The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up their 20th win in just the 28th game of the season with a dramatic overtime win in front of their home crowd at the KeyBank Center.

Your game in ten:

1.   That’s two games in a row — and more than a few this season — where the Leafs put in an incomplete performance and won anyway thanks to the fact that they are a stupid-skilled hockey team. It wasn’t a stolen win in the way the Minnesota game was, but they weren’t necessarily the better team at 5v5. Buffalo carried the majority of the first period (shots 14-7 BUF) as the Leafs did a lot of standing around in the first 15 minutes, with the Sabres winning the races and aggressively activating their defense while the Leafs reacted poorly.

There were a few really good pushback shifts led by the Tavares-Marner line late in the first and Leafs carried that over nicely into the first half of the second period, where it looked like they were going to take over the game with the long change against tired Sabres legs. That never fully materialized. After a couple of Jack Eichel goals in the third period, it took the Leafs until they were behind 3-2 late in the game to really find their legs again, at which point it quickly became apparent that they were certainly going tie it up at 3-3 and probably go on to win the game.

It was an impressive push to end the game and it ended up even in the shot attempt battle, although you would have expected the Leafs to dictate the 5v5 play a little more with the Sabres in a back-to-back. But the Leafs’ talent level won the day again.

2.  I wrote this bit before the game, so don’t take it as me opportunistically dumping on the fourth line after a night when they were a dash-two and were stapled to the bench while Josh Leivo scored in his debut for Vancouver, but I would’ve handled the Leivo situation differently.

Clearly, a promise was made by Kyle Dubas to Leivo and his agent that he wouldn’t sit for an extended stretch of games again. Given that Babcock has full autonomy over the lineup decisions, Dubas couldn’t exactly tell him he needed to maintain an active rotation for the player’s sake. The likelihood was Babcock was going to sit Leivo until something forced his hand — i.e. an injury — and Leivo definitely deserved better than that. From that perspective, I get why the move was made.

It’s a bit of a shame, though. I’d like to think Dubas and Babcock could’ve sat down together and sorted out a plan for a rotation that could’ve worked in order to hold onto a unique, useful depth player — big and skilled, good on the wall — who was contributing plenty to an effective fourth line. In a Cup-contending season, it feels wrong to make the depth of your team knowingly worse.

My plan in an ideal world would’ve been to waive Martin Marincin, keep Leivo, and rotate him in for Ennis or Lindholm, with Gauthier coming in and out at times as well. I’d have liked to have seen evidence that Ennis – Lindholm – Brown is as effective as Ennis – Gauthier – Leivo was before making the decision to move Leivo along.

Leivo can also fill in capably on a legitimate scoring line if a rash of injuries ever hit the Leafs. I get the Leafs identity is speed, skill and the transition game, but I’d also be pretty hesitant to make this team any smaller than it already is as far as players who can play a heavy game and work the walls effectively.

3.  On the note about Par Lindholm, this was his toughest night in the NHL so far. He got cleaned out by a winger on the draw versus Jeff Skinner then lost positioning on him in front for the 1-1 goal, and followed it up with another ugly moment on the 2-2 goal as well. Babcock had seen enough of line four at that point; Lindholm played a season-low 6:52 and won just one of four draws, while Gauthier and Ennis finished at five minutes and change.

4.  That meant Babcock leaned on Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares harder than he’s accustomed to; some of it was overtime minutes, but all three were over 22 minutes in TOI. The Tavares and Marner line had a bunch of dominant shifts and the Matthews line scored twice in regulation in addition to Matthews’ OT winner, although I’m still not seeing the fit with the Marleau – Matthews – Kapanen line on a shift-to-shift basis at 5v5.

Full credit to Kapanen’s effort to get the puck up ice quickly with seconds left on the clock and drop the pass to Matthews in 3-on-3 OT, but in the run of play at evens, it feels like the chemistry isn’t there and the puck isn’t moving up the ice as smoothly as it will once William Nylander is in Kapanen’s place (some of that is just down to Matthew still getting up to speed, but the fit doesn’t look right). The great news is that is only one or two games away now.

5.  The other good news is that, while Nazem Kadri turned the puck over prior to one of the Jack Eichel goals, Kadri and Andreas Johnsson were finding each other well out there and generating their fair share of scoring opportunities, particularly early on in the game. That was the Leafs’ best line to start the night when the other three units’ legs’ weren’t going yet. Plugging Kapanen in on the other side there and running Marleau – Matthews – Nylander, Hyman – Tavares – Marner, and Johnsson – Kadri – Kapanen looks like the initial configuration with Nylander back. Going to be a thrill to see the full complement together up front.

6.  Auston Matthews’ compete level was lacking on a few key battles late in this game (one in particular behind the net in the final minute of the third with the game tied 3-3) and, frankly, he didn’t look his best shift-to-shift throughout the night (still getting up to speed/looks gassed at points). But he pulled off two miraculous moments as superstar game-breakers of his ilk are wont to do: The pluck and tuck, as I’ve labeled the first goal, and the trademark pull-into-the-feet far-side snipe for the overtime winner.

The OT goal wasn’t exactly poorly played by Vlad Sobotka (a forward). You’re just hopeless against this.

Travis Dermott’s reaction is on point:

That’s 15 goals in 14 games and he hasn’t shared a minute of ice time with Nylander yet.

7.  On top of the no-look backhand pass to John Tavares for the Jake Gardiner goal, you could put together around a five-minute reel of jaw-dropping “lost shifts” by Mitch Marner from this game. He’s putting on dizzying displays of skill not just in moments or flashes throughout the game but shift after shift, after shift, after shift. And to think this kid is still going to learn how to properly shoot before he’s fully formed (he struggled getting pucks through and troubling the goalie enough a fair bit tonight). It boggles the mind how good Marner is going to be at 24-25.

8.  Morgan Rielly has really mastered how to change his feet and shooting angles to get shots through, complementing his impeccable instincts at the offensive blue line. That was a fantastic play to stop up and get the puck through into an area off the backboards that allowed Patrick Marleau to make a play on it for the 3-3 goal.

That’s now 30 points in 28 games for Rielly, who is not slowing down any time soon.

With that goal, despite the slow start, Patrick Marleau is up to seven goals and 16 points, which is a 21-goal, 47-point pace.

9.  Forget the fact that both teams are neck and neck in the standings right now, the Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews rivalry delivering almost every single time is bringing this QEW rivalry back on its own. For those scoring it:

Eichel has eight goals and 13 points in 10 games vs. the Leafs including two game-winners, while Matthews has seven goals and nine points in eight games including one game-winner.  The Leafs have won five of those eight games after tonight.

10.  Another game where highlight-reel goals from the Leafs’ stars up front will take over the headlines and highlight packs, but none of it would’ve been possible without a 40+ save effort from Frederik Andersen.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Buffalo Sabres

Game Highlights

Joe Bowen’s full call of overtime