By Stan Smith
After losing their first game of the season, 4-3 to the Canadiens in Montreal the Toronto Maple Leafs squeaked out a 3-2 victory over the visiting Washinton Capitals in their home opener.
The first good thing, and maybe the most important one, was that they won. As simple and obvious as that sounds if they would have lost their first two games of the season I could just imagine what social media and the press would have looked like. The negativity this team seems to attract would have been magnified greatly.
After the way the Montreal game ended, the Maple Leafs needed to come out in this game with determination and a degree of desperation. They did that, racking up 21 shots on the net and carrying the play for the majority of the first period.
#1: Special Teams
The penalty kill continued its excellent play going five for five. They have now killed nine consecutive penalties to start the season. Not only were they successful at killing the penalties, but also one stat that stands out on Naturalstattrick.com is that, while the Maple Leafs gave up just three shots on the five kills, they had three shots of their own on the penalty kill.
Even more impressive was they did not give the Capitals a single High Danger Scoring Chance, and had three High Danger chances themselves, two by Mitch Marner and one by Calle Jarnkrok.
The power play came through in this game, scoring the first goal of the game, and going one for three. It also created seven High Danger Scoring Chances. Goaltender Charlie Lindgren made several outstanding saves preventing the Maple Leafs’ power play from doing more damage.
#2: Calle Jarnkrok
Speaking of Calle Jarnkrok, he became the first bottom-six player to score a goal for the Maple Leafs this season when he deflected an Alex Kerfoot pass into the net tying the game up 2-2 early in the second period.
#3: Second-Line Dominance
The only player on the second line to come out of this game with a point was John Tavares. He scored the first goal of last night’s game on the power play in the first period. Neither William Nylander nor Denis Malgin figured in on the scoring in the game. That said, at five on five, they were dominant. The line posted an average Shot Attempts For of 62% and an average Shots For of 71.7%. They also had a combined Expected Goals of 71.6% as well as 69.1% of the Scoring Chances.
For a team that many fans claim is soft and non-physical, the Maple Leafs matched the Capitals, a team that is known for being a big rough team, hit for hit. According to the stats keepers for the NHL, the Maple Leafs outhit the capitals 37-33.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel led the hit parade with six hits, followed by Auston Matthews and Rasmus Sandin with five hits each. Thirteen skaters on the Maple Leafs were credited with at least one hit in the game.
#5: Holl and Muzzin Bounce Back
After having a terrible game and being the worst pairing for the Maple Leafs in Montreal, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl had a nice bounce-back game against the Capitals. Holl had two shots on the net, two hits, four blocked shots (two on Alex Ovechkin on the penalty kill, which had to hurt), and two takeaways in the game.
Muzzin had three shots on the net and three hits. According to Naturalstattrick.com at five-on-five when the Holl/Muzzin pair was on the ice, they had 88.1% of the shots and 73.5% of the Expected Goals.
Despite carrying the play for the majority of the first period the Maple Leafs gave up two goals in just under four minutes midway through the first period. On the first goal, Morgan Rielly let Nic Dowd get away from him in the front of the net while attempting to stop a cross-crease pass from Erik Gustafsson getting to the open Dowd. Maple Leafs Goalie Ilya Samsonov got a piece of the shot by Dowd but not enough of it to stop it.
On the second goal, a shot from Marcus Johansson from an area that should have been an easy save for Samsonov went in under Samsonov’s arm. This goal was a bad one for Samsonov and could easily have fit in the “ugly” category. It could have changed the complexion of the whole game.
However, Samsonov settled down and pitched a shutout the rest of the way, stopping all 17 shots the Capitals sent his way from that point in the game. Those shots included seven High Danger Scoring Chances.
I don’t really have an “ugly” in this game. As I previously stated, I could have put the Capitals’ second goal here and would have if it had changed the game’s complexity, but it didn’t. The Maple Leafs did a good job of battling through it.
I was going to write about the refereeing here as I had issues with some of the calls and non-calls in this game. But, I changed my mind. I realize they have a tough job and have to make split-second decisions without the benefit of multiple-angle slow-motion replays that we have as viewers.
For the most part, they do get it right. It can be extremely frustrating when they don’t.
The Leafs play the second game of a four-game homestand on Saturday night when they take on the Ottawa Senators. Of course, I expect the Senators to play their butts off and make life miserable for the Maple Leafs. Hopefully, the Maple Leafs can work through it and come out on top.
There was one notable comment made by head coach Sheldon Keefe after the Capitals game. I read before the game in Montreal that Samsonov was scheduled to play against the Capitals and that Matt Murray was to get the start against Ottawa.
When asked who was starting in the postgame scrum, Keefe stated he still had to make that decision. While I still expect to see Murray between the pipes in that game, it did appear that Keefe is considering coming right back with Samsonov.
That could be interesting.