It’s not often at all that you get to play a team for the first time. Depending on whether you count the Winnipeg Jets or not, it’s been either six or seventeen years since a new team has stepped into Toronto for the first time. The Vegas Golden Knights were that group tonight, complete with ex-Leafs prospect Brendan Leipsic.

The result was a nerve-wracking but ultimately fun one. Toronto built up an early lead, squandered it, but managed to rack up a rare shootout win to improve to 9-7-0 on the season.

Highlights

Spreads

5v5 Possession: % of shots taken towards the net (Corsi, CF%) taken while the player is on the ice.

Game Score: A single-game performance metric created by Dom Luszczyszyn. Read about the methodology behind it here.

Enough Percent

The major storyline heading into this game had to do with Auston Matthews, as it often does. In this case, though, there was some merit; the youngster spent just seven minutes participating in Morning Skate and lollygagged his way through warmups. Questions surrounded his general health, as the team described it to the media as “soreness”.

Whatever it was, he didn’t show a ton of it. Matthews led all forwards in ice time by a considerable margin (21:11), had the end-to-end assist you see above, took three shots, blocked one, and had three takeaways. It wasn’t his most dominant effort, but he looked pretty good for someone who was supposedly three steps away from dead at 7:06. Though, we all could have done without the penalty he took that led to Rielly Smith’s 3-2 goal; even his parents agreed.

Competing Willy

Another storyline heading in was William Nylander and his lack of “compete”. Or his existing level of compete, that needed to turn into more compete. Whatever it was, Mike Babcock wanted to see more compete out of him tonight, and, well, Nylander was plenty active throughout. It wasn’t a standout performance, and he really needs to bury shots like the one above if he wants to turn the tide on this cold streak of his, but its interesting that even while in the doghouse, Nylander spent nearly 19 minutes on the ice.

Maximum Mo

Morgan Rielly has had a stellar start to his year, and last night was no exception. He was Toronto’s top possession defenceman, racked up an assist by creating a rebound for Nazem Kadri on the 1-0 goal, and seemed very confident with the puck (above) and without it (below).

Net-Front Naz

It took Nazem Kadri only fifteen minutes to get his name on the scoresheet twice, which had many hopeful that he’d finally score his first hat trick at home. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, despite a couple of Grade-A chances that ultimately went awry. But he was still very good last night, and its interesting that both of his goals came from rebounds in front. It’s a scoring position we’ve seen more and more from him in the past few years, particularly on the powerplay.

Miscall of the Game

I’m really not sure how you can call this goaltender interference. Zach Hyman is led into Maxime Lagace’s pathway by Nate Schmidt and there’s no way you can expect him to find a way out of it when it starts that close to goal. Thankfully for the Leafs, this one didn’t come with much consequence; they killed this penalty off and went right back to business.

Still Unsteady Freddy

We’ve seen this goal far too many times this season. Now that even a guy like Engelland (no disrespect) is doing it, you have to imagine that shooter quality can’t be that much of a factor either. A streak down the wing and an aim to the top corner from distance seems to be a sure-fire way to get Andersen to drop to his butterfly, leaving you an automatic goal if you’ve aimed it decently well.

I’m not a goaltending expert, so I’m not certain of the solution here. Should he be staying up on long-distance and risking the five hole? Is the decision he’s making here a byproduct of instruction or a repeated miscalculation of odds?

Whatever it is, something has to give. He can’t keep having one or two of these per game, and those watching can’t keep shrugging them off. It’s becoming “book” material, and that’s a problem.

Mr. Mitts

If we’re being honest with ourselves, Mitch Marner still isn’t back up to form yet. This was another indifferent showing, where despite 18 minutes of ice time, four of which came on the powerplay, he was unable to generate a shot on goal. He did get a secondary assist, though, and had the only goal in the shootout; a pretty one, at that.

Hey, it’s something. When you’re in a funk, any small play can make a world of difference in terms of confidence. If undressing Maxime Lagace is what he needs to get his mojo back, then I’m all for it.

Coming Up Next

The Leafs return to the ice on Wednesday night to take on the Minnesota Wild. It’s a home game, and you’ll find them on your television screen or Air Canada Centre ice at 7:30.

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