The Maple Leafs held on to win 5-4 in a shootout after relinquishing a three-goal lead against the Flames.
It appears the Leafs cannot get enough of the drama to start the season as for the second time in a week, they were part of a three-goal comeback — this time on the wrong side of it, but Mitch Marner and Max Domi rescued the extra point in the shootout.
Game in 10 in note form:
It certainly isn’t the case every night (or even often), but the Maple Leafs were ready to go from the drop of the puck. They dominated the play early, with a 2-on-1 opportunity for Tyler Bertuzzi and John Tavares on the first shift. Their pace to start the game was encouraging.
The speedy Nick Robertson beat his man through the neutral zone and drew a holding penalty two minutes into the game. On the ensuing power play, the Leafs almost scored a carbon-copy goal to the opening goal against the Senators off the initial power-play faceoff — off a bit of a scrummed draw, Auston Matthews swooped in and nudged it back to William Nylander, who stepped into one off the point (stopped by Vladar).
Later in the PP, Matthews bobbled the puck on the zone entry and fired the puck into Nylander’s direction to avoid disaster going the other way. His pass missed the mark, but a turnover from Yegor Sharangovich landed right on Nylander’s stick. He poked the puck between the two Flames players, pulled the puck across the crease, and deposited his eighth of the season.
It was another highlight-reel goal for a player who has found another level this season, and the kind of high-skill second-effort play to create offense out of a seemingly broken play that has become commonplace with Nylander.
The Leafs continued to pressure the Flames and appeared to have taken a two-goal lead after Morgan Rielly fired a shot off the post. With the Leafs’ fourth line on the ice, an innocent-looking play ended up tying the game.
On a transition rush, the seam pass across the width of the ice maybe shouldn’t have been able to make it through multiple Leafs in the first place, but this was a strange one. Connor Zary followed up on a juicy rebound off of a really weak and awkward initial shot that he nearly fanned on and put a contested second effort into the top corner. This was a play that Woll would have liked back.
Sheldon Keefe’s new third-line trio of Nick Robertson – Max Domi – Calle Jarnkrok continues to gel and excel. They struck back moments later and restored the lead, with their ability to transition quickly — three speedsters on this line — on full display as they broke in behind the Flames defense.
Domi sifted another nice backhand saucer pass that Jarnkrok slipped under the glove of Vladar. Domi has come alive since the move to center; he’s skating very well with seemingly more puck time in his last three games than his first 11 combined, which is bringing his playmaking ability — which is high-end — to the fore. With two triggermen who can fire the puck on Domi’s wings, this combination is forming an actual identity with a good mix of complementary elements.
It is fascinating how quickly things can change as less than a week ago depth scoring was the primary issue for the Leafs, who clearly have the personnel to form a proper three-line attack.
Near the end of the period, the Leafs were shorthanded after TJ Brodie was called for a hooking penalty (and McCabe later for roughing). The struggling penalty kill (29th in the NHL) continues to be a work in progress, but a sprawling play by Mark Giordano and Jake McCabe on the goal line kept the Leafs in front 2-1. Nearly the full two minutes were spent in the Leafs’ zone despite two scrums in the corner — where they couldn’t come up with the puck — and multiple clearance opportunities. Even against a struggling offensive team, that much time in the zone spells serious trouble in the NHL.
There were some encouraging signs in terms of the Leafs’ physical engagement in the game during the late PKs, though, which is notable given it’s been a talking point since the Marchand incident. When Kadri jammed in a loose puck following an early whistle (no goal), William Lagesson (assist to Noah Gregor) buried him instantly. When Backlund buzzed Woll after the first PK expired, McCabe dropped him (which led to a roughing call, but the response was nice and the edge McCabe brings is definitely welcome).
The Leafs began the second period still on the penalty kill and flipped the momentum on its head when William Nylander hopped over the boards, stripped the puck from Noah Hanifin, and sniped it shortside to extend the lead.
The one thing missing from an otherwise sublime start to Nylander’s season was a shorty, which is a box he checked off in this game with goals on the PP, PK, a beautiful behind-the-back pass that set up Tavares in front for a healthy 4-1 lead back at even strength. He’s doing it all and is a total human highlight reel right now.
It wasn’t the first-line shift the Leafs were hoping for coming off of the 4-1 goal when the game should’ve been dead and buried. After a few false starts on the breakout, Nikita Zadorov hammered a slapshot top corner that Joseph Woll could not track as Morgan Rielly passed through the shooting lane and Woll was deep in his net, seemingly completely taken off guard by the shot.
Seven minutes later, it was officially game on again as two-thirds of the fourth line plus John Tavares (David Kampf was able to get off when the puck left the Leafs’ zone briefly) were hemmed in their own zone for a spell. Ryan Reaves didn’t do the best job of closing down and getting in the shooting lane and AJ Greer tipped it in to bring the Flames within one, with Jake McCabe missing the tie-up on Greer’s stick in front and expressing his displeasure with himself afterward.
This was the last time we saw Reaves in the game. It’s been a rough stretch of games since Reaves’ last memorable contribution, a tilt against Marcus Foligno way back in the second game of the season. In a back-to-back against a red-hot Vancouver on Saturday, a little more juice from the fourth line could go a long way, and another sub-five-minute night from Reaves dropping the Leafs to 11 forwards in a tired situation seems entirely avoidable. Inserting Pontus Holmberg, who is with the team, would be a sensible lineup tweak.
The Leafs’ response to the 4-3 goal was positive. They killed the momentum that the Flames had built and finished the second period with a flurry of chances from the Auston Matthews line but did not convert.
Unfortunately, a let-off early in the third period completed the comeback for the Flames. A top-line shift that started with an offensive-zone faceoff ended in a goal against 10-15 seconds later.
Mark Giordano was stripped of the puck rounding the back of the net, and Jake McCabe again didn’t tie up a stick in front as the puck was batted around in front before Pospisil poked it five hole on Joseph Woll, who definitely could have had this one.
Missed scoring chances in the remainder of the period led us into overtime. Yegor Sharangovich hit the bar which would have put the Flames in front, but otherwise, the Leafs were very much in the ascendancy and manufactured a big push at 4-4. William Nylander looked skyward as he missed an open net with Vladar out of position. Nick Robertson channeled Matthews with a nice curl and drag wrist shot that hit the iron.
It was disappointing that it ended up in a position where the Leafs very easily could’ve dropped a point given the OT period and the fact that they trailed in the shootout, but there is something to be said for the fact that the Leafs definitely weren’t shell-shocked by giving up the lead, kept pushing, and really should’ve gotten this done in regulation.
The third period ended at 32 shot attempts for the Leafs to just 11 from the Flames, with the Leafs controlling over 70% of the expected goals.
Also encouraging in terms of a stay-in-the-fight response despite too many goals against, Joseph Woll, in the OT period, came flying across his crease to flash the leather on Elias Lindholm. Later, he stopped Andrew Mangiapane on a breakaway that he had from center ice. The dip in form over the last two games is a little concerning from Woll, but the OT and shootout could be something to build off of looking ahead to the Sweden trip.
Max Domi also scored the game-winner in the shootout with a rocket that went top corner—credit to Sheldon Keefe for this move, giving Domi a chance to see a puck go into the net might be what the doctor ordered as he looks for his first real goal as a Leaf. Everything else about his game is really coming together, and it feels like he’s on the cusp of the long-awaited first goal to celebrate his homecoming to Toronto (hopefully, on home ice tonight!).