After Sheldon Keefe called out his team’s performance in their loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Maple Leafs responded with a 3-2 victory over Washington in their home opener at Scotiabank Arena.
While I wouldn’t exactly label it a banner performance, two points are two points, and it’s always nice to grab the first two of the season.
Your game in 10:
1. Both teams took penalties early on to start this game. When Washington went on the first man advantage of the night, Alex Ovechkin hit the crossbar, but the Capitals didn’t register a shot on net afterward. Toronto then went to a power play of their own and absolutely buzzed for over a minute straight until they finally scored.
They could have scored at least three times prior to the actual goal. John Tavares did well to trap the puck and make sure it went in the net, but it was the pass by Morgan Rielly that made the play. After a zero-for-four showing in the season opener, the power play came out on fire with a point to prove and potted the game’s opening goal as a result.
Let's take a MOment to appreciate this pass! 🍎 pic.twitter.com/nK1PqIedQU
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) October 13, 2022
2. It seemed like the Leafs were settling in and possibly even taking control of the game momentarily. In particular, the fourth line generated a good shift, causing a turnover that led to David Kampf breaking in all alone, but Kampf topped the puck. Auston Matthews then laid a big hit on Garnet Hathaway, and everything turned messy from there.
Hathaway took a shot at Matthews, Michael Bunting came in to protect him (and whiffed on a hit), the defensive zone became a scramble, and Mitch Marner was puck watching instead of covering his defenseman, who walked in and fed a nice pass to Nic Dowd. An admittedly weak shot squeaked in the net – one Ilya Samsonov probably should have saved.
3. Speaking of goals that should have been saved, the Capitals made it 2-1 shortly afterward with a goal Ilya Samsonov really should have stopped. Marcus Johansson came in and took a simple wrist shot that went through the Leafs goaltender. It wasn’t off the bar or anything, and it wasn’t exactly prime Phil Kessel streaking down the wing. It’s a save he needed to make.
Morgan Rielly’s gap control on the goal was also lacking; he allowed Johansson to freely walk in and shoot unbothered. A lot of onlookers will compare it to the Cole Caufield goal from the night earlier, but that one featured a breakdown in communication on a 3v2 that quickly became a 3v3. Johansson’s goal was a straight-up 1v1 that Rielly backed in on.
4. The Leafs finished the first period with 21 shots on net and generally controlled the game. They have four lines that can control play, and it was on display in spurts.
Defensively, they were all over the place. Even though they were generally controlling play, whenever Washington took possession, it seemed to be an adventure for the Leafs defensively, which was the case against Montreal as well. Right now, the Leafs don’t appear to have the goaltending to get away with such leakiness.
5. The Leafs promptly tied the game 2-2 to start the second when Morgan Rielly made another good play with the puck, this time staying patient at his own blue line and ripping a pass through the neutral zone to Alex Kerfoot, who made a great pass of his own by ripping a feed perfectly to the backdoor. That’s one of the nicer passes Kerfoot has ever made as a Leaf. Calle Jarnkrok did well to instantly recognize the play developing and beat Dmitri Orlov to the net for his first goal of the season.
Another day, another one for the new guys! 👀 pic.twitter.com/0SSmmV9dnF
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) October 14, 2022
6. The rest of the period was really a seesaw of good but not great scoring chances. Each team went to a power play in the period but didn’t score. Jake Muzzin ran Garrett Hathaway with a good hit. Ilya Samsonov made a really good save on an Alex Ovechkin one-timer. Auston Matthews’ backhander in front of the net went off the goalie’s mask followed by Michael Bunting taking a whack at the bouncing second opportunity and missing a wide-open net.
Washington was fairly content to use their fourth line against the Matthews line, and the Leafs hadn’t really made them pay (yet). Dowd took a penalty on Matthews that the Leafs capitalized on, but Dowd also scored afterward to tie the game. That matchup was working pretty well for Washington through two periods.
7. In the third, the Leafs scored in that exact matchup situation. Auston Matthews won a faceoff and the Leafs controlled possession before the puck eventually worked its way to Mark Giordano, who was able to send a wrister through traffic that Matthews may have touched (it also definitely glanced off of Dowd) before it squeaked into the net.
CORRECTION: TONE TIME! pic.twitter.com/z2K1wEiEjE
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) October 14, 2022
Giordano is really effective at getting pucks through traffic along the blue line. He did have six straight double-digit goal seasons at one point, including seasons of 17 and 21 goals. He’s not that guy anymore, but he’s clearly still skilled and can make plays in the offensive zone.
8. That goal ended up standing as the game-winner. Washington went to a few late power plays, but they never truly felt dangerous. Justin Holl had a heck of an ending to the game, blocking multiple Alex Ovechkin one-timers and effectively icing the game by stepping up on John Carlson to knock away a one-timer pass in the dying seconds.
Holl was really good on the penalty kill just as he was last season. He played 4:25 shorthanded, which was second among Leafs defensemen (TJ Brodie played 5:01). The only reason Holl didn’t lead them in shorthanded time on ice is that he took one of the penalties himself.
9. Washington is a big, heavy team, albeit they were missing Tom Wilson for this one. For years now, they’ve tried to run the Leafs and wear them down physically (which is what many teams try to do, in fairness). I liked the Leafs physicality in response today, though.
Dmitri Orlov did lay out Pierre Engvall, but Auston Matthews also blew up a few players. Zach Aston-Reese got the better of TJ Oshie in an altercation. There were a few scrums after the whistle as well. Nicolas Aube-Kubel is genuinely a nuisance for the opposition. Jake Muzzin ran Hathaway, as mentioned. Even Rasmus Sandin and Mark Giordano lined up some hits.
The Leafs don’t really have anybody who can fight per se, but there is definitely some physicality to this team that’s more noticeable in the flow of the game. It helps when the team’s best player is leading the way. Speaking of…
10. I thought Auston Matthews had a game in the home opener. It was a performance that showed he was upset about the loss the night before and wanted to carry the team to a bounce-back victory. He put five shots on net and scored a goal. He was physically engaged. He brought urgency to the power play and set the tone for how they were ripping the puck around there. Matthews led all forwards in ice time and was great on the night.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts