The Toronto Maple Leafs knew that, once Petr Mrazek was injured, they were going to have to get some starts from another goaltender. Joseph Woll made his NHL debut Saturday and emerged with a 5-4 win. It might have looked a little more promising at 4-2 with 10 minutes to go in the third period, but the bottom line result worked for Woll.
“It was such a special team win,” said Joseph Woll. “I look at how well they played in front of me, especially after (the Sabres) came back and made it 4-4. We controlled and dominated up until the end.”
“I can’t say enough good things about this team,” Joseph Woll continued. “It’s pretty cool to see how much they had my back out there.”
It is unseemly to complain about a team that has won eight of its past nine games. It is also fair to not be entirely thrilled with the way that the Toronto Maple Leafs have played during their recent climb in the standings.
Three of the wins have come in overtime, at Chicago then against Tampa Bay and Calgary. Wins against Philadelphia and Boston were strong all-around performances against good teams. The win against Vegas was a solid showing but the Golden Knights roster was decimated by injuries.
The recent game that seemed most similar to Saturday’s win against Buffalo was Toronto’s 5-4 win against Detroit two weeks ago. It was another case of the Maple Leafs not putting the game out of reach and allowing the underdog to hang around.
That is a lot like what happened with the Maple Leafs in Buffalo Saturday night.
“We wanted to give Kase a look up top,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “As a result, we had to move some other pieces around.”
“I also just tried to get more out of Nick Ritchie,” Keefe continued. “Wanted to give him more of an opportunity here tonight. Alex Kerfoot’s played terrific for us and did again tonight, no matter where we’ve played him, so that was nice to see.”
“I thought that line of Kampf, Engvall, and Kerfoot was our best, by a mile.”
1. Big win for Woll
Getting a chance to make his NHL debut, 23-year-old goaltender Joseph Woll held his own, enough that he may get another start at some point on another back-to-back situation. He did not have great support in front of him, no matter what he said after the game.
“I think he played great,” said captain John Tavares. “I’m sure a lot of jitters, a lot of butterflies for him, but he looked confident and calm. It’s just too bad that we couldn’t do a better job in front of him.”
2. I want to like Kase on the top line, but…
As someone who has been on the Ondrej Kase hype train for a while – it’s practically required if you buy into the value of hockey analytics – I like Kase getting an opportunity on Toronto’s top line. Something that would give him a chance to score, because he had shown that potential with Anaheim. Injuries always seemed to get in the way.
So, it was nice that he scored in his first game on Toronto’s top line but the line of Ondrej Kase, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander had a tough night overall. That’s not necessarily enough to write off the Kase experiment on the top line but that trio combined for 22.2% of shot attempts and 18.6% of expected goals when they were on the ice for 5-on-5 play.
“The lines didn’t have a chance tonight,” said Keefe. “When you work and compete like that, like we did tonight, the lines don’t have a chance, so you can’t really take too much away from it.”
As a bonus, and related, takeaway, William Nylander had a clunker of a game. He has been great lately but he was not generating scoring chances and was irresponsible defensively. These are the things that Keefe expects Nylander to clean up.
3. The Sabres have some interesting talent
Naturally, the Maple Leafs have a lot more high-end weapons but, on this night, Jeff Skinner and Tage Thompson were as dangerous as anyone offensively. Skinner has the pedigree, as a player that has scored 270 goals in the National Hockey League. He is also a few years removed from the days when he was a consistently dangerous offensive threat. He showed that he still has it in him.
The other Sabres player that stood out was 6-foot-7 centre Tage Thompson, a 24-year-old who is trying to establish himself not only as a legitimate NHL player but as a scoring centre. Thompson, who was acquired as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade with St. Louis, has nine points (5 G, 4 A) in 14 games this season.
4. A Maple Leafs defenceman scored!
When Morgan Rielly scored late in the third period, that was the second goal by a Maple Leafs defenceman all season. Through 16 games, that puts the Maple Leafs on pace for a little more than 10 goals by defencemen in a full 82-game season.
Last season, Maple Leafs defencemen scored 14 goals in 56 games, on pace for 20.5 goals in an 82-game season.
In 2019-2020, a 70-game season, Maple Leafs defencemen scored 23 goals.
In 2018-2019, the last 82-game season, Toronto’s defencemen scored 45 goals. Morgan Rielly scored 20 by himself!
So, while the Maple Leafs would surely like more secondary offensive contributions, their defence has been scoring less and less.
5. Dermott was inserted into the lineup and got caved in
Travis Dermott was a healthy scratch for a couple of games and was plugged back into the Maple Leafs lineup while Rasmus Sandin nursed some minor injuries. Unfortunately, Dermott got caved in. He was on the ice for 21.1% of shot attempts and 18.1% of expected goals. He also had a glaring turnover on Buffalo’s third goal.
BUF 1.85 TOR 1.49
Advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick