Toronto Maple Leafs Beat Canucks, Nick Robertson on Fire

Apr 20, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers (57) moves to defend Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (88) in the third period at Rogers Arena. Canucks won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 20, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers (57) moves to defend Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (88) in the third period at Rogers Arena. Canucks won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Maple Leafs had no shortage of concerns as they entered their contest against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

The Canucks, not the Toronto Maple Leafs or Edmonton Oilers, have been the best Canadian team in the National Hockey League so far this season.

Defensive woes, highlighted by a franchise-worse eight-game home streak of allowing four or more goals, a bottom half of the lineup that consistently loses, mental lapses at inopportune times, suspect penalty killing and goaltending were among the issues.

Considering the length of that list, it’s a small wonder that the Leafs are not buried in the standings, like their preseason, Stanley Cup contending favorite, Edmonton Oilers.

This is because no matter how bad the rest of the lineup, the Leafs stars are capable of winning a lot games on their own.

If nothing else, the Leafs match against the Canucks provided an early season measuring stick to see if progress is being made. The 5-2 victory provided another snapshot of where the Leafs stand before heading overseas to Sweden as part of the 2023 NHL Global Series.

Toronto Maple Leafs: How Swede It Is!

Fourth-line free agent acquisition Ryan Reaves was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. He has been the worst player in the NHL, and has become the poster boy for the early-season deficiencies of the Leafs bottom group of forwards.

Callup Bobby McMann was inserted into the lineup in his place. While not seeing a lot of ice, the Leafs did not have to hold their breath when the fourth line hopped over the boards – in fact, for the first time this season, the Leafs fourth line was a net positive.

Noah Gregor scored an important goal to give the Leafs a late, second-period lead, while McMann contributed an assist on the play (and finished with two). It was an unexpected, welcome contribution from someone deep down the depth chart.

Another pleasant surprise for the Leafs was the way they finished the second period. They managed to navigate the last five-plus minutes and maintain their lead heading into the third period.

During their recent skid, losing five out of their past six games, the Leafs have frequently had mental lapses, especially after scoring a goal. They have allowed the opposition to score within minutes after scoring themselves.

The lapses are a work in progress, however, as evidenced by the too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty in the second period. During the Sheldon Keefe era, the Leafs must lead the league in this dubious category.

It shouldn’t be that hard to know what player you are taking when a teammate comes off the ice. It must be cleaned up.

Another refreshing element during recent games has been the secondary scoring. It’s not a coincidence that since the callup of Nick Robertson, the Leafs are getting some help from their third line.

The coinciding move of Max Domi to centre has sparked this unit. Domi, Robertson, and linemate Calle Jarnkrok have scored in every game since they were put together. Robertson has a four game  point streak.

Against the Canucks, David Kampf scored his first of the season. Add it to the Gregor goal and the fourth line helped lead the team to victory rather than deter its efforts.

The defeat of the Canucks was the Leafs first game of the year that Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares did not account for at least half of their goals.

Lost in the victory was the quiet steadiness of maligned netminder Ilya Samsonov.

While not tested often, he looked much more quiet and confident in the net compared to his last appearance against the Lightning. He helped the Leafs end their awful run of home games by allowing four goals or more.

Lastly, and perhaps most interesting, the Toronto Maple Leafs displayed some fight against the Canucks. The irony around this is twofold.

They did it without the player who was brought here to deal with such matters designated as a healthy scratch. On top of that, their feistiness led to two instigator penalties, which helped the Canucks score two power-play goals to give them an early 2-1 lead in the game.

First, 40-year-old Mark Giordano, then Domi responded to questionable hits on Kampf and Robertson by dropping the gloves.

The Leafs were rightfully criticized for their lack of this type of response during a recent divisional game against the Boston Bruins.

While the Canucks power play goals had a short-term negative effect on the Leafs, the showing of a pulse and sticking up for a teammate had to bring smiles to many of the team’s fans.

The result was the Toronto Maple Leafs most complete game of the season. All of this without  their stars hitting the scoreboard.

This game wasn’t all positives: The Canucks were crushing them after the first period, the Leafs continue to bleed scoring chances against, and the blue-line remains awful.

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However, the Leafs now have many more positives to take with them on the flight to the home of franchise legends Borje Salming and Mats Sundin.