The Connor McDavid show came to town, as the young phenom scouted the team he plans to join after his ELC expires.
The defining themes of this period were three:
- The Oilers were throwing absolutely everything at the net.
- Babcock played a super-match game putting Kadri up against McDavid, and it went well for the Leafs.
- Frederik Andersen was almost perfect.
The Leafs goal was a lot of fun; Polak pinched to get the puck to Connor Brown, who made a lovely pass to a waiting Kadri, and Kadri smoothly finished the play into the far side of the net.
It was the top highlight of a great period for Kadri, who tried to piss off McDavid, and got the better of the battle against possibly the best line in the NHL.
Beyond that, though, the Leafs were under siege. The Hyman-Matthews-Nylander line had their customary o-zone brilliance and d-zone ineptitude. Tyler Bozak still can’t play defence. Nikita Soshnikov showed some fancy sharp turns and some good energy, but his fourth line didn’t spark yet. A number of great saves from Frederik Andersen (and one post) kept the Leafs up, and it seemed like they might just get to the intermission up one...
...but Andersen and Jake Gardiner had a combined brainfart, where Gardiner decided to let Freddie play the puck and Andersen discovered at the last second that he couldn’t. Absurdly named Oilers fourth-liner Tyler Pitlick threw the puck from the corner out to Anton Lander, who had an open net to shoot at. The goal was Lander’s tenth in his 202-game career. Sigh.
The score was 1-1 at the intermission. Most of the Leafs looked bad from a possession perspective, but the success of Komarov-Kadri-Brown against Lucic-McDavid-Eberle was a bright spot.
The Leafs started out under siege again, and were saved a deficit by a lucky post. That did not matter. The Leafs fourth-line came back and scored!
Martin flipped it in, Nikita Soshnikov went and retrieved it, and then Sosh threw it out to a waiting Ben Smith, who redirected it between the pads of Cam Talbot. 2-1 Leafs. Whoever does the music for the Leafs also played “Benny And The Jets” after Smith scored, which is awesome.
Ray Ferraro had an evocative simile for the Leafs’ speed, describing them as like water, sliding in wherever they found an opening. I mention this both because it’s rare to hear good figurative language in sports broadcasting and because I feel like I ought to note how much I love hearing Ferraro do colour on a game. He did have a later discourse on physical intimidation that didn’t mean much to me, but the guy knows his work.
The Leafs started to find their feet after the second goal and the game picked up into a great, fast contest. The Matthews line had one of their customary great shifts where they played pinball in the Oilers’ zone; maybe more surprisingly, the fourth line did the same thing right after, led by Soshnikov.
Unfortunately, Sosh giveth, and Sosh taketh away. He proceeded to throw a bad head hit on Pouliot—not a hard one, but definitely an illegal one. The Leafs clearly were trying to be the more physical team, something of an awkward fit for some of the players. The commentators took to debating what the Oilers should do about the liberties the Leafs were taking with McDavid; I just want to observe that the presence of Milan Lucic didn’t stop anyone from doing anything.
As the second proceeded, both the Leafs and Oilers had extended pressure, but the Oilers had somewhat more. Freddie made several good saves to hold the lead. The Leafs got a call and nearly scored on the pre-whistle 6-on-5; they seemed primed to go to a 5-on-3, but Kadri’s reputation for flopping meant he took an offsetting diving call on a trip.
The rest of the period was uneventful, except it stood out even more how bad Bozak is defensively. It’s faceoffs and literally zero other things. Anyway, the Leafs headed into the third up 2-1.
The Matthews line had another of its great -zone shifts, and only some quality work by Cam Talbot stopped them adding to the lead. McDavid was having about the most ordinary night the best player in hockey can have, which is to say he scared the daylights out of me but didn’t actively win the game by himself.
Andersen continued to play well in the face of Edmonton pressure, making great saves of every variety and several with his glove, but the Leafs simply couldn’t take the heat off him (well, certain Leafs—see below.) The Oilers weren’t quite as dominant as the lopsided shot count suggests—the old “keep shots to the outside” saw was played out—but shots are shots, and sooner or later they go in. On which note, eventually Darnell Nurse fired a high wrister through a screen, and it floated into the top corner. 2-2, with 11 minutes to go in the third.
Both teams got chances, and defensive play was at a premium. Credit is due to Connor Brown, who broke up a two on one backchecking and was solid as part of the strong night for the Kadri line. No one was able to pot one, though, and we headed to overtime.
Nazem Kadri does not have time for your narratives.
Nazem Kadri does not have time for Connor McDavid.
Nazem Kadri won this goddamn game.
-Nazem Kadri was so good. He scored two goals, he largely shut down Connor McDavid, he pissed everyone right off. He’s an agitator, a solid two-way centre, and he has hands. Let’s remember how good he is.
-The Leafs got stormed in possession and in the shot clock, and as we know, this is not a sustainable way to win at hockey. But the shot differential was not evenly distributed. For example, among the forwards, in adjusted 5v5 CF%, the Matthews line was all above 55%, and Kadri and Brown both kept above water (Komarov was slightly under). Soshnikov wasn’t quite at par, but came close and outperformed his linemates.
-The Bozak line got absolutely destroyed.
-Seriously, this needs to be two items. Tyler Bozak’s adjusted CF% was 13%. That is insane. Obviously he doesn’t bear sole responsibility, but at the very least he was as culpable as his linemates, and probably more. It was just a dreadful night for him in every respect; he produced nothing whatsoever offensively. I’ve been tentatively accepting of the JVR-Bozak-Marner line, but if it’s going to perform like this, it’s simply unplayable.
-Okay, that aside: Zaitsev had one of his better nights, as did Rielly. I don’t think most of the Leaf defenders looked as bad as their possession numbers (Gardiner, Polak, Marincin and Carrick all finished well underwater), except on that clown-shoes first goal against. But they were helped in looking better...
-Because Andersen was on his game. The miscommunication on the first goal wasn’t great, and if you want to be harsh, you can simply say no untipped shot, even screened, should score from the point on an NHL goalie. (I think that’s a bit too severe.) But he made 44 saves, and several of them were excellent; Andersen seemed to take a certain glee in flashing his reputedly poor glove hand. He wasn’t quite perfect, but he was much closer to what the Leafs thought they were getting this summer. May he continue to roll.
-Odds and ends: Soshnikov’s energy, agility and occasional recklessness are a net positive, and I think he’s going to move up the lineup soon. Brown had a very strong game, and I think he’s going to enjoy an extended stay with Naz.
-All in all, the Leafs were lucky to win a game where they were so badly outshot, but that was mostly due to the total implosion of the Bozak line, which really needs to be addressed. Other than that, Naz showed his bona fides as a two-way centre and Freddie earned his money. Two points!