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How did Nick Foligno do in his first game for the Leafs?

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Is it high pressure to start with Matthews and Marner, or playing on easy level?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

How did it go for Nick Folingo in his first game for the Leafs? To set the scene, we need to recall that he hasn’t played since April 8, and Columbus won two games in Foligno’s last 10. He can laugh in the face of the idea that the Leafs are in a slump or playing badly. His assist on the empty-net goal at the end of the game was only his 10th of the season, and that was the 16th this year win for a team he was a member of.

Ice Time

Nominally on the first line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Foligno played just under 13 minutes at five-on-five to their 17:34 and 15:40 respectively. The difference came from two very short shifts in the mid-first period where Matthews and Marner came out earlier and played with whoever was there from the previous line. Foligno also left the ice prior to a power play while his linemates stayed out. All-in-all, a sensible arrangement for someone who hadn’t even had a practice with his new team, but not quite the same method used to shave minutes off of Joe Thornton when he played with that line.

Foligno played 25 seconds with Alexander Kerfoot and smaller scraps with other forwards, and that would be crossover time on changes, not shifts with other lines.

Foligno also played 1:27 of official penalty kill time, second only to Mitch Marner. The Leafs (somewhat miraculously given Foligno’s own playing style) gave up only two power plays. He was on the ice for the very long shift at the end of the game where the Jets pulled the goalie. The Leafs simply ran the Matthews line with Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl through to the end of the game, matching the Jets’ six man unit with power, not a shutdown line.

Foligno did not take the ice in the Leafs sole power play.

Shooting

In terms of shooting at five-on-five, he only had one shot (Individual Corsi For) in a game where the shooting was dominated by a few forwards: Matthews with nine and John Tavares, William Nylander, Pierre Engvall, and Wayne Simmonds with four each. Foligno’s one shot was a high-danger change, though. But his career rate of shooting is very low — he’s not Zach Hyman’s twin in this regard at all, so hoping for points like Hyman gets will lead to disappointment.

On-Ice Results

The Leafs finished the game with 51% Corsi at five-on-five (score adjusted and like all other numbers, from Natural Stat Trick), and 54% Expected Goals. Those numbers were tilted the other direction in the first period, but the Leafs improved as the game wore on.

Foligno’s personal number was 49% (10-13 in unadjusted CF-CA), while Matthews led the team with 60% (18-15) Why the difference? When a player rolls out on the ice in the neutral zone early on a line change, as Matthews does to get more minutes in, he gets some “freebie” shots for if the play tends to be heading towards the offensive zone. Of course, he gets used that way because he’s excellent at offence and helps the play tend in the right direction. And as the games wear on, we might see Foligno get the opposite usage — a trip over the boards early when the play is going south. This is one of many reasons that looking at single game Corsi without considering the context of how a coach views the player is often an exercise in confirming biases.

Matchups

Paul Maurice had the last change and more control of matching in this game, and he put the defensive pairing of Derek Forbort and Neal Pionk up against the Matthews line. They did well by the numbers, but were overwhelmed by some Leafs skill by the eye-test. Foligno played mostly against Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler, the Jets’ top forwards. Most of them were held to even on shots or one or two either way. No one was routed except Josh Morrissey, the defenceman the Jets essentially have to play too high. He had a 24% Corsi against Foligno.

Nik Ehlers is likely the best forward in the North not on the Leafs’ or the Oilers’ top lines, and he was contained in ways he sure wasn’t the last time these two teams met, at least in terms of goals. The Matthews line kept him close to even in shots for and against, but he enjoyed a rout against Engvall and Kerfoot. Foligno and William Nylander held him to 50-50 at more than four minutes played, the best showing by any forwards. Hard to complain about that.

Conclusion

I noticed Foligno riling up Pierre-Luc Dubois, and essentially drawing a penalty. He made more than one quick-thinking move to keep the puck in the offensive zone for Matthews, and he is certainly fully engaged and focused on moving the play up the ice. Will he be guilty of going for a hard hit in the offensive zone where Hyman might retrieve the puck as his first priority? Maybe, but so far, so good.

Nick Foligno doesn’t show it if he feels pressure, and he sure looks happy to be here. Other than that, time will tell what he’s best at, and how the Leafs can best use him to win more games.