For all the stressing and hand wringing in these parts, you might be surprised to learn that with their 5-3 road victory over the Washington Capitals, the Toronto Maple Leafs have just as many wins (35) as the first-place Florida Panthers.

And just as many standings points (74) as the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Sure, they’ve allowed some leaky goals and a dealt with a mini slump.

They’ve endured defensive breakdowns and a second-line silencing.

They’ve blown leads (3-1 became 3-3 Monday) and have a key injury to sort out before the trade deadline.

But the Leafs remain right there, firmly in the three-horse race for the Atlantic crown.

Here are few things, positive and less so, we gleaned from their latest W.

Gretzky shares advice for slumping Tavares

John Tavares’s curious and concerning goal drought has now stretched to an unlucky 13 games, matching his least productive stretch since December 2011.

Believe it or not, Wayne Gretzky endured a nine-game goal slump in his Oilers heyday. The Great One gave some insight into what Tavares is enduring during an appearance on The FAN Morning Show Monday.

“As athletes, if you lose a little bit of confidence — and I don’t care if it’s John Tavares or Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux — it makes it really hard,” Gretzky explained. “And I’m sure he’s lost a little bit of that confidence. “People ask you, ‘Are you thinking about it?’ Obviously, the standard answer is, ‘No, I’m not worried about it. I’m just playing my game.’ But let me tell you, I can’t speak for him, but I was thinking about it. It’s just common sense that you’re disappointed in yourself, and you want to contribute. So, yeah, I thought about it.”

Gretzky remembers sitting down with John Muckler in his office. The coach asked him questions about his game, about how he was feeling about his contribution to the team.

Then Muckler said, “We don’t need you to get three goals. We don’t need you to get four or five points. We just need you to get one big goal or make one big play that results in a goal.”

That simple slice of positive advice stuck with Gretzky. It helped him turn the corner. Gretzky walked out of the meeting thinking, OK, I just gotta do something of value to the hockey club.

Gretzky would share Muckler’s advice with Tavares. “He cares, and that’s why he’s the captain. He loves playing in Toronto. He plays hard. He practises hard,” Gretzky said. “And we just hope that he comes out of it sooner rather than later. And he can feel more relaxed and more at ease with himself and his contributions to the team.”

You gotta wonder if Tavares heard Gretzky on the radio, because that’s precisely what he did.

Tavares made an all-effort play behind the net to set up William Nylander for a first-period strike, then topped that with a dogged forechecking shift in the third that led to Rasmus Sandin’s game-winning goal.

Simply put: Toronto doesn’t win this game without a couple of big assists by the captain, who’s still getting over an illness. “Looks to me like a guy ready to break out here,” Keefe said.

Sandin is a recovering Ovechkin stan

Alex Ovechkin may have 758 more career goals than Sandin, but on Monday the young defenceman outscored his boyhood idol 1-0 in their first-ever meeting.

“He’s a guy I looked up to since I was young. His was one of the first jerseys I had when I was young. Nick Backstrom, same thing. But I don’t have it anymore,” Sandin smiled after snapping the game-winner.

“So, it’s pretty cool to go against him — even though right before the goal, he cross-checked me over my arm and it stung a bit.”

Toronto’s power-play faces adversity

Much like Tavares, the Maple Leafs’ vaunted power-play is now on a troubling 0-for-13 run.

They haven’t scored on the man-advantage in six games, matching their worst drought of the season.

So, it was something that they nabbed the win, despite losing Monday’s special teams battle 0-2.

“We were good in a lot of areas — except the power play,” Keefe said.

The coach believes opponents have adapted to his No. 1 power play.

Now it’s his and Spencer Carbery’s turn to adjust and add some fresh wrinkles.

“We’ve made it pretty clear around the league that our power-play is dangerous, and teams are taking note of that,” Keefe said. “I would be certain that teams see us coming up on the calendar, and their coaches are getting to work probably two or three games ahead.”

Let’s hear it for Holl… and Brodie

Back-to-back big nights for the oft-maligned Justin Holl.

Since serving a couple of healthy scratches (and since the Maple Leafs traded for another righty, Ilya Lyubushkin), Holl has played some of the best hockey of his season.

Holl drove the net to score a first-period buzzer beater with two ticks on the clock, then registered a beautiful cross-ice primary helper on Sandin’s clincher.

He put up five points, a plus-5 rating and a pair of 20-minutes-plus efforts in his two outings since getting scratched.

Holl, now a plus-10 in his past five games, is acting like a man refusing to get driven back to the doghouse.

“It’s not a punishment by any means,” clarified Keefe, who believes the reset has had a positive effect.

Another positive effect? Playing with the versatile T.J. Brodie, who quietly improves every partner he gets.

Mrazek battles big-time

His save percentage (.909 on this night) will seldom wow you, and his occasional frantic movements and juicy rebounds might unnerve Leafs fans, but the bottom line is this: Petr Mrazek has won seven of his past nine games, and two of those were in emergency relief.

The soccer-loving Czech is undoubtedly the more confident of Toronto’s crease options right now.

“I thought he was really good,” said Keefe. “He was full marks for the win tonight.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Mrazek gets some run, or if Keefe serves Jack Campbell a softball Wednesday versus the Buffalo Sabres.

Auston Matthews will steal your puck (and take away your goal)

Matthews leads all NHL forwards with 59 takeaways this season. (Arizona pal Clayton Keller rates second with 54.)

The Leafs centre has a decent shot at eclipsing his personal best in the category (he stole 78 pucks in 2019-20).

If the 200-foot centreman is composing a sizzle reel to submit to the Selke committee, he’d be wise to include this first-period goal he took away from Garnet Hathaway:

Matthews says his determination to hunt pucks on defence comes from watching a ton of Pavel Datsyuk highlights on YouTube when he was younger, plus there is plenty of emphasis on back pressure in team meetings.

To hear Matthews speak on it, there’s no great secret to his heists: “Just try to get the puck when you don’t have it.”

While there are certainly elements of skill at play in takeaways — skating back in position, anticipating play, hand-eye coordination — Morgan Rielly views the defensive stat more as an indicator of a committed mindset and work ethic.

“That’s how you’re supposed to play,” Rielly said. “He takes a lot of pride in being good defensively.”

Mitch Marner and William Nylander also have a knack for the takeaway, but Keefe says Matthews is “head of the class.”

“There’s the will to do it. That’s the most important thing that makes him elite at it,” Keefe says. “When he’s really determined, he’s usually coming up with the puck.”

Try the ox tail

This has nothing to do with the Capitals game, but if you’ve scrolled this far down, you’re probably a Leafs fan.

I recommend this original team-produced video that features Matthews, Campbell, Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza popping by Mark Fraser’s house for some good conversation and delicious Albert’s Jamaican food.

Fun to see how the players interact with each other, plus a great peek into Simmonds’ story.

One-Timers: Believe it or not, this was Keefe’s first time coaching against Washington…. For the second consecutive game, the Leafs chased a starting goalie (Ilya Samsonov)…. Ondrej Kase did not play Monday, but Keefe said whatever ails him is “nothing serious.” Consider the winger day-to-day, like the rest of us…. Michael Bunting re-seized the rookie goal race with his 19th…. Matthews led all Leafs with five hits…. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov were each a minus-4, as the Capitals drop their third straight.


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