Nick Robertson announced that he’s here to stay as the Maple Leafs overcame a 1-0 deficit and another goal review that went against them to win 3-2 in overtime over the Dallas Stars.

Your game in 10:

1.   I suppose I’ll say a quick word about the “controversy” that played out this week in the two days off between games before putting this to bed. To me, Sheldon Keefe handled it poorly from a media/public relations point of view, which is ironic because he attributed the entire thing to him managing the media.

By coming out and admitting he used the wrong words, it fed into the perception that the star players on the team couldn’t stomach a very mild and accurate criticism — fanning the “pampered stars are running the team” narrative that is always percolating in this market — when it seemed like the players either didn’t disagree, weren’t bothered, or weren’t even aware of Keefe’s post-game comments. Following up with the players the next day is a sensible approach in the name of open communication between players and coaches, but publicly suggesting the wrong words were used felt entirely unnecessary.

Perception is everything, and Keefe probably got this one wrong by talking his way into making a bit of a scene out of something that was not much of anything. When it comes to the media in Toronto, sometimes saying less is more.

But there has been far too much ink spilled and words spoken on the topic, so let’s move along.

2.    If you were looking for a big push out of the gates in response to the Arizona loss, it didn’t exactly materialize in the opening 20 minutes. The team didn’t give up too much in terms of high-danger chances, but shots were 11-6 Dallas, with four of those Leafs shots coming off of the stick of defensemen. Nick Robertson and John Tavares were responsible for the other two, and that second line was one of few standout elements in an opening period where Dallas carried a 17-8 edge in shot attempts and 9-3 in shots at five on five.

When they get their way, Dallas is able to slow the game down and play a grinding, defensively-sound brand of hockey (while running a lot of interference all over the ice), and the Leafs struggled to fully establish their rhythm in the first frame.

With five minutes remaining, the Stars opened the scoring on a rebound play in which Tavares was caught puck watching and left Luke Glendening alone in the slot unmarked, putting the Leafs behind the eight ball for the third game in a row.

3.    The other bright spot in the first period, in addition to the second line, was Victor Mete’s first period as a Leaf, which included a good rush up ice while shorthanded to create a chance as well as a nice backdoor feed for one of the Leafs’ best chances of the period.

After seven shifts in the first period, though, Mete saw just eight shifts for the remaining 40 minutes and barely broke the 10-minute mark in total time on ice with all of the penalties (12 total) and the Leafs protecting the lead for a stretch of the third period. We saw Dean Chynoweth unite Mark Giordano with TJ Brodie for a few shifts during 5v5 play. It was a tightly-contested, physical game of hockey, and the trust isn’t established there yet.

On the end side of things TOI-wise, 20+ minutes for Rasmus Sandin included seven hits, an assist on the power play, and nothing conceded at the other end.  He also sprung Mitch Marner for a breakaway with a stretch pass at 3v3 OT. With Jake Muzzin’s status up in the air, a big opportunity awaits Sandin during this upcoming road trip, and this was a good start in terms of getting his puck touches and confidence up while earning some trust from the coaching staff.

4.    On another off-night for the top unit of the Leafs’ power play, it was the second power-play unit that gave the Leafs the spark they needed early in the second period. The K.I.S.S approach paid dividends as Rasmus Sandin  taking over the point on the second power-play unit — fired a hard, low shot for a tip that rebounded onto the stick of Alex Kerfoot, who made no mistake into the empty net.

The Leafs had one of their best segments of the game afterward, including a dominant shift from the Nick RobertsonJohn TavaresWilliam Nylander line, which got pucks to the net repeatedly and recovered possession to extend zone time.

Right after that second-line shift, Michael Bunting drew a penalty call, and the coaching staff actually went with the second unit to start the man advantage — despite the top line only taking the ice for about five seconds before drawing the penalty and spending about 20 seconds on the ice before Dallas touched the puck.

5.      It was again a second-unit power-play goal — unofficially, as the penalty had just expired — that gave the Leafs the lead early in the third period. This time, it was Nick Robertson’s first of the season after he took a hit to make a play down the boards and beat his man to the net off of the wall. Bunting slipped him a nice pass off his backhand, and Robertson made no mistake with a confident low finish to the far side past Scott Wedgewood.

Between leading a few rushes, his tenacity when chasing down pucks while tracking back or on the forecheck, multiple shots on goal that stressed Wedgewood, and the 2-1 go-ahead goal early in the third period, Robertson made more of an impact inside 41 minutes than Denis Malgin did over four games — and he added the cherry on top with the game-winning goal, having earned Keefe’s trust throughout the game to the point where he was taking the ice at 3v3 OT.

Not only did the team need it, but I think the fan base really needed the shot in the arm of some promising new blood in the lineup after a pretty stale first four games.

