The Toronto Maple Leafs overcame a 2-0 deficit with a dominant second-half performance before falling short in the shootout on Saturday night in Vancouver.
A dominant start by Mitch Marner saw his line account for five of the Leafs’ first six shots and their first two scoring chances. On his first shift of the game, Marner collected the puck behind the Vancouver net and fought off some crosschecks, hacks and whacks from Erik Gudbranson before setting up van Riemsdyk for a one-timer in the slot. It was a great example of hockey strength irrespective of size – Marner leaned on his stick and drove with his legs, shielding the puck effectively against an opponent he gives up three or four inches and 40 pounds to in Gudbranson.
A second dominant shift by the Marner line – initiated by a good pinch down the wall by Jake Gardiner – included a grade-A chance for Marner at the back post that Miller managed to stretch out and turn aside with his blocker. Toronto drew a powerplay during that sequence, but, unable to set up the zone, it seemed to hurt their momentum. The Canucks’ top-five penalty kill got to work, with Bo Horvat generating the best chance of the Leaf powerplay — he intercepted a blind pass by Nazem Kadri high in the offensive zone, rounded Gardiner, and tested Frederik Andersen on a partial breakaway.
The Canucks collected some momentum off of the kill and went on to open the scoring 13 minutes into the game. After Marner flipped the puck out of the Leaf zone to relieve some pressure applied by the Burrows-Horvat line, Vancouver’s forwards changed while Sbisa dumped the puck in. Matt Hunwick turned a routine pickup along the boards — with no forechecker in earshot — into a turnover into the slot that allowed the Sedins to get to work on the cycle. The Canucks eventually worked the puck up high to Daniel Sedin, whose shot took a deflection and beat Andersen glove high to put Vancouver up 1-0. JVR was sucking dirty pond water by that stage of his shift and failed to close down on Sedin at the point.
The Auston Matthews, Zach Hyman and Connor Brown line pushed back with two good offensive zone shifts late in the first period, one of which forced a Vancouver icing. Tyler Bozak won the subsequent draw back to Martin Marincin, whose point shot bounced off the end boards and back out in front. Bozak’s backhand effort found the post to Miller’s right on the Leafs’ second grade-A chance of the period.
After the teams traded rushes in a back-and-forth final minute, the period ended with the Canucks leading 1-0 on the scoreboard and 9-7 on the shot clock, while the shot attempts favoured Toronto 18-16.
The Leafs started the second period brightly, creating some offensive zone time and generating the first couple of shots of the period. William Nylander — now moved up onto Kadri’s wing – curled away from his check and set up Komarov in the slot for a one-timer that Miller was equal to.
On the Matthews line’s first shift of the period, a quick up by Frederik Andersen created an odd-man situation for the Leafs, but Zach Hyman’s pass was off the mark behind Morgan Rielly, leading to a turnover with Rielly caught up ice. As the Canucks rushed back the other way, Nikita Zaitsev should’ve played it as a developing 2-on-1 situation but didn’t, and Smith was unable to get back in time to prevent Sven Baertschi from scoring the 2-0 goal after taking the pass in front.
Immediately following the goal, the inevitable Erik Gudbranson vs. Matt Martin fight broke out. It was an even bout, with Gudbranson landing a few early and Martin landing a few late.
With the game starting to feel as though it was getting away from the Leafs, a clean penalty kill — during which they gave up just a pair of nothing shots from the perimeter — was followed by a goaltender interference penalty by Canucks. The Leaf powerplay got to work quickly after a draw win by Bozak; Marner faked a shot on the right side before kicking the puck back up high to Morgan Rielly, who found Tyler Bozak to the left of the net in space. The rebound off of Bozak’s one-timer fell for JVR in front, who scored his 11th of the season to halve the deficit.
The Leafs took the game over from that point forward, generating 12 shot attempts to the Canucks’ 3 in the remainder of the second period. After Nazem Kadri drew a retaliatory slash out of Michael Chaput, sending the Leafs to their third powerplay of the game, Leo Komarov’s one-timer from between the hashmarks somehow missed the net wide. Matthews walked over the blue line shortly after, toe-dragged and ripped one just over the crossbar.
After the powerplay expired, Ben Smith, Zach Hyman and Connor Brown combined, with Brown setting up Smith in front for a point-blank chance at the lip of the crease that Smith somehow flubbed wide of an empty net.
The floodgates seemed on the verge of bursting open for the Leafs; they outshot the Canucks 15-10 in the period and carried a 23-13 edge in shot attempts, including a 12-3 run to end the period.
The Leafs jumped on the Canucks early in the third, tying the game up two minutes into the period. Martin Marincin shot the puck intentionally wide with Zach Hyman and Connor Brown situated down low; after attempting a similar play seconds earlier, Hyman collected the puck behind the net and found Matthews in the slot for the 2-2 goal. Hyman and Matthews were simpatico on the play; Hyman passed it more to an area than a stick, and Matthews read his intentions perfectly. It was on and off Matthews’ stick in an instant for his 11th of the season.
That the Leafs didn’t go on to win it in regulation from there was down to some missed opportunities and the outstanding play of Ryan Miller. The Leafs outshot the Canucks 11-4 and attempted 28 shots to the Canucks’ 11 in the final 20 minutes.
On the Matthews line’s next shift following their goal, Hyman had a point-blank chance in front with Miller down and out, set up again by a Marincin point shot, but he backhanded it wide of an empty cage.
After a key penalty kill by the Leafs at the midway point of the final frame, Nazem Kadri turned Erik Gudbranson inside-out with a toe drag before missing wide on a backhand attempt from the slot, drawing a hooking penalty in the process. A point shot from Jake Gardiner in the second half of the powerplay deflected onto a platter for Auston Matthews to the side of the net, but Matthews whiffed on a bouncing puck with a gaping net to shoot at. A feed from Nylander 10 seconds later found Matthews in a similar spot, but he couldn’t elevate his one-timer over Miller’s outstretched pad.
The Leafs conceded a grade-A chance against at the tail end of the powerplay and were thankful for Bo Horvat firing wide on a shorthanded 2v1. Frederik Andersen came up big a few minutes later after the Leafs gave up another 2v1 back at even strength, with Rielly making a bad decision to pinch without support through the middle. Zaitsev defended the play well, leaving the shooter to Andersen and tying up the pass option in Alex Burrows, who couldn’t collect on the rebound.
A flurry of chances nearly decided the game before the final buzzer. The Leafs came close through Tyler Bozak with a little over two minutes left in regulation; after a hopeful pass by Mitch Marner was deflected by Ben Hutton into JVR’s path down the left wing, JVR’s drop pass found Bozak in front for a point-blank scoring opportunity. Miller came up with an outstanding glove save to keep the game level.
Toronto’s strong third-period effort was nearly undone after losing a defensive zone draw with a minute and a half remaining. Alex Burrows threw the puck across goal and it found the stick of Bo Horvat with his back to goal at the far post; Horvat’s backhand effort was met by the glove hand of a sprawling Andersen to preserve the point for the Leafs.
At the other end, with a minute left in regulation, Zach Hyman won another battle down low before centering for Connor Brown in front. Miller got a piece of Brown’s shot before Troy Stetcher cleared a trickling puck off of the goal line. Auston Matthews had another look at goal from the right circle on the same shift, but the Leafs couldn’t find a way past Miller.
It was more of the same in overtime; Nazem Kadri was frustrated by Miller twice and the Leafs outshot the Canucks 7-1 at three-on-three. Andersen needed to be sharp with his glove on Vancouver’s lone shot on net in OT, with Troy Stetcher nearly handcuffing the Leafs netminder with a shot aimed just above the left pad.
The Leafs had to take consolation in a moral victory after Bo Horvat and Markus Granlund converted in the shootout, with Mitch Marner the lone goal scorer in Toronto’s three attempts. The Leafs fell to 0-3 in the shootout this season, having scored just twice on nine attempts.
Post Game Notes
– There was a lot to like about the Leafs’ performance in this game. They outshot the Canucks 40-24, controlled 60% of the shot attempts — 75% in the final period — and were credited with 16 high-danger scoring chances to the Canucks’ eight according to Natural Stat Trick‘s count. They only gave up 24 shots over 65 minutes — their lowest shots against total of the season outside of their blowout loss to the Lightning (score effects).
Frederik Andersen has allowed two goals or less in seven consecutive games.
– Martin Marincin played 20:28 in his return to the lineup. He fumbled a few breakout passes – one that he plain whiffed on, another that he fired into a Canucks player’s skates up the middle with pass options to his left and right – but for the most part acquitted himself pretty well for a player who hadn’t seen game action in a couple of weeks. Twice, in lieu of forcing a shot through a block, he fired the puck low and hard off the end boards for bank plays leading to scoring chances – one led to Tyler Bozak hitting the post in the first, the other assisted on Matthews’ tying goal. Quietly, Marincin has four points in his last five games amid all the scratches. He also finished second on the team – behind Connor Brown — with a 74% Corsi For in 18 minutes of even strength action.
– Zach Hyman’s missed pass on the 3v2 rush to Rielly – leading to the Canucks goal the other way – is the type of play that understandably frustrates Leafs fans calling for more skill on Matthews’ wing. Hyman also assisted on Matthews’ goal later in the game and set up an office behind the Canucks net in the third period. The line is among the best possession trios in the league, is dominating off of the cycle on a nightly basis, and on top of that Hyman now has five points in his last five games. This combination isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Hyman could’ve had a goal of his own and two or three more assists with some of the chances his line created in this game.
– With his goal, Auston Matthews moves into a tie for fourth in the NHL in even strength goals (10). Another five-shot game moves him into fifth in shots on goal with 89.
– Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick played 13:33 and 14:26, respectively, which are their lowest time-on-ice totals of the season. Without control over the matchups on the road, the pairing got hemmed in a couple of times by the Horvat and Sedin lines, so Babcock scaled back their minutes accordingly. In addition to the Hunwick turnover preceding the 1-0 tally, they iced the puck on three occasions (it would’ve been five if a forward didn’t manage to beat out a couple more), and finished bottom on the team with a 36.8% CF.
– After closing out their Western road trip with three points of a possible six, the Leafs will now play one game in the next six days (Wednesday at home versus Minnesota) followed by five in the next eight.
All Situations Shot Attempts