On the verge of getting goalie’d by Lukas Dostal, the Maple Leafs kept ramming the door until it burst open on their 50th shot of the game, eventually prevailing in overtime over Anaheim by a score of 2-1.
Your game in 10:
1. The Ducks were the more energetic team in the first couple of shifts of the game, firing the first three shots on goal and generating some zone time. After consecutive pushback shifts by the fourth and third lines led to a slashing penalty drawn by Max Domi, it was the start of mostly one-way traffic in the Leafs’ favour throughout the entirety of the hockey game.
The Leafs‘ 104 shot attempts over all situations and 57 shots on goal — unsurprisingly — marked their highest totals in both categories so far this season.
2. It was encouraging to see Auston Matthews shoot the puck twice in the first 20 or so seconds of the Leafs’ first power play. Matthews’ 13.4 shots per 60 on the power play ranked 47th in the NHL entering the game (minimum 100 minutes of PP time) and his individual shot attempts ranked 24th, which is too low for the best shooter in the game (William Nylander and John Tavares are both in the top 10 in PP shots/60).
Matthews then had a tap-in in the crease denied by a goal-line clearance from old friend Ilya Lyubushkin, and he ripped a one-timer from the slot just as the power play expired. All in all, the Leafs put seven shots on goal on the first man advantage of the night and really should’ve scored, which was encouraging amidst a post-Christmas dip on the PP.
3. With six minutes left in the first, the Leafs were owning the puck by and large and putting lots of rubber toward the net, but a 2v1 sprung loose the other way after a tired Nylander kind of gave up on the play on the backcheck. Simon Benoit laid out on the ice and played it perfectly, angling off the shooter and denying the pass across.
Nylander later went on a partial breakaway down the right wing with two minutes left in the first period after Benoit gapped up well with a good stick to force a turnover on the other side of the ice.
One penalty early in the third period aside, Benoit returned from the box to make a play on a puck in front of the net that may well have prevented Alex Killorn from making it 2-0. He also fired four shots on goal tonight, which tied his career high and placed him tied for second on the team in five-on-five shots on net by the end of this game.
As a former Duck, Benoit’s quote before the game — “Personally, I think it’s a mistake by Anaheim and a win for Toronto” — was awesome, and he continues to play better and more confidently by the game. It’s easy to appreciate the jam Benoit brings around his net, along the walls, and after whistles, and while his mobility defending the rush and simple puck movement don’t wow you, they aren’t as poor as advertised.
It’s worth noting that Benoit is only 25 years old. It’s a testament to his play that the Leafs are forging ahead with five lefties on the blue line at the moment while a healthy (and actually older by a single day) Conor Timmins sits in the press box.
4. After the Leafs spent the vast majority of the first six minutes of the second period in the Anaheim zone but couldn’t cash in despite plentiful looks, Bobby McMann’s night came to an end due to a five-minute boarding penalty that was simply the wrong call. It unfortunately occurred right at the most dangerous distance from the boards, but it was a clean hockey play.
Pavel Mintyukov was eligible to be hit, it was two players coming together shoulder on shoulder to contest a puck on a dump-in at center ice, and Mintyukov saw the hit coming but was turning right as the contact arrived. It sent Mintyukov sprawling into the boards head first (thankfully, he appeared to be okay besides a cut).
It’s not blaming the victim to point out when it’s simply a bad set of circumstances leading to an unfortunate outcome as opposed to anything malicious or even particularly reckless on McMann’s behalf. You could maybe stomach a two-minute boarding call — I’d argue no call would’ve been most correct — but five and a game was clearly over the top.
5. The Ilya Lyubuskin instigator penalty for his retaliatory fight with McMann limited the PK time and meant a spell of four-on-four action wherein the Leafs dominated the puck some more without scoring before Anaheim started their power play.
With Mitch Marner — who went on a partial breakaway and attempted a slap shot to no avail — unavailable from his recent four-on-four shift, William Nylander and David Kampf started the kill. Nylander quickly worked himself into space off the rush and hit the cross-bar from the high slot.
The trust is growing in Nylander on the shorthanded units as he’s been in the 1.5-minute range over the last few games (his season average on the PK was under 40 seconds/game previously). Notably, Nylander was chosen to start this kill with Kampf over Noah Gregor, who missed an assignment on the PK in the game versus Carolina where the Leafs’ PK lost them the game.
Early in the third period kill after Benoit’s high-sticking penalty, Nylander hopped over the boards with Jarnkrok as second up for a quick shift after the Kampf-Marner duo. On that quick shift, Nylander generated an offensive-zone draw for the team after pressuring Cam Fowler into a turnover.
6. Martin Jones made one good save in the slot on the mid-second-period Anaheim power play before Killorn took an undisciplined penalty after the whistle, ending the danger of the McMann major and eventually sending the Leafs to an abbreviated power play.
On said power play, though, the Leafs conceded a shorthanded goal. As Jake McCabe was engaged in a puck battle on the wall high in the defensive zone, Max Domi began to cheat out of the zone instead of staying goal-side and responsibly supporting the puck. Martin Jones — who again made every save that could reasonably be asked of him tonight — had no chance on the finish in alone by Frank Vatrano.
This led to Domi playing just 9:08 in a game where the Leafs needed offense for most of the night.
7. Big picture, looking at the third line, Pontus Holmberg — playing tonight in Nick Robertson‘s place — is less of a scoring threat and less skilled in possession than Robertson but a safer option who is harder on pucks. Holmberg – Domi – Jarnkrok isn’t a line that plays to Domi’s strengths as a creator as Robertson – Domi – Jarnkork does, but Robertson-Domi is a duo Keefe probably isn’t going to trust at crunch time at this rate.
Eventually, the Leafs may need to think about adding a top-six LW and bumping Matthew Knies down to L3 onto a sheltered scoring line or, if Knies continues his progression, consider finding an established winger who is specifically a good fit on Domi’s wing at 3LW — assuming the Leafs want to keep Domi at C, where he has been most effective so far.
8. As the Leafs continued to struggle to break through both with the extra man and at five-on-five in the third period, the decisive power play was created by a great fourth-line shift in the offensive zone with eight minutes remaining. The Leafs’ fourth line repeatedly stymied Anaheim’s breakout attempts and recovered the puck multiple times to sustain pressure.
The cross-checking penalty was drawn by none other than David Kampf, who has been excellent in his response to the healthy scratch last Saturday. He drew the key penalty, played around 14.5 minutes (roughly the same as his minutes vs. LA), won 64% of his draws, and the team owned 75% of the shot attempts in his five-on-five time.
9. I’ll be honest: As the frustration built up with the Leafs’ power play sitting at 0-for-4 and the game at 1-0 Anaheim, I was starting to yearn for Tyler Bertuzzi on the top power play at the net front. I probably would’ve subbed him in for Mitch Marner — who was either forcing passes into traffic or firing muffins on net throughout the night on the PP — instead of John Tavares (with Tavares and Bertuzzi playing in the middle as Matthews/Nylander pound shots on goal). But I was also open to swapping out Tavares.
For all the zone time and shots on goal, Dostal — as amazing as he was going toe-to-toe with the Leafs’ shooters — had a clear view of too many of the pucks coming his way tonight, especially on the power play.
The thing about Tavares, though, is that he has elite hand-eye coordination for tips and he bears down on loose pucks really well. It took a deflection and a rebound off the post for the Leafs to find a way through Dostal as the captain scored another big goal for the team.
JOHNNY T TIES IT!! pic.twitter.com/0cB57N42c0
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 4, 2024
10. Three-on-three OT is always a 50-50 proposition at best for this Leafs team, but it would’ve been a crime for Auston Matthews to leave a game in which he fired 13 shots on goal and 20 shot attempts without scoring his 30th of the year.
30 FOR 34!! pic.twitter.com/Lbuj2RRU89
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 4, 2024
30 in 35.
This is a hard puck to elevate enough when in so tight to the goalie, who wasn’t exactly down and out with only an outstretched pad to lift it over on this play. Matthews one-time wedged it on purpose to pop it up higher off of a partially open stick blade. The subtleties of his goal-scoring genius never cease to amaze.