Take the points and get outta town.
And, yes, the fastest player on the planet will make sure we see the Leafs Reverse Retro sweaters on many a highlight reel to come.
But the Leafs have banked points in seven of their past eight games and still believe their potential is far from fulfilled.
“I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of the best hockey that we can play collectively as a team. That’s always encouraging,” Auston Matthews said post-game, “knowing that we can play a lot better but that we’re still getting points. We’re still winning.”
Here are eight takeaways from the most thrilling of the four Oilers-Leafs matchups we’ve already seen this year.
Oilers wanted it more, needed it more, deserved it more
Zack Kassian had uttered the phrase “must-win.” In January.
So, while it feels a tad premature to slap a do-or-die label on Saturday’s prime-time showdown (showcase?) of some of the game’s brightest stars, certainly the home side needed the two points more than their visitors.
And, boy, did it show.
Edmonton burst out the gates, generating the first nine high-danger chances and thumping the Leafs 18-8 in that department for the night.
“We knew we’d have a motivated group coming out tonight,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Disappointing to not win. But in the grand scheme of things, taking seven out of eight points on the road is never going to be a bad thing for our group.”
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — one-two on the scorers’ leaderboard once again — put on a show, creating highlights that will get play long beyond the weekend.
Frankly, were it not for stellar close-range stops and some determined response goals by Toronto’s own top playmakers (William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Matthews), this thing would’ve never sniffed OT.
Afterward, Matthews was asked if it was fun going head-to-head with his off-season training partner two games in a row.
“I don’t know if I’d describe it as fun, but it’s always a challenge,” Matthews said. “It’s always a challenge going up against that amount of talent and speed coming at you.”
McDavid is a one-man power play.
Watch how he slices through all four Maple Leafs skaters, plus goalie Frederik Andersen, on this third-period strike. Then feel free to retrieve your jaw from the floor.
This is how McDavid’s victims viewed it.
Hyman: “We could’ve defended it better. I think that I was the first guy up, and I’ve got to take away speed a little bit and give Hollsy, (Jake Muzzin) and Mitch (Marner) a little bit more time kind of wedge him out of the middle. But, you know, once he gets that time and space, he's a special player, obviously. So he can make moves like that.”
Justin Holl: “There’s different things that we could’ve done differently, for sure. The forward could wedge in the middle a little bit better. I think I could push him a certain direction better. Maybe start skating forwards, so I at least can try to chase him down. But obviously that's a tall order on McDavid.”
Andersen: “I felt a little bit flatfooted in the situation. Obviously, (I should) try to take a little bit more ice maybe and challenge him a little bit more.”
Holl: “He’s always creating scoring chances for himself. You know it's gonna happen, you just do your best to limit what he gets…. He's a terrific player, so that's just part of the deal sometimes.”
Message to Leafland: Don’t get down on Dermott
On a night it was revealed that two players have requested trades out of Canadian towns — Calgary’s Sam Bennett and Montreal’s Victor Mete — it was notable that Leafs coach Keefe went out of his way to address Travis Dermott being a healthy scratch for half of the Alberta trip.
“For me, he's a guy that hasn't deserved to sit out and have to come out of the lineup,” Keefe said. “But much like some of the rotations we've had in the fourth line here, the only way to get people in is to take people out.
“We're actually very encouraged with Dermott's game. He's really done everything we've asked of him, and lots of positive things about his game. We shouldn't be reading anything into him coming out other than the fact that we're just trying to create opportunity for Mikko (Lehtonen) to show what he can do.”
Lehtonen, a man-advantage specialist whom the Leafs lured out of the KHL, notched his first NHL point with a sifter from the point that John Tavares tipped and Hyman swept in. But in these close games — and they’ve all been close games — the Finn has yet to earn his coach’s trust at even-strength.
The 27-year-old import gets sheltered or sat.
“At 5-on-5, again, it's tough to find him much rhythm here playing on the road. They're doing their best to get favourable matchups, and they're looking for it, and you're trying to protect him and keep them away from two of the best players in the world,” Keefe said.
“He still doesn't look comfortable out there. We've put him in two of the last three games here and given him that opportunity. Now we have a break. And we'll continue to work with him in some areas of development where we'd like to see him really get better now that we've got lots of examples and film of him playing in the NHL.”
Reverse Retro revolt
Alexander Kerfoot said it’s exciting anytime you get to slip on a new jersey.
“Something different is nice for a change. I'm sure the fans will enjoy it,” Keefe said pre-game.
We’re sure some fans did enjoy the tone-on-tone look of the remixed ’80s deep-blue throwbacks with accents of grey, but the general response on social media was less than favourable.
“I like them,” Holl said. “Honestly, I didn’t love them right away. I didn’t know where the grey came from, but they’ve really grown on me. I thought we looked really sharp tonight.”
The people have spoken. We have to hand the Oilers third outfits, with those blood orange pants, the crown.
Even the alternates have alternates
Cool gesture for Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, GM Kyle Dubas and Keefe to collectively decide that veterans Muzzin andHyman would wear an “A” on their sweater for all games played in an alternate sweater. That discussion was had with the players at training camp.
“It’s very clear that Hyman and Muzz are both big parts of our core, big parts of our leadership group. I think our established captains recognize that as well,” Keefe explained.
“For myself, with all the teams, for the most part, that I've coached, I believe in trying to recognize the larger group than just what you're allowed in a particular game, be it a C and two As. I think you need to recognize more people than that when you can, so it was a chance to do that.”
We’re going streaking
Less than two minutes after McDavid’s ridiculous rush, Matthews and Marner worked a pretty give-and-go in tight to extend their personal point streaks.
Marner now has assists in five consecutive games. Matthews has goals in five straight and points in seven straight.
“We have kind of little dips and then we have moments where we're really on it, are creating a lot of offensive zone time,” said Matthews, who believes there is still another level for his line to reach.
“We just want to stay consistent throughout the 60 minutes and apply pressure nonstop on the other team and collectively play in the offensive zone as much as possible, but it's always nice to contribute in different ways out there.”
Steady Freddy is better than his numbers
Were you to look at his stats — 3.01 GAA, .892 save percentage — you’d hesitate to get too excited about the work of Andersen in 2021.
But after a shaky first two outings, the Leafs’ No. 1 goaltender routinely came up with the timely save on this road trip, and his denial of Josh Archibald in the dying moments of regulation Saturday salvaged his club a point. Andersen is now 5-2-1 and should benefit nicely from a four-day rest.
“I feel like I'm moving really efficiently. I think after the first few games I figured out how I'm supposed to play and how I play my best,” said Andersen.
His coach’s review has also swung positive.
“The thing here with no exhibition games, it's tough on the goaltenders to find that rhythm and get comfortable again in the net in a game setting. I think he's settled in. He looks like he's in a nice groove,” Keefe said.
“He looks really comfortable, confident in the net. I think we've done a real good job in protecting him at 5-on-5 in reducing the number of odd-man chances and really egregious chances against. Yet when we've had breakdowns, he's been there. And then on the penalty kill, it's always tough on a goalie when you're taking as many penalties as we are — and he's been excellent there too.”
Deserved time off
The Maple Leafs (7-2-1) will fly home and stay home for a couple days after what Matthews described as “a shotgun start to the season.”
The Leafs’ next game won’t arrive until Thursday, which feels like an eternity in a 56-game schedule.
Sunday is a full day off for the club. Monday will be optional for the regulars. Two hard practice days will gear them up for a three-game homestand against Vancouver.
“We need to find ways to control play a little bit better and generate more shots, more opportunities offensively,” Keefe said. “Then it's just details all over the ice, continuing to clean those types of things up. Having back-to-back practice days now for the first time since we've broken camp would be a good opportunity for us to do that.
“We expect to bring it to another level when we come back to play after this break.”