Toronto Maple Leafs: Week 7 News and Notes, Stats and Quotes

William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Toronto Maple Leafs
Sep 18, 2018; Lucan, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas  . Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

News and Notes

The “MEH” line.  Mikheyev/Engvall/Hyman.  James Mirtle of the Athletic mentioned this on The Leaf Report podcast and I thought it was worth repeating because it was great.  It’s the perfect description of what that line is.  He basically said that other coaches look at the line-up and when they see this line, they say “meh, I don’t need to worry about them”, and they focus on the Leafs top 6.  Then, the MEH line goes out and drives the other team bonkers.

All three are big.  All three can skate.  And now that Engvall is using his size and being more aggressive, all three are absolute dogs on a bone in terms of puck pursuit.  These guys fore-check like the puck was stolen from them, they track back defensively like their jobs depend on it, and they commit to defending whenever they’re in the defensive zone (which isn’t that often).  It’s just a bunch of “not fun” for the other team.

They have one main weakness: they don’t score much, but they drive the opposition crazy and build momentum for their team.  In both shutout wins against the Oilers, they were doing these things every single shift.

Speaking of the MEH line, the Leafs aren’t as much fun to play against as they used to be.  Alex Chiasson got suspended for a game because he cross-checked Vesey in the face after the game was over on Monday.  Yeah.  The Leafs made somebody mad.  Really mad.  Things got pretty chippy in the 3rd.  Dermott and Archibald had a wrestling match that was accompanied by a LOT of verbal sparring, and Bogosian almost fought Nurse, all this basically because the Leafs really frustrated the Oilers for 6 periods.

Add in the Muzzin puck flip from earlier in the season and the addition of Simmonds in general, and the Leafs finally have a team that pushes back.  Teams are finally starting to not like us for the right reasons, and as a fan, that’s something I can be proud of.

Another interesting note on Engvall, the experiment to put an in-experienced Engvall at center began under Keefe when he was the coach of the Marlies.  That Marlies team, with Engvall at center, went on the win the Calder Cup.  Keefe mentioned in a post game on 2-29 that he has been challenging Engvall this year to become a more complete player, and the time on the taxi squad was to make him earn a spot when the time was right.

Engvall looked really good on both Saturday and Monday, at center, only this time it was in the NHL.  Keefe believes in this player and they seem to have a great relationship.

For all the praise Barabanov was beginning to get from some fans and media, he missed a shift on Monday after taking a bad penalty.  Mikheyev took his spot in the top 6.  He was then scratched for Wednesday’s game against the Oilers.  A grim reminder from Keefe to stay focused because his job is not guaranteed, and the temporary promotion into the top 6 must be earned daily.

Is this the most talented core the Toronto Maple Leafs have ever drafted?  Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Rielly are all home-grown 1st round picks.  That is a lot of firepower and that core is putting together a lot of wins, including the 17-4-2 start to this season.  The easy answer is yes…but…only if they achieve some playoff success.  It certainly looks like this could be the year they get over that hump.

Nylander has scored 5 goals in his last 5 games.  The contradiction that is “Willy Styles” (nickname courtesy of Thornton) is still in full swing however, because in spite of his scoring touch, Keefe only used Nylander in 13-14 minutes a game against the high powered Oilers.  Even when Willy is scoring, the coaching staff still shelters him in key moments throughout the game.

Nylander is a talented offensive player and a valuable addition to the Leafs, but I feel as though I must point out that all the positive analytics that are used to support this player being a “superstar” are basically flawed due to the fact that his usage is extremely sheltered.

You cannot just blindly trust the data if the context in which that data exists is a controlled environment.  Keefe only uses Nylander when he can be successful.  Credit Nylander for executing this, but pull the rains back a bit, he’s absolutely nothing like Matthews or Marner.