Leafs Report Cards: William Nylander and Jake Muzzin shine, Frederik Andersen comes up short in 3-2 loss
By Ian Tulloch
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
Leafs Report Cards: William Nylander and Jake Muzzin shine, Frederik Andersen comes up short in 3-2 loss
By Ian Tulloch
“It was a real measuring stick game.”
In all seriousness, the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 loss to the Blues was Game 4. Most teams don’t have their systems fully in place yet (and haven’t had a chance to fully pre-scout opponents’ special teams), which is why we tend to see wonkier games in October than any other month. It’s essentially an extension of the preseason. Let’s try to keep that in mind when we’re evaluating the game, along with any others over the next couple weeks.
Key takeaways from the game
1. Toronto outplayed St. Louis at even strength
Even after adjusting for score effects, the shots and scoring chances were well in the Leafs’ favour. Sometimes teams get lucky (hit a few posts and get a few key saves), but that’s hockey. Look at the “Heat Map” and it’s clear Toronto’s coaching staff is going to be happy with how the Leafs played against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
2. Release the Sandman
Rasmus Sandin played a career-high 15:20. It was nice to see the coaching staff trust him with big minutes down the stretch when a goal was needed. Looking at how little ice time he was given in the first three games, it’s probably fair to say it’s Justin Holl (and Martin Marincin) who the coaches don’t trust at even strength, not Sandin.
3. ‘Game shape’
William Nylander looks as good as ever. I’m really looking forward to watching what he can do with a full season alongside Auston Matthews.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Best player on the ice: William Nylander (RW, No. 88) -- I told readers after the last game I wanted to see a dominant performance from Nylander before giving him a five-star grade. He looked dominant on Monday night. He was making excellent plays without the puck, picking off passes in the neutral zone and even winning some puck battles in the offensive zone. When he had the puck, he was doing an excellent job of maintaining possession in the offensive zone, which helped lead to tons of sustained pressure for his line.
He also did this:
That’s the Nylander we wanted to see on Day 1 last year. With 82 games of him in “game shape,” it should be a big year for him.
Jake Muzzin (LD, No. 8) -- I was debating between Nylander and Muzzin for the top honour, but Muzzin’s penalty in the last five minutes (and Nylander’s excellent shift at six-on-five) was the difference for me. Despite that, Muzzin was still Toronto’s best defenceman. He was making slick passes under pressure and did a great job of closing his gaps in transition, finishing his checks every time a St. Louis forward dumped it in (which is important in games like Monday’s).
Justin Holl (RD, No. 3) — That was one of my favourite games Holl has played. He looked confident with the puck, skating it up the ice with consistency. That’s something he used to do all the time when he was with the Marlies (remember, he was their No. 1 defenceman at even strength despite being on a stacked Calder Cup-winning team in 2018). I’ve always hoped there was an NHL defenceman somewhere in there, and we got to see some flashes of it on Monday. Here’s hoping we get to see more of those assertive, possession-driving plays.
Alexander Kerfoot (C, No. 15) -- I’ve really enjoyed his game lately. Earlier on Monday, he was using his speed to cause problems in transition, hitting the post on a partial breakaway and creating a two-on-one out of nothing, had it not been for Ilya Mikheyev going offside. He also seems to be really settling into the defensive aspect of his new position down the middle of the ice, which isn’t easy in the NHL.
Kasperi Kapanen (LW, No. 24) -- There was a lot of pressure on Kapanen entering the game after his bizarre performance on Saturday night and I thought he answered the bell. He generated tons of scoring chances off the rush using his speed, but was also looking to set up his teammates in scoring positions, an area where he’s often been criticized by many, myself included. Yes, he let Alex Pietrangelo get behind him in the defensive zone on St. Louis’ last goal, but I didn’t think his goaltender did a great job getting in front of that one. All in all, it was a great bounce-back effort by Kapanen.
Jason Spezza (C, No. 19) — It was a strong game by Spezza, but two moments really stood out for me.
I know the Spezza situation has been a contentious one lately among Leafs fans, but so far, I’ve seen a player I think can help Toronto on the fourth line, the second power-play unit and the top penalty-kill unit as a faceoff specialist.
Rasmus Sandin (RD, No. 38) -- The more I watch Sandin play, the more I find myself enjoying hockey. He makes clever little decisions with the puck, such as holding onto it for an extra half-second before saucing it to an open teammate. He also does a great job of walking the line and getting his shot through traffic, which I have to think is a big part of the reason the coaching staff had him out there so often in the last 10 minutes when the Leafs needed a goal.
I’ve been a huge fan of his development over the past year and think he’s already a legitimate NHL defenceman, but I do need to bring up one thing: Can someone sharpen his skates? I’ve seen him fall way too many times for no reason away from the play. What’s up with that?
Andreas Johnsson (LW, No. 18) -- It was a quiet night from Johnsson, but I thought he made a few subtle plays that the coaching staff would’ve appreciated (such as solid breakout passing to get the puck up the ice to Matthews and Nylander, great backchecking to prevent an odd-man rush after an ill-timed pinch by Tyson Barrie and battling hard for position in front of the net). It wasn’t a great game by his standards, but I didn’t think he played poorly.
Nic Petan (LW, No. 61) -- Much like Johnsson, it was a quiet-but-effective game for Petan. He made a few clever passes to his linemates, got in on the forecheck and managed to dominate the opposition when he was on the ice. It’s hard to complain about a game like that from a fourth-liner.
Cody Ceci (RD, No. 83) -- Who needs a debate for the federal election when we have the Cody Ceci Debate? Here’s what I was able to take out of Monday:
Tyson Barrie (RD, No. 94) — I got a similar vibe from Barrie’s game on Monday. He made a few excellent plays up the ice, but also had some poorly timed pinches that resulted in a two-on-one the other way. I’m a huge fan of Barrie’s talent. The Leafs haven’t had a right-handed defenceman who could make the following play in … ever.
The issue is that he turned the puck over with a poorly placed stretch pass right after that play, leading to a chance the other way. Much like Rielly, Barrie is a high-event player who’s going to be on the ice for a lot of offence, but sometimes, it’s going to be offence for the other team.
Coaching staff: There were some decisions I really liked from Toronto’s bench and some that were real head-scratchers. Getting Sandin out in offensive-zone situations with Rielly or Barrie? Great. Putting the fourth line out against St. Louis’ top line to end the second period? Not great (and it resulted in a goal against). There was another time the Leafs had momentum after Matthews hit the post on the power play, but the top unit was pulled off the ice after 55 seconds instead of giving it one more chance to gain the zone.
Here’s a list of the top 10 goal scorers on the power play last season.
One of those things is not like the other. The Leafs need to start giving their generational goal-scorer more power-play time. It’s frankly ridiculous he’s been getting less than 60 percent of the five-on-four time after the Leafs clearly decided to top-load their top power-play unit last season.
John Tavares (C, No. 91) and Auston Matthews (C, No. 34) -- I have such high expectations for the two, which is why I’m putting them in the two-star club instead of the three-star club. They each had their moments, such as Tavares’ beautiful saucer pass to Matthews on the power play when his shot hit the post, but I didn’t think they were dominating the game at five-on-five like we’ve come to expect. Nylander did Monday and, to a lesser extent, Kapanen put his stamp on the game at even strength. It’s possible Tavares is completely exhausted after having a child recently (I know I would be), but it’s tough to say.
Side note: The bench let out a big roar when Matthews backchecked to win a puck battle. That needs to be happening all the time.
Frederik Gauthier (RW, No. 33) -- As The Goat Apologist, I must inform you he scored his second goal of the season. As an objective analyst, though, I think it’s important to note he didn’t do much else. He was losing puck battles to players much smaller than him, was falling down frequently and was partially to blame for Brayden Schenn’s game-winning goal after he got crossed up with Trevor Moore in the defensive zone.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, No. 65) and Trevor Moore (RW, No. 42) -- The two seem to be yo-yoing with dominant and mediocre games. I loved them on Saturday but did not love them on Friday. Individually, they’re two of my favourite players on the team (their relentlessness in puck battles is just awesome to watch), but they didn’t play great on Monday. Mikheyev cost his team a two-on-one by going offside and had a few sloppy turnovers in his own end, while Moore got mixed up with Gauthier on the game-winning goal and cost the Leafs a power play by retaliating to Carl Gunnarsson in front of the net.
I love these guys, but I didn’t love their game.
Frederik Andersen (G, No. 31) — In a similar vein, I think Andersen has been a top-five goaltender since arriving in Toronto, but it wasn’t his night, either. The Leafs did a great job of limiting dangerous chances Monday (which is obvious from the heat map) and I thought Andersen definitely could have saved two of the three goals he let in. One was a slap shot from distance, while on the other, he was late getting across his crease. I wasn’t sure if he lost an edge before pushing off, but it looked really awkward.
Mitch Marner (RW, No. 16) -- I can already hear the comments (“Not an $11 million performance for Marner”) and for what it’s worth, I can understand the frustration. When you advocate to be paid like a top-10 player in the league, you’re going to have higher expectations. That’s the way it works in any business after a big raise. Unfortunately, it was another rough night for Marner at even strength. He wasn’t able to create anything dangerous offensively and he was terrible on the other side of the puck. He’s also firing weak “one-timers” on net that the short adult man in me respects, but he needs to get more of his weight behind them.
If Elias Pettersson can have one of the most dangerous one-timers in the world at 176 pounds, I have confidence Marner can improve his. He probably just needs more reps in practice.
Morgan Rielly (LD, No. 44) — Burn the tape. Monday night was an unmitigated disaster for Toronto’s star defenceman and we’re all probably better off forgetting it. His decisions with the puck were poor, particularly at the end of the second period, and he was jumping up into plays when his forwards were all deep in the offensive zone, leading to odd-man rushes the other way. His pairing got hemmed in the defensive zone for way too many of those nightmare shifts. Rielly’s a dynamic offensive defenceman, but it was one of his more noticeable off-games.
Game ScoreGame score is a metric developed by The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn to quickly measure a player’s performance in a single game.
It’s not perfect, but it can help give us a decent idea of how well players performed in a particular game based on their numbers (although I’d always recommend combining stats with video, since single-game numbers can be wonky).
When a team’s most talented players are making plays like that, there tends to be a trickle-down effect. Here’s hoping it’s a sign of things to come for the Leafs.
Final Grade: B