The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won with a drastically different than usual lineup on Friday night, but as most of us are willing to admit, the team was shelled and probably didn’t deserve the result. Nonetheless, it was still a project I would’ve liked to see more of, but tonight’s lineup was super familiar once again; essentially Mike Babcock’s safe-pick group of 18, right down to the makeup of the lines and pairs.

Not that this wasn’t the most sensible night to do so, though. On a second night of a back-to-back, with the ability to make the last change, getting in some fresh players and sheltering and plotting the groups you know makes plenty of sense. To their credit, the group appeared to outwork the Washington Capitals, too, though a motivated Alex Ovechkin proved to be too much to handle as the Leafs fell 4-2.

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.

Iffy Mac

You’re likely going to hear a lot of conflicting about Curtis McElhinney’s performance tonight. The veteran backup stopped 18-of-21 shots, which isn’t great, but is just a save away from being a wash. Some will point out that when your goals against come from the greatest goal scorer of our generation (if not ever) and from a breakaway, it’s hard to put too much blame on the goaltender.

On the other hand, even with a drag and a screen, I don’t think he played that first Ovechkin goal well. The second is a bit of a mad scramble, but it was still an unobstructed long shot that the Capitals superstar didn’t get much on. I’m not saying either are for sure stoppable, but I’m not sure if I’m giving him total leeway either.

Does another goalie win them the game, though? Can’t say that it’s a slam dunk, so I’m not going to go all-in with a bus throw.

Reputation Building

This is such a little thing, but I do appreciate Mitch Marner being as chill as he could be with the officials tonight. Toronto had some unlucky bounces created by the men in stripes getting in the way, so it would’ve been easy to lose their cool, but Marner made a point to apologize on the blatant of all offenses. Those little things add up with referees in 50/50 situations, and with his penalty differential already much improved from last year, it’s good to stay away from cursing the game’s guardians out.

Blindsided

There was a handful of classic Jake Gardiner moments on both the good and bad spectrum tonight, but the one I’m most appreciative of is his goal. He takes good advantage of a screen and makes the most out of his under-used slapshot from the point to beat a near-completely unaware Braden Holtby, which began Toronto’s almost-comeback.

Wheels Up

Nikita Zaitsev is another one who gave some good and some bad tonight. I appreciated him trying to bring a more physical tone with Ovechkin once it became obvious that he had a hot stick, though a lost foot race certainly contributed to Vrana’s 3-0 tally.

This goal of his is an example of what I’d like to see more of from him. Not even the fact that he shot and scored (especially given the immensely lucky bounce he received), but the confidence to skate with the puck and look for a play is something he needs to channel as the year, and further years progress.

 

Everything but Net

I thought Auston Matthews had an excellent game tonight. Not that such an occasion is surprising, but there were plenty of opportunities where he could have changed the tied for the team. The above attempt at a circus goal aside, Matthews snapped a two-game pointless skid with the primary assist on Gardiner’s goal, took a team-leading five shots on net, was 78% at the faceoff circle, and had a really nice takeaway, all while leading the team in icetime. Not every night will be super productive for him, but this was pretty good for one that wasn’t.

Alex The Great

He may be the opponent, but Alex Ovechkin is still one of my favourite players, and it’s hard to not talk about the big story tonight. The Washington Captain had previously invited young cancer survivor Alex Luey to meet up with him the next time the Caps were in Toronto, and he followed through in a big way. Not only did he meet up with Luey, he and the Caps had him announce the starting lineup in the dressing room, had him on the bench for warmups, and had him alongside during his post-game interview on Hockey Night in Canada.

Oh, and he scored a Hat Trick. Talk about delivering; that’s one of those stories that is so much bigger than the game that it makes even a tough loss feel worth it.

Coming Up Next

The Leafs get a couple of days off, but will be back in action before you know it. Their western Canadian road trip is about to be underway, beginning with a game in Calgary against the Flames on Tuesday night. Puck drop for that one is at 9:00 PM.

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