Maple Leafs Commentary: Matthews, Blackwell, Nylander & Kallgren

Before this season started, and for its duration, the general theme for the Toronto Maple Leafs has been that the regular season means nothing to the team. It’s only the vehicle that gets the team to the playoffs. The 2021-22 season will be judged to be a success or failure based on how they perform in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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This theme seems to get mentioned often when the Maple Leafs are winning; however, it seems to get ignored when they play a game like the team played in the 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens last night. 

Comment One: This Game Was of Little Consequence

Where the Maple Leafs are in the standings, they’re all but assured a playoff spot. However, there’s no easy road out of the Eastern Conference. In truth, that fact makes the score of this game meaningless. Really, what does it matter? 

As Kyle Dubas likes to state, that’s the process. Yes, a loss is a loss; still, there were a lot of good things to take away from this game.  

Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs
Kyle Dubas, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Alana Davidson/NHLI via Getty Images)

First, the Maple Leafs dominated this game from start to finish. Even when they appeared to let their foot off the gas in the second period, they were still the better team statistically. Overall, according to naturalstatrick, the team had 68 percent of the shot attempts, 74 percent of the shots, 70 percent of the scoring chances, 72 percent of the expected goals, and 77 percent of the high-danger chances.

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As Sheldon Keefe stated in the postgame. “I’d take that game 82 times.” Obviously, not the outcome.

Comment Two: Auston Matthews

Matthews tied his season’s best 47 goals with his snipe 36 seconds into the game. He now sits seven goals shy of the Maple Leafs’ record of 54 goals in a season that’s held by Rick Vaive. And, he has 18 games left.

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After a slow start, he’s now in competition for the Rocket Richard award. Leon Draisaitl scored a hat trick in the Edmonton Oilers 9-5 loss to the Calgary Flames last night and has five goals in his last two games. He sits tied with Matthews at 47 goals. In addition, Draisaitl has two fewer games to play than Matthews over the rest of this season.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, that was the only goal the first line would score in the game despite being the dominant line on the ice. All three players had over 90% of the expected goals and 89% of the high-danger scoring chances in the game.

Comment Three: Colin Blackwell

One other player had over 90% of the expected goals and 85% of the high-danger scoring chances when he was on the ice. That was Colin Blackwell. In his two games with the Maple Leafs, he seems to come as advertised.

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At the other end of the spectrum is Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds is a player we can’t help but cheer for. However, it’s becoming harder to see him remaining in the lineup once with everyone healthy. In a game where every single other skater for the Maple Leafs was a positive, Simmonds was the only negative. 

How bad was he? William Nylander had the second-lowest expected goals for on the team at 54 percent. Simmonds had the worst at 11.6 percent.  

Comment Four: William Nylander

Nylander’s play of late has come under the fire of Sheldon Keefe. After being beaten to the net by one of the slowest skaters in the game in David Savard on Montreal’s first goal, Nylander found himself in Keefe’s doghouse and was demoted to the third line.  

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When he was questioned about Nylander’s demotion Keefe replied. “That is a tough one to give up, but to me, that was the third or fourth play like that for Will. That is why I thought it was time. Obviously, things have been piling up for that line for a while. It was overdue.”  

When asked to expand in his comment Keefe came back with “I am not even going to answer the questions. I am not going to pile on Will here. He knows what makes him great. He knows what he needs to get back to.”

Comment Five: Erik Kallgren

Kallgren played a solid game overall and made some highlight-reel saves in the game. With a game as one-sided as this one, it has to be extremely difficult for a goalie to stay sharp while watching the goalie at the other end stand on his head to make save after save and then find yourself in a situation in a situation where you have to come up with a big stop.

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It’s also not really fair to come down on a goalie for one play. However, and as harsh as this might be, Kallgren has to have that save on the 3-2 goal in the third period. Yes, the play started out as a three-on-one; and, as Keefe stated, “On the winning goal, there is a lot happening on that play. It is not just as simple as him squaring to the shooter and making a save. He has to think about the other passing options. That impacts his ability to make the save.”  

However, watching the play shows that the Montreal skaters were obviously tired. Ilya Lyubushkin plays the pass to the first Canadiens’ player as he should, and Morgan Rielly does make it back to cover the third Habs’ skater. In the end, it developed into a one-on-one. The goalie has to be prepared for the shot from the puck carrier. In this case, Kallgren wasn’t.

Erik Kallgren Toronto Marlies
Erik Kallgren, with the Toronto Marlies (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

That was evident in how he jumped when the shot was taken. If he were truly ready for that shot, he would not have moved. He simply over-thought it.

Overall, we really like what we’ve seen with Kallgren’s play with the Maple Leafs. As we stated at the start, in the whole scheme of things the score of this game is meaningless. The real test will be at home against the Florida Panthers tonight.  

Although this is the second of a back-to-back game for the Maple Leafs, there’s no advantage. The Panthers also played last night, when they came from behind to prevail 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?  

Petr Mrazek gets the start for the Maple Leafs tonight. He needs to build on his performance in the 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.  

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Sergei Bobrovsky was in the net for the Panthers last night, so it appears likely the Maple Leafs will be facing 20-year-old rookie Spencer Knight tonight. It would be nice to show the Panthers that they’re evenly matched by the Maple Leafs.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]