The shorthanded Maple Leafs impressively built a 5-0 lead against a red-hot Oilers team before making life a lot more interesting than it needed to be in the third period. 

With another game tomorrow night, the Leafs ideally would’ve coasted in the third period and preserved their legs. You also would have liked to see them make Ilya Samsonov’s life easy down the stretch of the game. Of course, the two points are great, but a big part of the story tonight is whether Samsonov is okay after leaving the third period injured.

Samsonov’s situation aside, this was a good Leafs win featuring great individual performances from Bobby McMann, Pontus Holmberg, and Joel Edmundson, in particular. 

Your game in 10:

1.   Earlier this week against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sheldon Keefe started Knies – Tavares – Robertson for the opening draw against a hungry, desperate opponent. The Leafs won the draw, the puck was chipped up to Knies at center, and he wasn’t ready for the defenseman, who aggressively stepped up (it is how the Flyers play, and Knies should have been well aware of it). The Flyers promptly scored after the turnover (several other Leafs were also poor on the sequence), and it set the tone for the game as the Leafs were chasing it from that point onward.

Knies didn’t start the opening draw the next game against Washington — the Leafs scored on that shift — but he did tonight… and he took a penalty. The puck came up Knies’ wall, he wasn’t in a good position, McDavid cut in, and Knies was sloppy with his stick, tripping up McDavid’s feet. With the way the Leafs’ PK has been going — and considering the Oilers’ elite PP — it’s the type of start you really need to avoid, and it was instantly hold-your-breath time.

Fortunately, the Leafs PK, as well as Ilya Samsonov, stood tall. Samsonov was clearly dialed in early, especially when Bouchard ripped a slapshot through traffic and he was able to glove it cleanly with no rebound despite two Oilers in front.

Joel Edmundson also ran McDavid pretty hard with a bone-crunching hit on the wall on the penalty kill. Connor Dewar looked to be settling into the penalty-killing role; his angles were excellent, and he was closing on attackers with good pressure. Those are two relatively new additions that the Leafs are really counting on to help fix the penalty kill.

The Oilers carried momentum from the early power play even though they didn’t score, but Samsonov kept them at bay. It’s not the start the Leafs would’ve drawn up, but they dug in and showed real resolve to keep it a scoreless game.

2.   After the morning skate, William Nylander said he thought the neutral zone would be the key to the game. Early on, this was particularly evident as the Leafs caused a turnover in neutral ice and scored.

The Oilers were dictating play early and held the puck behind their own net on a line-change sequence. They tried to move up ice, but Nylander forced the play up the wall and Timothy Liljegren aggressively stepped up just above the Leafs’ blue line to cause a turnover.

From there, the Leafs started a breakout sequence. Tavares collected the puck and passed it to the far corner to Jake McCabe, who went up the wall to Bobby McMann, who passed it cross-ice through the neutral zone to Nylander. Liljegren, who started the turnover, jumped up and Nylander recognized it as the Edmonton defenseman stepped up on him. Nylander chipped it up the wall for Liljegren, who won the race.

There has been so much talk about handedness lately, and this is yet another example of why you want it properly aligned. A lefty isn’t as aggressive on the stick for the original neutral-zone turnover, and a lefty doesn’t win the puck. As a righty, Liljegren did and then chipped it down low, where Tavares made an excellent play to shield the puck with his body, get it to his backhand, and find Bobby McMann all alone in front as the trailer.

From there, it was a simple one-timer home for McMann, who has 10 goals in his last 19 games. The Leafs are clearly banking on McMann as a contributor, and so far, he is delivering.

3.   The Oilers kept pushing for offense after the Leafs took the initial lead, but Ilya Samsonov was excellent again. Matthew Knies was again weak on the wall before the Oilers fired a shot from the high slot that trickled through Samsonov, but Jake McCabe was there to clean it up. On another play, Noah Gregor didn’t keep the puck in and the Oilers went on a 4v2 as a result, but they over-passed it and Liljegren broke up the play.

As the period went along, though, the Leafs started to create opportunities and string together some shifts. William Nylander didn’t realize he had an empty net tap-in on one rush, electing to pull it backhand and psyching himself out. Gregor had a down-low 2v1 but had blinders on, shooting it instead of passing it, and Knies had a rebound chance in front.

Another one of those chances should have been a 2v1 as Tavares made a nice inside-out move on Bouchard on a loose-puck race as Bouchard tried to run interference, and the refs called a penalty on Tavares. It was a bad call, but the Leafs’ PK responded again.

On the first kill, Joel Edmundson was physical with McDavid. On the second kill, it was Draisaitl’s turn to be on the receiving end of Edmundson’s physicality. Edmundson was physical, he was getting in lanes, he was clearing pucks, and he was a force shorthanded. Since the trade, he has generally been fine with a few rough moments sprinkled in, but he was an actual difference-maker tonight.

Edmundson’s physicality started to rub off on his teammates. In the second half of the penalty, Benoit took a good run at Evander Kane on the wall. A second huge Leafs kill with some real emotion and physicality to it started to swing the game for the team, and it came from a shorthanded unit they desperately need to start turning it around.

4.    Last Saturday against Carolina, the Leafs couldn’t score on the power play while their penalty kill gave up multiple goals. This Saturday, the penalty kill dug in, and when the Leafs finally got a power play, they capitalized.

The power play was direct, looking to attack lanes off the half-wall while using William Nylander down low in Marner’s usual place. Some of their struggles lately have been the byproduct of the lack of a down-low play with all of Nylander – Liljegren – Matthews up top, allowing the opposition to sell out. With Nylander down low, it changed the dynamic, as did adding Max Domi, another passer, to the top unit.

Off a sequence starting with a Domi shot from the half-wall, the puck went to Auston Matthews, who poked it back up to Liljegren. Liljegren patiently settled the puck down, picked his head up, and ripped a puck through some traffic into Nylander’s general vicinity in front. All alone, Nylander’s crafty deflection benefited from also going off his skate, but it was a nice tip and a nice shot from Liljegren, who offers a calibre of point shot that Rielly doesn’t possess.

The 2-0 goal made it a two-point period for Liljegren, who is up to 14 points in his last 16 games. The goal also gave Nylander a five-game goal streak.

5.   Down 2-0, the Oilers came out for the second and carried play early. Their best chance came off a brutal Tavares turnover behind the net to Corey Perry, who came out with the puck and found Kane in the slot, but Simon Benoit closed and forced a flubbed shot. On another play off the rush, Warren Foegele stepped into a one-timer, but Ilya Samsonov flashed the glove. The Oilers also created another chance in the slot, but Benoit laid out for a head-first shot block attempt and the puck went wide.

As the Oilers pressured, the Leafs again were able to counterattack and capitalize on sloppy defensive play by the Oilers. We’ve already mentioned some questionable plays by Matthew Knies in the first period (there was another where, instead of chipping it off the wall for Matthews — who had speed — Knies held it and Matthews was forced to slam on the brakes to stay onside). It wasn’t particularly surprising when Keefe switched up the line and moved Pontus Holmberg up to play with Matthews and Domi.

Keefe was instantly rewarded with a goal from Holmberg. I’m not entirely sure what Evan Bouchard was thinking on the play, but he seemed afraid of Matthews lifting his stick, so he jumped around him and Matthews simply went straight to the puck and snatched it. Matthews found Domi all alone in the high slot, where Domi froze the goalie and slid it over to Holmberg for an empty net tap-in.

This was another example of Domi’s great fake-shot move we’ve seen several times this season.

6.   Up 3-0, we saw the usual referee game management come into play. This time, on a weak call against Conor Timmins for cross-checking, it was more of a dive than a penalty.

Again, Joel Edmundson was physically involved, going after Draisaitl and starting a mele after the whistle. Jake McCabe was also in the mix as the game’s temperature ratcheted up significantly.

As the penalty kill ended, the puck came out of the zone for a delayed offside, but Adam Henrique didn’t want to touch the puck for an all-the-way-down faceoff, so he hesitated. Timmins, who took the penalty, stormed out of the box and raced to the puck, chipping it up and springing the Leafs on a 3v1.

Bobby McMann made a great play to wait out the sliding defender and put it past him, and Pontus Holmberg was again there on the doorstep to tap the puck in, potting his sixth goal of the season and second of the night about three minutes apart.

Holmberg has become a real Swiss Swedish army knife for the Leafs, moving up to the top line at times, penalty killing in this scenario, and chipping in some goals. He even started the game at center. We can really see the benefit of a player capable of moving up and down the lineup depending on the situation.

7.   Up 4-0, the Leafs weren’t done. William Nylander grabbed some headlines earlier in the day for his quote “Not tonight” about Zach Hyman’s 50-goal push, but to me, this is why he is great for this market. It understandably made some fans clench, but Nylander came out and played an excellent game. This stuff really doesn’t get to him.

Up 4-0, the Oilers were pushing to break the shutout and get rolling. They hemmed the Leafs in for a shift, but the puck went to Nylander, who took over. He brought the puck behind the net and led the breakout, hitting Timothy Liljegren for a pass up the wall and then shooting right up the middle of the ice. Liljegren made a nice cross-ice pass to John Tavares, who saw Nylander streaking and slipped a puck through to him. Nylander took it in the middle of the ice, stopped up, froze everyone, and hit Bobby McMann on the far side. McMann ripped a cannon of a shot short side to make it 5-0.

We discussed it on the podcast this week, but the next step in McMann’s emergence was a big performance against a good team. It’s one thing to score against the Blues, Ducks, and Habs of the world; it’s another to do it against a top-10 club in the league. The Oilers are one of those teams, and he was excellent in this game with two goals and an assist to show for it.

8.   Down 5-0, the Oilers were frustrated — particularly with Joel Edmundson, who was going at it with the Oilers’ top players all night. He was a major story in this game with his physicality and spunk he brought the ice for the Leafs. Nurse went over the edge at the end of the second period, going after Edmundson unprompted after the buzzer. Nurse was handed a 10-minute misconduct for his troubles, which was a feather in the cap for Edmundson.

The Leafs didn’t score on the two-minute power play to start the period before the Oilers went to a power play of their own. This time, they finally broke through.

The Leafs penalty kill was off to a good start, but then Liljegren lost his stick and the Oilers took advantage.  McDavid hunted the matchup and found Hyman in front for a deflection. It was a bit of a tough break more than a penalty-killing breakdown for a unit that looked good up until that point.

A few minutes later, the Oilers went to another power play. The Leafs’ top penalty-killing unit did well, but when they changed off, McDavid stayed on. When the Oilers regained the zone, it was too easy for McDavid to cut in, causing a breakdown and a backdoor tap-in for Corey Perry (naturally) to score.

Last week against Carolina, I thought the refereeing opened the door for the Hurricanes’ comeback, but in this one, it was the Leafs’ own doing. Conor Timmins shot it over the glass, and Connor Dewar took an offensive-zone tripping penalty. Two careless, needless penalties gave the Oilers some life.

9.   A three-goal lead with half the period or so to play at home should be more than enough, but the Oilers kept pushing and the Leafs didn’t generate much zone time of their own. The best defense is a good offense, and they needed to kill the clock against the Oilers’ backup goalie rather than retreating and allowing the Oilers to dictate the play. The Leafs created a few chances on the counterattack — namely, a Dewar-Gregor 2v1 that didn’t finish with a shot on net and a Knies chance in all alone — but it was one-and-done from Toronto rather than getting it in deep, forechecking, and cycling.

Eventually, the Oilers continued to pressure, and after an icing, Edmonton pulled their goalie with just under five minutes left (the right call by them). The Leafs got it out but they never got it deep, and only two of their forwards changed. Matthew Knies hung around — seemingly hunting the empty-net attempt — and got stuck on the ice for well over a minute as the Oilers gained the zone again.

Bouchard made a spin play on Knies off the wall before McDavid hit Draisaitl for a backdoor play to make it 5-3. The goal against is one thing, but Ilya Samsonov stretched to make the save and didn’t get up afterward.

Up 5-0 at home going into the third, the Leafs sat back, took some bad penalties, let the Oilers dictate the whole period, and ended up with their starter, who was playing an excellent game, leaving the ice hurt.

10.   With three and a half minutes to play, Martin Jones entered the net ice cold as the Oilers were starting to believe. Last week, I didn’t understand or agree with Keefe putting out a line centered by Tavares right after the Hurricanes made it a one-goal game (they were ultimately on for the late tying goal). This time, he put out a proper checking line of Connor Dewar, David Kampf, and Bobby McMann alongside Joel Edmundson and Jake McCabe

The Oilers gained the zone and created some chances, but the Leafs’ checking unit boxed out well and got in lanes. There was one chance where the Oilers hit the post on a bang-bang play, but at least the Leafs had their top checkers on the ice.

When the puck cleared, Keefe followed up with Pontus HolmbergAuston MatthewsWilliam Nylander / Morgan RiellyTimothy Liljegren. They kept things at bay against the Oilers’ second six-man unit, but they iced the puck and the Oilers sent their big guns back out. It didn’t matter as Matthews eventually broke up a pass and scored an empty-netter from his own end to finish off the game.

The three-goal period shouldn’t have happened — it leaves a bit of a bittersweet taste in the mouth amid a great win — but the game was still very much in control up two with three minutes left and up three with five minutes left. Considering last weekend’s loss to Carolina, the Leafs don’t get the full benefit of the doubt and will need to do a better job moving forward of eating the clock in the offensive zone with the lead.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Joe Bowen & Jim Ralph Game Highlights