The Maple Leafs erased two one-goal deficits and overcame a late tying goal against to defeat the Rangers by a score of 4-3 in a shootout.

It was a successful return to the lineup for Calle Jarnkrok and an unfortunate (second) Leafs debut for Ilya Lyubushkin, who left the game with an apparent head injury late in the second period.

Your game in 10:

1.   The main storyline in the first period — an opening frame in which the Leafs edged the Rangers on the balance of territorial control but was pretty even overall — was William Nylander‘s benching for the final eight minutes and change after the 1-0 Rangers goal. It was fully justified on Sheldon Keefe’s part.

Nylander can’t be committing flybys on the defenseman at the point and exiting the zone on low-percentage gambles for offense, leading directly to goals against. It’s not a one-off for this line since it was put together, either. It wouldn’t be acceptable in game #1 let alone game #60 in a big matchup. Message sent, and a fair enforcement of accountability by the head coach.

The line produced a good bounce-back shift with Mitch Marner on it in Nylander’s place during the benching, but they did concede a breakaway to Jimmy Vesey at the end of the shift due to a giveaway by TJ Brodie at the offensive blue line. One of many big saves from Ilya Samsonov in this game kept the score at just 1-0.

2.   When you size up this Rangers vs. Leafs matchup, it’s instantly apparent that this is a New York squad with a good top six and a strong defense core but a team lacking quality depth within their forward group (with Blake Wheeler and Filip Chytil out). While there would always be opportunities throughout the game to exploit mismatches against the Rangers’ bottom six — especially at home ice with last change — it’s the kind of opponent where loading up two lines (as the Leafs used to do exclusively) plays into the other coach’s hands somewhat vs. spreading it out and leaning on superior forward depth.

The Leafs ended up receiving goals from three different lines in this win, all coming at five-on-five on an off-night for the team’s power play.

The Bobby McMannJohn TavaresCalle Jarnkrok line, in particular, was very good from start to finish and almost ended up playing as much as the top line at five-on-five while outshooting the opposition 14-2. Early in the second period, their offensive-zone pressure forced an icing out of the Rangers’ Will Cuylle – Jonny Brodzinski – Jimmy Vesey line. From there, the top line forced another icing out of the tired Rangers group, and Auston Matthews almost scored on a play at the side of the net before Marner tied the game.

3.  Mitch Marner should’ve picked up a nice assist early in the first period when he set up Matthews with an empty net in front but the puck took an ill-timed hop. It’s almost always very obvious from the first few shifts when Marner is going to score or make a few difference-making offensive plays during a game, and tonight — like many of his games recently — was one of those nights. It was no surprise when he tied it up early in the second period.

This was an excellent individual effort along the wall to come out with the puck in an outnumbered situation, walk out front, stick with the play, and bury it.

If I were to pick out one difference in Marner’s play as he’s heated up compared to his mediocre start to the year (not so much mediocre in terms of production but overall five-on-five impact): He is digging in and taking direct lines to the puck more on the forecheck vs. peeling off and trying to read breakout passes. We could be lazy and chalk it up to simple confidence for an elite and skilled player, but sustainable confidence in the NHL is almost always earned through hard work no matter how talented you are.

4.   The Leafs fell behind again quickly after their 1-1 goal on another avoidable goal against, this time off of an odd-man rush.

After the goal, Sheldon Keefe immediately went down the bench to address the situation with Matthew Knies, who stepped on the ice with Marner and Matthews in deep as the Rangers cleared it toward the Leafs’ bench. Knies took a sloppy stab at an airborne puck with his two linemates in deep, setting in motion a 3v2 against. It was less egregious than Nylander’s play on the 1-0 goal in the defensive zone, but there was no reason to make a low-percentage gamble for offense there rather than falling back. It probably would’ve caused an offside even if he pulled it off.

On his next shift, Knies turned it over at the offensive blue line instead of getting it deep. As promising as the nine points in his last 12 games are, the learning moments (unsurprisingly) continue to persist as well, and on that top line, it’s not always the most forgiving place for a rookie to learn.

5.  The Tyler BertuzziMax Domi William Nylander line continues to make up for — or at least cancel out — their defensive misgivings with offensive production, scoring the 2-2 goal a couple of minutes after the Rangers took the lead.

Ilya Lyubushkin took a hard hit to gain the zone with possession late in his shift to start the sequence. From there, this goal was all Bertuzzi, who — befitting his season — did not collect a point on the goal. Three times, he disrupted a breakout attempt by the Rangers with persistent puck pressure and a good stick, extending the offensive-zone possession on multiple occasions by refusing to quit on the play.

Bertuzzi then provided the screen on Igor Shesterkin as Nylander cycled high and simply threw a shot on goal from the blue line into a crowd of bodies, taking a deflection off of a Ranger and into the net for Nylander’s 33rd of the season.

The line has out-scored the opposition 7-6 in 85 minutes of five-on-five time so far, but they’ve been out-chanced 58-40 along with a 36.3% xGF. It’s worth noting their on-ice shooting percentage is 13.2%, which is really high and will inevitably cool off some. Their defensive play needs to be in a better place when it does if the line is to reasonably remain together.

6.   With an opportunity to take the lead late in the second period on the power play, disaster almost struck for the Maple Leafs in the form of a shorthanded goal against. We spoke about this in the last game review after the shorthanded goal by Arizona’s Alex Kerfoot: The Leafs are second worst in the NHL when it comes to 5v4 goals against, which combined with their general lack of power-play opportunities, leaves a team that is second in power-play efficiency sitting down in ninth in power-play goal differential. That goal differential very easily could’ve/should’ve been one goal worse tonight.

This time, when the puck turned over 1:10 into the power play, Tyler Bertuzzi did enough to get back and turn a potential 2v1 into a 2v2, but the Rangers were able to turn it into a full-blown 4-on-2 where they picked out the trailing Adam Fox for a point-blank look. Ilya Samsonov came up huge again.

Mitch Marner decided to peel for a change instead of hustling back amid the developing danger, and Auston Matthews may as well have changed with how casually he coasted back (Craig Simpson said he was gassed on the broadcast, but he stayed on the ice for the re-entry and remained out there for 30 more seconds).

7.  The Matt Rempe hit at the end of the second period is objectively a far more dangerous play (by many orders of magnitude) than Morgan Rielly‘s cross-check riding up the shoulder into the head of Ridly Greig (which is why Rempe’s hit resulted in a head injury while Greig was totally fine!). It was a charge across the ice where the 6’8 Rempe left his feet for the hit and plowed Ilya Lyubushkin‘s head into the glass. It’s among the more dangerous hits a player can throw in a game.

There was not a single mention of it on the intermission panel afterward, and now we wait to see if there is a peep out of the DoPS. I won’t hold my breath.

It is hard not to think back to some of the bad luck this organization has encountered with rental deadline acquisitions getting hurt shortly after a trade. Last year, Ryan O’Reilly broke his finger after eight games (thankfully, he was able to return for the playoffs). After producing four points in his first four games in Toronto, Nick Foligno threw out his back in Montreal in his fifth game as a Leaf (he played through it but was not the same player). And who could forget the heart-breaking Doug Gilmour knee injury out in Calgary after the ’03 deadline?

Let’s hope Lyubushkin bounces back quickly. The familiarity with the team and partner helps, but this is still a critical adjustment period in the final ~20 games.

From the opening puck drop, the SBA crowd was buzzing with anticipation about a Rempe-Ryan Reaves bout, and they did not disappoint late in the third period. It’s just a shame it had to come about as a result of a dirty hit and an injury.

8.  The John Tavares line got the breakthrough it was earning all game long with the 3-2 go-ahead goal seven minutes into the third period. Their work rate on this shift was highly commendable as they worked over one of the Rangers’ depth lines before this goal.

Calle Jarnkrok, Tavares, and Bobby McMann were winning puck battle after puck battle on the wall and around the net, recovering pucks and pounding at the door until they broke it down courtesy of a double deflection in front that took its last touch off of Tavares.

The line was so effective Keefe leaned on them plenty regardless of the matchups; they ended up out-shooting the Rangers’ Kreider-Zibanejad top line 12-1 and playing almost as much as the Matthews line at five-on-five. Jarnkrok’s addition makes for three honest players on a line who all take care of the puck/are hard on the puck, all of them can grind on the cycle (where Tavares thrives), and all of them can shoot. It also aligns the handedness properly (vs. a rookie in Robertson on his offwing), which always makes everything run a little bit smoother. It was a very promising first look at this line.

If you recall the Rangers’ 5-2 win in Toronto before Christmas, there were three really unlucky bounces against the Leafs leading directly to goals against despite the Leafs generally controlling the game. With the right process, it tends to come back around over 82 games as the Leafs benefitted from a couple of bounces around the net tonight.

9.   It’s a pretty simple analysis when it comes to the play by Mitch Marner in the final minute of regulation with the Leafs up 3-2. He fully had the time to pull it on his forehand and skate it out, but if he wasn’t sure about his surroundings and felt uncomfortable making a play on it — his head was down and he probably didn’t sense that both of the Rangers’ point men were backing off — he needed to just flip it out into the neutral zone on his backhand. What he can’t do is blindly shoot for the empty net at the risk of an icing. It came back to cost the team a nice regulation win.

Almost no one in the NHL is better on the draw than Vincent Trocheck, who won the subsequent faceoff. With the Rangers holding the numerical advantage at 6-on-5 — and Benoit watching for down-low play to Chris Kreider — Alexis Lafreniere’s stick was open in the mid-slot for a nice redirect play from Artemi Panarin to Lafreniere, producing a rebound that Rielly just missed clearing before Trocheck finished it off.

There was nothing Samsonov could do about this goal, and Marner owed him one (and did make up for it in the shootout).

10.  The biggest thing I was watching for tonight, outside of Lyubushkin’s debut (2.0) and Jarnkrok rejoining the lineup on the Tavares line, was Ilya Samsonov‘s performance. He was going toe-to-toe against the 2022 Vezina winner at the other end after Joseph Woll just returned with a great start against Arizona, ramping up the internal competition/pressure. Samsonov hasn’t always responded convincingly when the crease isn’t safely/clearly his own.

The three goals against and .914 save percentage undersells Samsonov’s performance tonight. The 1-0 Lafreniere goal was unstoppable, as was the 3-3 late tying goal, and the 2-1 goal was a 3v2 passing play where he had a fighting chance but was hardly to blame. The big save on Adam Fox during the Leafs’ power play in the second period, his point-blank saves on Fox and Artemi Panarin in the final five minutes of the game, and the 10-bell save in OT on Panarin were all massive stops at critical junctures of the game.

It was a very good start to the resumption of tandem life for Samsonov. He’s earned the net on Monday vs. Boston.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Joe Bowen & Jim Ralph Game Highlights