The Maple Leafs should’ve held a more commanding lead entering the final few minutes of this game.
In addition to solving Florida goaltender Alex Lyon just twice on 40 shots, a sloppy first couple of minutes and a sloppy final couple of minutes ended up costing Toronto a second point that was far more important to the Panthers than it was to the Leafs.
Your game in 10:
1. It’s often been the story for many of the last four or so games, including their game in Florida: The Leafs kind of eased into the game with a few sloppy shifts to start the night off.
On just the second shift of the night, the Leafs were out of sorts on a string of failed breakout attempts before Jake McCabe fired a six-foot pass directly into John Tavares‘ feet in the middle of the defensive zone, leading to a turnover in the slot and a quick early goal against.
Anton Lundell scores first
bad pass from McCabe leads to a turnover for the goal pic.twitter.com/qArZIbDSJi
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 29, 2023
2. Much like a number of their games in the past couple of weeks, the Leafs responded well to a slow initial start by taking over the game, and like many of their recent games, it was led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and the Toronto top line.
The Leafs out-attempted the Panthers 19-9 in the first period, and it wasn’t just the result of empty-calorie shifts; there was plenty of activity right in and around the crease of Alex Lyon, who was really sharp in the opening 20 minutes.
There was really only one chance of note the other way the rest of the first period: A breakaway for Ryan Lomberg later in the first frame that Ilya Samsonov came up huge on. It was not an easy way to return to the net as a new dad for Samsonov given he faced a low volume of shots with a couple of point-blank grade-As among them.
Even on a late Florida power play, the Leafs created the best chance while shorthanded. A good hustle play by Sam Lafferty led to a 2-on-1 with David Kampf, but the pass was a touch behind Kampf at the back post.
It felt like a matter of time if the Leafs stuck with it heading into the middle frame.
3. The breakthrough arrived courtesy of a depth line that has given the Leafs some quality minutes in the past few games: Zach Aston-Reese – David Kampf – Wayne Simmonds, who actually led the Leafs’ forward lines in five-on-five shot attempts for in Nashville (11).
Kampf had changed off for John Tavares shortly before the goal, but the line generated some offensive-zone time thanks to workmanlike efforts to extend the cycle from ZAR and Simmonds before TJ Brodie fired a shot toward the net. ZAR maneuvered a skillful outstretched tip in order to redirect it past Lyon.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 30, 2023
The goal — his third in his last seven — went straight to ZAR’s legs; he was flying around the rink and had a couple of nice rush looks in the second period, including a breakaway opportunity where he tried the Peter Forsberg move that led to his first career penalty shot, but Lyon got the better of him there.
Within the mixing and matching among the bottom five forwards under the 11/7 setup, it was Sam Lafferty who made a nice slip pass off the wall in the neutral zone to send ZAR in alone prior to those breakaway opportunities. ZAR himself registered five shots on goal through 40 minutes (in just six minutes of ice time), which is a season-high for him. The depth minutes from ZAR, Lafferty, Kampf, and Simmonds were a definite positive on the night.
4. After ZAR’s 1-1 goal, the Leafs appeared to immediately take the lead on an odd-man transition opportunity where Auston Matthews set up Calle Jarnkrok at the back post for another nice finish from the Swede, but it turned out Matthews entered the zone a touch early as he was receiving the pass.
During the offside review, there was an explosive Paul Maurice bench tirade — he clearly called his team a bunch of “b*tches” at one point — immediately followed by a dumb Ryan Lomberg penalty upon the resumption of play for a late hit on Morgan Rielly.
It’s tense right now in Florida. Even with the game still at tied 1-1, the Panthers were bombing numbers forward and opening the game right up in search of a go-ahead goal. It was an impatient style of run-and-gun hockey on display from Maurice’s team, an approach that was generating a few looks offensively but was leaving them exposed to even more in transition the other way.
With plenty of big rebounds off of the pads of Lyon and quality looks generated by Toronto — as well as four power-play opportunities — the Leafs just couldn’t find a second one in the second period. They could’ve built themselves a multi-goal cushion through 40 minutes, although the expected goal count didn’t indicate a massive gap between the two sides at even strength (1.4 – 1.28 in favour of Toronto).
5. The Leafs were dominant on the draw all night (hovering around 70% at this point in the game), and around six minutes into the third period, it was actually a winger win courtesy of Calle Jarnkrok that led to the breakthrough Auston Matthews 2-1 goal.
