It is easy to stay positive about a team that has won seven of the past eight games, following a 2-1 OT win against Calgary, but is it at least fair to ask if maybe the Maple Leafs could get some scoring from further down the depth chart? Auston Matthews and William Nylander were the difference makers against Calgary.
Toronto’s core four forwards have scored 17 of the Maple Leafs’ past 19 goals and that is great to get that production from the players that are paid to produce. But that disparity can’t last to that degree forever, not on a successful team.
Before scoring the winning goal in overtime, Auston Matthews had a breakaway that was thwarted by Flames goaltender Daniel Vladar. “It cracked in the defensive zone, I felt so going all the way down the ice I had that in my head, and it wasn’t good. I’m just happy I got another opportunity and made it count.”
Sheldon Keefe had praise for William Nylander’s production but feels like he has more to give. “Will has produced at a really great clip, and that’s ultimately what we need from him,” said Keefe. “There’s other areas of his game that he can be better at.”
To the takeaways…
1. William Nylander is oozing confidence
And deservedly so. Nylander is consistently dangerous offensively. William Nylander controls the puck well and has both the hands and the confidence to make plays but the big difference for Nylander this season is that he is shooting the puck a lot more.
The encouraging part about William Nylander shooting the puck so much more is that it makes his goal production more sustainable. If he was scoring on 25% of his shots it would be easy to see that percentage regressing and the scoring fade. However, with Nylander generating four shots on goal per game, he is giving himself a chance to have the best goal-scoring season of his career. That’s a significant statement considering he scored 31 goals in 68 games during the 2019-2020 season.
“He controls the game,” said Keefe. “When he gets the puck and is moving his feet, he’s playing and he is in control, he is as good as anybody in the league. He is capable of doing that all the time, I believe.”
2. The power play was sloppy
The Maple Leafs had been clicking well on the power play recently, with power play goals in six straight games coming into Friday’s contest, but they were mostly harmless in this game. On three power plays, the Maple Leafs managed a total of five shots on goal, which is not terrible, but they were disjointed efforts, not entering the zone cleanly and not as dangerous as they have been recently.
Given their recent power play success, this is not the end of the world, but it contributed to Toronto’s goal-scoring struggles in this game.
3. It is a challenge for the Maple Leafs to get anything offensively beyond the Core Four
William Nylander and Auston Matthews scored for Toronto in this game and, along with John Tavares and Mitch Marner, that quartet has scored 17 of the past 19 Maple Leafs goals.
Jake Muzzin is the only Maple Leafs defenceman with a goal through 15 games. Forwards Nick Ritchie, David Kampf, Pierre Engvall, and Wayne Simmonds have combined for three goals on 94 shots. Even depth forwards are expected to score more than that.
Who falls in between the depth guys that are barely scoring and the stars that are doing most of the scoring? Jason Spezza, Michael Bunting, and Ondrej Kase each have three goals while Alexander Kerfoot has two.
The Maple Leafs are leaning into the Core Four at this point. Sheldon Keefe played John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner more than five minutes together during 5-on-5 play. Keefe would pick spots, after breaks in the action, where he could get his stars out there together. In those five minutes, the trio had six shot attempts for and one against.
4. Matthews does not even feel like he’s quite on just yet
Toronto’s star goal scorer missed the first three games of the season while he recovered from wrist surgery.
He is generating a lot of shots but not finishing at his customary rate. Now, he has six goals (and five assists) in 12 games, so that is a 41-goal pace in an 82-game season. However, Matthews has six goals on 53 shots on goal, which is a shooting percentage of 11.1%. That is not some terribly low shooting percentage, at least for others. But for Matthews, he is a 16.0% shooter for his career, so he is not quite where he expects to be, yet.
Against Calgary, Matthews had 13 shot attempts and eight shots on goal, including three one-timers that were turned away by Flames goaltender Daniel Vladar.
5. For a 2-1 game, the pace was excellent
This was a genuinely entertaining game, with lots of scoring chances at both ends. The goaltenders made some huge saves, and the back-and-forth nature of the game had the two teams combining for 68 shots on goal in 62:32 of game time.
Credit to Flames rookie Daniel Vladar, playing because this was the second game of a back-to-back. He stepped up and gave his team a chance to win, making 35 saves on 37 shots.
TOR 3.19 CGY 1.94
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