The Toronto Maple Leafs Give Us Just a Little Tease

Mar 6, 2020; Anaheim, California, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing William Nylander (88) celebrates with defenseman Tyson Barrie (94) after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks in the third period at Honda Center. The Ducks won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 6, 2020; Anaheim, California, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing William Nylander (88) celebrates with defenseman Tyson Barrie (94) after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks in the third period at Honda Center. The Ducks won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 in a thrilling season opener on Wednesday night.

The Toronto Maple Leafs had a spirited effort against Montreal to kick off the 2021 season.  The game was inconsistent: the Leafs looked at times both glorious and horrible, and the PK was brutal.

But the Leafs won! Sure, it was a 50/50  OT coinflip, but a win is a win.  Also, these are the games you have to win if you want to be considered an elite team – i.e games where you aren’t your best, and don’t get a strong result from every facet of your lineup.

In their first game in six months, the Leafs got terrible goaltending, nothing from their fourth line or bottom pairing, and an atrocious effort from the PK, but they still won.  And they definitely showed enough to make me excited, though, truth be told, with it being the first game in what seemed like years, I was happy just to see them show up.

 Toronto Maple Leafs Beat the Habs

If I’m the Canadiens, and I want to make the playoffs in what is sure to be a tight race, I definitely want to beat the Leafs in games where Freddie Andersen is off and Auston Matthews doesn’t score, because otherwise I think the Leafs are going to be nearly unbeatable.

The Auston Matthews line were all over 60%+ puck possession individually, and even better together.  The line of Thornton-Matthews-Marner played for 11:55 at 5v5 and posted a possession rating of 73% , which well above the threshold for an exceptional game.   They absolutely crushed the competition, taking 16 shot attempts and allowing just six.

They had a 73% expected goals rating and 80% of the scoring chances. That is pure domination on a level you just don’t ever see in the NHL.  That they didn’t score is a small mercy to Montreal and the only reason this game was even close (other than Andersen).

Nylander scored two goals, was the best player in the game (at least by tangible results) and there’s nothing really to say because he is universally beloved, and everyone knows he  is awesome.  If the Leafs 4th best players is Nylander, and the Leafs aren’t the best team in hockey, please tell me who has a better fourth best player? No one does.  (All stats naturalstattrick.com).

Also worth mentioning: Rielly had a fantastic start to the year with a Corsi over 60%, the OT winner and at least one magnificent defensive play. Together with the second-best partner he’s ever had in the NHL, T.J Brodie, the Leafs first pairing posted a 62% possession rating and a 56% expected goals rating.

Justin Holl was great, Muzzin struggled, and Zach Bogosian was Roman Polak-esque, with apologies to Roman Polak.  Wayne Simmonds got in a fight, but he and Spezza are way too slow to be paired together; they didn’t do much.  An effective fourth line would be Barabanov-Engvall-Boyd (if you want my two cents, which I assume that you do).

The Leafs played a good game and were the better 5v5 team, but their PK was bad, and the goaltending stunk. Still, they got a positive result and are on pace to win 56 games.  Good times were had by all.  The Leafs gave us just a little hint of what they can do when everything comes together, which I think it will. Maybe it won’t, but I’m an optimistic person; my favorite movie is the Goonies.

Next. Justin Holl Hype Piece. dark

This is going to be the best team in the NHL for the foreseeable future, and that’s without even mentioning that the Leafs left an incredible amount of talent on the bench tonight.