Despite three goals from their bottom six, the Maple Leafs coughed up a 3-1 lead and fell in overtime on Black Friday in Chicago.
Your game in 10:
1. After the performance in the first two periods against Detroit last Friday in Sweden, you wondered if the Leafs would be similarly slow to get going in this game in terms of getting their game-speed timing and legs underneath them after so many days off. That wasn’t the case as the Leafs came out with good energy and purpose to their play.
The Tyler Bertuzzi – John Tavares – William Nylander line was all over it on their first shift of the game, getting pucks and bodies to the net and putting four shots on goal in rapid succession. The Blackhawks could hardly contain the Leafs in the offensive zone, with all of the Leafs‘ lines sustaining some positive momentum at different points. Despite killing a penalty, Toronto took seven of the first nine shots of the game before opening the scoring seven minutes in.
2. Coming off of a tough couple of games in Sweden where they were relegated to fourth-line minutes, the third line needed a bounce-back game. They got it started by opening the scoring for the team.
Max Domi took a handoff from Mark Giordano through the neutral zone, skated down the wing, and made a nasty saucer pass to the back post for Nick Robertson to finish off. Saucers don’t get much sweeter than this one; it was sent perfectly over two Blackhawks sticks before it landed flat in the wheelhouse of Robertson.
Domi (who would be heard from more later in the game) is now up to seven points — all assists — in his last seven games, all coming at even strength. The move to center ice has opened up the ice for his skating and increased the quantity of puck touches; he swung back to collect the puck, generated speed through the neutral zone, and made a great play in the offensive zone for this goal.
Since Keefe created a third line with a coherent identity of sorts — a sheltered scoring unit with Domi at C and Robertson (who now has three goals in seven games) called up onto the wing — the boost in secondary production has been significant.
3. The third line stayed out for a short shift after their goal, and the Leafs‘ top line came out for a defensive-zone faceoff following the TV timeout. Mitch Marner turned the puck over three times on the shift; twice forcing plays into sticks/bodies inside the offensive blue line, and then once at the defensive-zone blue line while unsuccessfully trying to settle down a knee-high puck. It actually looked like Morgan Rielly might have intended to go off the wall and Marner swatted it down but couldn’t make a play on it, leading to the turnover.
It led to the first Jason Dickinson goal of the game, which simply needed to be stopped. Ilya Samsonov was down early with his heels on the goal line as the puck found a hole between his blocker and body on the short side. There was no reason for Samsonov to be playing it so conservatively as it was clearly a shooting play with no passing options to worry about.
So far this season, there seems to be at least one stinker per game finding its way past Samsonov, who is now sitting with a .878 save percentage, which ranks 51st of 58 among goalies with five or more starts (26th out of 27 among goalies with 10 or more starts, better than only Stuart Skinner).
It’s still early, but squeezing Samsonov on a one-year deal this past offseason is looking wise through 18 games.
4. There weren’t a ton of chances to write home about for the rest of the first period, which ended with the Leafs taking yet another too-many-men penalty, their league-leading seventh of the season in just 18 games.
The Leafs were in possession up the ice as TJ Brodie was changing for Mark Giordano, but a turnover by Matthew Knies high in the offensive zone led to the puck rolling back out into the center ice area, where Giordano jumped on and played it well before Brodie was at the bench.
The too-many-men statistic boggles the mind at this point, but it’s also worth pointing out that the top line was guilty of this all period — and game, really — long. Auston Matthews tried a spinorama blind pass (it did lead to a penalty, but he should’ve shot), Mitch Marner was forcing plays for turnovers, and the habit appeared to be rubbing off on Knies some, too. On this play, it’s late in the shift, very late in the period, and the puck simply needed to be chipped down the wall or rimmed around the boards.
5. Mark Giordano redeemed the too-many-men faux pas by drawing a tripping call on the penalty kill early in the third, negating the Chicago power play and creating some four-on-four time. The (partial) third line found its second goal of the game, this one also started by Max Domi moving his feet and showing composure in possession to switch the zone over to TJ Brodie, who made a great pass into Calle Jarnkrok for a tap-in at the far post.
Jarnkrok is now at five goals on the season, a 20+ goal pace, after scoring 20 for the team last year. Offensively, he’s not a driver who generates a high volume of shots and chances, but he bears down well on his openings around the net, leading the team with an 18% shooting percentage over his 90 games as a Leaf (25 goals on just 137 shots).
The third line finished the game with over 80% of the shot attempts and expected goals while playing the most of any Leaf line against the Connor Bedard matchup. It was a productive game from this line in terms of both the offense and earning back some trust from Sheldon Keefe after limited minutes in Sweden.
6. I wrote yesterday about the Leafs’ dearth of offense by their defense outside of Rielly, but this game was a refreshing exception. While Giordano and Rielly are still the only two to shoot it in the net among the blue-line corps, there were two nice primary assists by Leafs defensemen to create both the 2-1 and 3-1 goals: There was Brodie’s pass on the Jarnkrok goal, and then Jake McCabe jumped up and made a nice backhand pass on his offside to find Ryan Reaves for a redirect on the 3-1 goal.
It came after a good fourth-line cycle shift and broke a run of 11 straight on-ice goals against for Reaves, who definitely needed something good to happen. A bounce finally went in his favour as he was in the right place at the right time with his stick on the ice.
