The ‘ideal hockey display’ leads to the best game to date

A week ago things were pretty pessimistic in Leafs Land.

It must have been a day that ended with a “y”.

There were potholes in the road for the first three weeks. And after a three-game losing streak in which the Maple Leafs lost games to a tired San Jose Sharks team, they were humiliated by a Pittsburgh Penguins team without any of their stars in the lineup and then outmatched in a loss. ” revealing “to their former goalkeeper and the Carolina Hurricanes, the Maple Leafs were surrounded by well-deserved doubts from the outside.

Some of the same old problems were present. A shoddy defensive game, top players failing to get ahead on offense, and a power play that was inconceivably inefficient.

“I think that noise and panic outside can’t shake us, because there’s no reason for it. It’s still early and we’re still trying to understand our game,” Auston Matthews said last Tuesday.

The Leafs ended that losing streak with back-to-back wins, but even those came with qualifications.

They beat the Blackhawks. Yeah, but Chicago didn’t have Patrick Kane. They beat the Red Wings. Yes, but Detroit didn’t have Tyler Bertuzzi. They won two games in a row! Yes, but the Hawks and Wings should be soft touches for a contender anyway.

This week was gearing up to be a dipstick test stretch for the Leafs, on par with that Carolina game, with Vegas, Tampa and Boston rolling through Scotiabank Arena.

Vegas came in with a slew of injured stars as well, and William Karlsson was the latest addition to that list with a broken foot. The Maple Leafs dominated a 4-0 decision for their third to win in a row Tuesday night, against a Las Vegas lineup that included a recent exemption claim and former Leafs healthy scratch Michael Amadio.

While it might be tempting to look at Tuesday’s Las Vegas lineup and star this win as well, there were some significant positives to draw from the win: the Maple Leafs’ all-round best effort in their first 10 games.

“From the beginning we took control of the game and I thought we kept it all the time,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe after his team’s cleanest performance of the season.

“We were good on special teams. Good goalkeeper. So, without a doubt, it is more indicative of what we think we are capable of. It is a team with few players playing there, but as we all know, we have played against teams with few players. before and it hasn’t been like that here today. I thought we had done what we had to do here tonight. “


Last week’s victory over Chicago came after the Leafs posted a two-goal deficit in the first period and met in the locker room with passionate interim speeches. In Saturday’s win against Detroit, the Leafs couldn’t get away from three separate two-goal leads and won a narrow 5-4 decision.

But Toronto didn’t let go of the pedal against Vegas’s sold-out roster. They took an early lead on Mitch Marner’s spectacular silky goal, outscoring the Golden Knights 20 at 5 on 5 and leaving Jack Campbell with a relatively simple cleanup job for his first shutout of the season, deflecting 26 shots.

“I think it’s really complete from start to finish,” Auston Matthews said. “Very good energy. I don’t think we gave them too many chances in our network. Obviously, ‘Soup’ played amazing. I think all four lines kept rolling all night. I think it’s an ideal hockey display that I would like to play.”

Over two stints, the Maple Leafs held an 11-3 lead in 5v5 high-hazard slot area opportunities, which Vegas managed to regain only slightly in a desperate third period. Toronto possessed the key areas and opportunities from start to finish.

The Nylander-Matthews-Bunting line, which Sheldon Keefe said hadn’t played to its potential even earlier in the day, outscored the competition 10-6 at 5 on 5 and scored its first goal as a unit. The Kerfoot-Tavares-Marner second row continued its two-way dominance, beating the Knights 9-2 and out-courting the Knights 10-0.

“I love his start and the way we played for the full 60 minutes,” said Jack Campbell. “It always gives you a lot of confidence when we start that way. We got on the scoreboard early, a great play from Mitchy and the team took off from there, it was great.”


The power play has been an unlikely sore spot for a star-studded unit that dates back to last season and entered Tuesday’s contest ranked in the bottom third of the league in 2021-22.

The Leafs were only given a one-man lead against the Golden Knights on a decidedly quiet night, but it came early in the second period when they only had a 1-0 lead. Miss that opportunity and maybe Vegas will find a way to hang out; score on him and the flow of momentum continues to favor the Leafs.

Matthews, with an open shot off a tricky pass from Nylander, scored the kind of goal we’ve seen him so often. The capture and release of a scorer.

The penalty was equally impressive, with a perfect 3 for 3 against Las Vegas’ own power play unit. The Leafs, in fact, had more chances to score (5) on their only power play than Vegas (3) on their three-man lead opportunities. Heck, the Leafs penalty death generated as many chances as the Las Vegas power play.

“I thought the power play on the one chance we had really got it right and really hunted records and recovered records and kept creating opportunities,” said Matthews.

Toronto’s power play is now two in its last three chances after going 0 in its previous 17 for two weeks.


The main narrative that follows this year’s Leafs is how they have doubled, even tripled, from the “Core 4” forwards after failures in the previous playoffs. We can talk about how the new third line has been a positive shooting driver, how Alex Kerfoot obviously fits better on the wing, or how well Campbell has played in the area, but the Leafs will only go as far as the greats. will take them.

Part of the reason for the team’s uneven start was that their big tickets weren’t paying off yet.

Matthews scored a goal in his first six games. Marner had a point in his first seven games and he wasn’t playing like himself, perhaps forcing the subject a bit on the offensive. William Nylander entered Tuesday’s game with two points over his previous six games.

They all faced the vulnerable Golden Knights.

Marner’s goal will be in its highlights on Wednesday, but don’t forget the two assists he also added to this stat line for his first multi-point game of the year. Marner also led the charge on penalty and nearly snapped a couple of high-quality chances to defeat a man. That’s now three solid performances in a row after a first few weeks of holding the stick too hard.

“He just looks like himself,” Keefe said. “That’s the Mitch we know and love, of course. He’s playing confidently, it seems like he’s free. When he’s free and the game is flowing for him, he makes great things happen on both sides of the record.”

Matthews scored the aforementioned power play score to give the Leafs a two-goal lead and added a second goal in the final minute of the second period to keep the Golden Knights on the mat. He led the Leafs with six shots. Nylander made five shots himself, scored the Leafs’ final goal after being thrown by a Bunting pass, and also added an assist.

“I thought it was evident early in the game for Matthews, Nylander and Bunting, that line, I thought they had a little extra jump in their stride early on,” Keefe noted. “The Tavares line continued its momentum, they scored a great goal for us again here tonight to get us moving.”

The spreadsheets (and, you know, common sense) indicated that this was unavoidable. Here is the danger of drawing radical new conclusions too soon.

Of course, this group of leaders will face much more defining moments than on a Tuesday night in November. But this was a start.

The Leafs face another tough test Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will be without their main star Nikita Kucherov and tied with the Leafs at 11 points in the Atlantic Division. The result against the Vegas lineup is not especially significant in a vacuum, but the conclusions are positive and timely. However, what happens next may be the best measure of impact.

One strong and complete effort must lead to another to mean something in the long run.

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