The Maple Leafs erased deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to earn a point in a hard-fought game where they probably deserved a better fate.
Remarkably, this was the Leafs’ 10th result settled outside of regulation in just 22 games this season. William Nylander’s blunder leading to the losing goal right at the end of three-on-three OT was a tough end to a great game, but they’re not going to win them all with the chaotic nature of extra time, nor is it too meaningful in the big picture.
All in all, on the merits of their five-on-five play (especially if we account for the difficulty of the competition), this was the best the Leafs have looked since their road trip through Florida, Washington, and Dallas in the middle of October.
Your game in 10:
1. I’ve railed against the Leafs’ starts to games in meaningful games before in this space, but this was a refreshing change of pace tonight. The Leafs decidedly carried the play in the opening period. We finally received a reminder of what the Leafs look like as a team when both of their top-six lines are building on each other by stringing together hard-working offensive-zone shifts (they started — though didn’t finish — the Seattle game similarly as well). It felt like we went too long since seeing both of the team’s big lines rolling from the start of the game at five-on-five.
Most notably, they were forechecking hard and winning pucks back/forcing mistakes out of a Bruins defense that rarely makes them, leading to a period where the Leafs controlled over 85% of the expected goals and 70% of the scoring chances. One of the best five-on-five teams in the league, the Bruins weren’t credited with a single high-danger chance at even strength (compared to the Leafs’ four), but of course…
2. In a period the Leafs controlled but just couldn’t buy one past Linus Ullmark, as is often the case when you don’t capitalize against good teams, Toronto gave up the 1-0 goal off a rush against the run of play.
David Pastrnak’s shot didn’t look like it deflected; it was a well-placed shot, but Joseph Woll was a little deep in his net and got beat cleanly blocker-side from the top of the circle. Credit to Woll for mostly settling in afterward, but this probably should’ve been saved and the Leafs should’ve walked away from the first period sitting 0-0 at worst while feeling like they had the game in a good spot even if they hadn’t yet scored.
3. With the shots at 16-9 for the Leafs seven minutes into the second period, William Nylander had full control of the puck in the neutral zone and was too casual in possession, handing it over to Jake DeBrusk. After David Pastrnak collected DeBrusk’s rebound and circled up high in the Leafs’ zone, both Leafs defenders (Rielly-Brodie) ended up on the same side of the ice and Matthew Knies missed an assignment.
Knies didn’t see Kevin Shattenkirk coming in off the bench/point to take the pass, which was a beauty from Pastrnak in behind every Leaf defender for a goal Shattenkirk scored in all alone. Knies still needs reminders of the importance of keeping his head on a swivel for those cross-ice plays to the weak side when the defenseman sneaks down off the point. We’ve seen him caught several times since he graduated to the NHL.
4. Matthew Knies has a knack for making up for mistakes, though, and did exactly that five minutes later. He scored a beautiful goal in the Florida series — his first NHL goal — a few seconds after a costly missed assignment in the defensive zone, and he did something similar in Dallas earlier this season where he followed up a costly turnover by setting up a big goal later in the game.
Tonight, he went hard to the net and created some havoc in front, nearly jammed a rebound in, and then pulled away for a one-time shot that forced a rebound off of Linus Ullmark. It was a miracle William Nylander didn’t score — his shot hit the defenseman in behind Ullmark — but then Auston Matthews finished off the third opportunity.
The Leafs were winning battles, getting pucks off the wall and into the interior of the offensive zone, and attacking the net with purpose against a team that is as structurally sound as any club in the league. They were rewarded by finally breaking Ullmark’s stiff resistance.
5. The Leafs’ tying goal late in the second period was definitely a gift from Kevin Shattenkirk — who gave it away at the offensive-zone blue line and then defended the rush horribly — but Nick Robertson receives credit for closing down fast at the point and then getting the pass through to Max Domi off his backhand. You could see the weight of the world lift off of Domi’s shoulders after his tidy finish (his first in 27 games and first as a Leaf).
Max Domi on his first goal with the #Leafs: "Of course it feels good to contribute, but that shit's irrelevant when you don't win."
— Nick Barden (@nickbarden) December 3, 2023
The big question with the Robertson – Domi combination concerned how a line with a rookie winger and a center who isn’t exactly known for his shutdown abilities defensively was going to fare on the balance of their five-on-five play — i.e. do they score enough to outweigh what they give up the other way? So far, they’ve outscored the opposition 6-4 at five-on-five and scored some important, timely goals in that mix. They’re decidedly winning the shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goal shares at five-on-five as well, so it feels sustainable enough.
With Jarnkrok supporting the duo, is it a line Keefe would trust to play a notable role in a playoff series? That remains to be seen, with plenty of time left to evaluate before the trade deadline.
6. It’s not like Conor Timmins was at direct fault (in fact, he wasn’t even on the ice anymore) for the 3-2 Bruins goal in the third period, but if we look at the longer sequence leading up to it, Robertson kicked it to the point, where Timmins completely whiffed on the puck. That led to the Bruins possession where they broke up ice and scored.
After Timmins changed off the ice, Joseph Woll seemed lost on the play after the initial deflection in front and Morgan Rielly was a little late to tie up Trent Frederic’s stick. But where you leave the game at the end of your shift for the next man up is important.
The puck isn’t coming up/out Timmins’ side of the ice very smoothly with enough consistency, and he has been a little iffy with his touches at times in the offensive zone. Those have to be strengths of his game if he is going to stick and contribute.
Timmins deserves some runway to find his rhythm and confidence coming off of a long injury layoff, and fortunately for him, other injuries on D are helping to ensure he will receive that runway as opposed to heading to the press box. It’s much harder to find a rhythm with limited minutes and PP opportunities compared to his preseason opportunities, so we’ll see if he can find his way. We’ve seen enough — not just this past preseason but last regular season — to believe it should come around for him in time.
7. While on the subject of Timmins, it’s notable that Simon Benoit and William Lagesson continue to give the Leafs hard-working, relatively mistake-free minutes in which they aren’t giving up scoring chances for free, are getting in the way defensively with their long reach and bigger bodies, are making the simple plays pretty consistently with the puck, and are serviceable on the PK.
They both made good defensive plays on the lone Boston power play in this game — Benoit’s long reach stripped Pastrnak after he broke the Leafs’ blue line and barreled down at Benoit with pace; Lagesson made a nice shot block on Pastrnak as well. Benoit just missed out on an assist on the 2-1 goal with the initial pass to Knies, and he registered five hits (Lagesson was credited with four).
When/if the Leafs D is fully healthy (or close to it) again, Timmins has the advantage of being right-handed, but there needs to be more than that to go on if he’s going to play. Fortunately for Timmins, he has a little time.
8. The resilience the Leafs showed in this game was impressive despite 2-0 and 3-2 deficits. Late in the game with under 20 seconds remaining, an Auston Matthews shot from a wide angle missed and cleared the zone, appearing to signal game over.
The quick regroup, re-entry, and then John Tavares bulldozing his way straight to the front of the net and through Ullmark was super clutch. Mitch Marner’s composure with the clock ticking down to almost zero — settling the puck down amid a mad scramble and sliding it out to Matthews, who opened up nicely for the one-timer — was excellent execution in a desperate situation.
In addition to a lot of good, hard plays in tight spaces tonight, Tavares was a force on the faceoff circle with 13 wins in 16 attempts, including a couple of big ones late in the game. No NHL center has taken more than 400 faceoffs and won more than Tavares’ 62.8%. That would be a career-high mark if it were to hold.
9. That was the Leafs’ third goal with the net empty this season while conceding three in total with the goalie pulled. That’s a really good ratio, relatively speaking, considering the statistical advantage — unsurprisingly — lies with the defending team most of the time.
I also wanted to note Calle Jarnkrok’s presence on the ice at 6-on-5 — and playing a role in the goal — as he continues to be a Swiss army knife for Keefe. It’s debatable if he should be on the ice over a Bertuzzi or Knies in those situations, but he is really dependable when it comes to being in the right spots/making the right play with the puck (as we saw on the entry/pass before the goal).
In general, Jarnkrok continues to be a really versatile elevator player for the team this season. Ryan Reaves took a bad penalty in the first period and looked behind the pace in what was a highly competitive, fast-paced, playoff-type game. Jarnkrok stepped in as needed and the fourth line won the shot-attempt battle 6-0 in his minutes with Noah Gregor and David Kampf.
10. This two-goal game for Auston Matthews was more impressive than him shooting a couple into the net. It really stood out how many battles he was winning and consequently, the amount his line owned the puck; as a line, they outshot the Bruins by a 15-4 margin at five-on-five, and a lot of their five-on-five ice time came against the Hampus Lindholm – Charlie McAvoy paring.
With McAvoy and Matthews on the ice, shots were 12-1 in Toronto’s favour. That’s a defense pairing that typically not just wins but dominates the run of play at even strength, and the Matthews line tilted the ice on them by and large.
Justin Bourne’s recent data on Matthews’ time spent in the offensive zone this season was alarming, and before tonight, the Leafs went six straight games with Matthews losing the five-on-five expected goals battle (tonight, it was 84% in Matthews’ favour). Nights like this are a reminder of what’s possible when Matthews has the bit between his teeth in terms of earning pucks back.