The Maple Leafs roared back from 2-0 down with a dominant final 40 minutes against Vancouver in an emotionally-charged atmosphere at Scotiabank Arena.
Your game in 10:
1. I won’t be saying anything others haven’t pointed out here, but the pre-game tribute to Börje was perfect. It really captured Salming’s historical significance, what made him so special as a player, and why he means so much to the game and to the organization. It included a great selection of quotes and visuals as well as fantastic narration by Jim Ralph (anything Ralphie is involved in is bound to be good, and I’ve always wished we had the pleasure of listening to him call TV broadcasts). An A+ grade and a few tears shed from me.
2. The all-Swede starting lineup also receives an A+ from me for Sheldon Keefe. The reality is that today’s Leafs player, outside of those lucky enough to have known him personally (most often through the Swedish connection), would have only maybe heard of the legend of Salming at best. This was an opportunity for Keefe to help the current players connect to the Salming legacy — particularly for the large crop of Swedish Leafs on this roster — and better understand where this current team fits into the long and proud Maple Leaf tradition.
That stuff does matter. The intensity of this market can be a double-edged sword at times, but it’s a timely reminder to the players that being a Maple Leaf is special and they’re playing for something much larger than just themselves or the next game out of 82.
3. The 2-0 deficit after 20 minutes was not the response anyone was looking for on the ice, but it also could’ve/should’ve been a much different story in the first period. In a chancey opening five minutes, there was a breakaway for Alex Kerfoot, a breakaway for Denis Malgin, and a partial breakaway for William Nylander that the Leafs did not make good on.
A lost defensive-zone faceoff and a failure to tie up the stick from Justin Holl led to a 1-0 goal by Bo Horvat. A bad penalty from Michael Bunting and a good shot through a screen by JT Miller on the power play suddenly made it 2-0, and there was scattered groaning and booing amongst the home crowd.
The Leafs have now trailed first in 10 of 16 games this season — and are 6-2-2 in those games.
4. I’ll also give Sheldon Keefe credit for sticking by his lines even with the team down 2-0. It was critical that he didn’t waver.
Not to take away anything from the Leafs’ comeback, but a multi-goal deficit to this really bad Canucks team seems to be a case of “right where you want them” this season (Vancouver has given up a multi-goal lead and lost the game six times already this season, which is a stunning statistic). If they pulled up their sleeves and got to work, the Leafs had a pretty good chance of coming back in this game regardless of the line combinations.
If Keefe had reverted the lines to Matthews-Marner and Tavares-Nylander and the Leafs stormed back, it becomes a pretty difficult case for him to make to the players that they need to run with something different any time soon. It was important to ride it out for the sake of the process Keefe is undertaking here.
Matthews-Marner was getting stale at 5v5, and while they’re too good not for them to have a heater together at some point (and I am sure they’ll wind up back together at some point, maybe even soon), it’s important in the long run to get Matthews-Nylander / Tavares-Marner reps together over an 82-game season.
The Matthews-Nylander line looked sharper to me in this game, although it felt like John Tavares could’ve scored a hat trick if he took even half of his chances. Mitch Marner — nice assist for the 1-0 power-play goal aside — was really careless with the puck for much of the evening at even strength.
5. We were waiting for a dominant Auston Matthews game for a little while now, and while it wasn’t a hat-trick performance or anything too eye-popping statistically (just the power-play snipe on the night, which got the Leafs going at 2-1), I thought the final 40 minutes were much more like the Matthews we saw for long stretches of his special 2021-22 campaign.
It reminded me of the home opener against Washington the second game of this season: With the team trailing after the first period, Matthews stepped up his engagement both physically and defensively while scoring a big goal in a 3-2 win. With his team chasing the game, he showed a sense of occasion in the home opener and did again in this game on an important night to show up given the emotions of the evening.
Papi Perfection 🚀 pic.twitter.com/H38mvtTThB
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) November 13, 2022
6. The Leafs under Keefe never start a goalie twice in a back-to-back — the statistics historically don’t favour it, either — but the particular circumstances matter, and I was surprised to see the level of criticism Keefe was receiving on social media before the game for his call to go back to Erik Källgren.
It’s true it was game #16 against a bad team who was playing their own backup, but it was also more than that with everything happening in the buildup to this game. The team was also coming off two straight losses. Throwing Keith Petruzzelli, who is only just getting his feet wet in the AHL, into the spotlight would’ve been totally unfair to him.
I know we might be drunk on the idea given we’ve seen debut shutout wins from Garrett Sparks and Källgren in recent seasons, but to assume it’s always going to work out thanks to first-ever-NHL-start emotions and adrenaline would be silliness. The Canucks are bad, but they can score, particularly on the power play. Sparks and Kallgren had ample professional experience in the AHL and SHL by that point. Petruzzelli has played in 23 ECHL games and 11 AHL games since leaving college. It’s apples and oranges.
Källgren really settled in nicely after the first-period goals against. There has been lots of talk about it being ridiculous that he’s even starting games in the league, but he just went 2-1-1 including games against Carolina and Vegas plus making all seven saves in the third period of a 2-1 win over Boston. He’s the team’s number three for a reason, but he deserves some respect and acknowledgment. He held his own for the team during a critical stretch — and he’s done it two seasons in a row now when injuries decimated the goalie position.
7. The second and third periods each had long sequences of the Leafs stacking offensive-zone shifts on top of one another, getting three or four lines involved, and rolling around in the o-zone while creating multiple scoring chances without letting up. I had a few, “Oh yeah, the Leafs did a lot more of this kind of thing at 5v5 last season, didn’t they?” moments.
They mostly did a great job choking out the opponent by possessing the puck in the o-zone for much of the third period. The natural risk of owning the puck in those situations — obviously still preferred over spending the period inside your own end defending — is that the trailing team is able to release a winger or sneak someone off the bench to cheat in behind hoping for a quick turnover and a breakaway or odd-man rush in transition. There was one such case where the Leafs let Conor Garland escape behind them, but Erik Källgren came up huge there with three minutes left in the game.
8. The 2-2 tying goal was the first instance of the spare-parts third line the Leafs have been running showing real signs of life with a dominant offensive-zone shift — albeit it was set up by the top line’s work running the Canucks ragged, allowing them to come over the boards against tired legs.
Pierre Engvall, who struggled early in the game, seemed to find a new gear we haven’t seen from him all season — but saw quite a bit of last year — in the final 40 minutes. That’s just his second goal and third point of the season through 15 games (missed one game due to a healthy scratch) — a 16-point pace that is miles off his 15-goal, 35-point 2021-22 season.
As frustrating as he has been to watch on many games this season, I still think Engvall is going to be an important piece of a line with Kampf and ZAR when all is said and done. Asking him to center a strangely-assembled line that makes zero sense on paper or in reality on the ice definitely isn’t helping.
BISCUIT BURIES 🐎 pic.twitter.com/igiQ23cmbA
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) November 13, 2022
9. How about that Leafs debut for Jordie Benn!? Over 17 minutes of ice time included a game-winning goal, three shots on goal, four hits, and nine shot attempts. His one credited shot block was a big one on the PK on Elias Pettersson that might’ve prevented a tying goal in the third period. One of his four credited hits was a devastating one along the wall late in the third on Jack Studnicka.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) November 13, 2022
As Rasmus Sandin continues to look a little out of place/awkward on the right side of the ice, it’s worth noting that the veteran Benn has played plenty on the right as a left shot over his long NHL career. He doesn’t move the puck as well as Sandin generally speaking — and it’s not ideal to have either over there — but he’s learned a lot of the little tricks as to how to play the off-side in the league over the years.
Ideally, the Leafs are running Brodie, Holl, and Liljegren down the right at some point, but so long as Brodie-Holl is a thing, Benn gives them another option there in spot duty. He brings an element of nastiness as well that the Leafs blue line is otherwise lacking.
10. After giving up the early goal, the Leafs’ penalty kill — which is not killing penalties at the rate we’ve come to expect under Dean Chynoweth so far this season — needed to step up with three critical kills in the final 21 minutes of the game against one of the better power plays in the NHL.
They got away with a few on the first one — a couple of missed half-empty nets late in the second period — and on the second one when Brock Boeser broke in for a partial breakaway and rang the crossbar. But the PK really tightened up on the (basically game-deciding) one in the final five minutes with some really committed shot blocking and net-front battling from Justin Holl and Mark Giordano in particular (who ended up switching sides of the ice for a chunk of it).
For a team that blocks just 13 shots a game on average and throws 24 hits per game on average — some of it is to do with the Leafs owning the puck more than the opposition, although that’s not true to the same degree this year so far at 5v5 — the Leafs were credited with 19 blocks and 30 hits in this game despite dominating possession for a lot of the night.
Credit to them for digging in on a back-to-back coming off of a loss — with a tired goalie in net and one of their most relied-on defensemen out of the lineup in TJ Brodie — and getting the win for Borje.
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts