The first ten minutes of the game were mostly uneventful, as both teams exchanged modest chances. The Blues managed one Grade "A" chance as Ryan Reaves snapped a puck on Jonathan Bernier, but the Leafs' netminder was up to the task, and avoided an early goal against.
It became clear from the outset that the line of Michael Grabner, Nazem Kadri, and Leo Komarov would be matched against Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, and Paul Stastny line all game. Kadri & Co. tended to get buried early on, but they didn't give up any dangerous chances, either.
The first period ended 0-0 with the shots at 11-11 in favour of the Blues, and the shot attempts were 21 apiece, and so really, the Leafs played a superior team very evenly. All told, a good effort.
Roughly four minutes into the second, Roman Polak rushed the puck into the Blues' zone, and a combination of the Kadri line and the Peter Holland line had a great chance to score, turning Blues' goalie Jake Allen around entirely, but the puck refused to bounce the right way.
The Leafs actually dominated the first 7-8 minutes of the second, getting several other good chances, but at 8:08 Daniel Winnik took a penalty for hooking as the Leafs got running around in their own end. On the ensuing power play Tarasenko slapped home a one-timer along the ice that beat Bernier as he shifted from his right to his left.
Fortunately for Toronto, James van Riemsdyk answered with a goal for the Leafs just 5 seconds after Tarasenko's goal. After Tyler Bozak won the faceoff, van Riemsdyk took off one-on-one with Alex Pietrangelo and fired a knuckler from far out that beat Allen over his left pad. It wasn't a great goal by any stretch, but the Leafs certainly weren't going to complain.
The Kadri line continued being buried by the Tarasenko line, but this strategy worked well for the Leafs because although the raw 5v5 shot attempts for that line didn't look good, no big chances were given up, and that allowed the Leafs' depth in their 3rd and 4th lines to shine through.
All in all, the teams continued to exchange a few chances, but the second period didn't offer much else in the way of excitement. After 40 minutes, the shots were 22-19 for the Blues and the shot attempts were 37-36 in their favour. Again, a very evenly played two periods, which is good news for the Leafs.
Just over a minute into the third period Kevin Shattenkirk rang a point shot off the post behind a screened Bernier, but the Leafs cleared the zone quickly, and no damage was done.
Perhaps the Leafs' best line was that of Shawn Matthias, Brad Boyes, and Joffrey Lupul, who spent several long shifts in the Blues' zone. They managed to draw a penalty on Patrik Berglund, and Holland made the Blues pay on the power play immediately afterwards. Kadri scrummed the draw and won it back to Komarov, who played it back to Jake Gardiner and then immediately went to the net. Gardiner played passed down to Holland who used a Komarov screen to wrist one into the top half of the net.
The Leafs went right back to the power play, as a rushing Kadri drew another penalty. van Riemsdyk had a glorious chance to cash in alone in the slot, but Allen smothered the play. On the next power play shift, Holland absolutely leaned into another shot that he put off the post.
From there, the Blues began to take control of the game in an attempt to tie it, but Bernier did well to defend against several good chances.
Kadri turned things around on the Blues' top line however, as he stole the puck at his own blue line, and then went in 2-on-1 with Grabner. Kadri tipped the puck on net, got to the rebound first, and then hacked once, then twice at the puck to stuff it in the net while still in motion.
The Blues pulled Allen with three and a half minutes left in an attempt to cut into the Leafs' two-goal lead but the Kadri line stood tall against the Blues' top unit for an extra long shift before letting the Bozak line take charge of defending the lead. On the same shift, P.A. Parenteau drew a high-sticking penalty on Shattenkirk with just under two minutes that should have entirely sealed the victory, but Gardiner took another penalty to off-set it to give the Blues a breath of life just thirty seconds later.
Fortunately, at 5-on-4 with the Blues' net vacated, Grabner picked up his second point of the night on an empty-netter to seal the victory at 4-1.
Notes on individual players:
- Nazem Kadri now has 11 points in his last 11 GP. We always knew the puck luck was going to come, but it's still a relief to finally see it. All the while, he's been up against very tough competition, and for his efforts, he earned the second star of the game.
- The shots piled up a bit at the end as the Blues pressed, but really, this was a very evenly-played game. Still, the final shot count was 40-33 in favour of St. Louis and Berner definitely earned the first star of the game, allowing only the one goal.
- Shawn Matthias has looked great lately. His speed on the rush and the way he shifts his weight when he has possession of the puck makes him look like a guy who should play on one of the top two lines. His finish around the net is, of course, somewhat lacking, but I think he deserves a lot of credit for his play.
- Michael Grabner picked up 2 points tonight has 8 points in his last 8 games, though he did have 4 in one game against the Kings. Still. The Leafs need him to keep scoring if he is going to be a candidate for a pump'n dump deal at the deadline.
- It's really good to see Peter Holland get more of a chance to showcase his offensive talent on the power play. He scored a goal and hit the post at 5-on-4 tonight and appears to be coming into his own at 5v5 as well.
- Brad Boyes quietly lead the Leafs again in raw 5v5 Corsi +/-. He's been great this season and was again tonight, generating several chances at even strength and on the power play.
- Roman Polak had a great game. He was the Leafs' best defender in terms of raw 5v5 Corsi +/-, and made several good rushes into the offensive zone at 5v5, carrying the puck in with speed. Really, he does move quite well for a big man.