7. With the Leafs out-shooting the Blackhawks 19-7 and ahead 3-1 on the scoreboard, this should’ve been pretty close to game over. They nearly found the put-away goal in the minutes preceding Chicago’s second goal; there was a breakaway for William Nylander where he tried to go backhand-forehand-five-hole to no avail, and there was a great feed in behind the defense off the rush by Nick Robertson into a jumping-up Morgan Rielly, who couldn’t quite redirect it home.
The Blackhawks got themselves back into the game after Conor Timmins didn’t establish body position on the puck under pressure from a Chicago forechecker and was out-battled behind his net. When William Lagesson tried to intervene by poking it free and taking the body, the puck went straight to Jason Dickinson in front for a bang-bang goal that Samsonov had very little time to react to.
I don’t think it’s fair to judge much about Timmins’ performance in this game — which included some nice moments and some shaky ones — given the circumstances (his first game action since September).
8. Sheldon Keefe went with his fourth line coming off the 3-2 goal against and they produced a solid shift of offensive-zone time, which set up the top line to come over the boards to continue the response. But Mitch Marner and Matthew Knies committed a couple of turnovers and the Blackhawks started titling the ice on the Leafs.
With young rebuilding teams, in-game momentum swings can be even more exaggerated than normal, and you could see that the 3-2 goal created a belief that went straight to Chicago’s legs. They started winning a lot of the puck races/battles and generated some of their longest offensive-zone sequences of the game.
From the Leafs’ perspective, they’re the much better and more experienced team. They should be able to manage the game properly with the lead, and most disappointingly, it was actually their best players (more specifically the top line) who were killing momentum and turning it over with their constant nonchalance in possession.
The Blackhawks controlled the final five minutes of the period with a couple of brief reprieves generated by the Nylander and Bertuzzi line; the Leafs ended up mixing and matching their centers with their winger pairs in the final shifts of that period, sending out Matthews with Robertson and Jarnkrok, Kampf with Knies and Marner, and Tavares with Gregor and Reaves.
9. Sheldon Keefe somewhat tapered the minutes of the struggling top line in this game as Mitch Marner finished at 18:15, which is his lowest TOI total of the season outside of the Canucks game in which the Leafs were firmly in control — and this game went to overtime. At five-on-five, Matthews and Marner played notably less than Bertuzzi, Nylander, and Tavares; Marner was all the way down at 12:45 at five-on-five.
Strangely, though, Keefe started this line for the third period and then the Matthews-Marner duo for the overtime period. Perhaps, in the case of the third period, it was some sort of calculation around setting up the matchups without last change, but it’s strange to lead with them in those kinds of situations when they simply haven’t earned it. Putting aside the message-sending part of it, it led directly to the critical tying goal against at the start of the third.
To be fair, McCabe handcuffed Matthews with an imprecise backhand breakout pass into the middle of the defensive zone. Matthews didn’t handle it as well as he perhaps could’ve, leading to a turnover where he just kind of lost his balance and fell over. Jason Dickinson buried the gift for his third goal of the game.
10. The Leafs generated a few offensive zone shifts around the five-minute mark of the third period, with the Tavares line, in particular, creating some pushback and momentum for the team.
There weren’t a ton of grade-A chances generated, and by the midway point of the period, the temperature of the game ramped up considerably following a big hit by Boris Katchouk on Max Domi followed immediately by Ryan Reaves wrestling with Seth Jones. The game was chippier the rest of the way, including Tyler Bertuzzi firmly planting a Blackhawk behind the Leaf net (one of a few solid hits Bertuzzi threw in this game) and Noah Gregor taking on Katchouk after he shot a puck in the Leaf net way after the whistle (it was utter nonsense that Gregor was the lone penalty there).
In the third period, shot attempts were 20-14 in favour of Chicago and scoring chances were 11-6 for the Blackhawks at five-on-five. Notably, Sheldon Keefe had seen enough of the top line and bumped Matthew Knies off of it later in the game (Jarnkrok took his spot). Knies turned a number of pucks over throughout the afternoon and actually carried the puck on two separate 2v1s that ended in no shot taken.
As a rookie, it’s unsurprising that Knies needs regular reminders as to who he is and what his role is on a line with Matthews and Marner. He needs to be a physical presence on forecheck as the first man in (not pulling up and trying to intercept breakout plays), and he needs to play a more direct game as opposed to trying to keep up with his linemates in the fancy-skilled-plays department. He definitely needs to shoot more often rather than deferring or looking for the extra/perfect play; he’s scored five goals despite just 20 shots on goal in 18 games.
As for his linemates, who should be held to a higher standard, it was nowhere near a good enough effort from them tonight. Three goals from the bottom six should be enough to win just about any game, let alone one against a badly slumping bottom-feeder like Chicago.
In overtime, Nylander’s massive points streak came to a halt despite a breakaway attempt that hit all three goalposts (one of two breakaway chances for him in the game). The Blackhawks ended it when a strange bounce off the end boards led to a scramble and a one-handed tap-in for Kevin Korchinski.
The game never should’ve ended up in a toss-up 3-on-3 situation in the first place.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Game Highlights: Blackhawks 4 vs. Maple Leafs 3 (OT)