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Leafs 4 - Senators 2: Home away from home

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NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

We all know the Leafs have a pretty rough schedule in terms of back-to-backs. In fact, I think they’re close to leading the league in that category. And while it seems like a small issue, it can have a big impact on a season, especially if it swings a couple points in a close playoff race. Based on their recent play, it seems like the Leafs will be in that playoff race, at least for the foreseeable future, and the amount of back-to-backs they have might be one thing that works against them at the end of the year, especially given the state of flux with respect to the backup goaltender position.

But I guess the league has to make up for giving Toronto extra home games when they go to Ottawa somehow. The Sens, home of the league’s best defenseman and league’s worst owner (non-Carolina division), are their usual selves this year. Not good enough to be a contender, not bad enough to have a significant chance at Nolan Patrick. Nonetheless, they enter tonight two points ahead of the Leafs, and this game represents a chance for Toronto to claim Ontario hockey supremacy as they head to the second half of the season. Last time they were here, Auston Matthews stole the show in his first NHL game. Here’s hoping he does it again, this time in a winning effort.

Normally, I think I’m pretty fair to the opposing team in recaps - that will not be the case tonight. The Sens can get fucked.

First Period
  • [20:00] Looks like Curtis McElhinney will make his Leafs debut tonight. Obviously, the Leafs are going to look to him to stabilize the backup spot, which has been relatively tumultuous in the first half of the season.
  • [20:00] The Sens uniforms are so bad.
  • [20:00] Mike Condon will start for the Sens. He’s been pretty good this season.
  • [19:22] The Sens generate a couple innocent shots on their first shift. Looks like Boucher will try and match the Matthews line with Pageau’s group.
  • [17:22] Did I hear right? Curtis Lazar is looking for his first point in his 21st game? I get that he’s on the fourth line, but jeez.
  • [16:11] Matthews’ line generates a nice cycle shift (along with Gardiner and Carrick), forcing Condon to freeze the puck.
  • [15:11] Pretty slow pace to the first five minutes. Not the Leafs typical run and gun game so far.
  • [14:26] Zack Smith takes a penalty for running Zaitsev into McElhinney. The Leafs power play has been lethal recently - let’s see if they can keep it going.
  • [13:48] Very loud “Go Leafs Go!” chant!
  • [13:34] The PP keeps on humming! Nazem Kadri pokes it home after Bozak shoots it on net from the circle. What a season he’s having! Leafs lead 1-0.
  • [13:00] Ottawa has a nice shift in response, getting a few chances. Again, they’re using Pageau’s line against Matthews’.
  • [11:10] SportsNet shows a nice graphic of where the Leafs most recent power play goals have come from - almost entirely right in front of the net, and from memory, a lot of them were rebounds.
  • [10:14] A terrible giveaway from Hyman to Turris in his own zone leads to numerous chances for the Sens, including Dzingel being left alone in front. McElhinney saves the day and preserves the lead for Toronto.
  • [10:14] Actually, watching it again, it was more Dzingel shooting right into McElhinney’s body.
  • [9:09] The Leafs come in offside, but Soshnikov shoots anyways (kind of bush league). Obviously that attracts a scrum.
  • [8:33] Honestly, Ottawa is generating the bulk of the chances now. McElhinney has done well to keep the lead. Robs stone in front. So far, the Kadri line has held their own, but some of the other ones of struggled.
  • [7:20] As I say that, the Bozak line has an excellent shift with some solid territorial advantage.
  • [5:01] This might be the worst period for a Matthews line in a while. They’ve been largely ineffective, and hemmed in their own zone for shifts on end.
  • [3:35] Bozak with a nice pair of passes, first to JVR at the top of the circle, and the second to Marner in the slot. Neither made it on net, but both strong chances generated by him.
  • [2:25] The Leafs definitely look like they’re on the second night of a back to back here. Doesn’t bode well for later in the game, if they’re feeling it in their legs now.
  • [0:43] The Leafs with another strong shift from Bozak’s group - likely the best forward group for the Leafs this period.
  • [0:00] First period ends, with the Sens getting the better of it in terms of pressure, but the Leafs getting the goal.
Second Period
  • [19:08] Bozak with another excellent centering pass up to Marner, who has it hop over his stick!
  • [18:53] And the play continues, with Bozak making it 2-0 Leafs! Bobby Ryan turns it over in the slot (tipped by Marner), and Bozak walks in and chips it under Condon’s arm. Great play from Bozak, who has been one of the Leafs’ best skaters tonight.
  • [17:52] Kadri’s line follows that up with some more pressure, though not many shots.
  • [17:01] Matt Martin with a stunningly good backhand pass (!!!!) to Soshnikov in the offensive zone, but his shot is blocked.
  • [16:09] Man, Matthews is so skilled. He just flipped the puck over the stick of a Sens forechecker to himself to exit the zone. The poise and confidence to try that is incredible.
  • [15:38] More pressure from the Leafs, as Rielly and Zaitsev patrol the blueline behind the Bozak group. Much better period for the Leafs so far.
  • [14:57] This Bozak group has been very impressive to my eyes, especially dominating versus Derrick Brassard’s group for Ottawa.
  • [14:57] The broadcast is talking a lot about how Marner’s speed creates a lot of chances for his linemates. Which it definitely does. But I think his agility and dexterity on his edges is even more impressive. His balance and core strength must be nuts.
  • [13:24] McElhinney has had less to do this period, but he’s been excellent all game. As you’d expect from a goalie who has let in no goals.
  • [10:51] The game has settled down a little, which is appreciated by the Leafs, I’m sure.
  • [10:45] And the Sens score. The former Leafs captain does it, as a Phaneuf blast (that was definitely going wide, by the way) deflects off Gardiner into the net. No chance for McElhinney. 2-1 Leafs.
  • [10:08] The Sens have a really aggressive goal horn. The sounds guy leans on it HARD.
  • [9:03] Haven’t checked the TOI, but it seems like the Leafs have leaned heavily on Gardiner-Carrick tonight. Wouldn’t surprise me if they were the leading defence pair tonight.
  • [6:27] After watching him for almost two periods, I can confidently say that Curtis Lazar is pretty bad at hockey.
  • [5:21] A no-call that goes the Leafs way in the neutral zone leads to a Hunwick chance against Condon, but the defender can’t put it away.
  • [3:27] I’ve really liked the look of the Leafs fourth line tonight. Granted, I think they’ve played almost exclusively against the Sens fourth line, but they’ve forechecked aggressively, limited chances against, and been a little pesty as well.
  • [2:34] Ohhh, what a save by McElhinney! A great pass from Ryan to find Dzingel all alone in front is in vain, as the Leafs backup makes it across. Huge, huge save.
  • [1:50] An excellent shift from Kadri’s line is turned around on the Leafs. After extended pressure from the Leafs, Turris takes a sharp angle shot on the rush that finds the very top corner. 2-2 game. That was just about the perfect shot.
  • [1:11] Real shame for the Leafs there, as that was off the back of a strong shift. Kadri forced a centring pass which led to the zone exit for Ottawa.
  • [0:00] Period ends all knotted at 2’s. Big third period coming up, and if fatigue rears its ugly head, it could be an unfortunate one for Toronto.
Third Period
  • [19:31] A nifty move from Nylander in the neutral zone frees up Kadri to enter the zone, who spies Rielly entering as a trailer. A hard shot from Rielly is handled adeptly by Condon.
  • [18:01] I wonder what the quantifiable impact of a back to back is in terms of shot attempts.
  • [17:29] Kadri scores again! Komarov wins a faceoff with the help of Kadri, and Nylander sets up in his office on the half-wall. He feeds Kadri in front, who gets the puck off before the two Sens defensemen can take it off him. And what a shot it is, going top corner. 3-2 Leafs!
  • [16:55] Along with the Bozak group, Kadri’s line has been generating the bulk of Toronto’s chances at even strength. Well-deserved goal for them. Nylander and Hunwick with the assists
  • [16:01] Side note - Hunwick and Polak have spent over half their even strength ice-time with Kadri’s line. I’m not sure if it’s an intentional matchup thing or not.
  • [15:59] Gauthier takes a tripping penalty, and the Sens get a chance to equalize right away.
  • [15:06] The Leafs PK is its usual aggressive self, but the Sens do get set up.
  • [14:50] Another great save by McElhinney, as Stone sets up Mike Hoffman beautifully with a cross-crease pass.
  • [14:00] Komarov with a couple excellent plays on the PP to break up chances.
  • [14:00] God, the Sens game ops are aggressively loud between whistles. No wonder no one wants to come to the games.
  • [13:56] Anyways, the Leafs kill off the penalty.
  • [13:47] There’s an update in the broadcast about Clarke MacArthur’s return from the latest in a series of concussions. I really, really hope he’s able to make a full recovery. One of my favourite players in the league.
  • [12:18] Chances back and forth now. After great puck protection from Komarov and Nylander, the Leafs get a few point shots with traffic in front. After the puck goes the other way, Erik Karlsson rings one off the inside of the bar.
  • [12:08] You can’t keep the Matthews line quiet all game! Matthews races to a loose puck after intentionally losing the draw, and centres to Downtown Connor Brown, who makes no mistake in front. 4-2 Leafs.
  • [12:01] Not the best game from that line in general, but they (and Matthews in particular) are such game breakers.
  • [11:37] Big pair of goals for the Leafs. Gives them a little breathing room.
  • [11:13] The Sens are really pushing now, and the Leafs seem to turtle more than most teams with a third period lead. Could be in for a lot of pressure for the rest of this game.
  • [9:51] Zach Hyman is basically a poor man’s Wayne Simmonds without the finishing ability.
  • [9:02] Does Karlsson ever take a rest? Feels like he’s always on the ice.
  • [8:56] Zaitsev gets goaded into a fight by Dzingel, and promptly takes him to the ground. Don’t fuck with quiet Russians. We’ll get some 4-on4 as a result.
  • [7:58] Periodically, Guy Boucher has mixed up his defense pairs and put Karlsson and Phaneuf together. Together, they average out to a defenseman with average mobility.
  • [6:48] I’d expect to see a fair bit of Soshnikov taking some of Nylander’s defensive zone shifts as this game heads into crunch time.
  • [5:07] The Matthews line is coming alive here in the third, and they kill some valuable time in the Ottawa zone.
  • [3:42] Babcock sticking with Nylander on Kadri’s line, not electing to go Soshnikov yet. So it looks like my call was wrong, at least for now.
  • [2:53] The Leafs have shut this game down quite effectively since the 4-2 goal. Ottawa has had real trouble generating anything, and the Leafs are protecting their blue line brilliantly.
  • [1:50] Ah, NOW Soshnikov is taking Nylander’s spot. So i jumped the gun calling it.
  • [1:04] Unsurprisingly, Ottawa piles on the pressure with the net empty. So far, the Leafs are keeping them to the outside though.
  • [0:00] More pressure but no goals, and the Leafs win! Big win for the Leafs, who are in the playoffs with half the season to go! It’s been a great 41 games for the team, and I’m hoping more than 41 games await us this season.
The Goals

Kadri, 1-0

Bozak, 2-0

Phaneuf, 2-1

Turris, 2-2

Kadri, 3-2

Brown, 4-2