Not all wins are built equally. Just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs last night; they almost had the game taken away by an unlikely hero, only to have it given back to them by the same player in perhaps the worst play of their career.

That description takes away from much of the rest of the game though, which included a breakout night from William Nylander, some wacky penalty trouble, and an all-time quote from Auston Matthews. Here’s what went down:

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.

Kid’s Sick

Auston Matthews skipped out on practice before last night’s game, with Mike Babcock later confirming that his superstar is merely battling a cold and didn’t want to over-work himself. That’s a very fair approach, and it seems to have worked in their favour: while his line wasn’t very strong at evens, Matthews did get this goal on his first shot of the game:

His response to Mark Masters about how he was feeling will never get old, though.

Fourth Line Finish

For all the (often merited) complaining and nitpicking we all tend to do with the fourth line, one thing can be said for absolute certain: It’s still a lot better than it was last year. No disrespect to Ben Smith (who is killing it with the Marlies) and Nikita Soshnikov (who could still be something), but there’s a definite uptick in talent that comes from having Dominic Moore (or, briefly Tyler Bozak), down the middle and whichever ringer gets buried on the right wing (Connor Brown, Mitch Marner, or William Nylander).

Last night was a good example of that at work. Yes, everybody’s favourite Swede deserves better linemates, and has gotten most of the points in his assignment while performing spot duty or playing on the powerplay, but Martin-Moore-Nylander is still a fourth line that can make a thing or two happen. They did just that last night, creating these two nice goals.

The Martin was particularly nice. You get a nice defensive play from Nylander, a quick pass from Moore, and Martin finding himself in the right spot, focused on the moment.

Billy’s Back

The end result for Nylander was a night where he was once again near the top of the fancy-stat charts, a night where he looked more engaged, and a few snapped streaks. Last night ended an eighteen-game run without multiple points or a regulation goal. In these last two games, Nylander’s put up an impressive four points in 22:18 of ice time.

Crunch Time

Once again, another one for the “nobody takes liberties with the stars or young players” book. Once again, I’m not using this to say that Matt Martin is bad at his job. This is just a reminder that these type of hits will happen no matter who you have dressed, and that we should be focused more on other elements of a player’s job description.

But I’m going to keep collecting these until “keeps the flies off” is out of the vernacular, nonetheless.

Matched Up, Man Down

I get that there are still adovcates of having Roman Polak on the Leafs roster. He’s a very likeable player, and I understand that there are elements to his game that people enjoy watching and, despite quantitative and intuitive visual evidence to the contrary, they believe those elements correlate with winning.

I don’t understand the justification of playing a #7 defenceman, that you know has major mobility issues, against a team that employs the best and fastest skating player on earth. I especially don’t understand it when that team has the last change. Polak didn’t get reamed on the stat sheet, but he did make the second period very difficult on the Leafs. At 8:49, Polak interfered with Connor McDavid and was sent to the penalty box, at 10:49 he was allowed to leave the box, and at 11:44, Polak tripped Connor McDavid and was sent to the penalty box.

When I wrote my penalty breakdown piece at the start of the year, I didn’t include Polak’s numbers. That’s because he wasn’t signed yet, but in case you’re curious about how his 2016/17 went, it wasn’t pretty:

Less Than Jake

Jake Gardiner had a night that looked good on the fancystat sheet for a while, looked good on the scoreboard in the end with two primary assists, but he did himself no favours on the game’s first two goals. As you can see above, a passive approach to moving the puck from behind the net didn’t help him at all on what became Mark Letestu’s tally, and on Zack Kassian’s 2-2 goal, both him and Nikita Zaitsev struggled immensely to find someone to cover. The result allows you to shake the moments off, but you’d like to see better from that pair.

That Happened

We’ve all watched this a hundred times already, and I feel bad for Kris Russell here, but it’s still a hilarious clip all the same. Hopefully it’s something that he can laugh off down the line, but what a way to seal off the game. Nazem “Premier of Alberta” Kadri deserves some credit for putting on the pressure needed to make the moment happen, along with adding an empty netter at the end of the game.

 

Coming Up Next

Lucky win or not, the Leafs will carry it into Vancouver this weekend. They’ll be taking Brock Boeser (you’re welcome) and the Canucks on Saturday night; puck drop is back at the usual 7:00 PM, even despite the time zone difference.

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