The Battle of Ontario didn’t disappoint in what was a high-scoring and emotionally-charged game for the two clubs.
Your game in 10:
1. The Senators started the game with the first five shots, although only a look in front for Shane Pinto was terribly threatening (Murray made the save). While the Sens came up empty on those looks, Toronto connected on their first sustained offensive sequence and their second shot on goal of the game.
John Tavares won a defensive zone faceoff, Ottawa relented on their forechecking pressure, and Jake McCabe then uncorked a great stretch pass through the neutral zone, banking off the boards between the two benches and right to Tavares.
The captain was in behind the first layer of defense, entered the offensive zone on-side, and laid the puck behind himself for Mitch Marner, who let a wrister go that Mads Søgaard kicked out on a juicy rebound.
McCabe, following the play up, snatched it, cut to the slot as he dragged the puck, and ripped it under Søgaard’s glove. It was McCabe’s first goal as a Maple Leaf and gave Toronto a 1-0 lead just 3:11 into the game.
🔵 HIS FIRST AS A BUD!! 🔵 pic.twitter.com/PBWGpYr0Pg
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 18, 2023
2. Ottawa tied it with 5:32 remaining in the first period on what is possibly the strangest goal you’ll see all season. The Sens were coming off a strong shift leading into the commercial timeout and when the game resumed play, they had an offensive zone draw.
Shane Pinto won the faceoff back, and Thomas Chabot passed to Jake Sanderson, who tossed a rather weak wrist shot off the net. The puck bounced once off Pinto’s stick, then off the ice, then again off the body of Julien Gauthier, who was in front of the net. After hitting Gauthier, it popped straight up into the air, arcing high into the air, over Matt Murray, who had no idea where it was, before plopping down into the net behind him.
It was an incredibly flukey goal, but it’s not like the Senators didn’t deserve to score a goal in that opening period. They outshot the Leafs 19-9 and had a decisive edge in both high-danger chances and scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. I did not feel that they generated as many chances as NST says they did, but they definitely were tilting the ice, especially in the closing minutes of the period. Offensive zone time was close to even for much of the period, but Ottawa was relentlessly slinging pucks on net and creating chaos around Murray, in addition to a few looks off the rush.
1-1 felt like a fine score for Toronto going into the break given the quality of play in the period.
3. The Senators opened period #2 much like they had finished the first: shooting, shooting, and shooting some more. They got five more shots on Murray before the Leafs had one when Ridley Grieg tripped Auston Matthews in the offensive zone.
In theory, this should have been a reprieve for the Leafs, but the first minute of the game’s opening power play was a catastrophe for the team with the man advantage. The first ceded a high-danger pass when Mitch Marner‘s pass for Matthews was too far in front of him and turned over by Travis Hamonic and Dylan Gambrell in the neutral zone, resulting in a rush with numbers the other way for Ottawa. That sequence ended in Austin Watson getting a chance from the slot but he fired it over top of Murray.
Sheldon Keefe responded by yanking the first unit off the ice and the second unit decided to follow in their footsteps. Sam Lafferty was shoved off the puck by Hamonic down near the Ottawa goal, the pass got by Alex Kerfoot, and three Leafs were trapped deep. Rookie defenseman Jake Sanderson showed impressive skating ability to get involved in the play, turning it into a 3v2 rush for Ottawa. Tim Stützle cut to the slot and fired the shot by Murray far side to give Ottawa the lead.
4. Despite the nightmarish start to their first PP, the Leafs came up with an immediate answer. Keefe put the first unit back out there and on their second entry attempt, they gained possession. John Tavares and Morgan Rielly made slick passes under pressure to find Mitch Marner in the circle on the right flank. The Leafs now had three white sweaters at the dots or below to just one black sweater. Most probably expected Marner to dish the puck in this situation but #16 decided to fire, besting Søgaard in tight:
A magical response 🪄 pic.twitter.com/anlDTfSfKN
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 19, 2023
A short side goal that Søgaard will almost definitely want back, especially since it took all the air out of the balloon for the Senators. Though every coach will be happy with ending a penalty kill with a goal differential of 0, you never want that differential to be 0 because you allowed a PPG after getting a SHG. It flips momentum so dramatically and negates what should be a hugely consequential event, which made this goal a sizable moment in the game’s narrative.
