For the first time in a while, the Maple Leafs did not receive good goaltending tonight, but they rode William Nylander’s five-point game and Mitch Marner’s streak-extending two points to snare a 5-4 OT win over the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night. 

The Leafs have now collected at least a point in 14 straight games (11-0-3 in that stretch) and a point in 18 of 19 games since the start of November. With an 18-5-6 record, they are now just one point back of the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils for the most points in the NHL, although the Bs have three games in hand on Toronto and NJ has two.

Your game in 10:

1.   The power play was a story of the game tonight beginning right from the get-go. After a Calgary shot was blocked and pinballed back out to center, Michael Bunting got on his horse and gained separation on Flames D Noah Hanifin, who grabbed a hold of Bunting. Some wanted a penalty shot awarded, but the referees called a two-minute minor instead.

This first PP chance did not start in the greatest fashion as a Rasmus Sandin giveaway created a look for Blake Coleman shorthanded, but Matt Murray made the save. The Leafs scooped the puck up, got the rush going the other direction, and William Nylander threaded a pass to Auston Matthews in the slot, who ripped it by Dan Vladar to open the scoring:

Matthews now has goals in three straight games and six of his last seven. He’s still not ripping off multi-goal games like he did with regularity last season, but #34 is heating up just as the weather gets colder.

2.    After the opening goal arrived around the five-minute mark, special teams remained a storyline over the next five minutes. Shortly after the goal, Michael Stone got caught with his stick up high and sent Toronto back on the PP, although they failed to muster any real chances of note.

Just over a minute after returning to 5v5, Nikita Zadorov belted Auston Matthews in the back with a cross-check, inspiring Wayne Simmonds to step in, throw a punch, and get sent off for roughing. In the process, Simmonds’ irascible conduct nullified what was going to be another Toronto PP and turned it into a 4v4.

On that ensuing 4v4, we got the bad half of the first period for Matthews. After scoring the goal to get things going, he embarked on a wretched shift, first turning the puck over in the offensive zone and then falling asleep defensively, letting Hanifin in behind him and failing to take away the pass. Hanifin gained control of the feed and wired a shot by Matt Murray to tie the game at 1-1.

3.    The Leafs largely controlled the first period at 5v5, hemming in the Flames for large stretches and rarely ceding much of anything in the way of possession in their own end. Yet, the Flames left the period with the edge in goals at 5v5 (1-0) due to a goal scored late in the frame.

Mitch Marner and John Tavares stitched together a great shift in the offensive zone — putting the Calgary defense on their heels and peppering the house with shot attempts — but they couldn’t get one by Vladar or the mass of bodies in front of him. A pass for Alex Kerfoot went askew and down the ice, creating a rush chance the other way. Calgary entered and eventually the puck found Nazem Kadri up high, where he beat Murray cleanly with a wrist shot:

It’s not a howler, but it’s definitely a goal that a netminder keeps out on a good night.

That goal was representative of the first period in which the Flames created chances exclusively on the counter. If forced to break through the Leafs‘ neutral zone forecheck setup or beat the Leafs off of the cycle, Calgary had no answer. Given the option to attack on the rush in 2v2 or odd-man situations, they were getting looks. Both goals in the first for the Flames were of this variety.

4.    The Leafs weren’t done in the first period as the Toronto power play came through again.

On their third opportunity of the period, William Nylander ripped a puck by Vladar from the right circle that sent the game tied into the break:

That Nylander goal also was Mitch Marner‘s first point of the night, extending his point streak to 22 games and inspiring a standing ovation from the Scotiabank Arena crowd.

It’s becoming clear that Marner’s quest for NHL history has captivated a fanbase that could be fairly described as apathetic and grumpy only five or six weeks ago. Marner’s point streak is now tied with Steve Yzerman (1987-88), Dany Heatley (2005-06), and Bronco Horvath (1959-60) for 20th all-time. Among streaks to occur in the last 25 years, Marner now only trails Patrick Kane (26 in 2015-16) and Sidney Crosby (25 in 2010-11).

While we’re on the topic of Nylander, we might as well cover his goal in the second period as well, even if there was some action in between.

Late in the second period, it was the tandem of Auston Matthews and Nylander that got it done. Matthews went on the attack in offensive zone forechecking, turning the Flames over and the puck wound up in the slot. Nylander stepped up, snagged it, and fired a shot that deflected off a Flame in front and by Vladar to tie the game at 3-3:

Nylander is now up to 17 goals on the season and is scoring at a 48-goals-per-82 pace. After setting a career-high in goals with 34 a year ago, #88 is now on pace to obliterate that mark in 2022-23. He has been the most consistently great Leaf all season, productive from game one to (currently) game 29.

5.    In between those two Nylander tallies, the Flames pulled ahead again in the second period. This was the return of Matt Murray‘s one consistent bugaboo: high glove side.

While Mitch Marner was rightfully lauded for his efforts offensively tonight, I actually thought this was one of his worst games defensively at 5v5 in a little while (the advanced metrics agree on this). He struggled with turnovers in his own end, and the one that created this Calgary goal was a rough one. Marner was a little too fancy, trekking into the space in front of his own goalie and then colliding with Tavares, creating a loose puck.  Mikael Backlund stepped up and beat Murray high to the glove side, but Murray was bailed out by the iron.

Toronto wasn’t out of the woods as the loose puck ricocheted right to Trevor Lewis on the far side, who shot from pretty far out and beat Murray, again on the glove side:

I don’t know if the issue is fixable knowing the problem has haunted him going back several seasons, but it is something to keep an eye on and is perhaps an area of emphasis for Curtis Sanford and staff to work on with Murray.

As for Marner and his defense, Natural Stat Trick had him on the hook for 0.58 xGA at 5v5 tonight, the most of any Leaf skater. It was not his finest night in that phase of the game, but thankfully, his contributions on the PP in the clutch made up for it.

6.     After William Nylander notched his second to tie the game at 3-3, the third period got going and Wayne Simmonds returned to the narrative of this recap in not in a good way (again). Simmonds hacked Rasmus Andersson in the neutral zone and was put in the box for tripping just over two minutes into the third period.

Simmonds was only in the lineup due to the injuries to Calle Järnkrok and Nick Robertson, as well as the suspension to Pierre Engvall, so no one is pretending he is an everyday player anymore. But perhaps that’s what makes it a little more frustrating: When Simmonds drew into the lineup, he actively hurt the team. He was on the ice for just 0.1 xGF — the worst of any Leaf skater — and took two costly (and completely unnecessary) penalties. Both resulted in goals.

In Simmonds’ defense, the actual goal was not really the result of the Leafs being shorthanded; it was the result of Matt Murray‘s poor night in net. Hanifin carried the puck down the wing for the Flames and floated a weak shot on net that Murray made an easy save on and seemed to have firm control of. The referee blew the whistle, but in the process, the puck came free, skidded across the ice, and into the net. The Flames protested, and upon review, it was called a good goal:

I can’t say I had seen this sort of call before, but as I understand it, because the play was “continuously” going on (i.e. the puck was still moving), the referees had the ability to deem the whistle erroneous and overrule it, allowing the goal to stand. It sounds like they got the call right based on the rulebook; that said, I’m not sure how that rule is compatible with a world in which goals have been disallowed for “intent to blow the whistle,” but it is what it is.

Regardless of refereeing shenanigans, that is a goal that cannot go in from Murray’s perspective. It was not his best showing tonight, and the numbers (-2.31 GSAx) back that up.

7.   For Toronto partisans, luckily, the controversial call didn’t end up stinging that much. Less than three minutes later, William Nylander dangled and dashed along the boards in the Calgary zone before making a low-to-high pass to Auston Matthews for a missile one-time shot. The blast was well wide of the cage, but it took a perfect bounce off the end boards into the front of the net to Michael Bunting, who poked it by Vladar:

Bunting deserves recognition as another Leaf who is heating up. This was his first goal in nearly a month, but it was also his eighth straight game with a point. He now has 10 points in those eight games, and hopefully, the goals will start to follow the mountain of assists that Bunting has been compiling.

The line that produced that goal — Bunting with Nylander and Matthews — was particularly dominant tonight. They owned 83.91% of the expected goals at 5v5 per Natural Stat Trick’s data. After much focus has been given to the Marner and Tavares tandem driving play for several weeks, this line is starting to cement itself as an equal, and the Leafs have two top-six lines that are rolling as a result.

8.    Before I get back to the game narrative, I do want to talk very briefly about Conor Timmins. He wasn’t involved in any of the scoring and Keefe continues to shelter him, playing only 12:43 at 5v5 with no PK time (and limited PP time), but I liked what I saw from Timmins tonight.

The Leafs are asking him to plug in next to TJ Brodie — presumably, the spot in the lineup that Rielly will slide into when he returns from injury — and Timmins provided a few complementary elements. He seemed comfortable skating with the puck and activating deep into the Calgary zone without causing any major defensive repercussions as a result. I didn’t have any complaints about Timmins defensively, and his metrics were pretty, with an expected goals mark of 63.84% in Toronto’s favor with Timmins on the ice at 5v5.  Scoring chances were 7-3 for the Leafs with Timmins out there, while high-danger chances were 3-1.

He’s only played three games in a Leafs sweater, but I am encouraged by his play so far. Timmins was above 55% in xGF% at 5v5 in all three games per Evolving Hockey, and of all the seventh D options we’ve seen this season, Timmins might be my favorite (with a possible case for Jordie Benn). There is a lot of upside with his game still to be explored.

9.    Late in the third period, the referees became a storyline yet again. With Toronto on the attack in the Calgary zone, two seeming penalties occurred simultaneously, both on the Flames.

Michael Bunting went down behind the net from a hit, which seemed to be the reason for the whistle. At the same time, Noah Hanifin caught Auston Matthews up high, cutting his lip and drawing blood. A scrum also ensued as a result of the hit on Bunting.

Based on my read of the events, the referees should have gone with offsetting penalties as a result of the scrum, and Toronto should’ve been given the full four-minute PP (which would’ve taken up well over half of the remaining 7:32 in the game). Instead, only Bunting went to the box, and the Leafs received just two minutes of PP time out of the penalty. They failed to capitalize.

Not long after the Leafs’ PP ended, the newly-recalled Joey Anderson got a mini-breakaway chance. He drove in on Vladar, pulled off a deke to open up a window, and just couldn’t thread the puck past the netminder. Why? Vladar stuck his stick out and hacked Anderson down.

The goalie was assessed a tripping call, giving the Leafs got another chance to take the lead in regulation with under five minutes to go. Plenty of chances were created for the star forwards, but none hit the back of the net.

After a couple of minutes at 5v5, that was all she wrote for regulation. That drawn penalty was the only real note I had on Anderson, but the advanced numbers liked him tonight. His line with Kämpf and Kerfoot was strong defensively, and Anderson himself was on-ice for a 5v5 xGF% of 93.07%. He deserves another game in the NHL, and it sounds like he will get one.

10.    The beginning of overtime was pretty notable for two reasons: First of all, Sheldon Keefe started an odd combo of David Kämpf with Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin, a 2 D and 1 F alignment. Interestingly, this is something that MLHS contributor Kevin Papetti noticed the Toronto Marlies have been practicing in games:

Seems like an organizational experiment. The idea, in your author’s opinion, is to put two mobile rush defenders on the ice to prevent an early attack off of the draw and a stout faceoff man in David Kämpf to try and win possession. Once possession is established, those three hop off the ice, and the horses come on.

Of course, that never occurred in this game because Jonathan Huberdeau whacked Rasmus Sandin in the head with the stick right off the draw for Calgary’s third high-sticking infraction of the night. The Leafs then went to a 4v3 PP, and it didn’t take long for Mitch Marner to finish it off:

Nylander collected an assist off that; meaning, he had a hand in every Toronto goal and finished with a 2-3-5 line for the evening, his first career five-point night.

When your goalie has an off night, you need your star scorers to step up. That’s exactly what Nylander, Marner (1-1-2), and Matthews (1-2-3) did tonight.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts