The Toronto Maple Leafs brushed off a lackluster second period and put two goals by superstar goalie Igor Shesterkin late in the game, one to tie and one to win it in overtime.

The Leafs‘ stars showed up late, Ilya Samsonov held his own against the best of the best in net, and a surprise early goal from Pontus Holmberg powered Toronto to a 3-2 OT win over the New York Rangers, improving their home record to 19-3-4 on the season.

Your game in 10:

1.   The fourth line got the Leafs off and running early, with Joey Anderson — back up from the AHL and inserted into the lineup over ZAR — playing a big role in the opening goal.

Alex Kerfoot chipped the puck by a pinching Ranger along the wall in the Leafs‘ defensive zone. Anderson then completed a nice pass to the middle of the ice for Pontus Holmberg, who came zooming through the middle, gained a few steps on the covering Rangers forward (Julien Gauthier), and flipped the puck over the shoulder of Igor Shesterkin with a confident backhand finish:

The fourth line as a whole did not have a great night in terms of the underlying metrics (and were on for a too-many-men penalty), but they didn’t allow a goal against and made their impact known on the box score both with this goal and drawing two penalties in only ~5-6 minutes at 5v5.

For Holmberg, this is goal #5 and point #12 in 30 games with the big club, numbers he’s produced in just 10:29 in average time-on-ice this season entering tonight. His production in very limited minutes has been a welcome development for the team, and getting him back in the lineup following illness and the brief AHL stint has made the Leafs deeper.

2.    The Leafs went to a power play in the first period after Calle Järnkrok got tripped up, so I’m going to use this as an excuse to discuss the Toronto PP.

Their first man advantage was their best, with a couple of terrific passes from Mitch Marner setting up two really good looks, one for John Tavares and this one for Auston Matthews all alone in front:

That was the best PP of the night for the Leafs without question as the other two left a lot to be desired. The Rangers went on a 3v1 right off the opening draw on the second PP (?????) that Ilya Samsonov made a stop on, and then the Leafs nearly surrendered a breakaway to Filip Chytil as he was leaving the box upon the penalty’s expiration. The third PP created nothing in the way of chances for either side.

It’s felt like the Leafs’ PP is not as dangerous as it should be for some time now despite the fact they are clicking at a decent rate (22.5% in January, 11th in the league).  Morgan Rielly was playing the point tonight and did take several shot attempts, but he struggled to get any on net. We’ve now seen the five-forward look, the Rielly PP, and the Rasmus Sandin PP, and it hasn’t fully found its rhythm.

One idea I’ve seen circulated and wouldn’t mind giving a try: Timothy Liljegren on the top unit. given his excellent (both hard and accurate) shot. Some food for thought.

3.    The Rangers got off to a good start to the second period with a goal you don’t see too often: the Mario Lemieux-style faceoff goal. Filip Chytil of the Rangers was in the dot against David Kämpf and fired it all in one motion off the draw, stunning Ilya Samsonov and finding the back of the net:

No idea who to assign the blame to here specifically (Kampf losing the draw clean? Samsonov not being ready? The crazy luck of it all?). It is so rare that this kind of play happens. Tip of the cap to Chytil.

4.    The Rangers were playing a fast game in the second period and started to batter the Leafs, who came out slow and lethargic. No line embodied this more than the “Kid Line” for New York, of Chytil centering Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière. They enjoyed success in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Rangers but haven’t been able to follow it up consistently this season when put together, mostly treading water in the advanced numbers. But tonight? It was an impressive showing from that group.

They were New York’s best line in the first period, scored the faceoff goal, and then scored another only a few minutes later:

Some very pretty passing from the three Ranger forwards here, but it could also be framed as a terrible sequence from the Leafs. Mitch Marner got too fancy on the breakout, with a chance to chip it out instead of forcing one into the middle for a turnover. From there, Justin Holl badly overplays it, Mark Giordano is caught, and Samsonov has no chance of stopping this one.

The Kid Line logged 12 minutes at 5v5 tonight and shot attempts were 14-7, scoring chances were 8-2, and high-danger chances were 4-2 in the Rangers’ favor with them out there.

5.    The Rangers were controlling play in the second period and held the lead 2-1 after two. As we entered the third, the visitors were given an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the game in the form of their second power-play opportunity.

Their first PP featured some fine PK work by the Leafs, who forced shots to the perimeter and kept clean sightlines for Samsonov. The second one — coming off of a Timothy Liljegren delay of game call — was far dicier, with the Ranger passing breaking down the Leafs’ PK defense several times. This was their most dangerous look:

Not ideal! Lucky for the Leafs, Chris Kreider — one of the best players around the net in the league — couldn’t finish into a yawning cage, but it’s not what Sheldon Keefe and Dean Chynweoth wanted to see in terms of the PK getting seamed.

I’m curious about the possibility that Kyle Dubas may add a PK specialist at the trade deadline with the Leafs staring down a matchup with the vaunted Lightning PP — as well as Boston’s formidable man advantage if the Leafs were to advance — in the postseason. Their PK has slipped all the way down to 19th in the league.

6.   Before we carry on with the recap, let’s discuss Ilya Samsonov. It was the fourth straight start for Samsonov and fifth straight game in which he played the majority of the game time. Sheldon Keefe is starting to ride him.

I wouldn’t say he was as spectacular as he was in some of the preceding games, but the Leafs also played much better defense in front of him in the first and third periods. They needed him to be solid to good, which is exactly what he was: 27 of 29 saves for a .931 SV% and a positive goals saved above expected number.

He wasn’t asked to do too much, but he came up clutch in a few notable moments. This save on K’Andre Miller in the first was his best of the night:

I assume Keefe will let Matt Murray face the Senators in the Revenge Game on Friday night, but how much they use Samsonov before the All-Star break will say a lot. If he receives the final two games — or even just the Boston game next Wednesday — it will speak volumes about who the “starter” or “1A” is at the moment. Right now, it clearly seems like Samsonov is pulling ahead of Murray, and if he gets the nod against the mighty Bruins, it’s hard to infer anything otherwise.

7.    In search of a spark, Keefe began tinkering with the lines again in the final frame. He started the game with the traditional duos, 16/34 and 88/91 back together, but in the third, he sent out the mega-line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander all together to take offensive-zone draws.

Their first time out resulted in a good cycle shift that started to get the juices flowing throughout the lineup. Once the normal lines went back together, the momentum was building and the chances started to come.

Michael Bunting and Matthews went on a 2v1, and then Marner and Kerfoot got an abbreviated 2v1 as well, although nothing came of those. The Kerfoot one was particularly frustrating; he received a perfect pass in all alone in tight and appeared to attempt a pass back to Marner, which was a bizarre decision. In the last game against the Islanders, he was in on a 2v1 and completely lost the handle under no pressure from the defender.

It remains a frustrating season offensively for Kerfoot, who picked up the secondary assist on the opening goal but has three points in his last 11 and is pacing for 36 points coming off of his career-high 51 last season. It certainly makes for a real conversation about his $3.5 million and the possibility of moving it in a deal (or a separate deal) at the deadline as the Leafs look for an additional impact piece up front (and possibly seek additions at multiple positions).

8.     The Leafs finally got the tying goal with under five minutes to go. The second line was on the ice with William Nylander still buzzing from his shifts taken with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Nylander picked up possession in the offensive zone, curled to get off the wall, and flung the puck at the net. John Tavares, parked in front, got a tip on it, the puck kicked off Shesterkin, and Timothy Liljegren was sauntering down from his point position to pot the rebound:

It’s a nice job from Nylander and Tavares getting pucks on net, but the glory goes to Liljegren here. He made a phenomenal off-the-puck read, identifying where the play is going and activating toward the front of the net while gaining a step on Chris Kreider to give him the opportunity to bury, and he elevated the puck nicely to tie the game.

Liljegren now has four goals on the season, showing his shot and offensive instincts are real assets at the NHL level. It took some time and patience, but the Leafs have developed a really well-rounded defenseman here.

9.     With 4:11 left in a tied game, both teams created some pressure in search of a late winner. Toronto generated a higher volume of looks late in the game, but both teams had terrific chances to seal it.

This deflection by Artemi Panarin out in front of the net very nearly slipped through Samsonov’s five-hole:

The biggest chance came in the dying seconds for the Leafs. Justin Holl and Morgan Rielly had possession in their own zone with around 15 seconds left when they handed the puck off to Marner gaining a head of steam. Marner cut through the neutral zone, gained the blue line, and set the Leafs up for one last offensive-zone possession.

With under five seconds left, the puck was sitting in the slot for John Tavares, who fired a knuckling puck over Shesterkin and off the bar:

It would’ve been a dramatic game decider, but thankfully for Leafs fans, the actual winner was right around the corner at the start of overtime.

10.    Keefe sent out David Kämpf to take the opening faceoff of OT just as he has been doing for the last month or so. He paired that with Timothy Liljegren on defense and Mitch Marner on the wing, with the intention of taking the defensive specialist off the ice once possession was established.

Mission accomplished as Kämpf continues to do a good job of bearing down on these draws. The Leafs took a few moments to set up, and then Kampf headed off in favor of Auston Matthews. While many of us were keeping an eye on #34 coming on the ice, Marner decided to go win the game himself:

It was a spectacular individual effort from Marner, but also a dreadful one on defense from Mika Zibanejad, who turned into a statute as Marner turned the corner on him, putting K’Andre Miller in a tough spot down low. Miller did his best to poke check but instead tripped Marner, creating the terrific flying finish.

There was a commendable lack of hesitation shown on the play from Marner once he surveyed the ice. He didn’t buy time to wait for Matthews to open up; instead, he aggressively drove the net, protected the puck, and outwaited Shesterkin for one of the nicer Leaf game-winners of the season.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts