This game began in similar fashion to the Leafs' last, in that the Leafs allowed a goal less than two minutes into the game, though this time with Roman Polak off for cross-checking. Matt Hunwick and Martin Marincin let former Leaf Lee Stempniak go to the net unchecked, where he tipped a point shot directly in front of Garret Sparks, who had no chance on the goal.
Whether or not Leafs' coach Mike Babcock is telling his defenders to "front" on the power play is something worth keeping an eye on. Myself, I've always been a fan of having net-side presence/positioning while defending on the power play or at 5-on-5, but whether or not this can work in Toronto with this current squad is up for debate.
The Leafs immediately put forth an admirable effort to even the score, at one point pushing the shot totals to 11-2 in their favour. Matt Hunwick came about as close as one can get to scoring a goal, as he rang a quick shot from the point off the inside of the post behind Cory Schneider.
*ping* pic.twitter.com/lG9yhNNMxH— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) December 9, 2015
Fortunately for the Leafs, some of their miserable puck luck began to reverse itself mid-way through the period. As P.A. Parenteau (who has had more than his share of poor luck) carried the puck through the neutral zone, he bounced a dump-in on net, only to have the puck take an enthusiastic flip over the shoulder of a surprised Schneider for a 65-foot goal.
Late in the second period, the power play unit looked extremely dangerous, with great puck movement around the perimeter, and several good chances on goal. The Devils managed to kill the penalty off, but not before the Leafs managed 5 shots in two minutes.
Through the first frame, the Leafs carried a 17-7 lead in shots, and, notwithstanding the brain cramp of their penalty killers, thoroughly out-played the Devils, forcing Schneider to be very good to keep his team in the game.
Peter Holland drew another penalty early in the second period, and on the ensuing power play, the Leafs scored a goal quite similar to Stempniak's in the first. With the puck on Dion Phaneuf's stick at the point, James van Riemsdyk drifted into the middle of the ice unchecked between two flanking defenders and tipped the shot perfectly past Schneider.
The Leafs' "second" power play unit is looking increasingly like it is taking the place as first, as Tyler Bozak is been very strong on the draw, makes great passes, and JvR cleans up nicely around the net. Brad Boyes has been doing quiet but effective work on this unit as well, and seems to have proven to Babcock that he can be useful in an offensive role. Meanwhile, as the Kadri unit takes the second power play shift increasingly often, Byron Froese is now getting a chance to show what he can do with the man advantage.
Through the middle of the frame, the Leafs absolutely dominated the Devils, and forced Patrick Elias to take a slashing penalty trying to contain Daniel Winnik. The shot count went to 22-13 in the Leafs' favour, and the Leafs looked firmly in control of the game, getting scoring chances from all four lines.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, the game was far from over. With Byron Froese in the box for holding the stick the Devils' Mike Palmieri tied the game with a one-timer from the top of the circle. Phaneuf was drifting out to block the shot and likely screened Sparks to a degree, but the shot beat Sparks cleanly.
From then on in the second, the Leafs appeared to let up a bit and allowed the Devils a few more looks on net. By no means did the team roll over and allow the Devils to dictate the game, but the Leafs' pace did slow enough to let the Devils off the mat.
Through the first 40 minutes of play, the Leafs maintained a 25-17 advantage on the shot clock, and were clearly the better team, but lacked the finish to put this one out of reach for New Jersey.
The third period began innocuously enough, with only a handful of chances at either end. Winnik had perhaps the best chance to score early on, as he snapped a shot off the post from a sharp angle roughly three minutes into the period, but both teams appeared to try to clamp down defensively in order to not give up the go-ahead goal.
With about 7 minutes to go, the Leafs turned up the heat on the Devils, with the Bozak line getting several great chances on net. Morgan Rielly took an unfortunate tripping call with just 3:47 left in regulation but Sparks made two good saves on two Mike Cammalleri one-timers to keep the score tied and send this one to overtime.
3-on-3 brought its usual series of crazy chances, with Leo Komarov and Michael Grabner getting the best chances of the extra time. Komarov managed to dig the puck out from Schneider's pads (the play should probably have been blown dead) and, from his stomach, sling the puck just wide. Grabner's chance came as he picked up the puck just below the goal line in the New Jersey end, and found that the Devils had suspected a pass so completely that Grabner was simply allowed to walk across the crease with the puck, only to be turned away by Schneider once again.
Finally, in the shootout, Nazem Kadri pulled off a beautiful lateral shift to send the Devil goaltender sliding the opposite direction, and Kadri made no mistake about stuffing it in the open side. The shootout goal turned out to be Kadri's first shootout goal this season, making him 1/5 so far.
Notes on individual players:
- Tyler Bozak had some great chances and moved the puck very well on the power play, where he got an assist on the JvR goal. His goal in the shootout turned out not to be the winner, but it was a beauty of a shot, tucked just under the bar. Schneider didn't give him much to shoot at, but he took it.
- James van Riemsdyk finished the night with 7 shots and a goal, and was tough to handle around the net all night. A great outing for him.
- P.A. Parenteau had one of his best games as a Maple Leaf, picking up 5 shots and a goal (even if it was a lucky one). He looked good tonight alongside Bozak and JvR where his speed was a real asset, especially since the other two aren't exactly speed demons.
- Dion Phaneuf had a very strong, quiet night. He picked up an assist and was the Leafs' best Corsi skater.
- Jake Gardiner also had a solid game, managing the puck well, shooting more than usual on the power play, and totally eliminating Stempniak on a 1-on-1 in overtime. He was the Leafs' second-best Corsi number at the end of the night.
- The line of Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri, and Peter Holland had a tougher night, finishing in the bottom of the Corsi rankings, and looking rather invisible throughout much of the game. Komarov had a couple good chances and dished out some big hits, and Kadri had the winner in the shootout, but overall, this wasn't one of their best games.
- As mentioned above, Garret Sparks remained unbeaten at the ACC and finishing the night with a .926 Sv%. Although he had some shaky moments in the first period and the second goal wasn't great, his play improved throughout the course of the game and he was as good as the Leafs needed him to be.