goal scorers – adding another two on Monday against the Jets.
Marner mentioned prior to the season that he wanted to become more of a shooter and the addition of Joe Thornton allowed that to become more of a reality. Now, with three goals through four games, Marner is tied with John Tavares for the team lead in goals and points and has become a go-to shooter for the top line.
With that said, Marner hasn’t deviated from his play-making abilities. He still finds ways to make key plays in the neutral zone and offensive zone to open up the ice and maintain possession for the Maple Leafs. If he can put all these tools together moving forward, he could truly become one of the more dangerous players in the league.
Fewer Forwards, More Defence
For the first time this season, head coach Sheldon Keefe decided to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the game. The decision came following an injury to Nick Robertson in his season debut against Ottawa and a call-up to the taxi squad for Pierre Engvall.
The loss of Robertson, opened the door for the Maple Leafs to give defenceman Mikko Lehtonen a chance to get into the lineup and allowed the team to keep their blue line fresh with no defenceman playing more than T.J. Brodie’s 23:35.
While it likely won’t be a long-term fix, as the team will look for the best piece to play with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds on the fourth line, for the night it seemed to really help the team figure things out in their own end.
Lehtonen Makes His Debut
As for Lehtonen, he did get into his first NHL game with the Maple Leafs’ lineup decisions. That said, the opportunity wasn’t to play a whole lot of minutes.
Lehtonen finished the game having played 6:41, including just over 30 seconds of power play. He had one hit and while it may not have been the most exciting stat line for the Finnish defenceman, the fact that the Maple Leafs wanted to get him in the lineup should be an indication that they want to see what he has to offer in regular season play.
Bounce Back for Andersen
Say what you will about Frederik Andersen and his early season struggles each and every year, but his 27-save performance on Monday was just what the doctor ordered for the Maple Leafs netminder.
He saw 28 total shots, seven on the power play, and finished with a .964 save percentage in the game after giving up nine goals in his first two outings. The win boosted his season numbers to and .881 save percentage and saw his goals against average drop from over 4.40 to just 3.31.
Considering it’s a contract year for Andersen, he’ll certainly be feeling the pressure more than ever this year with more than just the Maple Leafs’ season on the line.
Also Worth Noting…
The Maple Leafs were fortunate to not have to see Patrik Laine on Monday as the Jets’ sniper was out of the lineup tending to an injury. After all, since being drafted second to Matthews, Laine has six goals and seven points in just eight games against the Maple Leafs.
On the other side of the puck, the Maple Leafs will be without Robertson for at least four weeks as he looks to mend an injured knee suffered in his season debut against the Senators. Robertson played just 2:20 with one shot before suffering the injury.
Aaron Dell was claimed off waivers by the New Jersey Devils. Dell didn’t crack the Maple Leafs’ lineup but did dress in place of Andersen on Saturday against the Senators before the team waived him.
Jason Spezza also went on waivers following the team’s win on Saturday. While it was widely rumoured that he would retire if he was claimed by another team, Spezza cleared and was back with the Maple Leafs on Monday on the fourth line for the Maple Leafs. Through four games, Spezza has one assist and has won 73.5 percent of the draws he’s taken this year.
As for your Auston Matthews news, he now leads the NHL in shots with 21. He has taken three more than Kevin Fiala of the Minnesota Wild.
The Maple Leafs will take on the Edmonton Oilers next on Wednesday in Toronto.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.