Mitch Marner led the way as the Toronto Maple Leafs staved off a final push from the Florida Panthers to snap a four-game losing skid with an entertaining 3-2 win at the Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs conceded the first goal of the game after a giveaway just outside the defensive blueline by Morgan Rielly led to a 2-on-1 for Jonathan Marchessault to finish off. It seemed like a repeat of the Lightning game at the time, but the Maple Leafs played a strong final 15 minutes to the first period and carried a decided advantage in shot attempts (28-19) by the end of the opening 20, culminating in Tyler Bozak’s late tying goal. A weak powerplay goal off the rush, again from Marchessault, restored the Panthers’ 2-1 advantage early in the second period, but the Leafs fought back via van Riemsdyk and Bozak again, both set up (again) by Mitch Marner, in what was an end-to-end middle frame.
Although the shots were actually even at 9-9 (four of which came on the Leafs’ four-minute powerplay), Toronto sat on their lead in the third and were out-possessed 76/24 at even strength in the final 20. The Leafs held onto a third-period lead for the first time in five attempts this season, but they still played like a team that coughs up leads. The difference was Frederik Andersen was much better.
Seven games into the season, the Leafs are proving to be a high-event club that creates a lot of chances for and against. They haven’t played as a tight five-man unit consistently at even strength — a hallmark of Mike Babcock-coached teams — and they have been guilty of blowing the defensive zone early in search of low-percentage stretch passes. While it’s working now — to a degree — as teams start to polish up their systems and develop video databases on how the Leafs are playing and generating offence, it is a style of hockey that often results in a zero-sum game.
As many good chances as we’ve given up all year, probably
– Mike Babcock following the 3-2 win over the Panthers
Should they be able to break out more efficiently, as they did in stretches of last season, and combine that with improved defensive structure, this could become a hard team to play against given the significantly heightened talent level. Until then, the young Leafs are going to have to rely on excellent goaltending to save them, like they did this evening, from the lack of defensive acuity.
Leo Komarov – A quiet night for Leo (17:13 TO1, including 1:20 on the PP and 1:58 on the PK). He was credited with one hit and no shots on goal, leaving him with just nine shots through seven games. He’s in a tough role, but he’ll have to find a way to get his shot volume up and get involved around the net more, where he makes hay.
Nazem Kadri – Likewise from Kadri, who was tasked with playing head-to-head versus Barkov, for the most part. He played 11 minutes against Barkov at 5v5 and finished with 11 shot attempts for and 13 against in the matchup. He didn’t generate much offensively, but he wasn’t on the ice for Marchessault’s goal — Florida’s only at even strength — and Barkov walked away with goose eggs on the score sheet and just one shot on goal. Just 27% on the faceoff dot. 14:58 TOI, all at even strength.
Connor Brown – Probably the quietest game from Brown to date. Almost always a player with a great motor and dogged determination, he was a step behind the play — much like his two other linemates — and he wasn’t much of a factor. He saw the lowest ice time on the team with only 12:38 TOI. He played 10 of those 12 minutes against the Marchessault-Barkov-Jagr line, against whom he managed a tepid 45.45% share of possession while on the ice, but the jump in the level of competition must be noted; he was playing against one of the hottest players in the league (Marchessault), one of the best two-way centermen in the game (Barkov), and a living legend in Jaromir Jagr.
van Riemsdyk – He was stood up with a big hit from McCann 2:00 minutes into the game, which looked like it may have broken his nose. He seemed to be fully engaged from that point on and capitalised on Marner carrying the mail and generating all sorts of offence for him and Bozak. His goal — a subtle, classic JVR backhand through the pads of Luongo — came off a great feed from Marner. He put four shots on goal in 14:56 TOI with 2:00 minutes logged on the powerplay. Good night from this line.
Tyler Bozak – He was the beneficiary of two teammates that were feeding off each other well and was able to — largely — be the third man high. Despite the tsunami of criticism he receives from fans wanting him to be more than he is, he’s a sneaky player who can fade in and out of plays and — particularly in the high slot and at the backdoor — he can bury chances in a quick-strike manner when he has his feet under him.
Mitch Marner – He was all over the ice tonight. Forechecking, backchecking, creating plays from nothing, sending aerial passes to himself and teammates, setting up three goals with beautiful passing plays… generally doing Magic Mitch things that observers of his OHL exploits are aware of, except he’s now doing it against a good NHL team. It was only a matter of time until Marner went off for a multi-point night and tonight was that night.
Zach Hyman – There was a good example early in the game of what Babcock always reminds the media about: his puck retrieval kick-started one of the strong first period shifts by Auston Matthews and William Nylander. He showed his hustle at the end to negate an icing after a mostly quiet game overall.
