In their first game against the Boston Bruins since last season’s first-round defeat, the Toronto Maple Leafs entered shorthanded (no John Tavares) and played with something to prove.
There was a lot of intensity in the game, some drama, and a bunch of non-calls against Boston, as per usual. The fact that the Leafs did not have a power play the entire game is laughable.
Here’s your game in ten:
1. In a bit of a curveball, Mike Babcock had a surprise in store by uniting Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. The Matthews line went head-to-head against the Patrice Bergeron line and I believe that’s what drove this decision. William Nylander really struggles breaking the puck out when he’s pressured, and Babcock shifted a winger he has been using against top lines for over a year now onto Matthews’ wing. While Marner and Matthews were by no means magical together offensively (in regulation), they held up well with Andreas Johnsson there as the line had seven shot attempts for and five against overall. This was the right decision for a number of reasons, but particularly because Nylander struggled for large stretches of the night and was hemmed in his zone a number of times.
2. The Leafs as a team had their best first period of the season — they were engaged physically, showed a level of intensity we are not used to seeing from them (particularly in the regular season), and created offense by and large by aggressively forechecking. Case and point is both the goals they scored in the period, which were caused by forechecks and turnovers:
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 19, 2019
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 19, 2019
3. I can’t remember a game coached by Mike Babcock where there was so much line juggling. We saw Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly take a defensive zone start together in the first, and Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci play together a bit in the second. At times, Nylander moved back up with Matthews. Kapanen moved up the lineup at times as well. Basically, everything shifted around at points except for the fourth line for the first two periods. We even saw a 4v4 shift of Matthews – Marner – Rielly – Barrie. Some of this was out of necessity due to…
4. Andreas Johnsson laid out for a shot block and really struggled to get up, eventually making his way to the bench and going down the tunnel. He did come back to the bench at one point in the second period, but he ultimately never returned and was ruled out for the rest of the game. Hopefully, he is okay as he was having a strong start to the season. This would put the Leafs down their top two left wingers and their 1B center.
Johnsson a bit shaken up after blocking a slapshot. pic.twitter.com/IZgYbkSWZ6
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) October 20, 2019
Moore was the first to move up to the Matthews line with Johnsson out. Timashov got some shifts with the first line, too. Basically, all bets were off after the Johnsson injury.
5. As good as the first period was, the second period was equally as bad. The Bruins controlled the flow of play, got pucks in deep, and attacked the right side of the Leafs defense repeatedly. Justin Holl got torched by Backes before running into the goalie. The shift before that, Pastrnak went through his own legs and around Barrie. Cody Ceci mishandled the puck a few times leading to extended zone time. The Leafs had two shots on net in the second through the first 16 minutes.
Earlier in the second, the Bruins drew a power play after dominating the Leafs in their zone for an extended period time before a tired Nick Shore eventually tripped Par Lindholm, of all people, leading to a power play. It again happened at the end of the period; the theme being the Leafs were just not winning battles and getting pucks out or covering their assignments defensively. The final shots for the period were 14-3 Boston.
6. The only reason the Leafs took a lead into the third period was Frederik Andersen and the Bruins missing two backdoor open nets (one by Bergeron, one by DeBrusk). In the first period, the Bruins had a clear breakaway (DeBrusk) that Andersen stopped, continuing the theme of the Leafs giving up nightly breakaways. Michael Hutchinson hasn’t won a game yet; in general, it’s not because he’s letting in blatantly bad goals — it’s because he’s not making big saves. Andersen gives them that, but it also speaks to the fact that the Leafs give up a number of high-quality chances on a nightly basis and need really good goaltending to win.
7. Elliotte Friedman noted in the second intermission that the Leafs have let teams know they are willing to move Nic Petan. This acquisition never really made sense other than the Leafs getting a player with some NHL games under his belt at a cheap price. Babcock has consistently looked for checkers — players that can successfully take defensive faceoffs and penalty kill on his fourth line — and Petan does none of those things. He does have some skill and can likely step in for teams in a spot-duty skill role. Perhaps if Johnsson is out for any length of time, he gets a chance to show that.
8. The Bruins, who scored in the final minute of the first period, got their second goal at the very start of the third period (albeit on a power play). It’s tough to be giving up goals at these swing moments. To the Leafs’ credit, they responded with a goal exactly one minute and one second later. Jake Muzzin made a great little adjustment to get the shot to the net and Kerfoot won a battle in front to pot the goal. Muzzin was fantastic the entire night and I’d argue he was the Leafs’ best player of the game (other than Andersen). Going into overtime, Muzzin led all skaters (both teams) in ice time at 26:17.
9. Have to call it out: Just an awful shift from Auston Matthews on the shift the Bruins tied the game 3-3 with under 5 minutes left in the third. It started with a faceoff win by the Leafs where Matthews had the puck in the middle of the defensive zone and tried a soft flip pass to himself around a defender that got batted down for zone time. Then, when the Leafs did get the puck out and the Bruins came back in, he had the puck on his stick and a chance to get it out. He was weak on the puck, lost the battle, and the Bruins promptly scored.
The announcers noted Ceci on the play, but it’s not on Ceci there – it’s a bouncing puck around the net on bad ice at the end of the game. All he can do there is whack it to a teammate — and he did. Matthews was the one that needed to make a play and get the puck out. He didn’t. Tie game.
Note: in the final minute, Babcock put on Frederik Gauthier to get the game to overtime instead of putting out Matthews a final time.
10. I thought the Leafs carried the play in overtime and eventually got rewarded with the winner. The Matthews and Marner duo dominated that entire shift with a number of chances. I honestly thought they were tired, and if the puck went the other way at any point, it would have been bad news. We don’t usually see Matthews as the player throwing saucer passes and Marner finishing them off with one-timers, but they did and it was beautiful. Leafs win.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 20, 2019
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts