You never really know what you’re going to get in the first game back after the holiday break. This one certainly fits the bill: Blown leads, missed calls, a penalty shot in overtime, and a beautiful OT winner.
It’s the kind of game where you take the two points, work off your holiday bellies, and move on.
Your game in 10:
1. A shift into the game, it appeared the Blues had some early jump at home — particularly Jordan Kyrou, who came out with some pace. But then the Leafs‘ top line hopped over the boards and went to work.
They controlled the puck in the offensive zone and worked the puck back to the point, where Mark Giordano ripped a shot that went off the crossbar and bounced right onto the stick of Justin Holl, who shot it into a wide-open net.
Auston Matthews did a great job going to the net and screening the goalie. He ended up picking up a point on the play; he tipped the puck, causing it to hit the crossbar in the first place. That’s the kind of play and battle where the rest of the team has to take notice. If Matthews is willing to go to the net and battle like that, what’s anyone else’s excuse?
Holl also did really well to sneak in from the blue line, read the play, and one-time it home to give Binnington no chance rather than handling the puck first.
2. The lead was short-lived as the Blues scored about four and a half minutes later. After the Leafs scored, the top line stayed out and almost scored again on an Auston Matthews breakaway. But once the top line left the ice, the Blues started putting good shifts together before a forecheck on Conor Timmins caused a turnover.
Alexei Torpchenko probably should have scored right away — he was all alone and looked like he had the far side open — but the puck slipped off his stick. Frankly, the whole chain of events was painful to watch, especially when it’s three Leafs battling two Blues in the defensive zone. They somehow lose that battle while Alex Kerfoot watched on the complete opposite side of a Blue standing all alone.
Even still, on the actual goal, Ilya Samsonov was so out of position I thought he took contact on the first viewing (you couldn’t see him until the end when the puck was going in the net). But he didn’t say a word to the refs — nor did any Leafs player — and when they showed the replay, it appeared he… just sort of fell? Calle Rosen scored about as easy of a goal as you can possibly score in his league from the point.
3. The goal went to the Blues’ legs as they kept the pressure on. It resulted in a Pontus Holmberg penalty, but the Leafs‘ power play snuffed it right out. The Blues were actually better once the game returned to 5v5, where they kept creating offense.
Natural Stat Trick recorded the 5v5 chances in the period at 10-5 for the Blues. The Leafs were outshot 11-5 in the period as both teams seemingly created chances whenever they had the puck. The TJ Brodie – Conor Timmins pairing, in particular, got worked a few times.
4. The Leafs haven’t had to go to this well all that often this season, but even in periods where they’re outplayed, their top players are so good that all they need sometimes is one chance.
John Tavares got that chance and took it, which gave the Leafs a 2-1 lead to end the period. The goal was the result of some beautiful in-zone offense where Mitch Marner had the puck in the offensive zone and rimmed it far side to Tavares, who picked up the puck and rimmed it back behind the net. Marner picked it up and looked like he was going to curl up the wall with the puck before a quick stop-up and change of direction. At the same time, Tavares skated to the top of the circle before dipping his shoulder like he was going to drive the net. He stopped up instead, but since he sold it so well, he lost his defender (Colton Parayko), which created the space for him to cleanly get the pass from Marner, look up, curl the puck, and pick his spot.
That was just a great play from two linemates who clearly have chemistry. If a receiver faked out a cornerback the way Tavares faked out Parayko, we’d be seeing it on replays all week. It is no coincidence Tavares is a goal away from breaking into the NHL’s top 100 all-time.
5. After the first 10 or so seconds of the second period following a Michael Bunting turnover along the wall that resulted in a Blues scoring chance, the Leafs had a really good start to the second. They created a number of good chances, including a William Nylander – Auston Matthews 2v1, a David Kampf chance off the rush (off a Mitch Marner pass), and another Mark Giordano point shot that caused trouble, with Matthews again at the net (this time, he almost put home a rebound).
Of course, as it often goes, the Blues got the puck in the zone, and Justin Holl boarded Robert Thomas with a hit. Holl is a big part of the Leafs’ penalty kill, so I’m always curious to see the shorthanded units without him. While the Blues controlled the puck in the first minute — generally on his side — once the Leafs finally got the puck out, all hell broke loose.
Calle Järnkrok went on a 3v1 and didn’t even get a shot on net, but he kept possession. The puck eventually went to the point, Timothy Liljegren one-timed it to the net, and the rebound bounced to Järnkrok, who went to the net after passing it. He tapped it over to Alex Kerfoot and in Kerfoot fashion, it was barely a shot on net, but since it was a completely wide-open net, the puck went in to make it 3-1.
6. That felt like it could have been a game-swinging goal. Up 2-1, the Leafs took a penalty off of a questionable hit that seemed to fire up the Blues, and then they scored shorthanded to boot.
Alas, it did not work out that way. A few minutes after going up two, Mark Giordano tried joining the rush in transition, he threw the puck away, and he was caught in the offensive zone as Ryan O’Reilly turned it up ice for a 2v2 against Justin Holl and Calle Järnkrok. Holl almost played it as a 2v1 in transition, focusing on blocking a potential cross-ice pass instead of properly gapping up. As a result, O’Reilly enjoyed about as much space as one can possibly have to skate in, and by the time Holl realized he needed to close on him, the puck was curled and snapped in.
It was a nice shot and a tough save to make. You can’t allow very good players to walk in untouched and give them time and space to wind up and shoot. O’Reilly used Holl as a screen and simply ripped the puck by him and Ilya Samsonov.
7. Things went from bad to worse as Alex Kerfoot took an offensive-zone penalty around a minute after the 3-2 goal, and now the Blues went to another power play to tie the game.
This time, the Blues did score. If the second goal was a good one, this was not. It’s a one-timer from nearly the blue line with zero screen, and the puck went through Ilya Samsonov. It wasn’t off the post and in. It’s a save Samsonov has to make.
Following back-to-back shutouts, Samsonov was really bad against Washington, not particularly good against Philadelphia, and struggled again against the Blues. He is going to need to sort out his game moving forward or else Matt Murray is going to have to start carrying the workload.
8. As we saw last season, the Leafs can outplay poor goaltending. Before the period was over, they restored their lead.
This was arguably Calle Järnkrok’s best game as a Leaf. He had a good motor all night, he made plays shorthanded, he created offense, and he went to the dirty areas. But the player who stood out for going to the net here was Pontus Holmberg.
It was a tight angle when Holmberg got the puck — he could have easily settled for a shot on net or tried to go around the net (which would have been awful) — but he put his shoulder down and made a play in the front of the net knowing contact was coming. He didn’t score, but it worked out; the rebound bounced to Jarnkrok, and while he was a little lucky — the puck essentially knuckled and spun in — it was a well-earned goal.
Kudos to Pierre Engvall for the no-look pass to create a little extra room for Holmberg off the rush.
9. It was another weak start to a period in the final frame for the Leafs, who gave up a chance right away followed by an offensive-zone penalty by John Tavares. The Leafs killed it off, but the Blues kept pressing, and they tied the game just five minutes into the period.
Jordie Benn was picked on the build-up to the goal, and Sheldon Keefe lost his mind on the bench — like many fans at the time, I’m sure he was thinking about Game 7 vs. Tampa.
After Benn was picked, he didn’t do a good job of recovering and clearing the net. Instead, he perfectly screened Ilya Samsonov as Jordan Kyrou ripped the puck by him.
As the rest of the period went along, it felt more and more destined for overtime. The teams traded a few chances, there were a few more missed chances, and David Kampf hit the post. Alex Kerfoot’s speed was particularly problematic for the Blues as he created a number of chances, including the post play and one late with about a minute left.
10. In overtime, the Leafs once again started David Kampf and two defensemen. It served its purpose as the Blues created nothing, setting the table for the big guns.
Before the change fully took place, though, TJ Brodie was hauled down on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. He looked like a defenseman taking a penalty shot.
The Leafs stuck with it, though, and I was actually thinking it was harsh for Alex Kerfoot and Calle Järnkrok not to get a shift in overtime considering how well they played. Right as the thought occurred, William Nylander knocked the puck off Vladimir Tarasenko, beat him down the ice for a breakaway, and went to his money move: forehand, backhand, shelf.
That’s why stars are stars. That’s 21 goals in 35 games now for Nylander. He scored a career-high 34 last season and is primed to surpass it.
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts