Did you know that the Leafs once famously choked on a 4-1 lead against the Boston Bruins?! Yes, of course you did, but I’m starting to wonder if these Leafs know that. Heading into Saturday, Toronto carried a six-game winning streak against their divisional rivals, with Friday snapping a four-game streak of those matches including a 4-1 Leafs lead that still ended in a Toronto victory.

That was quickly fixed, though, as the Leafs followed up a 3-2 overtime victory with another 4-1 showing, albiet one they didn’t completely deserve.

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.

Big Mac

I don’t give Curtis McElhinney much rope on a day-to-day basis. His career gives little to no suggestion that he can be a sustainably great NHL goaltender, his start to the year has been poor, and the Leafs have two great goalies sitting in the AHL right now who could probably do a better job over the course of a full season.

That didn’t matter last night. McElhinney was excellent, and probably the team’s best player. He didn’t make saves that were necessarily worthy of a highlight reel, but he was consistently in the right place at the right time and appeared to have a cool mind during stretches where the Leafs appeared to be faltering. The end result was a 38 save performance that was a nice deflection by Frank Vatrano away from being a shutout.

Shut Down

Despite this being a team that has Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner, I still find myself calling Nazem Kadri the team’s second best player and his line the “first” trio on the lineup sheet. They face the toughest competition and still find a way to produce on a game-by-game basis.

Last night was not a great night for Kadri, Nylander, and Leo Komarov They were matched against Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Not only did they get into skirmishes like the one above, but they also got shelled on the shot clock; about 75% of the shot attempts taken with them on the ice came from Boston’s trio and defensive pair (typically Torey Krug and Kevan Miller).

That’s not a sign that the line isn’t good enough. Bad nights happen, they didn’t let in any goals, and even still, that isn’t a line I expect them to come out ahead against on most occasions. While the bottom nine look like a Random Name Generator lineup right now, that Boston first line might be the best in hockey in terms of 200-foot ability.

Tear Down This Wall

Heading into tonight, most had cooled on their Mitch Marner skepticism. After all, he had four assists in as many prior games, his lines were starting to control play again, and he scored a beautiful shootout winner against Las Vegas on Monday. But he was still racing towards the month-and-a-half mark without a goal, having not buried a puck since the season opener in Winnipeg.

That monkey is off his back now. I’d love to see him take more shots that look like last night’s icebreaker; while his passing ability is his strongest asset, he has a sneaky wrist shot and he managed to get a ton of weight into that one as it found it’s way past Tuukka Rask’s glove-side shoulder.

Just Like We Drew It Up

For the second consecutive night, James van Riemsdyk scored a goal that looked inconsequential in its finish, but was made possible by a little thing he did to initiate the process. On Friday, it was winning an icing race. Last night, it was a cheeky recovery after the draw. Tim Schaller defeats Tyler Bozak at the faceoff circle, but upon noticing that the movement of the puck was closer to a 50/50 than it was at the dot, Van Riemsdyk pokes out of Zdeno Chara’s legs, curls it back to Morgan Rielly, and heads to his office in front of the net. The result? An easy tip-in.

Self Protection

Last night was a physical game, and a lot of Toronto’s top players felt it. Nazem Kadri got double teamed by Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Frank Vatrano sent Nikita Zaitsev into another time zone. Torey Krug rocked William Nylander.

Of course, that means that Matt Martin fought. That’s what he’s here to do, right? Protect his teammates, especially the less experienced ones.

Not so much the case last night. The origins of his scrap came from him doing the very thing he supposedly prevents. Martin hit Anders Bjork in open ice, locking in from distance and nearly causing both himself and Bjork much grief when the Bruins rookie ducked and Martin made contact with his head. Both were shakeup up after impact, so much so that when Zdeno Chara went to Bjork’s defence and saw Martin was in no shape to fight, he moved on.

Martin eventually fought Matt Beleskey a few shifts later, and even that was a bit further sparked by their own battle.

This isn’t a “Martin is bad!!!!” point by any means. But at the same time, we need to start talking about him as a checking winger and not as a social construct. He isn’t coming to the defence of his teammates (unless that teammate is Mitch Marner), and the bulk of his fights are of his own origin. Tell me you like scraps, tell me you like what he brings as a player, stop telling me he’s deterring anything. Last night was a blatant example of how he’s not.

Fighting Back

Dominic Moore nearly put the Leafs in some trouble here when he took a two-minute hooking minor in the third period. Yes, Patrice Bergeron absolutely trips him up first. But Moore’s tumble guarantees the locked eyes of the ref, putting him much more at risk of being caught.

Not that this comes as any surprise. Retaliating is a trait that Moore has shown in his penalty-taking habits. Slashing, roughing, cross-checking, and similar aggression-like penalties are all commonplace in his repertoire, and while this technically wasn’t one of those, it comes from the same type of habit.

Coming Up Next

So that was a rough game at times, but the important thing is that Toronto comes out ahead and move to 12-7-0 on the season, with a four-game winning streak in tow. They’ll now get several days off, coming back to the ice on Thursday to take on the New Jersey Devils.

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