Robertson should’ve been in the lineup sooner on the merits, but making a two-goal debut on home ice with his mom in the stands and his brother on the other bench is not a bad way to kick off his 2022-23 season. Let’s see where it goes from here as he settles into the day-to-day grind of an NHL schedule, but he’s clearly where he belongs to start the year.

6.    Another game, another call reversal leading to an unfavourable outcome in the third period for the Maple Leafs. Tyler Seguin’s tying goal for Dallas in the third period on the power play was immediately ruled off by the officials on the ice and appeared to meet the definition of goaltender interference outlined in Rule 69.1 upon further review:

If a defending player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by an attacking player so as to cause the defending player to come into contact with his own goalkeeper, such contact shall be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, and if necessary a penalty assessed to the attacking player and if a goal is scored it would be disallowed. 

– NHL Rulebook, Rule 69.1

A reminder of why the ruling on the ice is supposed to matter:

If a review is not conclusive and/or there is any doubt whatsoever as to whether the call on the ice was correct, the original call on the ice will be confirmed.

– NHL Rulebook, Rule 78.7

It’s really hard to figure how a 100% conclusive reversal came out of that play when Seguin made a clear pushing motion into Mitch Marner and Ilya Samsonov.

There were a couple of shifts afterward where the Stars built on the momentum of that call, but the Leafs were able to tilt the ice back and take it to 3v3 OT to prevent more dropped points due to replay controversy.

7.   After playing just six minutes and change while the Leafs chased the game against Arizona, Zach Aston-Reese and Nicolas Aube-Kubel played only seven and a half minutes tonight in a game that was tied for most of the night.

Their line was underwater in the run of play to the tune of a 0% shot attempt share while getting outshot 4-0. Aube-Kubel has one shot on goal through five games; Aston-Reese has two. We’ve seen flashes of the physical edge and the odd o-zone shift, but it has not been consistent enough through five games in terms of tilting the ice in the team’s favour and playing on offense.

We’ll continue to watch and evaluate for now; there seems to be the ingredients here for a fourth line with a purpose, but it hasn’t come to fruition yet. With the recent history of antics and acrimony against the Jets, it would not be surprising to see Wayne Simmonds make his season debut on Saturday, not that this is the solution long term.

8.  The other noticeably low ice-time figure tonight: Pierre Engvall’s 8:31, which is his lowest since November of 2021 or 78 games ago. Engvall has goose eggs across the board to start the season through five games. Alex Kerfoot and Calle Järnkrok combined for the one goal versus Montreal, but the Leafs are going to need a little more offensively out of their bottom six group as a whole (note: Alex Steeves continues to shoot the puck in the net for the Marlies, and Pontus Holmberg is a potential option down the line here, too, if this doesn’t turn around).

There is the option to try out Engvall back with David Kampf on the fourth line — he would lend it his puck transportation ability if nothing else, which could perhaps help them spend a little more time in the offensive zone.

9.   This was not an easy night at the office for Auston Matthews. He took a cross-check to the midsection from Jamie Benn that left him wincing near the end of the first period, a high stick to the face and a shot block to the inside of the foot in the second period, and he was mauled by the 6’6, 235-pound frame of Jani Hakanpaa at one point in the third period.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the puck stripped off of him or him fail to emerge with the puck from a 50-50 battle as often as we did in this game. We’ve seen less of Matthews breaking the zone with the puck on his stick and the goal in his sights, and the Leafs’ top unit is also struggling to move the puck around quickly and sharply enough to get him any time and space on the power play. But it was Matthews’ defensive play at 3v3 to strip Jamie Benn and then his setup of Nick Robertson that ended up securing the team the extra point.

Similarly, Mitch Marner was fighting it at times in this game, turning a puck over inside the defensive blue line for a grade-A chance against, killing a few rush opportunities with turnovers at the offensive blue line, forcing a few plays, and failing to get a shot away on a 3v3 breakaway in OT.

10.    Unlike the bottom-six question marks, the nice thing about this problem for the Leafs is that we know there is zero chance it is going to last very long. The team is 3-2-0 right now with just one Auston Matthews goal / point at 5v5 and their big duo not finding its rhythm yet. The Leafs have gotten here in a sort of weird but typical Leaf-like fashion — losses to Montreal and Arizona, wins over Ottawa, Dallas, and Washington —but to sit at 3-2-0, especially given there hasn’t been a single dominant game from the top line yet to go along with a key injury on the blue line and in net, is not the worst spot to be in through five games.

The early strong play of John TavaresWilliam Nylander, which was ratcheted up a notch tonight thanks to Nick Robertson’s addition to the line, is an encouraging sign as well. The one Stars goal aside, they outshot the Stars 9-2 at 5v5.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly given the uncertainty at the position to start the year (plus the injury to Matt Murray), it’s three starts and no more than two goals allowed for Ilya Samsonov, who is currently sitting inside the top 10 in the league with a .927 save percentage among goalies with three or more starts.

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts