The Toronto Maple Leafs won the first game of the Mark Giordano era.
The main acquisition for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline this year was former Norris winner (and current 38-year-old) Mark Giordano, a nice, albeit not too flashy, piece that at least allowed the Leafs to keep their prospect and 1st-round pick capital.
Some wanted a more desirable name on the blueline (Chariot for a 1st, 4th and prospect? I’d rather build a chariot), some thought the net needed attention (goaltending is shakier than the Babcock-Commodore relationship) while others thought that hideous yellow jersey with the weird makeshift face in the middle of the leaf was actually attractive.
To each their own I guess.
Toronto Maple Leafs 3 New Jersey Devils 2
Whatever the case, against the Devils last night at Scotiabank, the first two areas of contention, for one day anyway, were put to rest.
The Toronto Maple Leafs prevailed 3-2 buoyed by excellent penalty killing, which featured beautiful short-handed goals by both Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall, and a solid, if not unspectacular, performance by Petr Mrazek.
New Leaf Mark Giordano, skating with Timothy Liljegren, provided the Leafs with another solid pairing that can slot in anywhere on the depth chart. Together the pair had an xGF% around 77% and an SCF% over 70 (all stats from natural stat trick) and helped the Toronto Maple Leafs play a strong defensive game overall. Toronto limited the Devils to 22 shots and kept the high-danger chances to a minimum
The game did have its uncertainties; however. After a dominant 1st period performance by Toronto, New Jersey stormed back in the 2nd and took the lead with a power-play goal that was fully directed into the Leafs net by a sprawling Ilya Lyubushkin and, shortly after Mikheyev single-handedly tied the game on the penalty kill later in the period, a momentary lapse in front of the net allowed NJ to regain the lead.
A Mitch Marner one-timer a minute later again tied it for Toronto, who were able to hold on in the 3rd with solid defensive positioning, lane blocking, and great backchecking from the forward core (a couple of plays by Auston Matthews and William Nylander stand out in particular).
The Defense and Goaltending Stand Tall
Say what you will about Kyle Dubas and what he should or shouldn’t have done at the trade deadline, but he clearly had a plan this deadline and that was to avoid paying exorbitant prices for pieces that may either bust or barely move the needle (oh, hey Nick Foligno!).
The plan is, clearly, to stick with and put confidence in the goalies (who have proven themselves in the past) already on the roster and to improve the blueline while still retaining the team’s strongest assets. By adding Giordano to the likes of Liljegren, Brodie, Rielly, Lyubushkin and Holl, the team suddenly has a pretty strong group on the back end. A healthy Muzzin and/or Sandin may even vault that group into a significant team strength. And if Mrazek can at least give the Leafs decent, solid goaltending like last night, then there is going to be some pretty interesting playoff hockey played this year.
Next up the Leafs face the Habs Saturday and then it’s Florida on Sunday, followed by a visit to the state of Florida in early April to take on both the Panthers and Lightning. That will be a strong test for both the goaltending and the defense, and a chance to see if this group of blueliners has what it takes to compete with the very best of the East.