The Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night wasn’t pretty but it was a win. In this edition of Maple Leafs’ commentary, we’ll take a look at how some of the players on the team did during the game.
Comment One: Petr Mrazek Stopped the Goals He Should Have Stopped
We have been saying for a while now that the Maple Leafs don’t need their goalies to steal games, they just need them to stop the shots they should be expected to stop, and the occasional shot that we don’t. That is exactly what they got from Petr Mrazek.
We don’t feel Mrazek had a chance to stop either of the Devils’ goals. The first one a deflection off of defender Ilya Lyubushkin’s leg, and the second a down low two-on-one where Justin Holl was the only defenseman back. In trying to help Mrazek, Holl more got in Mrazek’s way than prevented the goal. Both goals were more about bad bounces than anything. Mrazek more than made up for them in the saves he did make.
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This was exactly the performance Mrazek, and the team in from of him, needed to get its collective confidence moving in the right direction.
Comment Two: Ilya Mikheyev Is an Exquisite Penalty Killer
While the Devils’ second goal was not technically a power-play goal, as the time had run out, Matthews didn’t have a chance to get back into the play before the goal was scored. A part of this game that set up the game-winning goal by Pierre Engvall was that the score was 2-2 when the Devils had the man advantage.
The Maple Leafs are doing far better than OK on the penalty kill. We don’t recall ever watching a team who, night in and night out, is as good at creating scoring chances while on the penalty kill. That’s a function of speed, skill, and a confident collective mindset.
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Ilya Mikheyev’s stats on the penalty kill are amazing. While he’s been on the ice killing penalties this season, the opposition has scored three goals. With his short-handed goal in this game, Mikheyev has scored three shorthanded goals. Talk about playing them even.
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According to Naturalstattrick, in shorthanded situations, the High-Danger Scoring Chances when Milkheyev is on the ice stands at nine for the Maple Leafs and 11 for the opposition. Overall, the Maple Leafs have outscored the opposing team’s power plays four to three when Mikheyev’s on the ice.
Mikheyev isn’t the only offensive threat on the penalty kill. The Maple Leafs lead the NHL with ten shorthanded goals this season. They also have the highest Goals-For Percentage of any team when killing penalties this season at 26.3%. That means the Maple Leafs score 26.3%, or more than one in four, of all the goals scored when they’re playing shorthanded. In this case, they’ve scored 10 goals while giving up 28 on the penalty kill this season. The next closest team to them is the Las Vegas Golden Knights at 19.2%.
Oddly enough, the number of goals a team scores while shorthanded does not play into how the NHL ranks a team’s penalty kill. If it did, the Maple Leafs’ ranking would jump them from fifth to first.
Comment Three: Mitch Marner Scored His Career Best Goal Number, But …
The 3-2 victory over the Devils was not a great game for Mitch Marner. He did score his career-best 27th goal of the season on a solid one-timer from the slot; and, he’s slowly putting to bed the idea that he can’t score goals. (He’s on pace for 36 goals this season).
However, the Marner we know took a bit of a vacation. Specifically, the timing on his passes was off, especially on the power play. A number of pucks went from his stick right to an opposing player’s stick when the Maple Leafs were on the man advantage. One funny thing about statistics, and a reason fans shouldn’t look at only the numbers when judging the game, is that, for whatever reason, according to the statistics compiled by the NHL, Marner didn’t have a single turnover. He clearly did.
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As it was, the Auston Matthews, Marner, and Michael Bunting line came out on the positive side of most of the statistics for the night. That said, for one of the few times this season, they were not the best Maple Leafs’ line.
Comment Four: The Second Line Didn’t Score, But Were the Team’s Best
According to Naturalstattrick, the John Tavares, William Nylander, and Alex Kerfoot line was by far the most dominant line on the ice. However, that line didn’t account for any Maple Leafs’ goals. Kerfoot got an assist on the Mikheyev shorthanded goal to tie the game at 1-1 in the second period. Both Tavares and Nylander were held scoreless.
However, Nylander had an amazing night statistics-wise. The surprising thing is that his defensive numbers accounted for his dominance. When he was on the ice at five-on-five, the Maple Leafs had 94.9% of the Expected Goals. The main reason was his Expected Goals Against was only 0.02. While Nylander was on the ice, the Maple Leafs recorded ten shots on the net and only had a single shot against.
The rest of the line was just as good. Tavares and Kerfoot were both on the ice for nine shots for and only two shots against. Tavares had an Expected Goals For of 88.7% and Kerfoot an Expected Goals of 88.3%. Getting back to Nylander, by the eye test, he was more noticeable for breaking up plays in his own zone in this game than he was for creating scoring chances at the other end.
What’s Coming Up for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs have a tough back-to-back against the Montreal Canadiens on the road on Saturday and then quickly fly home to meet the Florida Panthers on Sunday.
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If anyone wonders how Joe Thornton is doing with the Panthers, he’s doing ok. He’s been a healthy scratch and was out for a few games with an undisclosed injury. His totals on the season are five goals and two assists (for seven points) in 27 games on the season. He’s also averaging just under 11 minutes (10:58) per game.
[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.]