Auston Matthews – Like Nylander, he started strong — including a beautiful move that fooled Trocheck, where he faked like he was going against the grain on the cycle only to cut to the middle, opening up a big shooting lane and just missing wide right — but he faded as the game wore on. He finally had a really good game on the dot — 73%. Babcock was able to get his matchups the way he wanted for the most part; the Hyman/Matthews/Nylander line started 75% of their shifts in the offensive zone.
William Nylander – He started like he was going to have another multi-point night, but he couldn’t get one to fall in the first, including a post and two other good scoring chances. He was the F3 on a lot of his shifts and cycled in and out of a forechecking role with Matthews. In the first period, he was effectively disrupting plays through the middle of the ice and attacking the Panthers at will in transition, but he faded with the rest of the line as the game wore on. Their line was trying to stretch out passes more and more as they got frustrated — something young players are inclined to do — when they needed to do the opposite: Shorten up passes and play as a pack to earn their ice against teams that play tightly through the neutral zone. He played 14:56 overall, with 1:55 coming on the powerplay. He did not take any draws tonight.
Ben Smith – He was a 53.33% on the dot and took some game-saving draws to close out the game. Said Babcock: “The Smith line did it right all game; them and the Bozak line were our best lines tonight.” He should’ve buried on a first-period chance set up by Seth Griffith, but he couldn’t elevate the puck in tight. Certainly won’t be mistaken for a natural offensive provider.
Seth Griffith – A nice debut for the Wallaceburg native, who grew up a Maple Leaf fan. He was hard on pucks and determined in board battles. Off the cycle, he was able show off some of his passing abilities by sending three tape-to-tape indirect passes off the boards which allowed the defense to load up quickly for a shot on net. He nearly had a first point in his first game on his set up for Smith.
Morgan Rielly – An atypically poor decision while rushing the puck — he put the puck into Matthews’ feet in traffic rather than exploiting the vacuum to his left in the neutral zone —led directly to the 1-0 Florida goal. He was in the low 40s in possession in his 11 minutes against the Barkov line at 5v5. Three shots on goal in 21:42 TOI (1:55 on the PP and 2:05 on the PK).
Nikita Zaitsev – The rightie-rightie combo with Connor Carrick, formed part way through the game, was unorthodox on a Babcock team, but it seemed to work out. Babcock liked the pairing and mentioned as much after the game. He was a bit of a statue on the 2v1 after the Rielly giveaway for the 1-0 goal — he could’ve played it better by stepping up on the pass — but he was really solid otherwise. He maintains tight gaps off the rush and he’s a disruptive presence in his own zone, utilizing a good stick to break up plays as well as effective body positioning, bumps, and angling. Defensively, he’s been the best Leafs defenceman through seven games and he’s now got five points to his name as well – tied for fourth in team scoring.
Jake Gardiner – He set up Nylander at the far post on Nylander’s best chance of the game (struck the iron) in the first. His 17:43 TOI was split like so: 9:49 with Polak, 5:10 with Carrick, and 2:28 with Rielly at even strength. He was a 40% possession player with Polak and an 84.62% without him; an 85.71CF% player with Carrick and a 50CF% without him; and an 83.33CF% player with Rielly and 51.72% without him. He played most of his shifts with the Hyman-Matthews-Nylander line followed by the fourth line.
Connor Carrick – A freak game from him, in a good way; prior to the late push by Florida, he was at 22 shot attempts for and 1 against while on the ice. This regroup is the type of thing that certainly helps the possession game. He played 22 minutes — a season-high. His four shots on goal led Leafs blueliners.
Martin Marincin – 18:32TOI (3:45 on the PK), 11:55 of which was spent with Morgan Rielly (61.11CF% with, 42.86CF% without), 6:30 with Polak (42.86CF% with him, 61.11CF% without him) — and virtually no time with Carrick, Zaitsev, Gardiner. There were some rough zone exits that turned into ugly scrums on the halfwall, and he can be a polarizing player who is tough to watch, but he also has the subtle ability to redirect plays with his big wingspan and anticipatory skills. He came out with a 60% CF at the end of the game. A very Martin Marincin-like performance.
Frederik Andersen – He had no chance on the first goal, and responded nicely after that. It would have been easy to lose his cool there after the way the Tampa Bay game turned out. He shook off the bad second goal as well — down early and beat glove side, again — and closed out the game with some of his best play in a Maple Leaf jersey so far. Babcock was vindicated for sticking by him. Even though it’s game seven of the regular season, this was no doubt a big relief for the management, coach, player, and fan base.
Game In Six
Maple Leafs 3 vs. Panthers 2 – Possession Chart
Maple Leafs 3 vs. Panthers 2 – Shot Location Chart