On this recent run, the Toronto Maple Leafs have won nine of their past ten games and some of those wins have not been terribly pretty. There have been a few, though, that have been really impressive performances. Wins against Tampa Bay, Boston, and Philadelphia stand out as quality efforts. Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Nashville is another one to go under the quality win heading.
“It feels great. Nashville came in playing extremely well right now,” said Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell, who had a 24-save shutout. “The team played so hard in front of me.”
“Really lucky to play behind the blue guys tonight. We were great,” Campbell continued.
Campbell frequently deflects a lot of the credit to his teammates but, on this night, there is some truth to that. The Maple Leafs really clamped down as the game progressed.
“Overall was a really good game but in the third period, I thought we stepped up and shut the door,” said Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews.
But Matthews returned the praise to his goaltender. “I can’t say enough good things about Soup, honestly,” said Matthews. “He has been so good for us since he got here.”
“Tonight, the second half of the game I don’t think we gave them much,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “One or two chances in the third period, we had a couple of breakdowns, but there are a lot of really good things that we will take away from the second half of the game.”
Understandably, there is some optimism percolating around the Maple Leafs. This is what happens when a team wins nine of ten. Even if it is cautious optimism, the Maple Leafs do feel like they have left their early-season slump in the rearview mirror.
“That’s why we believe in our team and what we are capable of,” said Keefe. “It’s why when things are going tough, we still believe in our group because we have terrific potential, we have great talent, we’ve got great character in our room, and we see that here of late. Sometimes we are not playing our best but we play really good hockey in good spots and that puts our team in a good place.”
To the takeaways…
1. Another double-digit shot volume night for Matthews
Although he only finished with four shots on goal, Matthews did put 11 shots towards the Nashville net. He scored on one and got absolutely robbed by Juuse Saros on the play preceding the Nick Ritchie-Michael McCarron scrap. Matthews also had a glorious chance that went off the post, was called a goal on the ice but, upon further review, it was shown that the puck did not cross the line.
Matthews has put up double-digit shot attempts in seven of 14 games this season and has not had a streak of longer than two games without having a game with at least 10 shot attempts. In Tuesday’s game against Nashville, Matthews had 1.39 individual expected goals. His previous high this season was 0.79 expected goals in a game against Vegas in which he scored twice.
2. Muscling Up
In the wake of the Maple Leafs acquiring tough guy winger Kyle Clifford, the Maple Leafs got some feisty performances from the muscle already on the roster.
Nick Ritchie fought Michael McCarron, though it mostly seemed to be McCarron initiating that scrap.
Wayne Simmonds squared up for a fight with Predators defenceman Mark Borowiecki after he flattened Maple Leafs centre Jason Spezza with a hit. Simmonds caught Borowiecki with a finger in the eye and it caused some hesitation, enough for the linesmen to step in.
Earlier in the day, the Maple Leafs acquired winger Kyle Clifford, who had cleared waivers, from St. Louis. Clifford played for the Maple Leafs at the end of the 2019-2020 season before signing with St. Louis as a free agent. He is limited offensively, but Clifford has consistently provided solid defensive results.
I might, man provides some defence still. pic.twitter.com/3AY2xfkwIj
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) November 15, 2021
3. Campbell crushing it
Getting pressed into more action than might have been anticipated coming into the season, Jack Campbell has delivered all the Toronto Maple Leafs could have asked for and then some.
In his past seven starts, Campbell has recorded three shutouts and has a .963 save percentage. At some point, Campbell will cool off, but he is a big reason that the Maple Leafs have won nine of the past 10 games. Even if the Maple Leafs controlled play by a substantial margin (61.2 CF%, 67.5 xGF%) in this game, they did have enough defensive breakdowns that Campbell had to face some challenging shots. As has been his standard lately, Campbell was up to the challenge.
4. Saros was great for Nashville, made the game seem closer than it was
The Toronto Maple Leafs outshot the Predators 34-24 but that undersells how lopsided this game was. The Maple Leafs had 4.04 expected goals in this game, the second time this season that Saros faced more than three expected goals in a game. His high for the season was 4.20 expected goals against Calgary in a game that was ultimately an overtime loss. Toronto generated more quality chances than the Predators have allowed in regulation all season and the game was still 1-0 for Toronto with four minutes left in the third period. Saros gave his team a chance to win.
5. Nylander back on track
Following a lacklustre performance in Saturday’s win at Buffalo, William Nylander turned in an excellent puck possession performance against Nashville. With the Maple Leafs shaking up the lines again, moving Nylander back to play with John Tavares and Alexander Kerfoot, it was encouraging to see Nylander deliver another strong performance, even if one assist and two shots on goal would not necessarily stand out.
TOR 4.91 NSH 2.02
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