The Toronto Maple Leafs had a perfect three-for-three start firmly in hand before a total third-period collapse — partially salvaged by a late Auston Matthews tying goal to grab a point — spoiled the first Leafs vs. Habs HNIC rivalry game of the season.

First Period

For the third consecutive game, the Buds came out of the gates sleepy. Barely a minute into the opening frame, the Leafs were already up against it and conceded a couple of early scoring chances before Max Domi buried his first of the year to make it 1-0.

The first goal of the game seemed to wake the Leafs up as they countered with a flurry of chances of their own, with Carey Price holding them at bay in the early going. After a few minutes of pressure, the Leafs broke through thanks to you-know-who:

Just before the clip starts, William Nylander set the stage by jumping on a Habs breakout pass in the o-zone and fending off a defender down low. Morgan Rielly powered in off the point and created an opening with his feet before a supremely-confident Auston Matthews, instantly identifying the opportunity developing, finished another impressive one-timer for his fourth of the season. Pretty goal.

Following the goal, Toronto continued their push offensively, although Montreal got their licks in as well as the game opened up into chancy October-style hockey. The Leafs went to their first power-play opportunity of the game but couldn’t convert despite a few good looks.

A series of 50/50 shifts followed before the Leafs‘ third line provided a spark with an impressive sequence: A nice finish from Alex Kerfoot for his first as a Leaf, but the goal was all down to Trevor Moore’s dogged forecheck and quick feed out front.

As the period wound down, the Canadiens manufactured a push after falling behind, resulting in their first power-play chance. The Leafs were still getting their looks at the other end:

Ilya Mikheyev’s motor and ability to disrupt plays / strip pucks with his reach is proving to be a real asset on the penalty kill, where he’s earned Babcock’s trust remarkably quickly (including in the 4v3 in OT later in the night) for a player who has spent all of one preseason and three regular-season games on a North American ice surface.

The emotions of the game began to boil with the clock ticking down on the opening frame.

As a refresher: Kasperi Kapanen and Max Domi have a history dating back to the trash-talking exchange in the Leafs’ 6-3 win last season. Leafs vs. Habs on HNIC with hate in the air… you love to see it.

Second Period

The Leafs started the period with a little more purpose than the first, generating a series of quality looks before they found their third of the night: After scoring their first off of a good forecheck, the Leafs’ third line got their transition game working with a good pass from Kerfoot to a streaking Mikheyev, who found Moore for a confident finish.

The physical play ramped up as the period progressed both between and after the whistles.  That included a nice hit from Dmytri Timashov in the neutral zone:

Later, Nick Shore came to Mitch Marner’s defense after the Leafs’ $10.9 million man was bungled into the boards by Jeff Petry, although Shore stopped short of dropping the gloves.

As the period progressed, the scoring chances continued apace at both ends, with both teams taking chances up the ice and leaving themselves vulnerable in transition.

Third Period

This game looked dead and buried after the Leafs capitalized on their fifth man-advantage of the game a few minutes in thanks to power-play unit #2:

As Alec noted on Twitter, it’s encouraging to see Nylander targeting a hole in the goaltender instead of top-corner placement; shooting more often for dirty goals, tips, deflections, and rebounds feels like it’s the next step in his evolution offensively.

This game then totally unraveled on three missed assignments off of faceoffs — two following lost draws in the defensive zone.

Just a rough sequence all-around for the Rielly-Ceci pairing on this one. Rielly was furious with himself after getting beat by Max Domi before the puck also went in off his skate.

A few minutes later, a lost draw made it a whole new hockey game after Ceci lost his man off of the faceoff.

With Montreal on a power play and the Leafs on their heels, Kasperi Kapanen inexplicably threw his broken stick at Jeff Petry, resulting in a penalty shot that Petry took full advantage of.

Just moments later, the Canadiens again got to work off of an offensive-zone faceoff, with John Tavares losing Phil Danault on another converted scramble in front of the net.

The Habs were choking the game out pretty effectively for the next three minutes, but there was an air of inevitability to how Auston Matthews went out and tied the game with his fifth of the young season. This was a good bit of work by Marner and Barrie in the buildup, too:

Following a few close calls in the final minute, the first Habs vs. Leafs HNIC game of the season was headed to extra time with the promise of more chaos to follow.

Overtime and Shootout

A wild 3v3 OT included Carey Price getting the better of Marner alone on a breakaway:

Not long after, Tavares took a slashing penalty to negate a scoring chance, setting the stage for about 12 Shea Weber one-timers on the ensuing 4v3, a couple of which were stopped by Michael Hutchinson and a couple more missed the net. Marner, Ceci, Rielly, Mikheyev, and Muzzin put in good PK shifts to keep the game alive.

After the penalty expired, Tavares had the game on his stick but Price stonewalled another Leafs breakaway:

With a shootout needed to decide the extra point, Paul Byron scored the lone goal for either team, giving the Canadiens an unlikely come-from-behind 6-5 victory. The shootout attempts from Marner, Matthews, and Tavares didn’t work Price enough.

Post Game Notes

  • The third line was the Leafs’ best and most consistent by a fair margin. The trio of Trevor MooreAlexander Kerfoot, and Ilya Mikheyev combined for a 58.82 CF%, a 64.29 FF%, a 50.00 SF%, an 89.74 xGF%, an 11.34 SCF% Rel, and a 100.00 HDCF% at 5v5. The line combined for two goals and looked dangerous most shifts. Babcock started them for the third period and actually used them up against the Habs’ top line a fair bit throughout (nearly 7 minutes head to head). For two rookies and a new Leaf, that’s a pretty good show of trust from the coach after the line’s nondescript performance against Columbus.
  • On the flip side, a night to forget for the Morgan RiellyCody Ceci pairing; 35.48 CF%, a 36 FF%, a 35.29 SF%, a 25.00 GF%, a 32.46 xGF%, and an 18.75 SCF% at 5v5. They were directly at fault on two of the third-period goals against; they were also caught up ice and couldn’t recover on the early 1-0 goal.
  • Michael Hutchinson made his first start of the season: .881 SV%, a 4.55 GAA, a 2.76 xGA, a .750 HDSV%, and 37 saves on 42 shots wasn’t a totally fair reflection of his play. The Leafs gave up far too many grade-As and he came up with some timely saves, especially late in the third period and throughout overtime. Babcock said after the game that he, “felt bad for Hutch because, in the end, we hung him out to dry.”
  • Moore, Kerfoot, Mikheyev, and Rasmus Sandin were the only positive possession players on the Leafs by the end of the game — which more or less agrees with the eye test, although Nylander’s game — an excellent first period, in particular — deserves a nod.  The third game in four nights against a rested Habs team, it caught up to the Leafs tonight. Babcock’s point that a 3-in-4 to start the year is a different story than midway through the year is probably a valid one — the systems play and overall structure isn’t dialed in yet, so you don’t have that to lean on when you’re trying to see out a win with tired legs.
  • A few quick closing thoughts: Kasperi Kapanen is a minus-three with zero points through three games (plus one boneheaded penalty), so expect a lot of chatter about moving up Moore or Mikheyev, but it seems unlikely Babcock is going to move away from the third line after tonight’s performance.

    It’s a good opportunity for one or both of Nic Petan and Jason Spezza to maybe establish a bit of a leg up on Monday night; this was the first game so far that line four wasn’t giving the team good minutes. It looks like the Leafs are going to take at least 10 games to evaluate what they have in their depth forwards, though.

Clip of the Night

Notable Stats

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Locations

Condensed Game