One more note: with two more points tonight, Marner is up to 89 on the season, just eight away from his career high. He has scored at 100 points per 82 games pace each of the last two seasons, but he did not play enough games to actually hit the century mark. With 13 games to go, if Marner stays healthy, it appears very likely that he will become the fourth player in franchise history to score 100 points in a season (Matthews, Gilmour, and Sittler are the others). He’s also now just six assists from a new career high.
5. Near the halfway point of the contest, the new-look line of Auston Matthews centering Alex Kerfoot and Calle Järnkrok had a shift to remember. It began with both teams in the long change as Luke Schenn found Matthews up ice to enter the zone with numbers.
Kerfoot passed to Matthews in the slot, but Søgaard made the save. A rebound scramble ensued, with Järnkrok getting a crack at it and Timothy Liljegren putting a shot over the net. The puck eventually squibbed down the ice for a 2v2 counter by Ottawa the other way. Jake McCabe back-checked well to shut off the pass and thus the chance and in a moment’s notice, the play was going back the other way.
Kerfoot got the second look of the shift started with a smart pass off the wall to Liljegren, who skated up ice to create a 3v2 entry for Toronto. The puck made its way to Järnkrok’s stick, who tried to find Matthews, but they couldn’t connect. Play trickled to the Senators’ corner, where Matthews won possession against a couple of black sweaters and drew attention from a third. That left Järnkrok exposed just above the circle. Matthews fed the Swede the puck, who one-timed it and unleashed a missile top shelf to beat Søgaard.
HOLYYY CALLEEEEE!!! 🚀🚀🚀 pic.twitter.com/lYPY6gr4Lh
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 19, 2023
I will decline to talk about Järnkrok yet since he’ll pop up in the third, but this goal gave Toronto a 3-2 lead, one they would carry into the third. The remainder of the second period was a pretty strong one for the Leafs, who clawed their way back to an even level of play, or perhaps might have had the upper hand for stretches of the last 10 minutes.
They killed off an Ottawa PP thanks to a good save from Murray and a big hit by Schenn to deny an entry and then created several grade-A looks on Søgaard — one coming on their second PP opportunity and two at 5v5 — but the Danish goalie stood tall on those chances from David Kämpf and Bobby McMann. The Senators owned shots at 5v5 for the second period yet again, but the Leafs had a 4-2 edge in high-danger chances, something that agreed with the eye test.
6. The first half of the third period was decisively tilted towards Ottawa, increasingly so between the 14 minutes remaining to 11 minutes remaining marks. The Leafs had gotten some looks early in the period, but increasingly, the play was taking place in the Toronto defensive zone. DJ Smith ramped up his forechecking pressure and the Senators got the Leafs hemmed in several shifts in a row.
Turnovers from Timothy Liljegren and skating issues of Luke Schenn losing races to pucks allowed Ottawa to hold the line and generate successive shots and chances. The Sens came close to tying it (hitting a post), but despite all the pressure, they could not find an equalizer.
That’s when another titanic momentum swing happened. The Leafs had just relieved the pressure, nudging the puck across the blue line and getting a sweet pass from Jake McCabe while he was harassed by Erik Brannstrom. That was followed by a similarly neat feed from Alex Kerfoot to Auston Matthews, with the Leafs’ star fresh off the bench.
With Brannstrom jumping up and Tim Stützle caught in no-man’s land, Matthews had a 2v1 with Calle Järnkrok. Thomas Chabot was unable to take the pass away, Matthews hit Järnkrok on the tape, and he walked in and blew the wrist shot by Mads Søgaard. It was Järnkrok’s second of the game and fifth goal in the last eight games.
STAY HOT, CALLE 🔥 pic.twitter.com/EebnZxKqCX
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 19, 2023
That goal establishes a new career high for Järnkrok (17), and it is not out of the question that he could hit 20 goals by the time the regular season is up. At this point, it seems to me that we know who Järnkrok is: a high-end finisher but not a great play driver. Put him on the wing with teammates who can set him up for high-danger chances (like Matthews did tonight), and he will finish a good number of him. Ask him to play center/play in the bottom six, and he will be mostly invisible. Food for thought when it comes to drawing up playoff lines.
7. Not long after the Järnkrok goal to make it 4-2, Mitch Marner slipped behind Jakob Chychrun with the puck and thus had a rush chance to possibly put the game out of reach with under 10 minutes to play. Unfortunately for Toronto, the puck off his slap shot whistled wide, and now we were riding the momentum carousel yet again.
The Sens showed they hadn’t let this flurry of counter-attack chances from the Leafs blunt their offensive zest by coming right back up the ice and scoring a goal. Tim Stützle slithered down the wall with the puck, curled it towards the net, and slipped a pass in the only window where TJ Brodie couldn’t get a piece of it.
Drake Batherson had it deflect off his stick in front, but it was ultimately for the better, as Brady Tkachuk was right behind him in the slot, where he snapped it over the shoulder of Matt Murray to pull Ottawa back within one. They had been the better team in the period by far to that point and were finally being rewarded for it. 4-3 Leafs with 9:18 to go.
8. With a lead to protect late in the game, I thought the Leafs did a very good job of staying responsible defensively when the game was at 5v5. The Sens didn’t get much in the way of shots or chances at 5v5 over the next seven minutes. They did also get their second PP opportunity, but Toronto did well to kill that one off too, with the best look for either side during those two minutes was created by the Leafs, when Søgaard robbed David Kämpf, on what would have been a highlight reel SHG. Overall, things were humming along pretty well… that is until Smith pulled his goalie.
Jake Sanderson led the entry and flipped to Claude Giroux, who made a dagger cross-ice pass to Alex DeBrincat. The American sniper rifled a shot bar-down over Murray that the goalie didn’t have much of a chance on. However, Sheldon Keefe asked for a review and it was determined that DeBrincat had been offside while unable to see the puck properly on the entry and obscured by bodies with the play being on the other end of the ice.
The disallowed goal didn’t stop Ottawa from ultimately tying it, though. With under a minute to go, TJ Brodie tripped DeBrincat on an entry and the Senators got their third PP of the game, with a chance to make it 6v4. Smith indeed left the goalie on the bench and eventually, Ottawa took possession with 15 seconds remaining.
Claude Giroux took a shot from the point that Jake McCabe blocked down, but the ricochet went straight to Brady Tkachuk on the doorstep, where he flipped it up over an exposed Murray.
9. The first couple of minutes of OT were not too eventful, with Keefe starting with the David Kämpf, Timothy Liljegren, and Mitch Marner trio that he has opted to go with in recent 3v3 contests.
The first Grade A chance for either team was a breakaway for Tim Stützle, who was robbed by his ex-teammate Matt Murray. Claude Giroux took a shot that Murray saved and John Tavares got a good defensive stick to nullify Tkachuk on the rebound before Tkachuk ripped a shot off the crossbar.
Meanwhile, the Leafs were rather dormant offensively, possibly feeling the effects of playing their third game in four nights. Auston Matthews got one scramble in front, but NST had scoring chances at 7-2 Ottawa in OT, which almost feels generous to Toronto. Murray and some luck from the iron were the only reason this game made it to a shootout.
10. In the shootout, each team had their first shooter convert before Matthews converted while Stützle came up empty. With a chance to slam the door, Murray allowed Batherson to beat him blocker-side. Marner’s opportunity to end the game was thwarted by Søgaard, and the goalies both posted shutouts in the fourth, fifth, and sixth frames.
Derrick Brassard beat Murray in the seventh frame under the glove, but Michael Bunting beat Søgaard in the exact same spot to keep the game alive. Bobby McMann was given a shot by Keefe to end it in the eighth, but it was not meant to be.
Finally, in the ninth inning of this marathon shootout, Murray stopped Chychrun, and then improbably, it was Alex Kerfoot who slid the puck between the legs of Søgaard to end the contest and give the Leafs a 5-4 shootout win.
It was not a pretty game, but a win is a win for the Maple Leafs, especially when you’re in a third in four nights game. The main objective is to get two points and move on. The team’s underlying numbers have sagged significantly in recent weeks, but they are 4-1-1 in their last six and no one is going to complain about getting 9/12 points in that span.
It would be nice to see the Leafs start to re-find their groove in terms of controlling play and dictating the chances, but at the same time, the non-stop churn of the line (and pair) blender that Keefe is operating has a hand in mucking up their rhythm. We will see what the lineup looks like when the team is back in action on Tuesday, but until then, Toronto is riding a two-game weekend win streak.