The Leafs had been setting up the high-slot one-timer half a bunch of times throughout the game, and this time one such play — on a Mitch Marner-Matthews connection — finally solved Lyon.
PAPI POWER 💪 pic.twitter.com/4q4gdaz6XI
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 30, 2023
With nine goals in his last 11 games (17 points), the “playoffs are near” switch has been flipped by AM34, if it wasn’t already clear. With another five-plus shot game tonight, he is up to 59 shots in his last 10, which is nearly a two-shots-per-game increase over his first 57 games.
6. The game didn’t feel very safe once the Leafs took the 2-1 lead. It certainly wasn’t the cleanest effort salting the game away by Toronto.
They got caught with numbers above the puck for a rush chance for Matthew Tkachuk, took a sloppy high-sticking penalty (Marner), and then Justin Holl committed an unforced error in the neutral zone to turn it directly over for a 2-on-1 that Anthony Duclair challenged the Leafs’ goalie on.
Ilya Samsonov came up really big in those moments — as did the Leafs PKers with top PKer Mitch Marner in the box. But after failing to bury Florida as they should’ve earlier in the game, there was a hint of danger in the air suggesting that the Leafs might cough this one up.
7. With the Florida goalie pulled, a weak clearance play up the wall by Mitch Marner led to what should’ve been a tying goal for Florida on the ensuing goalmouth scramble, but the Leafs somehow keep it out thanks to a necessary/good penalty to take by Mark Giordano. But the Leafs were playing with fire and eventually got themselves burnt.
Marner ended up on the ice for 2:10 consecutively late in the game and was very visibly tired, which definitely didn’t help in closing down time and space on the Panthers’ PP as it worked the puck around up top and scored (and there were multiple opportunities to change off for fresh legs).
It’s understood and appreciated that Marner has superman levels of all-situations energy, but it was another 24+ minute night for him down the stretch here and it was showing late in the game.
8. It was noteworthy that Dean Chynoweth and Sheldon Keefe used Timothy Liljegren twice inside the final three minutes — including the shift leading to the penalty and on the late PK with Mark Giordano in the box — over Luke Schenn, who clocked just 7:56 with all but 13 seconds at five-on-five.
There doesn’t appear as of yet to be a desire to use Schenn in the kind of specialty role where he is providing some shorthanded service in addition to his five-on-five shifts. We’ll see if this changes at all down the final stretch, but so far, the coaching staff seems reluctant to use him there.
Tampa used Schenn in a secondary PK role during the 2019-20 season, including in his 11 appearances in the playoffs (1:34/game), but they moved away from it in 2020-21. He averaged just under two minutes a game shorthanded for Vancouver, but the Canucks had one of the worst PKs in the league. He hasn’t spent a ton of time killing penalties on a good team/PK in recent seasons.
9. The extra point meant a lot more to Florida than Toronto, but Auston Matthews had the first big scoring chance of the three-on-three period with a great drive to the net that he couldn’t quite finish off on his backhand. He then pounced on a loose puck and shot on the turn toward the near post but was met by a fantastic reflexive glove save from Lyon.
That would’ve made it four straight multi-point games for Matthews and five two-goal games in his last six appearances, but it was not to be on this night.
The game was settled shortly after on a play where William Nylander turned it over in the slot while attempting a bit of an overly ambitious move, John Tavares was caught, and Morgan Rielly got himself twisted around and turned inside out on his 2-on-1 defense, allowing Aleksander Barkov to patiently pick out Brandon Montour at the back post for the game-winner.
With that, Tavares has been outscored 4-0 and Rielly 4-2 in three-on-three OT this season; it’s 7-2 and 8-4 dating back to last season, respectively.
10. All in all, the Leafs probably deserved the two points tonight based on their general control over the run of play and the number of chances generated, but how they start and close games matters as well, and the Leafs weren’t as sharp as they could’ve been in those areas of the game.
There were more positives than negatives to take out of the game in terms of individual performances and the overall process of their play through the majority of the 60 minutes, though. Auston Matthews‘ shift-to-shift dominance as a goal-scoring threat and chance generator remains back in full force, the Leafs’ got some quality depth minutes beyond their top six (Laffery and ZAR, in particular), and most importantly, Ilya Samsonov bounced back from his last outing in New York with a great effort in this one (none of the three Florida goals were remotely on him).