The Calgary Flames came to town tonight, a team that has its own trio of highly impressive young forwards—Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk. Between that trio up front and a defence headed by Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton, the Flames have the horses to do some damage. But...uh...that isn’t what happened tonight.
The Flames came out with some jump, with some good chances from Gaudreau and Monahan. The Leafs, however, got the game’s first powerplay as Troy Brouwer took a slashing call. In other news, Troy Brouwer plays for Calgary now.
The Leafs went full shooting gallery for the first 90 seconds of the PP, putting four shots on Flames goalie Brian Elliott but none past him. After that, Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund, two of the deadly Flames PK forwards—the Flames lead the league in shorthanded goals this year—rushed the puck back on a two-on-one. Andersen had to make a big save on Backlund to keep the game scoreless.
The game rolled quickly back and forth for a few more shifts until Mitch Marner took a tripping penalty. The Leafs killed the penalty without too much panic, and Marner had a partial break coming out of the box, but was stopped by Dougie Hamilton.
The next quality chance of the period came with about three minutes left, as James van Riemsdyk whipped a wraparound shot under Brian Elliott’s right pad. The refs reviewed the play for a potential goal, but this one clearly didn’t get over, and it was an easy no goal call.
But the period wasn’t going to end scoreless. With just over a minute left, Nikita Zaitsev fired a puck from the point, and Mitch Marner got a stick on it near the hashmarks for a fantastic tip to put the puck top shelf over Elliott. 1-0 Leafs.
As you might have expected, the flash in the early going was provided by the young stars. JVR and Marner were the most dangerous Leafs (with a nod to Kadri), while Gaudreau and the Backlund line had the best Flames chances at 5v5. The Leafs had the better of the play, all things considered, but it was quick on both sides. The first zoomed by; it felt like one of the quickest segments of the season.
The Leafs opened the second frame with a couple of strong shifts, dominating the Flames’ zone and then drawing a penalty (Michael Frolik high-sticked Martin Marincin trying to forecheck him.) The Leafs threatened throughout the penalty, but towards the end of it Bozak took a juuuuuust-enough hook on Alex Chiasson. Matthew Tkachuk came terrifyingly close to tying the game on a goal-mouth scramble, but the Leafs escaped and got the kill.
On a nearly broken play, Matthews cleared the puck falling down; Nylander recovered the puck while also falling down and spun it to Nazem Kadri. Kadri streaked in down the left wing and fired a shot top corner over Brian Elliott to make the game 2-0. Elliott really should have had it...but he didn’t. It was Naz’s 100th career goal.
Nikita Zaitsev took a puck over glass penalty. Shortly into the Flames PP that ensued, Matt Hunwick and T.J. Brodie took matching interference/embellishment calls. This would shortly be forgotten, however, when Leo Komarov hit Johnny Gaudreau.
Komarov hit on Gaudreau pic.twitter.com/UYa1wlqWXq— GIF Grand Maester (@myregularface) January 24, 2017
Komarov has thrown a lot of hits in his time, and some of them have been dirty. This one...I don’t think so. He keeps his elbow down, he doesn’t leave his feet, Gaudreau has the puck, and it’s dead on. There’s contact with Gaudreau’s head, though; partly this is because Gaudreau is leaning forward and is 5’9”. Ultimately, the refs didn’t penalize Komarov for the hit, although both Komarov and Mark Giordano took fighting majors since they brawled afterwards. Gaudreau left the game briefly, but returned before the end of the period.
The Flames were predictably not happy about one of their young stars getting hit like that. The Leafs’ William Nylander took a fairly soft hooking penalty, and the newly-back Gaudreau fired a good chance over the net. Then Komarov and Zach Hyman zoomed up the ice on a two-on-one. Zach Hyman fired a low shot, which Brian Elliott saved; but Zach Hyman does not give up on pucks that easily.
After his much-lamented missing on SH chances, Hyman now has two shorthanded goals in the past week. 3-0 Leafs.
The rest of the period ended without too much more incident. The Leafs were pretty consistently the better team, aided considerably by Calgary making a hash of their powerplay chances. The TSN panel theorized that the bad second goal from Elliott demoralized the Flames. Whatever it was, the air seemed to go out of the balloon for the visitors.
The game’s penalty parade continued, as Alex Chiasson threw a comically dumb elbow towards Leo Komarov’s head. The Leafs went back to the powerplay. Nazem Kadri promptly fired a goal, aided by a JVR screen. 4-0 Leafs, ain’t no thang.
The goal was Kadri’s 20th of the year, tying a career high; Marner picked up an assist on the goal, which gave him his 39th point and the NHL’s rookie scoring lead, one ahead of his teammate Auston Matthews.
The Flames took yet another penalty as part of their total collapse. I’m normally hesitant to infer emotional traits from gameplay—nobody looks great down four goals. But Ray Ferraro observed that the Flames looked basically detached and defeated, and I agree; their coach also looked like he knew the night was pretty much over. After the fourth goal the cameramen found an extended shot of him staring at his shoes.
(Aside: coach Gulutzan did bench Alex Chiasson after his dumbass elbowing attempt, so he at least found something productive to do with the remainder of the game.)
The Leafs just played around the remainder of the game, as Naz sought his hat trick. Auston Matthews did one of his magic tricks with a spin-o-rama deke.
Today's edition of Auston Matthews doing Auston Matthews things pic.twitter.com/67Ws26Olw7— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 24, 2017
I’ve done that before. Trick is to press L2 at just the right time.
As score effects would predict, the Flames got a bunch of attempts in the third, but aside from one neat shot from Mikael Backlund, most of them didn’t feel all that dangerous. Sam Bennett tripped Connor Carrick with eighty seconds left, and Carrick retaliated with a cross-check, so the Flames were primed to end the game on the PP.
Unfortunately, Tkachuk—who is talented as all hell—is also what my colleague Elseldo calls a “shitweasel.” Look at what he did to Marincin in this late scuffle.
I can't GIF but here's Tkachuk slewfooting Marincin twice in slow motion pic.twitter.com/oWBZXtYbFc— Tyler (@kerdy19) January 24, 2017
Marincin seemed to be hurt on that play. Dirty.
The Flames’ PP added some drama to the final minute, as the Leafs tried to preserve Andersen’s shutout. They succeeded; 4-0 is your final.
- The Flames actually had a fair few shot attempts late (even adjusted) and several scoring chances, according to the numbers. Yet they seemed almost totally defeated to me after the third Leafs’ goal. Just a lifeless-looking performance on the back half.
Wow that's pretty bad pic.twitter.com/eAAtinGqOu— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) January 24, 2017
- I’m glad Gaudreau is okay. He’s one of the most exciting players in the NHL and was one of the Flames’ few bright spots tonight. Aside from Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund impressed me a little; his line with Tkachuk and Michael Frolik generated some chances, at least early. But man, that whole team seemed to give up.
- I barely heard the Leafs’ defence referenced aside from Zaitsev, which is probably a good sign. I’d assume this d-group is set for the near future given Rielly’s injury and Babcock’s distrust of Frank Corrado, but Marincin seems to have been injured on that slewfoot from Tkachuk.
Martin Marincin in obvious distress as he walks back to the #leafs dressing room with assistance.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 24, 2017
- It wasn’t the hardest shutout of Andersen’s career, but he earned it. Good on ya, Freddie.
- Mitch Marner—unless Matthews gets awarded a secondary assist on the first Kadri goal, which he might—now is the sole holder of the rookie scoring lead. The Leafs may legitimately have the two best rookies in the NHL. What a time to be alive.
- Naz, baby. Naz may well hit 30 goals this year as our top defensive centre. Sometimes when I feel sad I go look at his contract and feel happy again.
- For no reason whatsoever, here is a reversed gif of Komarov fighting Giordano.
i can't stop pic.twitter.com/NdwDXknljt— GIF Grand Maester (@myregularface) January 24, 2017
- The Leafs are once again in the Atlantic’s third seed, one point ahead of Boston with five (!) games in hand. They have at least one and usually more games in hand on everyone in the division but Ottawa, and they have a chance to stomp on the Red Wings’ faint playoff hopes on Wednesday night. Go Leafs go.