The Toronto Maple Leafs showed improvements in some areas — starting on time, overall competitiveness throughout the 60 minutes — but dealt with setbacks in others — special teams, discipline — as they fell to the Washington Capitals in overtime on Tuesday night.

First Period

The Leafs have been struggling to start on time all month long, but with the benefit of a few days rest and a bit of urgency in their stride, they came out of the gate flying, established a forecheck, and didn’t take long to open the scoring.

That’s a much better tone-setting shift to start a home game.

Following the goal, the temperature and physicality of the game picked up quickly, beginning an unrelenting stream of special teams time that lasted basically all game long right through the three-on-three overtime.

Washington did generate their looks on their first power play, but they were unable to capitalize and the successful kill went straight to Leafs‘ legs.

While the Leafs were skating and competing well early, some east-west passing through the slot from the Capitals led to John Carlson tying the game up:

There wasn’t a ton of scoring chances or even shots on goal on offer at 5v5 in this game as both sides played tight-checking hockey and eliminated time and space through the neutral zone effectively. The scoring chances at evens were hard-earned:

As the period drew to a close, the Leafs had their special teams put to the test as they had to kill a penalty before immediately getting a power play of their own. Toronto was able to take care of business shorthanded, but couldn’t convert on the man-advantage.

Absent for the remainder of the period (and game) was Jake Muzzin, who got shaken up by what appeared to be charlie horse sustained on what seemed like a clear charge from a familiar pest in Tom Wilson:

Just as the Leafs receive Travis Dermott back in the lineup and Zach Hyman and John Tavares are nearing returns of their own, Leafs Nation was holding its collective breath about the potential loss of their most reliable defender in the month of October.

Second Period

The Leafs started the middle frame on the power play and nearly converted again right off of the opening faceoff.

Following another unsuccessful attempt on the man-advantage, the Leafs got another opportunity a couple of minutes later and again couldn’t convert on the opportunity despite better overall puck movement. Matthews needed to be alert and hustle back to negate a breakaway late in the PP:

The onslaught of penalties both ways continued unabated, and that usually ends only one way against a Capitals power play oriented around the lethal shots of Ovechkin and Carlson.

The Leafs kept getting opportunities on the man advantage as the period progressed and letting them all go to waste. With each successive opportunity coming up empty, the SBA crowd let their team hear it with a smattering of boos.

Back at evens, the Leafs finally broke through with a huge goal in the final 40 seconds of the period.

Strong work there by Nylander entering the zone after picking the puck up in his defensive third — those are the types of plays that don’t show up on the scoresheet but are only made possible by the initial controlled entry to set the zone, an area of the game where Nylander remains highly under-appreciated.

Matthews did a great job signaling for the tip and Tyson Barrie delivered a hard low pass into the right spot, snapping his nine-game points drought in the process. Pretty goal.

Third Period

Both teams continued to defend hard and play a physical brand of hockey at 5v5, including a second questionable hit from Wilson on Tyson Barrie.

After taking his second big hit in as many games, Barrie was again able to stay in the game. After the whistle, Frederik Gauthier provided a much-needed response by scrumming with Wilson:

On the ensuing power play, the Leafs finally snapped out of the funk. Pushing back after the hit as Gauthier did and then making the other team pay on the ensuing power play is exactly the type of response you’re looking for if you’re the Leafs:

The staples of what makes the Nylander-Matthews combination so effective were on display here: Nylander did a great job of out-waiting the defender and saucing the puck into a high-percentage area, and Matthews made no mistake with his trademark catch-and-release. Of note here: Matthews and Marner were back on their strong sides.

With the crowd now back into the game, the Leafs kept the pressure on with some quality looks. A single rush back the other way, however, proved costly:

Just before the clip starts, the sequence actually starts with Matthews not stopping on the puck inside the offensive blue line. From there, Rielly got walked by TJ Oshie in what was a disappointing sequence from a couple of players who otherwise played strong games.

To their credit, the Leafs did not stop playing after the tying goal went against them. Their stars were leading the charge, including a notable Matthews battle in front after the whistle:

With time winding down, the Leafs had a golden opportunity to win the game thanks to a late penalty by the Capitals. It yielded a few good looks, but no dice on the game-winner:


On the first shift in the extra time, Nylander went to the box for tripping and gifted the Capitals yet another power play. The Leafs held the fort and were close to coming out unscathed when Marner took a sloppy high sticking penalty late in his shift with a second remaining on the kill.

As was the case in regulation, the PKers can work their tails off, but there is only so much time you can afford a power play this dangerous before it kills you:

Post Game Notes

  • The Andreas JohnssonAuston MatthewsWilliam Nylander line was the Leafs best in terms of the number of quality looks they were able to generate off the forecheck, cycle, and entering the zone with control. Matthews looked like he was out to respond after the Ovechkin comments and more importantly, his own statements that he needs to be better over 200 feet. Not stopping on the puck in the offensive zone just before the 3-3 goal was a good reminder of how one slipup in your habits can lead to bad news against a good team, but it was otherwise a much more competitive performance than Saturday night in Montreal. The Leafs need more of these out of #34 with Tavares still out.
  • In his return to the lineup, Travis Dermott ended up having a quiet but reasonably clean night as his usage in the game was limited; understandably, Babcock is easing him back into action (12 minutes and change). He finished the game with a 42.86 CF%, a 45.45 FF%, a 57.15 SF%, a 51.87 xGF%, and a 62.50 SCF% at 5v5. There were some flashes of his elusiveness and ability to hold his blue line. Patience is going to be required here as he gets up to speed.
  • What’s the recovery time on a charlie horse? That looked to (hopefully) be extent of the damage for Jake Muzzin and Babcock confirmed as much after the game, which is relieving news as it could easily have been a knee situation there. It goes without saying Muzzin is a massive part of the Leafs blue line, is their most credible shutdown defender, and has been off to a fantastic start to the season. There are no games until Saturday now, so here’s hoping for no missed time.
  • What a weird month for Mitch Marner coming off of the contract situation. No one who has watched him closely, and probably not Marner himself, would be overly happy with how he played overall and the number of important goals against and other negative plays he’s been involved in, including the costly penalty in OT tonight — the second time he’s been directly involved in an OT goal against to start the season (the other coming vs. Columbus, leading to the penalty-shot winner by Gustav Nyqust). And yet he has 16 points in 14 games after the power-play assist tonight.
    It went unnoticed because it didn’t end in a goal, but the Leafs nearly gave away the game shorthanded on their late third-period power play because Marner stopped moving his feet and got beat up the ice for an odd-man rush. He’s got another level to find as the calendar turns to November, to be sure.
  • The Leafs special teams were the biggest factor in this game. By night’s end, Toronto finished with 1/8 on the power play and 2/7 on the penalty kill. Both the lack of discipline and inconsistencies on the man advantage have been two areas of weakness that came to a head tonight. There is a lot happening in seven unsuccessful attempts to go over it all in one review —  passing up some good looks, plenty of good saves by Holtby — but the static nature of the Leaf power play stood out. They’ve got players in Marner, Matthews, and Nylander that are capable of getting lost in coverage and taking advantage of openings if they could rotate around the zone more and force more handoffs out of the PK defenders. A stationary PP is the easiest type to defend.
  • With this game in the books, the Leafs conclude the month of October with a 6-5-3 record and 15 points. At the time of this writing, this puts the team in third place in the Atlantic Division with just a single point ahead of the fourth-place Florida Panthers. While Mike Babcock’s future with the team has been brought up incessantly in the media during the slow-ish start, it goes without saying that there was a lot going working against the team: a number of new faces, key players out with injuries, inconsistent goaltending, a tough schedule. Points in nine of 14 and a 6-2-2 record in non-tired b2b situations is no cause for panic yet.

Clip of the Night

Notable Stats

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Locations

Condensed Game