Maple Leafs vs. Flames observations: William Nylander keeps shining, third line steps up

The Toronto Maple Leafs have won the 2023 Brad Treliving Bowl.

They deserved it. There were plenty of goals on both ends, and while the Leafs looked like the far better team, the Calgary Flames found a way to keep it close on the scoreboard and force an incredibly exciting overtime. The Leafs probably should have won in regulation, but Calgary got the vast majority of the bounces. A few massive saves from Joseph Woll in overtime forced this game to a shootout, where the Leafs prevailed for a 5-4 win on Friday.

With the game on the line, Mitch Marner fumbled the puck before miraculously recovering to score a highlight-reel goal. His former teammate with the London Knights, Max Domi, was the eventual hero in the skills competition.

Three stars

1. William Nylander

It feels like you can pencil in William Nylander for one of the three stars every game. He set up Tyler Bertuzzi for a great chance in the opening minute, but his linemate was unable to convert. He promptly extended his season-opening point streak to 14 games on his next shift, all thanks to this outstanding individual effort:

He got off to an even better start in the second, scoring a short-handed goal just one minute in.

He wasn’t done there, as less than four minutes later, he took a hit to complete a beautiful, no-look backhand pass to set up John Tavares.

Nylander just missed his fourth point halfway through the second, when he fired a wrist shot from the slot off Dan Vladar’s mask. He missed a pretty open net five minutes into the third as well.

2. Max Domi

Each player on the third line deserves some credit, but I’ll give the nod to Max Domi. He picked up an assist for the third straight game, and his line gave up very little the other way. He nearly picked up another assist following a give-and-go with Morgan Rielly, but Toronto’s top defenceman couldn’t capitalize. This is exactly what he was brought in to do.

3. Nick Robertson

He’s now picked up a point in each of his three games, as he picked up a secondary assist on Calle Järnkrok’s first-period tally. His line was excellent and nearly scored the winner on two different occasions in the final five minutes of regulation. He’s leaving little doubt that he belongs. He also drew the penalty that led to Nylander’s power-play goal.

The Leafs jumped out to an excellent start

Bertuzzi had an excellent chance on a two-on-one in the opening minute. Nylander scored on the power play three minutes in, and Rielly just missed on a high-danger chance a few minutes later. Tavares had another great chance shortly after, and the Flames had still barely seen the offensive zone. The Flames tied it up on an odd goal seven minutes in, but the Leafs could have easily been up two or three goals at that point. Järnkrok restored the lead just over a minute later, and it was well deserved, as Toronto was dominating. Maybe they should honour Hall of Fame players before the start of every home game? The penalty kill nearly spoiled Toronto’s strong first period, but the Leafs did manage to hold the lead heading into the intermission. The Leafs carried the play at five-on-five.

Defensive play improves without John Klingberg 

Jake McCabe returned to the lineup after missing six games due to injury, and he got off to a strong start despite playing on the right side. His pair with Mark Giordano spent the vast majority of their minutes in the offensive zone early on, and William Lagesson wasn’t on for a five-on-five shot against through 40 minutes. While the top pair was on for a couple of goals, neither goal was egregious, and T.J. Brodie made this excellent play to break up a rush:

The Leafs played six left-shot defencemen, but it didn’t seem to matter. I’m interested to see if their defensive play continues to improve without John Klingberg.

The Leafs now have one successful bottom-six line

Toronto’s bottom-six was a major problem to start the season, as there were plenty of goals against and minimal secondary scoring. While the fourth line was on for two goals against tonight, the third line has now scored in all three games since Robertson was recalled from the Marlies. Domi set up Järnkrok for Toronto’s second goal, and Domi’s playmaking ability has been on full display ever since he moved to the middle. Their line spent plenty of time in the offensive zone, as Domi wasn’t on for a five-on-five shot against in the first two periods. Robertson sure looks like he belongs, and the Leafs could use another two-way winger like Järnkrok. Ryan Reaves was benched in the third, and it feels like sorting out the fourth line is Sheldon Keefe’s next order of business.

Game Score

Screen Shot 2023 11 10 at 10.13.29 PM

Final grade: A

The Leafs dominated the first half of the game. Nylander looked like he was playing against an AHL team, and the Leafs looked way better defensively. The first line deserved a goal or two, but just couldn’t buy one. The Flames seemed to get all the bounces, but the Leafs were consistently the better team.

Joseph Woll wasn’t great early on, but he wasn’t terrible, either. I didn’t like the rebound he gave up on the first goal, but the puck was spinning a little bit oddly. The second goal against was a perfectly placed shot through a screen, and the third was off a deflection. He maybe could have had the fourth goal, but it was a bit of a fluky one. He more than made up for the goals against with his saves in overtime and the shootout.

The second line did the majority of the scoring, but all of Toronto’s top three lines played well, and their defencemen looked far more competent defensively.

I’ll take more games like that, please!

What’s next for the Leafs?

Staying at home to play Sam Lafferty and the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday at 7 p.m. on “Hockey Night in Canada.”

(Photo: John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top