The Leafs are down multiple goals to the Lightning? Got ‘em right where they want ‘em!
Big exhale, Leafs Nation.
Your game in 10:
1. The 4-1 deficit wasn’t the result of the Leafs not starting on time. In fact, it was an encouraging sign that it was the Leafs’ third and fourth lines generating the team’s first shot attempts/shot on goal and offensive-zone time of the game (Max Domi was already skating better at C, and Nick Robertson ripped him a nice pass in stride through neutral ice for a shot attempt and an offensive-zone faceoff, followed by a chance for Ryan Reaves in front on the next shift).
After a positive fourth-line shift for the Leafs, their top line came over the boards on the fly against Tampa’s fourth line and was buzzing, with an air of inevitability to them scoring. It didn’t take long, as after Auston Matthews nearly broke Austin Watson’s ankles high in the zone and threw a puck on net, Matthew Knies’ hustle play to tie up the attempted clearance, help recover the puck, and go straight to the net was rewarded. The skill matched the will as Knies swatted down a pass from Mitch Marner out of mid-air, pulled it across Jonas Johansson, and buried it to open the scoring.
2. The Leafs actually could’ve/should’ve been up 2-0 after William Nylander went on a breakaway with the team up 1-0 just prior to the Victor Hedman goal. He needed to reach for the puck a little bit and it was rolling on him some, but Nylander really should mix in a shot over a deke on one of these breakaway attempts.
Immediately afterward came the 1-0 Hedman goal, and the Leafs forwards (Tyler Bertuzzi and William Nylander) could’ve dug deeper coming back to their zone late in their shift as Hedman jumped up and took the pass for the goal. But it was a goal where Ilya Samsonov was way off his angle.
The Tavares line was on the ice for its second goal against in just a few minutes not long afterward. John Klingberg took some understandable heat for sagging off and conceding the line easily off the rush, but Tavares was flat-footed coming off the bench, Nylander sagged back too deep off of Kucherov with his stick off the ice and Bertuzzi’s stick was also off the ice coming back into the d-zone when both might’ve been able to take away the passing lane to the Kucherov one-timer. Two five-on-five Tampa Bay goals off rush plays where the forward group probably could’ve supported the D better defensively, but both were very stoppable goals.
3. All in all, the first-period effort looked worse than it was on account of two glaring issues: Ilya Samsonov and the penalty kill.
Samsonov seemingly wasn’t ready to start this game, losing his net frequently as he conceded four and was eventually yanked. On the bench after the pull, he sprayed water up in the air and tracked it with his eyes — a little drill many goalies do while trying to dial in on the ice — as if he had really been struggling to track the play and was trying to piece together what happened out there. He was swimming in the crease, often looking like he was guessing or late to react to where the puck was going. (Recall that earlier in the season, Samsonov joked about not seeing pucks and needing glasses).
Keefe was probably a goal too late pulling the trigger on the goalie pull.
4. Goaltending aside, the Leafs penalty kill is in dire straits at the moment, now sitting 27th in the NHL at 71.8%. They’re not executing the fundamentals properly.
David Kampf, one of their most experienced and reliable PKers, took a bizarre route on the 3-1 goal, looping toward the wall before standing in the low slot preparing to block the shot (?) while Victor Hedman had all day to step in and set up the one-timer to Kucherov.
On the 4-1 goal, Tampa could’ve scored two or three times (before a wide-open Brayden Point eventually did from the bumper spot) as the Leafs PK was getting seamed by the Lightning at will. Again, there was a strange route on the goal, this time from Noah Gregor.
Dean Chynoweth has to get the PK units back to executing the basics properly when it comes to positional awareness and sticks in lanes.
5. The other note worth mentioning about the Tampa power-play goals is that the Leafs took another too-many-men penalty prior to the Lightning’s 3-1 tally. After the Leafs took two too-many-men penalties in the span of a few minutes in Nashville, Keefe said that he was giving the team the benefit of the doubt by believing it was due to fatigue late in the road trip. After two more of these penalties in the last two games both leading to goals against (the JJ Peterka goal vs. Buffalo, the Nikita Kucherov goal tonight), it’s past time for Keefe to get this cleaned up with his players.
6. The Leafs were shell-shocked at 4-1, and for a few shifts afterward, it looked like it might get really, really ugly. There were smatterings of boos from the home crowd (after some Bronx cheers for Samsonov earlier in the period). Again, though, I was encouraged by the new third line’s shift late in the period as Nick Robertson, Max Domi, and Calle Jarnkrok were buzzing in the offensive zone on the cycle.
The response to start the second period was clearly excellent, starting with the top line’s shift followed by Domi trying to bait de Haan into a fight on a shift where the third line forechecked and cycled the Lightning into an icing. When the top line came out for their second shift of the period, it was again a mismatch against a tired Lightning fourth line and bottom pairing, all set up by a positive bottom-six shift.
This is almost certainly what Keefe was referring to after the game when he spoke about feeling the best he’s felt this season about the rhythm of the group. The pace and competitiveness of the third line gave the team extra energy, some offensive juice, and a noticeable speed lift beyond its top six. Some positive shifts from down the lineup set the stage for favourable matchups that the top line cashed in on twice.
7. Matthew Knies certainly grabbed the top-line opportunity with both hands by doing it all in this game, collecting three points and playing a direct role in four goals.
As mentioned, he buried one in tight by swatting a puck down nicely and tucking it in to open the scoring. In the second period, he protected the puck well down low before providing a good screen in front for the 4-2 goal by Auston Matthews. He made a disgusting spin-o-rama pass to set up the Matthews 4-3 goal and made the bank pass up the wall to Marner for the 5-4 goal off the center-ice faceoff where the Lightning — without last change — were caught desperately trying to scramble Victor Hedman onto the ice for that matchup.
Knies was working hard and showing flashes offensively down on a third line that stayed together too long and was neutered offensively by David Kampf. It felt like this was the overdue breakout game now that he was finally set loose. He also apparently owns the Lightning, which deserves a special mention and bonus points.
Matthews and Marner obviously ran roughshod on the Lightning tonight, but between Domi, Jarnkrok, Robertson, and Knies’ performances in this game, it felt like just what the doctor ordered in terms of the contributions of the supporting pieces around the big four.
8. The third line got their due reward with the 4-4 tying goal early in the third period. Nick Robertson was shot out of a cannon as the first in on the forecheck for a dump-in recovery. He then checked back above the puck and kept it in the zone before ripping a hard shot on goal after a pitch and catch with Max Domi, leading to the rebound goal by Calle Jarnkrok.
There was also a good pinch by Simon Benoit on that shift to keep the cycle alive, which is something I thought both William Lagesson and Benoit did well in this game. Lagesson continues to be a quiet surprise; he has been consistently physical, kept the play in front of him defensively, and made intelligent pinches in the offensive zone. Benoit brought some physicality and was simple but effective in this game as well; it’s too early to judge his overall game, but the size/reach was nice to have back there.
9. Morgan Rielly continues to perform yeoman’s work for the Leafs on the banged-up blue line, clocking over 25 minutes of ice time with enough gas in the tank to beautifully set up the Calle Jarnkrok game-winner in OT. He kept the puck in nicely prior to the 4-2 goal that got the comeback started.
The Leafs mixed Rielly into the top unit on the power play (save for the third-period power play when they held the lead and were saving him for five-on-five shifts), which was a good call from the coaching staff for my money. John Klingberg can’t repeatedly throw pucks away / jam them into shinpads and remain on the top unit when Rielly is at the ready and playing really well.
10. For the second time this season, Joseph Woll was thrown into a game cold against Tampa facing a multi-goal deficit, and both times he did everything asked of him to even make the comeback possible. It really shouldn’t go unnoticed how difficult of a task that is and how impressive it is that he helped the team pull four points out of a pair of situations that really easily could’ve/should’ve been zero points against a division rival.
The late 5-5 tying goal at first appeared to be one he should’ve held onto without a rebound/trickle-through, but there was a really tricky deflection off of Domi’s stick that made the initial save more difficult than it first seemed. It was a shame because the Leafs were not playing a bad lockdown/close-out period after taking the lead up until that point.
It should, beyond any shadow of a doubt, be Woll’s net on Wednesday.