The Leafs started this game with some good jump, charging the Calgary net to cause havoc on all the rebounds that Jonas Hiller offered up. Multiple Maple Leafs had a good look at the net, including Brooks Laich, William Nylander, and Zach Hyman, and it wasn't long before Toronto drew a penalty.
Less than six minutes into the game, Calgary's young Sam Bennet took a slashing penalty in the neutral zone as he chopped the stick out of Nylander's hands - a matchup that Mike Babcock wanted from the start. The Leafs were unable to generate much with the man advantage, but Nylander looked effective being used on the half wall, and Leafs' fans should hope to see more of that.
Frederik Gauthier was absolutely flying on a shift about halfway through the first period, and created two great scoring chances. On the first, as he rushed up ice with the play, he put the puck woefully wide, but the second, he circled the zone and patiently stepped by a defending Flame before ripping it off the crossbar. Gauthier sure isn't quick out there, but with his size and positioning, he can still make things happen every now and then - even if he doesn't have the hands to finish. I've never been optimistic about Gauthier's upside, but I'm willing to wait and see if he can do more. It's not like the Leafs have so many other players to put ahead of him on the depth chart.
It was P.A. Parenteau who opened the scoring for the Leafs, smacking home a great backhand pass from Nylander that came from behind the net. Bennett just straight up didn't cover Parenteau. At that point, the Leafs lead in shots 6-2 and were firmly in control of the game.
Parenteau goal pic.twitter.com/I4szyWP3IX— Stephanie (@myregularface) March 22, 2016
Jonathan Bernier finally had some real work to do with 4:34 left in the first period as he robbed Sean Monahan on a fantastic rush chance that saw Bernier flash the leather to keep the Flames off the board.
Overall, the Leafs easily the stronger team through the first 20 minutes and the fact that the shot count was only 7-3 was probably somewhat deceptive in that it could have been much more in the Leafs' favour.
The Flames started the second with a lot more jump. After getting a pair of decent looks at the Leafs' net, the Flames had the Leafs running around in their own end before Parenteau took a tripping penalty less than 3 minutes into the period.
With the Leafs already shorthanded, Johnny Gaudreau danced through a couple Leafs and Morgan Rielly had to take a slashing penalty to prevent a goal. The Flames had a 5-on-3 for 1:06 but were unable to make it count, even if they came extremely close.
In fact, Parenteau would have had a perfect shorthanded breakaway as his penalty expired had he not tripped over himself coming out of the penalty box.
Shortly thereafter, the Leafs would kill off the remaining 5-on-4 and head to the power play themselves, as Michael Frolik headed to the penalty box for interference.
The Flames killed that one off, but then got a scare, as they Josh Jooris took another penalty and watched helplessly has Nylander rang a great shot off the post.
With Nylander on the bench, it was Matt Stajan who struck next, with the Flames still shorthanded. He walked around Connoy Brown and fired a great shot on a bad angle over the shoulder of a surprised and slumped Bernier to tie the game for Calgary.
Fortunately for the Leafs, the Nylander line wasn't finished making noise. Hyman went hard to the net, Jake Gardiner fed Nylander a slick pass, and although Nylander fanned on the shot, Hyman made enough noise and tipped the puck just enough to fool Jonas Hiller.
Not long after, Nazem Kadri absolutely drilled Gaudreau into the end boards with an entirely clean hit. Gaudreau then turned around and retaliated, hacking at the back of Kadri's legs with a two-handed swing. As Kadri went down, the ref called him for embellishment, and then with Kadri on the ice, Jooris jumped him, tossing the gloves and throwing punches. Somehow, Jooris escaped a 5-minute penalty, while Kadri got penalized for being slashed. Even Ray Ferraro of TSN thought the call was terrible.
Gaudreau slash and Jooris head lock on Kadri after hit on Gaudreau pic.twitter.com/RPQG72ux1m— Stephanie (@myregularface) March 22, 2016
With 2:32 left in the second, the Flames drew even, as Joe Colborne drifted by the far side of the Leafs' net loosely guarded by Morgan Rielly. Mark Giordano took a quick shot that went off Colborne, who barely moved on the play, and in past Bernier, who had no chance on the play.
The second period wrapped up with the teams knotted at two, with the Flames leading 18-15 on the shot clock.
It didn't take long for Nylander to get on the game sheet again after the third period started up. With the Leafs on the power play and Hyman predictably parked in front of the net, Nylander blasted home a point shot that beat Hiller cleanly.
Nylander goal pic.twitter.com/Bk6fnuwuSf— Stephanie (@myregularface) March 22, 2016
Of note is that it was also Gardiner's second assist of the night. He has quietly put together a good offensive season despite a lack of scoring from the Leafs as a team. It's probably not unreasonable for Leafs' fans to expect an offensive breakout for him once he starts playing behind some forwards that can actually do some damage.
The Flames would push back in a vain attempt to tie the game up once again, but with 1:21 left in the third it was Colin Greening who iced the game for the Leafs, as he and Ben Smith charged up ice and, with strong play in the neutral zone, potted an empty-netter.
Josh Leivo would pick up another empty-netter after some great work from Brown, and ice the cake for the Leafs with just seconds remaining.
Leafs win pic.twitter.com/kZ85ZqYSdC— Asher (@AshySkates) March 22, 2016
Notes on individual players:
- Nazem Kadri is really growing into his 2nd-line shutdown role with a pest twist. Every other team hates him and he just makes everyone around him better. It is perhaps true that he isn't the scoring star that many envisioned when the Leafs took him so early in the first round, but he has certainly justified his draft position.
- Willian Nylander was probably the best Leaf on the ice tonight. He made several great passes that, if his teammates could handle the puck, would have turned a 3-point night into a 4 or 5-point night. He now has 7 points in 12 games with the big club and all indications point to him continuing to improve his scoring ability at the NHL level.
- I like Colin Greening and Brooks Laich. The Leafs don't have a lot of strong bodies in their lineup and these guys help. They're also very effective in limited roles. If they weren't earning an absurd amount of money, they'd be great 4th line additions to a number of teams.
- Connor Brown picked up his first NHL point tonight. He wasn't a standout, but he certainly reads plays well and isn't afraid to battle for a puck along the boards, despite his size.
- Jake Gardiner is putting together a pretty decent offensive season. Once he has some good forwards to play behind, I suspect his box score totals will drift up.
- Jonathan Bernier played a sharp game. He's been better and better lately. Good news for the Leafs. It's so dispiriting to have bad goalies with a young team. I mean... just look at the Calgary Flames.
- Frederik Gauthier looked... pretty good. I still don't think he has much upside as an NHL player, but I think that he is strong positionally and has great size, which are two things that the Leafs lack, so it's not as though he doesn't have a chance to be a useful piece for this organization if he can improve in a few areas.