No turkey hangover here: This was about as good of a game as you’re going to see this early in the regular season.
The Maple Leafs remain perfect on the season after mounting a comeback from 3-1 down thanks to a dominant final 40 minutes plus overtime, capped by a jaw-dropping Auston Matthews game-winner.
Your game in ten:
1) The Leafs watched the Hawks play early and were (slightly) outshot and out-attempted at evens through 20 minutes, but Chicago learned a harsh lesson about parking the bus against this Leafs team: Toronto dominated with 76% of the shot attempts in the second period followed by 90% in the third and finished with a 43-21 shots advantage. As James Mirtle pointed out, by the possession numbers, the Leafs hadn’t dominated a game this badly since 2010-11, and tonight they were playing against a 50-win Blackhawks team that entered this game the winners of two in a row by a combined score of 15-2.
2) It’s also worth pointing out that all three of the Chicago goals were pretty fortuitous. On the first, Marner directed a centering pass into his own net, although to their credit, the Hawks had been cycling on the Leafs prior to. On the second goal, Gardiner attempted a D-to-D play to Rielly behind the net; while Brandon Saad was probably intercepting it anyway and it wasn’t a firm ring around the end boards, the only reason the puck came straight back out in front as quickly as it did was because it hit Andersen’s broken stick behind the goal. That also meant Andersen couldn’t poke the puck away as it sat loose in the crease before Jonathan Toews jammed it in. On the third goal, the Leafs’ penalty kill looked to be in fantastic shape, pressuring the puck all over the ice and giving up next to nothing, and the crazy bounce off the end boards pin-balled out perfectly for Richard Panik.
3) You wouldn’t put anything beyond this Leafs offense right now, but 3-0 down 12 minutes in, with the way Anton Forsberg was playing, would’ve been a big ask to come back from. Big save here from Frederik Andersen on Patrick Sharp’s breakaway:
4) With a 5-for-6 night – the one goal was the crazy bounce—this was a good answer from the Leafs penalty kill after giving up a couple against New York. The biggest factor was disrupting clean entries and setups by pressuring the puck up ice, which Fehr, Brown, Hyman and Komarov did a bang-up job of. Another factor was Andersen benefitting from cleaner looks at pucks than he was able to get on Saturday night against the Rangers. One example was this subtle, smart veteran play by Ron Hainsey to hold up and keep the lane clear so his goalie could make the save prior to tying up his guy, which you can see Andersen acknowledge after the whistle:
Hainsey played over seven minutes shorthanded, on top of grabbing his second assist in three games (on the Brown goal).
5) The Leafs during Auston Matthews’ 10:55 of 5v5 ice time: 12 shots for, 0 against; 20 shot attempts for, 3 against; nine high-danger chances for, one against. His primary opposition at evens: Duncan Keith (7:48, 84% CF), Brent Seabrook (7:31, 83% CF), Patrick Kane (7:22, 86% CF). He took this game over on the second-period shift just prior to the power play that preceded the 2-1 Leafs goal. There was only one outcome when he walked in on that 2v1 with Gardiner in OT. Simply a dominant performance.
6) The Leafs’ bottom pairing handled itself reasonably well for two rookies playing their second games in the NHL with one (Rosen) on his off side. Borgman took a costly penalty demolishing DeBrincat without the puck and Rosen was forced to take one to negate Saad from breaking in alone while on the power play; they also got split down the middle by Sharp for his breakaway in the first. But they moved the puck pretty well, and Rosen looked reasonably comfortable on the right (worth noting is that he played a fair bit of it in the SHL). The pairing finished with around an 80% share of the shot attempts at 5v5. That said, their minutes were heavily managed and it’s not sustainable for the bottom pairing to only play 13-14 minutes a night, as they have the past few games, forever going forward. Babcock shielded them from any time on ice against the Hawks’ top six. We’ll see if either or both can gain more of his trust as they progress on the learning curve.
7) A goal and an assist for Nikita Zaitsev gives him two goals and two assists along with a plus-six through three games. It’s a small sample size, obviously, but this is an interesting early-season development. Zaitsev appeared to hit a wall in his rookie season around February-March last year before running into some injury problems in the playoffs. He admitted to being exhausted later on in his first ever 82-game NHL season, and he wasn’t helped by the attempt to make the Rielly-Zaitsev pairing happen longer than it should’ve. It’s hard to know what to expect from a 26-year-old sophomore in terms of growth, but the early signs are promising with the current fit next to Gardiner. The two lead the Leafs in on-ice shot attempts for through three games, with Zaitsev looking really confident to start the year (good to see his shot coming into play more, as it was under-utilized last year).
8) It is now two seasons in a row that Connor Brown (1g, 1a, 2 SOG, +2) has started the year on the fourth line and made it clear very quickly he is above that station. This might’ve been his best ever game as a Leaf. His feet never seemed to stop moving from the start to the end of his shifts, and he was constantly keeping plays alive with a relentless forecheck and board play. After earning a shift up the lineup with his old linemates Kadri and Komarov, he scored a huge goal that keyed the comeback at 3-1. He was a beast on the penalty kill, where his work rate and anticipation skills were a major asset in his 5:09 of 4v5 ice time.
It’s been a pleasure to watch Brown’s game grow so dramatically over the past three years from a skills perspective. He’s added a more dynamic cross-over while changing direction and has become adept at getting defencemen to turn their feet in the wrong direction to open up space, as well as stickhandling out of tempo with his skating stride, which makes him a more elusive player to cover.
9) You’re going to want to close the Leafs out before the end of regulation if you’re the opposition:
Leafs OT forward duos tonight:
Most teams would be thrilled with 2 of those 4 combos
— Anthony Petrielli (@APetrielli) October 10, 2017
Can we also please discuss this shift by Marner, Marleau, and Zaitsev? pic.twitter.com/O7k4EvzY88
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) October 10, 2017
10) 13 different Leafs have now scored through three games, with all but one of the team’s 20 players having recorded at least a point. Matthews has five points, four players have four points (JvR, Kadri, Zaitsev, Bozak), and five players have three through three games (Marleau, Komarov, Gardiner, Nylander, Marner). How does this team top the excitement of the first three games with 79 still to go? Can’t wait to find out.