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Leafs 4, Islanders 3: Nylander and Soshnikov come up clutch

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Happy Birthday Morgan Rielly, here's a win!

Zach Hyman congratulates Nikita Soshnikov after his shootout winner
Zach Hyman congratulates Nikita Soshnikov after his shootout winner
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Boxscore | War on Ice

Sportsnet opened the broadcast of this game with the text "It's been 49 years since the Leafs hoisted the Cup" because six games in it's time for the rookies to step up and claim their legacy or something. However, apparently these kids like a challenge, which is good because they're going to be facing lots of them for the rest of the season.

1st period

As is traditional, hometown boy John Tavares opened up the scoring. Nazem Kadri failed to connect with Connor Carrick, letting JT take the puck and run with it all the way into the offensive zone. Garret Sparks stopped the first attempt but Tavares followed up on the rebound while Gardiner looked on helplessly.

The Nylander line answered only a few minutes later. Nylander carried the puck in, hanging onto it long enough get Marincin open with Greening and Hyman set up at the net. He fed the puck to Marincin, Marincin got it on net and Greening and Hyman put it in for Zach Hyman's second NHL goal. It's a pity assists go to those who touched the puck most recently and not those most responsible for the play because Nylander had everything to do with with that goal.

In the rotating cast of Marlies it was finally TJ Brennan's first NHL game of the year. He drew in on the bottom pairing with Frankie Corrado, another expert on waiting for one's chance, while Martin Marincin moved up to the first pairing with Morgan Rielly. In case defence became the story of the night, I enlisted Katyaknappe to help me out with some guest commentary.

Katya sez:

Brennan looks nervous so far, but that will pass. First period  Marincin/Reilly are getting the Kadri line most of the time, which means they face the Tavares line most of the time.  Gardiner/Carrick are struggling across the board against all competition playing behind the bottom six.  Brennan/Corrado are getting the Nylander line, and shaky early start aside, they're all doing okay as long as they aren't out there against the Islanders second line, then they suck.

So the Marincin trial by fire is working, and the Nylander group is leading the team in CF% at the break.

2nd period

About four minutes into the second I wondered online if I'd missed a penalty or if the game had really gone over a period without one. The refs must have heard me - Kadri took the first penalty of the game not long afterwards.

Although they didn't look great, Leafs hung on for over a minute before Hyman managed to draw a penalty to even things up. The commentators intially suggested it was a Toronto penalty, despite the refs clearly waiting for the Islanders to get posession before they called it. Turns out that Greiss had misinterpreted what was going on and was well out of his net before play was called. Could have been a huge opportunity for the Leafs but they were hemmed into their own zone.

Morgan Rielly spotted Kadri coming back onto the ice as the 4-on-4 turned into a 5-on-4 for the Leafs.  Rielly passed to Kadri on the blue line and followed him up. 11 seconds into the power play, Morgan gave himself a power play goal for a birthday present.

Sadly, Leafs leads just don't last very long. They were up for all of two minutes until Nick Leddy went end to end, beating out Hyman and unchallenged by Gardiner as he sent a wrist shot past Sparks. The commentators called it a bad goal on Sparks, who was well out of his net, but he really didn't have much time to react.

Katya sez:

So, second period, Kadri's line doing very poorly now against Tavares and they're dragging Rielly-Marincin with them.  Not good.  Nylander and Laich only guys really dominating vs. the bottom six.  Carrick looks  way over his head to me, and Gardiner is all over covering.  Corrado and Brennan just quietly doing well enough.  Nothing special happening at all.

("Nothing special", being pretty much what you want to happen as a defenceman in your first NHL game all season)

3rd period

The Leafs certainly had a  number of chances, with a four minute power play courtesy of Kadri and the fat lip he got from Kyle Okposo's high stick. Unfortunately they cut the advantage for half the time by earning a too many men penalty in the middle of it. Even having John Tavares off the ice to fix a broken skate lace didn't help them much.

Still, they continued to get chances past the halfway mark of the period and were even outshooting the Isles, but Ryan Strome had to spoil the party with what really looked like a lucky goal on his part. Johnny Boychuk tossed the puck ahead, allowing Strome to break out. He corralled the bouncing puck just well enough to shoot it past Sparks, but it slowed down so much going through his legs that it nearly didn't cross the line. There's certainly an argument for "Sparks should have had that".

The wonderful, positive, Sportsnet commentators who are really such homers started talking about how six one-goal losses in a row would be a franchise record for the Leafs. Meanwhile the Leafs were still on the ice, putting pressure on the Islanders and  Nylander almost scored.

Nylander was making such a nuisance of himself he managed to draw a hooking call with just over three minutes left in the game. Holland had a great chance, Babcock pulled Sparks about midway through the power play and as if some hackneyed sportswriter was writing the game script, William Nylander scored his first power play goal to tie the game with just over a minute left. Kadri got his second assist of the night and Jake Gardiner even got the secondary. Me, I hurt my throat screaming.

Katya sez:

Not much change by the end of regulation.  Brennan-Corrado never once saw Tavares out there.  Babcock's a master.

OT

The Leafs started overtime by looking more than a little confused. The first two shifts weren't quite coordinated and didn't seem to know where they were supposed to go. Rielly had a chance but Sparks also had to save them from disaster. Then the third shift of Soshnikov, Parenteau and Marincin hit the ice and wow did things get fun.  Suddenly the Islanders couldn't get out of their own zone and the Leafs absolutely dominated overtime, as I'm sure we all predicted.

Hyman got a little overenthusiastic drawing a hooking call on Tavares and got sent to the box himself for embellishment. Still, getting John Tavares off the ice for the last 35 seconds of OT is a good day's work.

Rielly and Nylander almost made themselves overtime heroes but Rielly's pass was just a bit ahead of Nylander's stick and time ran out before Nylander could get control.

Shootout

Holland: no

Nielsen: no

Parenteau: no

Okposo: no

Nylander: no

Tavares: no

Soshnikov: YES!

Clutterbuck: no

And that is how it became my honour to recap the very first Leafs Win of the Future

Random Notes:

  • Sparks really does get up and down in that butterfly very quickly indeed
  • Grabner's hands are still made of stone, which is probably more frustrating for him than it is to watch (that is to say, extremely frustrating)
  • John Tavares racked up career goal number 199, which means some other team will end up on the other end of a milestone
  • Kadri looks super young without his helmet
  • I'm no defensive expert (thanks again Katya!) but it certainly looked like Marincin was doing a bunch of good things. He also ended up with 23:35 in TOI, which might be a season high. Only Rielly and Gardiner had more. Conversely, Brennan logged just over 11 minutes in playing time, above only his partner Corrado among defencemen.
  • As the guy between the benches, Mike Johnson had some interesting things to say during the broadcast about the differences in communication that had happened on the Leafs' bench since the trade deadline. He talked about how a team full of young guys is usually, quieter with less chirping of each other and the opposition and how there's more discussion among themselves and the coaches as each shift comes off and on.
  • This is my second recap involving a Soshnikov goal. They're fun!