We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.
It wasn’t the most convincing effort, and it required a brilliant effort from Frederik Andersen when he wasn’t out there attempting one-handed toe-drags, but the Toronto Maple Leafs did indeed improve to 2-0 on the season with a 4-1 win on the road versus the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Leafs will look to keep it rolling with the Montreal Canadiens in town Saturday night.
But first, three points:
First Point: Matthews’ next-level release
There’s honestly really not much to add here, but I fear I’d be burying the lede without offering first mention to Auston Matthews’ jaw-dropping third goal of the season.
Literally no other player is shooting the puck quite like No. 34, who looks like a lock to hit 50 goals if he can avoid missed time this season.
AUSTON MATTHEWS! That shot is just not fair. 4-1 Leafs. pic.twitter.com/tdS43ite05— Flintor (@TheFlintor) October 5, 2019
But here’s how his teammates described it:
Reaction to the Auston Matthews shot 😲— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 5, 2019
Andersen: "That was very accurate. That was crazy. His shot is second to none."
Ceci: "It's just amazing."
Spezza: "He works hard at it though ... I see him every day, he's out there shooting extra pucks"
Johnsson: "Just wow."
Alright, onto some deeper(ish) analysis.
Second Point: Kapanen not clicking
There was plenty of competition for jobs at Maple Leafs camp, but the role of stand-in for Zach Hyman wasn’t one of them. Kasperi Kapanen was handed that position before the Leafs even arrived in Newfoundland, and was given every opportunity to build up some chemistry with Hyman’s two high-paid linemates, John Tavares and Mitch Marner, while switching from the right side to left wing.
It looks, however, like they could have used some more time.
Mostly a non-factor through two games, Kapanen has recorded just one shot in nearly 25 minutes played at five-on-five, and the production from Marner and Tavares (four and three points through two games, respectively), has come in the absence of the speedy winger — be it on the power play or four-on-four.
Further, Kapanen has the lowest even-strength expected goals percentage among skaters who appeared in both games, with Tavares just one slot ahead. With Hyman last season, Tavares and Marner finished with the highest expected goals as a line.
Kapanen will likely return to right wing and slot in with Alexander Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev when Hyman is ready to return from injury, and the high-powered Leafs will be even more optimized then.
But if the Tavares line continues to plod along at evens, perhaps that scheduled demotion arrives sooner.
Third Point: Special teams look strong
With two new assistant coaches in Paul McFarland and Dave Hakstol organizing the power play and penalty kill, respectively, Toronto’s special teams represented one of the main storylines entering the season. After taking some steps forward in both situations as the Maple Leafs settled in and pulled ahead in their opening-night victory over the Ottawa Senators, more encouraging signs with the specialty teams emerged in Friday’s win in Columbus.
Toronto scored twice in five opportunities versus the Jackets, its second on Matthews’ aforementioned snipe. But as Matthews has benefitted from switching sides, it’s now paid quick dividends for Marner as well.
Now also working from his opposite wing, Marner scored seven seconds into the Leafs’ first try with the man advantage — using a quick exchange with the bumper on the first power play, John Tavares, to open up Blue Jackets netminder Joonas Korpisalo for his first of the season.
MITCH MARNER! His first of the season. 1-0 pic.twitter.com/2Si124aI7q— Flintor (@TheFlintor) October 4, 2019
Frederik Andersen’s foolish decision to reach out and attempt to pull the puck in with the tip of his blade meant that it wasn’t to be a perfect night for the Maple Leafs’ penalty killers, but Cam Atkinson’s opportunistic goal was all the damage Columbus could muster in five attempts.
While it’s far too early to label the Maple Leafs penalty kill improved on a unit that finished 17th last season under new Senators coach D.J. Smith, the strategy seems to be to up the aggression, and so far the opposition has struggled to organize their attacks.
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