By Stan Smith
This was the type of game Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans have come to expect. Morgan Rielly gets into a fight. Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford play an essential role in the winning goal. All things we have become used to. Well, okay, maybe not.
I have been thinking the Leafs have been needing a 4-0 or 5-1 type of game where they could coast to a win. They’ve pretty much played the entirety of their first five games either tied, up by a goal or down by a goal. While the 4-1 score was what I had in mind, this game was in no way an easy one. It was a tough, hard-fought battle from the opening faceoff to the closing siren.
Related: CAN MAPLE LEAFS’ GOALIE SAMSONOV PLAY WELL OVER THE LONG HAUL?
I don’t have room to report every good thing I saw in this game, so I will limit myself to some of the best aspects of it.
Ilya Samsonov was outstanding tonight and could have easily been the first star of the game. He was steady in the net throughout the entire game and made some huge timely saves when he had to. Was he perfect? No. He had some hiccups that we will discuss later. Overall though, he has been exactly what the doctor ordered, especially with Murray going down.
He raised his record to 4-0 with a .938% save percentage and a 1.73 goals-against-average.
Two goals, and two goalposts for Johnny Toronto. He now leads the Maple Leafs with seven points in six games and is tied for the team lead in goals with three. He’s also running at 58 percent in the faceoff circle. With Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner off to slow starts production-wise, Tavares and William Nylander have been carrying the load.
Last season Matthews started the season slowly, missing the first three games due to wrist surgery and only scoring one goal in his first six games when he did play. This season it was expected, with him coming into it healthy, he would have a faster start to the season. That hasn’t happened.
Once again, Matthews has but one goal in his first six games. However, his playmaking skills were at the forefront against Winnipeg. Matthews assisted on three of the four Maple Leafs’ goals in the game.
Matthews is way ahead of his points pace from last season. He had two points in his first six games in 2021-22. After the Jets game, he has six points in six games.
The Fourth Line
Sheldon Keefe switched things up in this game, sitting Pierre Engvall and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and dressing Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford. Clifford, Simmonds, and David Kampf combined for the game-winning goal. It was the only goal and points the fourth line has produced this season.
This next part has to be taken with a grain of salt as the usage of the fourth line was completely different, but the overall analytics for the line were all positive. Simmonds (82 percent) and Clifford (80 percent) were the top two Maple Leafs for Expected Goals at five-on-five. They were also both 100 percent for High-Danger Scoring Chances (Clifford 3-0, Simmonds 2-0). That grain of salt I mentioned was that neither Clifford nor Simmonds had a single defensive zone start in the game.
I need to mention Victor Mete in the “Good.” He’s done an admirable job taking over Jake Muzzin’s roster spot. Mete’s ice time was 15:12 in this game and he played solid third-pairing minutes. He wasn’t that noticeable in either a positive or negative way, which for a defenseman is not a bad thing.
Mete also played a part in Kampf’s winning goal. He jumped into the play and appeared to be the intended target for Simmonds’ pass in front of the Jets’ net. He took the attention away from the Winnipeg defensemen allowing Kampf to remain uncovered.
I hate to talk about refereeing but still seem to spend an inordinate amount of time doing so. It just seems so inconsistent. There were only six penalties called in this game, three for each side. However, there appeared to be several missed calls, some of which played an important part in the outcome.
In the previous two games the calls, or missed calls, did not favour the Maple Leafs. In this game, they did.
After calling two interference calls at the bluelines in the first period, a non-call on Simmonds at the Winnipeg line led to the winning goal. A non-call on Ramus Sandin for boarding Cole Perfetti led to the Maple Leafs’ power play that scored the insurance goal when the Jets got the extra two minutes in the ensuing scrum.
I stated in an earlier post that I hoped the calls would eventually even themselves out. It appears they did somewhat in this game.
When I stated that the improved stat line for the fourth line had to be taken with a grain of salt due to their usage, I repeat that same sentiment here. Because the fourth line got almost exclusively offensive starts, someone had to carry the defensive load. That fell upon the third line of Alex Kerfoot, Calle Jarnkrok, and Zach Aston-Reese.
Because of those heavy defensive zone starts, the stat line for the third line was not exceptionally pretty in this game. Kerfoot’s five-on-five Expected Goals Percentage was 11.5 percent and Jarnkrok’s was 17.2 percent. Aston-Reese was better at 39 percent, but that was mainly because once the Maple Leafs had the lead and Keefe replaced him with Kampf for a number of the defensive zone starts.
As for High-Danger Scoring Chances, the third line was on-ice for a combined zero chances for and nine against.
There was a couple of time that Samsonov made an adventure out of playing the puck out of the net. I was hoping to get a screenshot of one play that shows four Maple Leafs digging for the puck behind their own net, Samsonov being one of them. However, the play was not covered in the game highlights. Luckily for the Maple Leafs and Samsonov, the play did not result in a Winnipeg goal.
The Maple Leafs travel to Las Vegas to take on the Golden Knights Monday night. The game has a 10:00 pm start time. With Samsonov starting two games in three nights against Dallas and Winnipeg, it will be interesting to see if Kallgren gets the start in Vegas.
The team does only play one game in four days following the Vegas game; but, it then has back-to-back games on the weekend.