The Leafs began this game looking to avoid the slow starts that have characterized their last half a dozen games, but instead, the first shift of the game saw Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, and Michael Grabner run around in their own end only to yield a dangerous chance on their own net from the slot that James Reimer had to be sharp on. From there, Florida continued to control play for the first half of the opening period, with the Leafs unable to mount any sustained attack or maintain possession of the puck.
Although the Kadri line had a couple shot attempts, the Leafs failed to actually put the puck on net through the first ten minutes of the game, at which point the shot count was 7-0 Florida and the Leafs' and Nick Spaling went to the box for interference.
It took until just past the 13 minute-mark in the first period for Peter Holland to wrist a weak shot on Roberto Luongo from a bad angle. The 5v5 Corsi numbers looked just as bad, at 12-2 for the Panthers.
In a sequence reminiscent of Randy Carlyle's tenure with the Leafs, the Leafs scored first despite being totally outplayed, as Kadri waltzed by a fallen Erik Gudbrandson and hung on to the puck as he moved laterally around a floundering Luongo.
Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 27, 2016
Oddly, Holland decided to fight Aaron Ekblad after a relatively innocuous play with under a minute remaining in the first. It appeared to be a bit of a puzzling decision on Holland's part in that he and Ekblad had no noticeable altercations leading up to it, but in any event, Holland hung in there and sat for 5.
Dion Phaneuf took a boarding call just 2:46 into the second period on Quinton Howden, and then had to fight Dmitry Kulikov for his indiscretion. On the ensuing power play, it was Alexander Barkov who took a great pass from Brian Campbell to walk in alone and throw a backhand top shelf over a sprawling Reimer. Matt Hunwick appeared to be interfered with on the play, but Babcock's protests to referee Dan O'Rourke went unheeded.
On the Leafs' third penalty kill of the game, the Panthers struck again. Vincent Trochek snuck in behind Hunwick as the Panthers came through the neutral zone with a lot of speed, and took a great pass from Jussi Jokinen that left Reimer helpless.
Rielly took just his fourth minor penalty of the season to put the Leafs on the penalty kill - their fourth of the night - and although the Leafs managed to kill it off, the 29th-ranked Florida power play looked dangerous, and Reimer again had to make a great save on a shot from in close to keep the game at 2-1.
Immediately following a great shift from the line of Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias and P.A. Parenteau, it was Jussi Jokinen who made it 3-1 for Florida after Spaling made a horrible giveaway in the neutral zone. Jokinen took a pass on a 2-on-1 while Reimer moved laterally and the Leafs' goaltender had no chance on the play.
The Leafs would take another penalty before the period was over but somehow managed not to be scored on. The shots were 22-15 in favour of Florida, though the 5v5 Corsi attempts were 25-24 in favour of the Leafs.
The third period started with the teams exchanging chances, as Campbell hit the post behind Reimer and then Joffrey Lupul was stopped on a 2-on-1 going the other direction immediately after.
Then, following three consecutive saves, Reilly Smith was left alone in front of the Leafs' net by Martin Marincin, and Smith buried a rebound to make the game 4-1 Panthers, effectively icing the game just five minutes into the third.
Things went from bad to ugly around the 8-minute mark as a long lob from Alex Petrovic at the blue line eluded Reimer, who appeared not to see the puck at all, despite a lack of screen.
Ultimately, the Leafs won the 5v5 Corsi battle 39-32, but you would also expect them to, given that they trailed for most of the game. Special teams were the Leafs' downfall again tonight, as they got lit up by the 29th-ranked power play in the league, and also failed to score when they had the man advantage once again.
The Leafs have one more game tomorrow against Tampa Bay before the All-Star break.
Notes on individual players:
- James Reimer allowed more than 3 goals for the first time in 19 games played. We'll cut him some slack.
- Michael Grabner left the game after taking a puck to the mouth in the second period and did not return. He was visibly bleeding as he left the ice. Peter Holland took his place on the Kadri line for the remainder of the game.
- Roman Polak played a lot tonight with the Leafs so often on the penalty kill and with Phaneuf out for 7 minutes of the second period for his boarding/fighting.
- Nazem Kadri had the Leafs' only goal and was probably also the Leafs' best player tonight, despite his finish in the middle of the pile of Leafs' 5v5 CF numbers. He was up against the Panthers' top line and kept them off the scoresheet until they notched a couple on the power play, when Kadri wasn't on the ice anyway.
- The other Leaf that deserves an honourable mention tonight is Morgan Rielly. He looked good all evening, and lead the team in the 5v5 CF department.