It was back on October 18, when the New York Rangers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs by a 2-1 score in overtime. On Thursday night, the Maple Leafs turned the tables on the Rangers, defeating their Metro Division foe 2-1 in regulation this time.
It marked the second game in a row that the Maple Leafs seemed to play a complete game – showing stronger defensive coverage and capitalizing on their opportunities – something that fans of the team haven’t been used to over the past little while.
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Still, like with every game this season, we had a few things that we felt should be taken away from the Maple Leafs’ efforts on Thursday night.
Maple Leafs’ Had Numbers on their Side
It may be one of the more underrated stats, but the Maple Leafs annihilated the Rangers in the face-off dot. In fact, every player that took at least one face-off for the Maple Leafs finished at 63 percent winning percentage with the team winning 80 percent of the draws.
Auston Matthews secured 79 percent of the draws that he took, while John Tavares won 80 percent of his draws. We all know how important it is to win the ones in their own end, but battling for the pucks in the offensive zone is tough. Getting the puck immediately after a face-off win benefits the team and allows them to cycle the puck which we saw on Morgan Rielly’s first of two goals tonight.
On top of that, the Maple Leafs were able to capitalize on their only powerplay opportunity and shut down the Rangers on theirs. While they were out-hit, the Maple Leafs did use the body in blocking 12 shots, helping out their all-star goalie to secure the win.
Maple Leafs’ Early Season MVP
It’s quite obvious who we’re talking about here – it’s Jack Campbell. Campbell has been absolutely lights out for the Maple Leafs this season – and since coming over has rerouted his NHL career.
Now, 18 games into the season and he’s easily been the Maple Leafs most consistent and dominating player. Thursday night was no different with Campbell seeing 28 shots and stopping 27 of them. In fact, over his past four games, including the Rangers’ game, Campbell has stopped 117 of 119 shots with two shutouts.
But what stuck out the most on Thursday when it came to Campbell is the confidence he’s playing with. When he’s not at his best, he struggles in all aspects – his side-to-side movements, his puck handling, even just seeing the puck.
However, on Thursday – and his more recent games – Campbell has played with more poise between the pipes and playing the puck behind the net for his defensemen.
The Rangers had seven high-danger shots and Campbell stopped all of them on Thursday. And it’s no fluke that he’s sitting fourth in the league in shots against and still having the year he’s having.
Maple Leafs’ Offensive Depth on Defence
As for the Maple Leafs’ offence, that all came at the hands of the blue line on Thursday. More specifically, Morgan Rielly potted his second and third goals of the season making him three quarters of the Maple Leafs goal scorers on their back end.
But, as we discussed on a recent episode of the Sticks in the 6ix podcast, the depth scoring from the blue line was a major necessity for the Maple Leafs who relied heavily on their core four to score earlier in the season.
It was arguably one of Rielly’s best games of the season at both ends of the ice and it showed. He finished just shy of 24 minutes of ice-time and is already looking like he’s going to be steal when his new contract kicks in next season.
He’s now three points shy of the top scoring defenceman this season – Roman Josi and Adam Fox both have 16 points – and sits three back of the team lead for points as well. If the Leafs are going to continue to trend in the right direction, what they will need is balanced contributions from the back end for the remainder of the season.
All in all though it was a well executed game by the Maple Leafs – from goaltending right out to the forwards playing in all zones and protecting their end. It was easily one of the most complete games we’ve seen from the Maple Leafs this season and they came out with the two points because of it.
Maple Leafs Host Penguins on Saturday
As for what’s next for the Maple Leafs, they will look to bounce back after losing to the Penguins earlier this season when they take on Pittsburgh on Saturday night. The Maple Leafs took an absolute beating last time at the hands of the Penguins who won 7-1 and were without some of the top stars – including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and others.
Don’t be surprised if Sheldon Keefe and the Maple Leafs go with Campbell again, as he seems to be carrying this team through the first quarter of the season.
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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.