A big third-period performance by the Tyler Bertuzzi – John Tavares – William Nylander line powered the Maple Leafs to a 3-2 come-from-behind win over Detroit in Stockholm, Sweden.
It was the third time this season the Maple Leafs have won despite trailing through 40 minutes, and William Nylander has assisted on all three game-winners in those games. Rising to the occasion has been his calling card all season so far, but this one was extra special given the location.
Your game in 10:
1. The best thing you could say about the Leafs‘ first period in this game is that they didn’t concede a goal, and the penalty kill went two-for-two and looked good doing it.
They looked like a team that hadn’t played in nearly a week and was trying to find its timing, but rather than simplifying and readily testing a goalie playing his first NHL game of the season, they only put three shots on Alex Lyon in the first 15 minutes (which included one power play where they passed up a couple of shooting opportunities). Trying to pass the puck into the net usually isn’t the best approach to start your first game in nearly a week.
Just when the Leafs were starting to put a couple of shifts together at five-on-five late in the first period, they went back to the PK for the game’s third slashing penalty of the period, this time on Tyler Bertuzzi. The Toronto PK looked good in its four minutes of work in this period, maintaining good puck pressure on the Detroit perimeter shooters without falling out of sync and losing its shape, which has been an issue with the number of seam passes and clean looks in the middle the PK has forfeited in the first 15 games. Perhaps the extra practice time paid off here.
There were a couple of half chances for Max Domi and Auston Matthews and nearly a breakaway on the first shift for William Nylander. Otherwise, there was not much doing for the Leafs offensively, but a 0-0 period given the circumstances wasn’t the end of the world.
2. With the game kind of meandering along to this point, a big swing arrived with around eight minutes left in the second period when Auston Matthews pickpocketed Jake Walman in the corner, brought it around the net, and set up Mitch Marner for a chance in the slot that he appeared to fire into… where the net would’ve been if Walman didn’t faceplant into it and knock it off its moorings.
This was a strange grey-area call. Walman knocked the net off on his own volition (obstructing Lyon somewhat), and the puck appeared to break the goal line in between the two moorings, striking the arm of the down-and-injured Walman just as it was crossing the line. There was a bit of guesswork involved here, which is seemingly why they called it inconclusive and stuck with the no-goal call on the ice, but it was a tough break for the Leafs.
4. Just seconds later, it was 1-0 Detroit.
The Leafs nearly scored on the offensive-zone faceoff following the no-goal call (a Mitch Marner pass into Auston Matthews for a tip in the slot) before the Red Wings broke up ice for a shot off the rush by Ben Chiarot.
The puck ricocheted up the wall, where Matthew Knies misread it and the puck bounced through TJ Brodie into the slot. Matthews couldn’t clear it from danger, leading to a mad scramble in front. Ilya Samsonov made a great initial pad save, but with the puck loose in the crease, Morgan Rielly briefly covered up the puck with his hand, leading to a penalty shot that Daniel Sprong converted on.
5. Just two minutes later, it was 2-0 Detroit on a Lucas Raymond goal that Ilya Samsonov needed to stop. Rielly could’ve done better with a clearance opportunity earlier in the shift, but this needed to be a save and a whistle.
Samsonov went down on one knee squeezing his near post when Lucas Raymond’s body was open to the net with a right-handed shot, giving him a sharp shooting angle at the far post. It was a good shot, but he beat Samsonov clean from a spot on the ice where he shouldn’t have been beaten.
The Leafs closed out their first 40 minutes down 2-0 and also took another too-many-men penalty late in the second period. They lead the league in the category with six, and it’s getting to the point where it’s now ridiculous and an embarrassing situation for the players and coaching staff. Thankfully, unlike in previous games where it cost them, the PK was sharp tonight.
6. As much as the game was pretty ugly to this point and the Leafs didn’t have much going at five-on-five outside of the Tyler Bertuzzi – John Tavares – William Nylander line, the game was by no means over. The Red Wings were in a back-to-back and were down a top-pairing defenseman due to a mid-game injury. The Leafs were hopefully getting to the point where the cobwebs were shaken off. They just needed a spark.
The source came as no surprise.
7. Tyler Bertuzzi’s shift in the build-up to the 2-1 goal was excellent. His urgency and skating over 200 feet of the ice to win pucks back defensively, before heading to the front of the net and collecting on William Nylander‘s setup in front, got the ball rolling on this Leafs comeback.
It was a clever finish, too, as he got down on one knee with his stick blade buttressed by his skate, which basically made it impossible for the defender to stick-check him and prevent him from guiding Nylander’s centering pass into the net. Bertuzzi has lots of little tricks up his sleeve in crowded areas of the offensive zone that require some time spent watching him to fully appreciate; he lifted a Detroit stick away from the puck to help Nylander retain possession initially as well.
8. Matthew Knies didn’t have his best game by any means — and committed a few dangerous turnovers — but it was his effort to keep his feet moving and draw the initial penalty that led to the tying goal.
On the PP, William Nylander again showed his knack for meeting the moment with a rocket of a one-timer into the top corner of the net on a nice setup from Mitch Marner, who felt hard done by earlier in the game between the no-goal call and a missed double-minor high-sticking penalty.
16 games and counting for Nylander’s point streak, which now includes six multi-point nights. Certainly, none this season were more special than this one in front of friends and family.
9. The “second” line wasn’t done there.
With five minutes left, they won the game for the team off an offensive-zone faceoff that John Tavares was thrown out of but William Nylander stepped in and won on his strong (right) side. Nylander cycled it down low behind the net, where Tyler Bertuzzi took Justin Holl’s lunch money by tossing him off the puck. Bertuzzi took it around out front, picked out Tavares charging to the back post, and set up the captain perfectly with a cross-crease backhand pass.
Sheldon Keefe provided a memorable quote on Bertuzzi before the season started that seems particularly relevant tonight in light of this goal and performance:
“He doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to make plays. If you go through the points that he accumulated in Boston, I don’t know how many times he is finding seams and setting guys up for one-timers and open nets.”
Nylander was putting defenders in the spin cycle regularly in this game with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, Bertuzzi was making plays and winning a bunch of puck battles down low and around the net, and Tavares was going to work on the cycle after winning faceoff after faceoff. This continues to be the Leafs’ best line at five-on-five, controlling over 83% of the expected goals tonight on top of the 2-0 goal advantage.
Behold, belt Bert pic.twitter.com/ZwUPvQydfa
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) November 17, 2023
10. Nylander tempted fate a little bit with a couple of blown clearances (one was seemingly a long-range attempt at the empty net) with the Detroit goalie pulled, but the Leafs secured the win to finish regulation without giving up much in the way of chances.
In the final few minutes, Sheldon Keefe deployed units of Jarnkrok – Matthews – Marner (with McCabe – Brodie), the usual Tavares line (with Giordano – Lagesson), then Tavares – Marner – Kampf (with Rielly – Brodie) for the final defensive-zone faceoff. They did a good job of keeping everything to the outside despite some extended zone time against. After the bad Raymond goal, Samsonov bounced back in the third period with a few decent saves.
It was not their prettiest performance by any stretch, but good teams stick with it and find ways. The odd scheduling around this trip had the potential to be a momentum killer right as the Leafs were finally putting together a good team game in back-to-back wins last weekend. The momentum was maintained thanks to a massive third period led by the Bertuzzi, Nylander, and Tavares line.
Last but not least, two thumbs up to the blue helmet + white sweater combination.