While it wasn’t in the blowout fashion of the first two games of the series, the Leafs played an excellent game against the New Jersey Devils, beating them 4-2 with the help of the 300th and 301st goals of John Tavares career. Adding in a solid performance from Hutch, the Leafs had a relatively easy time sweeping the series against the Devils. So, let’s take a look at a few things we learned from last night’s game.
1. The Leafs are better than the Devils
Okay, we didn’t learn this so much as we had it reconfirmed. After 6-1 and 7-2 wins against the Devils previously, the Leafs seemed to be on pace to do the same, exploding to a 3-0 lead before the Devils got a couple quick goals in the second, and suddenly the series sweep was in question going into the third.
via Natural Stat Trick
But, the Leafs didn’t even let us worry. While they didn’t get a goal until there was 22 seconds left in the game, the Leafs gave the Devils nothing to work with. They out shot them 15-3, out Corsied them 23-9, and out-chanced them 8-1. While they didn’t destroy them in the goals department like last time, they dominated in a different way by not giving them anything to work with, even with score effects being a factor.
2. Teams are still “disciplined” against the Leafs
A trend that feels like it’s been going on for a while is that teams have been taking little to no penalties against the Leafs. The game against the Devils was one of 20 where the Leafs had two or fewer power plays, as an early Brett Seney boarding penalty ended up being the only power play (there were two other Devils penalties, but they were coincidental minors with Leafs penalties)
It could be that teams know that the Leafs have a deadly power play, so they put a larger focus on discipline to avoid any power plays. However, I have a hard time believing that the Devils really stayed disciplined in the third, when they were down by one goal, and the Leafs were dominating the period. So, some of it probably has to do with the reffing as well. They know the Leafs power play is a game changer, so they don’t want to “impact the game” with a power play, even though it’s the power plays. Also, the Leafs have become one of the more disciplined teams in the league, and the refs like to make the calls even between the teams to ensure “fairness”.
I saw a theory floating around that the Leafs should take more penalties to get more power plays, and honestly, that might be the only way to get past this terrible system that the refs have set up.
3. Is Hutchinson making a case for the backup spot?
Hutchinson is continuing one of the feel good stories in January for the Leafs, as injuries to both Andersen and Sparks have given him a chance to shine for his boyhood team. He had a great game last night, stopping 27 of 29 for a .931% game, and is keeping the lively backup debate alive. So, what happens when Sparks is off of IR?
While Hutch has been good, him and Sparks have played similarly this season, especially in terms of their “consistency”. Both have a good game, followed by a bad game, followed by a good one, etc. But, they’ve both played so few games that you can’t really make an informed decision based on their play.
So, there’s one other factor in this discussion, and it’s arguably the one that will be the reason why Sparks gets the spot over Hutchinson: waivers. While Sparks still has to clear waivers to play for the Marlies, Hutch is currently on the team as an emergency loan, so he doesn’t need waivers to return to the Marlies. The original reason why the Leafs got Hutch was because the Marlies needed another goalie, so they aren’t going to risk losing Sparks and having the exact same problem just because Hutch played okay for four games.