No Matthews. No Thornton. No Robertson. No problem. Well, they didn’t make it look that easy. The Leafs were significantly helped by a strong outing from Freddie Andersen, who held the Oilers to two goals. The Leafs were certainly helped by Nylander, who was carrying the Leafs through the early part of the game, and setting up Jimmy Vesey for the goal that made tonight seem like winning was a real possibility.
Yes, the Leafs won, and with a 4-2-0 record, they appear to be on track for the season we want them to have. In reality, they have not made it look like they know what they are doing at any given in the season, and perhaps for a team that had a short camp and a number of a new faces, and now is plagued with injuries, expecting them to be dominant is too much to ask.
Tonight the Leafs depth was the most encouraging takeaway. The recently scolded Pierre Engvall didn’t look bad in his third line center role after being called out by Sheldon Keefe at the end of training camp. Adam Brooks picking up his first NHL goal was certainly memorable, but also well deserved and the newly minted 4C is putting in effort on every shift, and the Leafs will get every ounce of his abilities in the coming weeks. Barabanov is…well…adjusting. If one of the new faces tonight is going to be labelled as needing improvement it’s Barabanov, who is still adjusting to the increased speed and decreased ice in North America. He had a shift in the second period where he took a high hit to make a play, and then seemed to wake up and was a one man wrecking crew for the next thirty seconds. If the Leafs can tap into that play from Barabanov on a regular basis, the Leafs will have an ideal bottom six winger.
Tonight’s game also served as a reminder that Justin Holl is somehow the ideal shadow to Connor McDavid. And Holl has certainly been playing the best hockey of his life in the early games of this season, and has been the Leafs best defenseman in five of the six games, including tonight. We’ll give him a mulligan on the first game against Ottawa.
While we’re singing praises, John Tavares has certainly earned some as well, as he’s come back this year as the player the Leafs need him to be, and he’s bringing the Leafs powerplay back on track after a rough 2019-20. Since Marner is leading the league in scoring, perhaps it’s important to say there isn’t a whole lot more that can be asked of him at the moment either.
In short, even though the Leafs are not making the wins look easy, it’s hard to find someone to throw under the bus, at least not consistently.
With a rare Saturday night off tomorrow, the Leafs will begin to make their way to Alberta. First stopping in Calgary for a couple of games before renewing their season series against Edmonton in The Ice District. The fact that we’ll probably see Matthews return to lineup somewhere in that stretch is encouraging, and perhaps a series against his old team is what T.J. Brodie needs as well to begin playing his best hockey.
Tonight was another example, along with the opening night win against Montreal, that proves the Leafs will hang in games a bit more than they’ve done in the past, and not immediately shut down with things are tough. Unfortunately they also have a couple of losses that show they aren’t yet doing that consistently, but we’ll count the consistent defeatist attitude being gone as a win here.