John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: Canadian Press

Well, it’s two points.

It’s a shame that the Leafs spoiled what was such an amazing first period, especially against a team playing their third game in four nights. You thought they might cruise to the finish line at that point.

Alas, in typical Leafs fashion, they had to do it the hard way. But they are trying to win a highly-competitive division and the two points in regulation are huge, any way you slice it.

Your game in 10:

1.   It kind of gets lost in the shuffle of the game, but on the first shift of the night, Justin Holl gave it away at the offensive blue line and the Columbus Blue Jackets went on a 2v1 to start the first period. Ultimately, Gustav Nyquist did not even register a shot on net, but that’s beside the point.

I’ve been really trying to focus in on how the Leafs start games, especially in the first five minutes or so. I mentioned this in Leafs Notebook this week as well – they often start games and periods so slowly, with little purpose.

2.  One consistent positive for the Leafs – line combinations with Pierre Engvall and David Kampf together continue to make good things happen. Whether it’s Ilya Mikheyev or Ondrej Kase on the other wing, the line rolls with Engvall and Kampf together.

You wouldn’t think it on paper, but that line looked its worst (which was still decent, to be clear) when Engvall was off of it and Mikheyev and Kase were the two wingers. Engvall’s reach and speed are so disruptive for opponents, to go along with Kampf’s anticipation. It creates turnovers, and that’s how the line scored the first goal of the game.

Morgan Rielly made a play in deep and Mikheyev applied with some light pressure while Engvall and Kampf covered up high before pouncing on a weak puck put up the middle. They kept it simple; with puck and bodies to the net, they cashed in.

3.  The Leafs doubled their lead on a play that ultimately amounts to a nice point shot from Timothy Liljegren and Mitch Marner going to the net hard and finishing the rebound, but Auston Matthews dominated this shift.

Matthews beat Zack Werenski to a puck in the corner and put his shoulder down to drive the net with the puck. It didn’t go in, but he recovered the puck, passed it to Liljegren, and the goal went in. That was a power shift from Matthews, who completely took over.

Matthews put seven shots on net in this game (he registered eight on net versus Vancouver). It was actually shocking to see that he played just 18:20 on the night. Michael Bunting played under 15, while Marner finished at 20:38.

4.  At this point, we’re still in the first period, and the Leafs were simply dominating Columbus. The Leafs outshot them 13-5 and Matthews appeared to put the bow on the period — and possibly the game already — by scoring his 41st on a wrap-around.

It’s a nifty play in his bag of tricks, that far side wraparound. He can really put some heat on it. This one was particularly fun as he pulled it off on his backhand, which is not usually the case.

Tonight, Matthews became the first player in the league to hit 40 goals. This is his third straight season scoring 40, and he has done it in under 70 games each season. Just a crazy elite goal scorer.

5.  At some point, you almost start to feel a little bad for the Leafs’ goalies.

Petr Mrazek didn’t have to do much in the first, but he was there when called upon other than one rush from Jakub Voracek where he overcommitted and was swimming outside the crease. But as has become the norm of late, the opposition scored a goal off of a deflection in front, this time to start the second period.

Those are tough plays for goalies, and to that point, Mrazek had been playing just fine. To compound matters — and circling back to the very first point tonight in this game in 10 — the goal came under two minutes into the period. The shift preceding the goal saw Columbus win races to pucks, win battles, keep it in the Leafs’ zone, and throw pucks to the net until something good happened. It’s a common theme when the Leafs get into trouble.

6.  The 3-1 goal was another goal against with the John Tavares line on. It’s probably a little unfair to them to mention it as they did generate a number of scoring chances on this night. Nick Robertson and William Nylander went on a mini 2v0 and missed, Robertson also set up Tavares backdoor later in the second (he failed to convert), and Tavares hit the post off a Marner pass.

That being said, the line has been outscored at 5v5 this season, so this isn’t exactly unusual at this point. Nylander is -10 in his last 15 games. Tavares is minus-five in his last 15. Accordingly, their ice time has really fluctuated over that time. They each played under 17 minutes in this one.

7.  We have no choice but to continue to talk about the start of periods. How did the Leafs start the third? They took a penalty in the first minute, and the Blue Jackets promptly tied the game.

In all three periods of this game, the Leafs manufactured pedestrian starts that are not at all in line with their talent level or abilities. They hardly ever impose their will at the beginning of periods or games. To go for 0/3 in this game, against a team playing their third game in four nights, is concerning at this point in the season.

8.  The Leafs did well to remain composed and eventually regain the lead. The goal by Columbus went straight to their legs and got their fans were into the game. As has been the case since he has arrived in Toronto, when the Leafs really needed a play, Jason Spezza was there to make one.

Wayne Simmonds actually made a really nice play with the puck to skate into the middle of the zone and draw in defenders before dishing to Spezza, who made a nice move and drop pass that allowed Alex Kerfoot to walk in and bury it with Simmonds providing the screen.

While I’m sure the Leafs want to give Nick Robertson a look on the second line first and foremost, I can’t help but think they are also curious to see if they can get more out of the fourth line as well. That was a big goal to quiet the noise within the game and the noise within the market had this game turned into a loss.

9.  A few minutes later, the top line appeared to ice the game for the Leafs, crashing the net after a faceoff and winning a battle in the crease to get the puck to the net. They can score any way you need them to right now. Nice ones, ugly ones, passing plays, shots off the rush, tips, rebounds — you name it, they can do it.

10.  Columbus went to a power play with three minutes left, and while they didn’t score (hat tip to David Kampf, who had a great shift to start that penalty kill where he got the puck out and killed some time with the puck on his stick), they maintained pressure and eventually buried a goal with under a minute left to make it interesting.

To close the game, the Leafs put out Ilya MikheyevAuston MatthewsMitch Marner, Morgan RiellyIlya Lyubushkin. Columbus generated multiple chances, and while Petr Mrazek won’t get much credit for the win in general, he made a few big saves in the final minute to seal the game.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Leafs 5 vs. Blue Jackets 4