Leafs Report Cards: Auston Matthews just misses hat trick, Ilya Mikheyev continues to impress in season opener
By Ian Tulloch
17m ago 9
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
After a slow start in the first period (in classic Leafs fashion), Toronto came roaring back to defeat the Senators 5-3. It was a huge game for Auston Matthews, who narrowly missed a hat trick in the dying seconds of the game. Nonetheless, it was a fun start to the season for the Leafs.
Let’s break things down in a bit more detail.
Key takeaways from the game
1. “Starting on time”
Giving up a weird goal 25 seconds into your highly anticipated season opener is such a Leafs thing to happen, especially with former Leaf Connor Brown picking up the primary assist. Following it up with a dominant second period is even Leafier. As a fan, you have to love watching the talent take over for 20 minutes like that, but as a coach, you probably want to see more of a consistent effort from start to finish, which was a major problem last season.
2. An offside review swung the game
The Scotiabank Arena crowd went silent after Ottawa went up 3-2, but the goal was called back after a review revealed the play was offside by a few centimetres. The Leafs scored a few quick goals right after that to take control of the game, making this the “TSN Turning Point,” in my opinion.
You hate to be on the wrong end of those calls, but it’s nice to get one in your favour every once in a while (although I’d like to see them do away with offside reviews altogether unless a player is three feet offside). This is all Matt Duchene’s fault.
3. The Jason Spezza drama was avoidable
On a night that was supposed to be about the new season, new team and unveiling the new captain, Mike Babcock found a way to make the season opener about himself. I have no issue with the Leafs rotating Spezza in and out of the lineup (he’s a fourth-line player at this point in his career), but considering the circumstances, it felt like an unnecessary power move by the head coach to healthy scratch him in this game.
Ian Tulloch@IanGraphIf we're going to criticize players for bad decisions, I think it's fair to criticize a coach for scratching a 16-year veteran in the season opener (in his hometown) against a team where he spent most of his career.
This is just petty.
Brian Burke put it best: This didn’t need to be a story on Wednesday night, but Babcock brought out his inner Mike Keenan and decided to make a statement, which he’s done in the past with players like Mike Modano.
Best player on the ice: Auston Matthews (C, No. 34) — When Matthews kicks things into full gear, he has the ability to completely take over a hockey game offensively. We got to witness that in the second period, with him slinging a three-line saucer pass off the boards to spring William Nylander on a breakaway, scoring on a two-on-one pass from Nylander, and blasting one by Craig Anderson on the power play with the one-timer he’s clearly been working on all offseason.
He’s been the best five-on-five goal scorer since entering the league thanks to his curl-and-drag wrist shot. Now that he has a lethal one-timer on the power play to go with it, I wouldn’t be surprised if Matthews hits the 50-goal mark this season if he can stay healthy.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, No. 65) — I can’t get enough of this guy’s game. It isn’t flashy (he’s never going to put up the point totals that make one want to pick him up in their fantasy league), but he’s so good at making smart plays that drive results. Whether it’s skating back hard to prevent an odd-man rush, passing it back to his defence to maintain puck possession at the end of a shift, or hard work on the penalty kill (where he looks great), you can always find something to appreciate about him on a shift.
Coaches love that type of player, and it sounds like the fans have taken an appreciation to his game, too. On a night when he picked up a goal and an assist, I couldn’t help but give him 5 stars. He’s made a fan out of me over the past few weeks.
William Nylander (RW, No. 88) — It was an up-and-down game for Nylander early on (he was having trouble slicing through the neutral zone on the power play), but he was borderline dominant at even strength. He did an excellent job of maintaining puck possession on the cycle (he’s always been quite strong on the puck), which allowed Toronto to generate tons of sustained pressure when he and Matthews were on the ice. It’s nice to see those two reunited. I think they can accomplish big things in 2019-20.
These are passes Kasperi Kapanen wasn’t able to make last season on Matthews’ wing. With a first-line quality playmaker there now, we could be looking at the best top six in hockey.
Trevor Moore (RW, No. 42) — He scored an ugly goal, but they all count, right? When it comes to his 200-foot play, he was buzzing all over the ice, as usual. I’m not sure he will stick around in the top nine all season, but if he keeps playing the way he has over the past few weeks, he’s going to force the Leafs into a difficult decision when Zach Hyman returns from injury.
Tyson Barrie (RD, No. 94) — This was a tough game for me to evaluate. I thought Barrie had a few exceptional plays offensively but also a few big miscues defensively that resulted in odd-man rushes the other way. My goal with players like this is to add everything up and ask myself if the pros outweigh the cons, much like with Jake Gardiner.
On a night when you make a special play like that and come out ahead at even strength (25-12 in shot attempts, 12-6 in scoring chances, 2-0 in goals), I think it’s fair to say you were a net positive.
Morgan Rielly (LD, No. 44) — There were a lot of things to love in this game from Rielly, but it was a pretty rough start for him and Cody Ceci. I didn’t think he was doing a great job defensively in the first half, and his passes weren’t looking crisp, but then he started to find his game in the second period — it helped that Matthews went into heat-check mode. Half a game of Norris-quality play and half a game of that comes out to a break-even grade, in my opinion.
Mitch Marner (RW, No. 16) — This was a rough night for Marner and company at even strength. They were Toronto’s only line with a negative goal differential, and they only broke even in scoring chances, despite the rest of the team dominating play. With that being said, when you make a game-changing play like in the clip below, I’m forced to bump you up a grade.
Not many players in the league have the vision to make that pass.
Frederik Gauthier (RW, No. 33) — compared to Jason Spezza.
One of these players is on pace for 82 goals; the other is on pace for zero. Those are just facts.
Rasmus Sandin (RD, No. 38) — Sandin barely got to play in this game (only 8:40 of ice time), but he found a way to impress Leafs fans in those minutes, even picking up the first point of his NHL career on a secondary assist.
He wasn’t as dominant as we saw in the preseason, but man is he fun to watch. Plays like these give me Travis Dermott vibes — and I say that as a huge compliment.
Jake Muzzin (LD, No. 8) — This was a weird game for Muzzin. He made a few great plays with the puck (faking a slap shot off the rush before sliding it cross-crease for a near tap-in), but he also had a few rough moments. My least favourite was when he allowed Colin White to get behind him for a breakaway after coming out of the box. As a veteran defender, you can’t let that happen. Adding it all up, I’d say it was a decent game from him, but I hold him to a much higher standard at five-on-five.
Frederik Andersen (G, No. 31) — The first goal against was a bit weird, although it would have been nice if Ceci had covered his man in front of the net. After that blemish, I thought Andersen looked solid in his crease, making a few key saves on some grade-A scoring chances, most notably a breakaway by Colin White. With that being said, when you allow three goals on 26 shots, it’s hard to justify a much higher grade than this.
Andreas Johnsson (LW, No. 18) — It was nice to see Johnsson getting a bit feisty in front of the net, getting into a cross-checking battle and leading many of us to question what is and isn’t a penalty. Overall, I didn’t think it was his strongest game, but I really liked him on the top-unit power play.
John Tavares (C, No. 91) — As a good Mississauga boy who spends a lot of time in Oakville, I was happy to see Tavares named captain of his hometown team. Unfortunately, that was the best part of the night for him. Other than a nifty pass to Kapanen off the rush, this was a pretty quiet game for Tavares by his standards.
Alexander Kerfoot (C, No. 15) — I’m a huge fan of Kerfoot’s talent, but I didn’t love his play tonight. He was late on a backcheck that led to his man getting an open shot from the slot, which went in but was called back because of an offside review. He still looks like someone who’s trying to figure out the centre position at the NHL level, which he has time to do, but I think it’s safe to say he’ll need to be sheltered at even strength.
Cody Ceci (RD, No. 83) — As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Ceci didn’t cover Brady Tkachuk in front of the net on the opening goal. After that, I thought he played a decent game (nothing glaringly positive or negative), but you have to take away that pass.
Kasperi Kapanen (LW, No. 24) — I didn’t love Kapanen’s game tonight. He got walked on the opening goal, looked like a square peg in a round hole on the power play and wasn’t able to generate anything off the rush like we’re accustomed to seeing. I still think he’s a great player with game-breaking speed, but this definitely wasn’t his night.
Martin Marincin (RD, No. 51) — Poor Marty Marincin. You don’t mind him without the puck (for example, I thought he was great on the penalty kill), but he has a knack for making the wrong play at the wrong time. On Ottawa’s second goal, he managed to hit himself in the face with his own stick, which led to a goal against on the ensuing three-on-two.
It might’ve been the most Martin Marincin play I’ve ever seen.
Par Lindholm Memorial Award: Dmytro Timashov (LW, No. 41) and Nick Shore (C, No. 26) — I make notes on every player throughout the course of the game, but I didn’t have much on these two. To be fair, they played less than nine minutes.
Jason Spezza (C, No. 19) — I didn’t notice him touch the puck once in this game.
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).
Most important clip of the night
Kyle and Shanny look ready
Buckle up, folks; it should be a fun season!
Final Grade: B+