The Toronto Maple Leafs emerged victorious from an evenly-contested Saturday night matchup against Vancouver thanks to a Martin Marincin third-period game-winning goal (for real).

First Period

Auston Matthews, an absolute force on the forecheck the past few games, created a turnover on first shift, leading to an early Leafs cycle and scoring chance for Zach Hyman. This is the kind of tone-setting shift the Leafs have been getting from Matthews often lately:

The Leafs were then able to open the scoring via an unlikely source in Frederik Gauthier, who beat a shaky Thatcher Demko from the slot for his seventh of the season. It wouldn’t have been possible if not for the play back to the point by Kasperi Kapanen from his knees down low while under duress.

To this point, the Canucks had yet to register a shot on net. As is often the case in hockey, this was mentioned on the broadcast before the first Vancouver shot of the night went in. Rasmus Sandin was in a position to make a play on the puck but was bodied off of it by a hungrier Jay Beagle, and it was in the back of the net before the Leafs or Frederik Andersen could react.

The Leafs responded exactly the right way a couple of minutes later as Matthews restored Toronto’s lead with a deceptive shot off the rush.

It’s not a high-flying wrister, but the deception and strength in Matthews’ release totally fooled Thatcher Demko, who looked like he had no clue what happened. Even the slow-motion replays made it difficult to track exactly where and how this puck snuck through the Vancouver netminder.

The first period was by far the game’s most entertaining between the four goals and some physical play both ways, including a well-timed hit by Rasmus Sandin stepping up in the neutral zone. Sandin has brought an understated willingness to mix it up in this area of the game since he’s become a Leaf:

The Leafs were doing a good job of limiting the Canucks’ access to the slot and were holding steady in the defensive end before a second mistake deep in their own end turned into a second tying goal for the Canucks.

Sandin is in a good position here, but doesn’t tie up Tanner Pearson in front of goal to snuff out the threat.

Late in the first, Toronto found themselves on the power-play after Kapanen was high-sticked battling in front of the Vancouver net. While they were unable to convert, the Leafs were dangerous moving the puck with a few great-looking PP sequences:

The momentum carried over into five-on-five play, including this glorious attempt from Matthews.

Second Period

Both teams traded chances at both ends of the ice early in the middle frame, testing both goaltenders:

There was a questionable penalty assessed to Dermott that put the Leafs down a man, but Toronto did a great job giving the Canucks’ power play no room to work with and it resulted in the Leafs drawing a penalty for an abbreviated PP of their own.

Like the previous opportunity, Toronto couldn’t find the twine but there were some quality looks, including this airmailed Frederik Andersen pass for a partial breakaway for William Nylander:

The game seemed to slow down and settle into a cagier affair through the middle portion of the middle frame, while both Andersen and Demko found their grove. Any opportunities were hard-earned, with a lot of numbers back defensively for both teams:

The Leafs’ worst segment of the game came in the final passages of the second period as they got back on their heels and the Canucks were able to get on top of them for successive cycle shifts, with the Leafs — with some particularly rough sequences from Martin Marincin — unable to clear their lines. The Leafs were fortunate the game was 2-2 heading into the third after this late chance:

Third Period

Off of the opening shift of the period, the Leafs restored their lead thanks to the most unlikely of goal-scoring sources.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: Martin Marincin really did score on a solo rush here. This was a good breakout sequence from the Leafs, starting with a won battle along the wall, a short bump pass to Tavares, and Marincin identifying the opportunity to jump up and showing the confidence to go for goal.

While the Leafs gained some momentum from the 3-2, it came to a halt due to this questionable penalty assessed to Nylander on what appeared to be a 50-50 puck battle with both players tugging at one another.

Vancouver did not test Andersen in a serious way and the Leafs were able to keep their lead intact.

The pace of the game settled down from there as Toronto played a responsible game in possession of the lead. The Leafs did generate a couple of sequences of sustained pressure in search of an insurance marker:

With the Canucks generating a bit of a push late on, the best chance went to J.T. Miller, who Andersen calmy denied:

Vancouver then pulled their goalie, but it was to no avail as Zach “the Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5” Hyman put it away by blocking a shot, making a good defensive play, and icing the game with the empty-net goal.

Post-Game Notes

  • After last Saturday night’s debacle, the Toronto Maple Leafs have responded admirably with three well-earned wins over the week. It’s quite the turnaround for a team that appeared to be on life support last week after a number of demoralizing defeats; even more interesting, two of the teams that doled out the shellackings, Pittsburgh and Carolina, are now struggling majorly (a lot can change in a hurry in this league). This wasn’t the Leafs’ best effort of their three straight wins; they were dangerous early but not as consistently threatening offensively as they are when they’re at the top of their game, and the xGF% and CF% (expected Goals and shot attempts) slightly favoured the Canucks over the 60 minutes. But the team is clearly digging in deeper through all the adversity and their overall team play, in terms of how they’re checking back and supporting the puck defensively, is really encouraging. They’re now finding ways to win rather than new and interesting ways to lose — this time complete with the “deepest” of depth scoring courtesy of Frederik Gauthier and Martin Marincin.
  • The best and at times worst player for the Leafs tonight had to be Martin Marincin, who was having a tough time handling the puck at times throughout the game before he went into beast mode to start the third period. At even strength, he registered a 38.46 CF%, a 42.31 FF%, a 35.29 SF%, a 39.82 xGF%, a 38.89 SCF%, and a 20.00 HDCF%. The third period was his best of the night as he was playing with a lot of confidence and the puck seemed to be finding him a lot out there. He also did a bang-up job on the penalty kill of getting himself into shooting lanes for key shot blocks. It was a 60-minute encaspulation of the good and bad of Marty Marincin, but the good definitely outweighed the bad on the whole.
  • Auston Matthews was again pursuing pucks aggressively on the forecheck to good effect and playing 200 feet better than he ever has in his young career. He recorded a 50.00 CF%, a 66.67 FF%, a 66.67 SF%, an 80.82 xGF%, a 61.54 SCF%, and a 60.00 HDCF% at even strength. In the matchup against the Elias Pettersson, Tyler Toffoli and JT Miller line, the Canucks’ best offensive trio didn’t generate a single shot on goal at 5v5 in the ~10:30 against Matthews’ line. On top of his sublime offensive contributions, his leadership in regards to buying in and playing responsibly over 200 feet has been exemplary since the Leafs have turned their fortunes around. It was the Matthews line on the ice for the key faceoff late on that led to Hyman’s empty-net goal; while Matthews lost the initial draw, the line did a good job of staying composed and protecting the middle of the ice for a few key shot blocks before Dermott (two assists, +2) did a nice job of skating the puck out of danger and finding Marner, who made a nice airmail play into Hyman to end the game.
  • The D pair that drew the majority of that above-mentioned matchup was Travis DermottJustin Holl pairing, which had a second consecutive solid outing. It’s important to mention how the Matthews line (which drew a good chunk of the Barkov matchup in Florida as well) is supporting this pairing in terms of defending in five-man units and owning the puck/tiling the ice, but the pair did a good job protecting the middle of the ice, were moving the puck well, and jumped up into the rush effectively when the opportunity presented itself. With Jake MuzzinMorgan Rielly, and Cody Ceci out of commission for the next few weeks, Dermott, Holl, and Tyson Barrie are carrying the load and keeping the Leafs team afloat on a backend with minimal experience at the NHL level. Holl and Dermott are rather green as far as cumulative NHL experience goes, but they are de facto veterans on this unit for the time being and their first two games in the top pairing role have been pretty reassuring against very credible top-line opposition in the Pettersson and Barkov lines.
  • One “game within the game” against the Vancouver Canucks is the faceoff circle, where they’re a particularly strong team with over 54% success rate on the season (2nd in the NHL). The Leafs are third in the category, though, and came out with 54% of the draws on the night. As John Tavares mentioned before the game, it was a point of emphasis in the prescout how competitive the Canucks are at winning draws and puck battles off of the initial draw, and the Leafs executed well in that detail of the game.
  • Some wondered if this might be a Jack Campbell start on home ice before the team hits the road for the California road trip, but the Leafs are rolling with Frederik Andersen with the aim of getting him back into a groove, and this was largely mission accomplished in that regard. He might’ve had a fighting chance on the 2-2 Tanner Pearson goal, but he was solid otherwise and made some key saves late in the second and as the Canucks generated a bit of a push late on. The numbers: 25 saves, a .926 SV%, and a .778 HDSV%. As important as anything right now is getting Andersen’s confidence back where it needs to be, and he appears to be working his way there one start at a time.

Clip of the Night

Notable Stats

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Locations

Condensed Game