A redemption game, resetting from the benching debacle from Saturday night, his first multi-point game of the season against the Los Angeles Kings is just what William Nylander needed.
An assist on a goal by Auston Matthews – where Nylander was instrumental in creating the go-ahead marker in the third period by distracting the Kings defenseman in front.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) November 6, 2019
And then sniping one – a badly needed goal 30 seconds later.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) November 6, 2019
The movement along almost suggests as if Matthews backed off to the side there to give Nylander the lone attempt with lots of space in front.
Red Wings vs. Rangers
Numbers, chances and rates may not be enough to describe Nylander here after Saturday’s game against the Flyers; we will go to video.
Prior to season’s onset, I was hoping to avoid writing about Nylander on two fronts, inconsistent point generation and questionable defensive optics.
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Despite historically measuring well in shot metrics that strongly speculate success as long as he sustains the same shot generation pace. The metrics can be interpreted as positive, just not with the expected cadence for generating points.
As of the L.A. game, he’s been on the ice for the highest rate of shots for per 60 minutes of his NHL career. Playing with talented linemates will have that effect.
Prior to the two point breakout against the Kings, in 2019-20, inconsistency over the first 15 games continued, with a five game point streak to start the season then pointless in four before picking it up over the last seven games.
It’s a small but impressive sample size, with 11 points in 16 games with points in 10 overall games and a point on 61.5% of on-ice goals scored at 5v5.
So far in 2019-20 he’s played most with Auston Matthews and Andreas Johnsson, the line on the ice for a fateful goal against that sent the chatter about Nylander to consume content generators for days.
The defensive game contains unfavorable optics – a true consistent during his pro career. He relies heavily on the individualistic style that excels when deployed in a prime on-ice role, with many puck touches, driving through the neutral zone with speed, while generating scoring chances and offense while backing up defenses – which creates space for teammates – that doesn’t show up on the scoreboard.
We don’t see much of the Nylander that curled to the top of the faceoff circle on the power play to wire a shot on goal – or over the net; he can be a somewhat careless shooter at times about shot placement at times.
An antsy fan base that espouses discontent at the overall player’s impact is driven by some of these unfavorable optics, isolated in specific plays or situations. Further entrenched is the inherent contempt for the contract negotiation in 2018-19 – and the eventual contract – that had ripple effects into the Mitch Marner negotiations from last summer. Even as the market was being set for players of his caliber in the $7 million range, the missed time, the performance and effects on future negotiations are still sore spots.
Much virtual ink and terabytes of data has been consumed by the benching of a few shifts on Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers following a goal by Travis Sanheim. This is where we are going to go to video, because this play is an allegory for the overall Leafs defensive woes. If Freddie Andersen isn’t his absolute best, the Leafs will struggle. This goal shows this in a key way.
But was this Nylander’s fault? Let’s check it out. The tweet below shows the full video from the camera angle behind the net – a favorable vantage point to conduct this analysis.
— Nik 🚨 (@leafsfannik) November 3, 2019
There’s no doubt Nylander could have played this situation with more physicality (this isn’t the first time for that sentiment, nor will it be the last), but physicality wasn’t his intention deemed by his stance heading to the point in shot blocking mode. The Flyers defenseman knew, he had Nylander beat. The question was what would Nylander do once Sanheim busted free from his defensive stance.
The answer? Nothing.
He’s an easy mark for Sanheim, exposed and only able to resort to an ineffective stick check, and the Flyers defensemen skates easily right around him.
Morgan Rielly recognizes the play and engages right before the shot, but Sanheim gets one off that bounces off Frederik Andersen. It’s a costly bounce, but a completely unavoidable outcome – outlining some of the randomness within a hockey game.
Following the shot on goal, Morgan Rielly correctly stays in front of the goal (correctly), while Nylander should be swinging inwards to the point man trailing the play. If Willy had done this, Andreas Johnsson could have cheated to move down into the house recognizing the player going behind the net.
It’s easy to criticize Nylander’s weak play and being admonished by coaching staff had to include more than just this one play. But was it Nylander’s fault a crazy rebound led to a puck bouncing off Auston Matthews as he battled for position crease high? As per the screenshot below, there’s ample coverage in front of the net. The defensive shift should have included one of Rielly following Sanheim behind the net – which would not have been the right play with the puck above the goal line – or Johnsson abandoning his position to support down low. I haven’t read of any complaints that Johnsson played this wrong. But I think he did.
Johnsson recognizes to break in down low – a little too late at this point – Andersen can’t recover and is at the mercy of the puck on Sanheim’s stick, with a gaping net.
On an end note, I really liked what Mike Johnson said in this segment here, indicating similar sentiment about making this goal about Nylander’s play along the boards.
“He hands off Sanheim to a three on three at the net. There’s already two other guys out top, he’s effectively handing him off to an even man situation down by the net.”
The even man situation is further muddied by the unlucky bounce, the rebound that happened to get to an area of open ice with only a Flyers skater present.
How exactly is this Nylander’s fault? It isn’t.
It’s time to move on. The redemption occurred against the Kings. It’s time to move ahead now.