The Toronto Maple Leafs erased a 0-2 deficit before falling short in the shootout on Saturday night, but the big storyline surrounds a different kind of loss — Mitch Marner left the game with an ankle injury.
Your game in ten:
1. It’s the bigger talking point than the game itself, so here goes: We know it’s an ankle injury for Marner. The big question surrounds the nature of the likely sprain.
Not to be a doomsday guy — zero medical background here — but when the leg folds under the body in such a manner, you’re usually thinking it’s either a knee or a high-ankle sprain. The Blues just lost Alex Steen to a high-ankle sprain and it’s a four-week timeline before the ankle can even be re-evaluated. Timothy Liljegren suffered a high-ankle sprain down with the Marlies last season and missed two-and-a-half months. Taylor Hall had his season ended by a high-ankle sprain in the month of January back in 2018.
I have no clue if the fact that he tried to come back multiple times and could place his weight on it afterward increases the likelihood it’s a lower-grade ankle sprain (let’s hope). Athletes who’ve been through one will often say they’ll take a break before a high-ankle sprain. Let’s hope for the best possible news here. It would obviously change the Leafs’ roster-crunch situation entirely if the recovery is more than a few weeks — that would bring LTIR into the discussion.
2. Thought this was a pretty even game overall that could’ve easily been a 4-3 or 5-4 game rather than a 2-2 with the shootout decider. It was pretty chancey at both ends but competitive throughout. Both teams committed enough defensive mistakes in the third that they could’ve just as easily lost the game as won the game. Both goaltenders were their team’s best players.
3. Both goals for the Leafs tonight were scored with the Matthews line and the Travis Dermott – Justin Holl pair on the ice. The pair being active in the offense helped create both goals — Holl pinched down the wall nicely and extended the cycle prior to the 2-2; Dermott jumped up as the late man and finished nicely for the 2-1 goal.
Here’s a pretty eye-popping number: Travis Dermott has been on the ice for six goals for and zero against at even strength since returning to the lineup. Holl, meanwhile, leads all Leafs D in shot attempt share at 5v5 (55.4 CF%) and has been on the ice for 12 goals for and 6 against at 5v5.
4. Granted, the only reason the pairing didn’t concede one tonight was because of Frederik Andersen’s unreal desperation toe save followed by a diving save in quick succession early in the third period after Nick Shore lost two defensive-zone draws cleanly in a row and the Leafs broke down in coverage. That was the moment where Andersen kept the Leafs in the game. 3-1 there would’ve been a back-breaker.
5. That near goal against followed a series of failed set-breakout attempts by the Leafs in the early third period. Travis Dermott twice tried a long stretch pass to no avail. Cody Ceci tried the same thing a third time and it went for an icing that kicked off the sequence where the Leafs nearly lost the game; he sent a wobbling 100 foot pass that Timashov couldn’t corral.
You can see what the Leafs are trying to do and why they try it — the Flyers were nearly caught out for a Matthews breakaway if one of Dermott’s stretch passes wasn’t tipped — but it sure looks brutal when it doesn’t work, and it’s all about finding the right balance. Dermott probably has a higher percentage chance of completing a successful stretch pass on the tape than most, but it’s not Ceci’s forte as much, just as trying to execute those kinds of plays always looked brutal on Nikita Zaitsev.
6. I’d criticize the untimeliness of the Dmytro Timashov offensive-zone penalty just as the Leafs were building serious momentum with a sustained push (including the Dermott goal) in the second period, but the team could really use more of that type of ‘play on the edge.’ Same goes for the Ilya Mikheyev interference call in the first after he bodied Travis Konecny pretty good. I’ve got a lot more time for those kinds of “compete” penalties where the team is battling hard and takes one versus the cheap stick infractions that result from laziness or carelessness (which we’ve seen a ton of from the Leafs to start the season).
7. I don’t want to only call out a negative on Matthews in a game where he, Nylander and Johnsson’s line was the team’s best, but in the OT — what is going on here (below)? You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel more than this at 3-on-3 OT. Twice, Matthews is 100% puck focused the whole time, or at least until it’s far too late. 3-on-3 is a defensive shitshow, granted, but it doesn’t mean you totally neglect basic awareness away from the puck.
8. I always get a kick out of the pressers where Babcock he pulls the line, “Hyman plays on that line too, eh?” He did it with Andreas Johnsson last night after he was asked about the Auston Matthews – William Nylander connection, which came through again this week in the third period last night. I thought Nylander was the best player on the line over 60 minutes — when he’s engaged and forechecking with intent like that, he’s going to have the puck a lot and make things happen.
Credit to Johnsson as well for the puck recovery in the neutral zone prior to the Dermott goal to create the transition the other way.
9. His one point shot ended up on the tape of a Flyer and it turned back the other way for the eventual 1-0 goal, but overall, I was encouraged by the amount Tyson Barrie was involved offensively — he put six on goal on seven attempts and he looked a little more confident in his decision-making overall. It really sounds like he’s found the adaptation to the new team and systems difficult. It’s probably noteworthy that he played his entire junior career on one team (five years with Kelowna) and then eight straight seasons with one organization in the NHL in a team/city he loved and never wanted to leave, so a trade isn’t something he’s ever experienced before.
Tyson Barrie’s shot attempts vs. Flyers
10. For tonight, most likely, Jason Spezza enters the lineup on the right wing next to Alex Kerfoot, with Kasperi Kapanen moving up next to John Tavares. Keep in mind some of it came with the team chasing the game, but with Kapanen up on his wing, the line was over 70% CF. It will be interesting to see Kapanen move back up onto the Tavares line on his proper right side after gathering some confidence with some consistently good play of late.
As for the power play — as Babcock says, an injury is an opportunity for others, and this is where I am most interested to see what the team looks like without Marner. With Nylander moving up onto unit #1, how much does having two real shot threats on the half walls change the dynamic?
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts