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Leafs vs. Hurricanes Recap: Toronto Tries Very Hard To Lose, Goalies Won’t Let Them

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A banner showing from Freddie and a poor one from Cam Ward end in a 5-4 Leaf win.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Leafs took on the Hurricanes in Carolina tonight.

First Period

The opening minutes of the game are quick but not terribly eventful, without major scoring chances either way, but the Canes have the better of it. Unfortunately, the first real action is not to the Leafs’ liking; Zach Hyman wrecks the end of a solid shift by tripping Teuvo Teravainen, and sending the Canes to the PP.

The Hurricanes scare the absolute hell out of me on the powerplay. Andersen makes five saves and at least three of them are phenomenal; the last one is the best, a pad save on Teravainen at the side of the net when it looks like a sure goal. There are so many chances (Skinner and Rask had others) that necessitated ten-bellers that I worry I’m not doing him justice. Just trust me, he killed this penalty almost alone.

The Leafs get some mild pressure the other way, with a little drag and shoot from JVR, but for the most part, the Canes are now running us over. Pesce and Slavin do a lot of little brilliant things to sustain pressure on the Leafs, and it’s not a comfy time to be a Leafs fan.

After ten-plus minutes, it has been 9-1 in unblocked shot attempts at even strength, and this does not include that siege of a power play. If Andersen is off his game, we’re down two or three.

Ron Hainsey (!), our most important PKer, takes down Sebastian Aho and it’s back to the PP for Carolina. This is not going well, guys.

This one is scary, albeit not quite as terrifying as the first one; the Hurricanes get more shots but Andersen is there. The penalty is killed...

...and Andersen makes two more showstopping saves, on Teravainen again and then on Rask with the glove. This is maybe the best I’ve ever seen him play, and it’s been necessitated by the team in front of him totally rolling over.

Derek Ryan takes a hooking penalty on Jake Gardiner, and the Leafs get a chance on the powerplay late.

Toronto has a brutally ineffective powerplay that fails to get set up at all; Carolina looks very much more dangerous than the Leafs do during it. It ends, and the period ends, with no goals. This flatters the Leafs enormously.

Look at this shit:

Look at this shit:

To add detail: the three unblocked 5v5 shot attempts the Leafs have consist of two by Connor Carrick and one by Connor Brown, all from the right point. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

So I could say a lot more things about this period, but I’m just going to settle for two, and believe me when I say I mean them literally:

  1. The Leafs have never been more utterly dominated for twenty minutes this season than they were in the first period tonight.
  2. Frederik Andersen has never looked better.

I hope Mike Babcock has one hell of an intermission speech.

Second Period

Apparently he did! Cam Ward attempts to clear it; Nazem Kadri keeps it in and gives it to Jake Gardiner. Gardiner curls around behind the net, showing gorgeous patience, then finds a seam behind Ward, and Zach Hyman gets the point-blank tap in. 1-0 Leafs, in defiance of numbers and God.

The Leafs look somewhat better now, although I’m not sure how they really good have been worse. Jeff Skinner has a dazzling takeaway and chance. Zaitsev knocks the net off and is lucky not to get dinged for delay of game.

Jamie McGinn nearly scores on a tricky shot by banking it off Andersen’s back, but Freddie bats it out. After that brief jolt to start the period, Carolina is back in control. But Zach Hyman manages a nice dump and chase, and Marner zips a bit, and there’s that.

And then...the Leafs score again! Borgman banks a pass out and Josh Leivo gets behind the Canes’ defence, then zooms in. He has the inside shot coming off the left wing, and he beats Cam Ward far side. 2-0 Leafs. This is nuts.

The next action is a little more even, it seems; the most notable play is Connor Carrick breaking his stick and then using a soccer kick to clear the zone.

So, uh, Cam Ward is bad, you guys. The Bozak line gets into the Canes zone, Bozak throws to JVR, and then JVR goes across the zone. Ron Hainsey comes in from the right point and rifles a shot past Ward. It’s a great one. Leafs are up 3-0!

It doesn’t last, though. The Canes finally score the goal that’s felt inevitable from the start, as Jeff Skinner makes a brilliant effort to chip it in and then throw to Derek Ryan in the crease. Ryan finishes a very fine play, and it’s 3-1.

Hyman, Matthews and Marner finally have a really good offensive zone shift, the kind we know they’re capable of. Matthews almost manages a wraparound.

The JVR-Bozak-Nylander line strikes again, and somehow, the Leafs have gotten a three-goal lead back. Nylander gives the puck to JVR, who fires it, and it trickles through Cam Ward. 4-1 Leafs.

Cam Ward makes a routine save, gets a sarcastic cheer, and baseballs the puck out. Patrick Marleau has a partial break that Ward turns out aside, and that’s it for the period.

The Leafs finally came on as this period went along, although they were not nearly as good as the score makes them look. Still, after getting shelled in the first period, playing passably for long stretches and showing a bit of finish is really nice.

The real takeaway here, as our own Brigstew put it, is Andersen > > > > > Ward. That’s your story right now. Zach Hyman (<3) has had an energetic showing; in fact, the Matthews line as a whole is the only Leafs F group that’s above water in shots and scoring chances. Man, I can’t believe we’re up three. [knocks on wood]

Third Period

Scott Darling is in for the third, so the Canes may actually have goaltending now. The Canes, apparently inspired, run the Leafs around for a minute and require more great work from Freddie. Unfortunately, even a superhuman can’t save everything.

On a delayed penalty call, the Canes are running the Leafs ragged; a shot goes off Nikita Zaitsev’s skate right to Jordan Staal, who spikes it. 4-2.

The Leafs continue to get run around extensively and you’d think they got the penalty in spite of the goal, but they get a break: Jeff Skinner gets called for goalie interference on a pretty soft call.

The Bozak unit buzzes a bit and JVR tries to jam a puck in, but to no avail. The second unit, though, avails. It avails so hard. Gardiner passes to Matthews on the right side, Matthews makes a shot-pass into the slot, Patrick Marleau tips it home. 5-2 Leafs.

After a mostly miserable night, Soshnikov has a very nice shift, energetically chasing down the puck in the o-zone and sustaining some pressure. The Matthews line follows this up with a strong shift of their own.

Ray and Gord basically acknowledged the game was probably done at this point and had an extended discourse on the idea of a game featuring both the Sebastian Ahos in the NHL (the other one is a defenceman for the Islanders, if you’re wondering.) That’s a bit premature, though...

...because Nikita Zaitsev has an excruciating shift in which he fails to clear the puck twice and then fails to stop Elias Lindholm from whacking a puck in in the slot. Just a bad showing by Z on this one. 5-3 with six minutes to go.

Oh shit! Andersen finally cracks. Matthews bobbles the puck in the neutral zone, and Justin Williams advances it to Skinner, who hits Noah Hanifin coming in at the point. Hanifin fires a goal that Freddie really ought to have, as much as he’s made about ten saves tonight he had no business having. 5-4 Leafs with four minutes left, and God help me, this is going to be tense.

It’s just an absolute barrage, right to the very end, and the final minute features some desperation heroics from Hainsey, Komarov, Freddie...everybody. But somehow the Leafs hang on and win this game. 5-4 is your final.

Thoughts

  • Carolina is the best adjusted CF% team in the NHL, but they don’t have a ton of elite finishing skill and their goaltending has been spotty. The Leafs have been a middling CF% team of late, but they have some phenomenal forwards and a sometimes-great goalie. I sort of expected the Leafs to go down a little in the shot attempts tonight, and I was okay with that.
  • Carolina annihilated Toronto tonight in shots (63-37). On net, the Leafs had shot results equivalent to the Sabres during their tank year where they were the worst Corsi team in history. It was insane. I don’t care how good or bad the finishers involved are, if you do that most of the time you will lose.
  • Freddie had one bad goal, but without him, the Leafs lose this game something like 12-5. I’m serious. The team basically did not exist in front of him in the first and it stopped showing up halfway through the third. He made save after save after save. He was as good as you possibly can be while getting scored on four times. Hail Freddie.
  • If I were a Carolina fan this game would drive me crazy. Cam Ward stunk up the joint to throw away a great performance, and then the Leafs score a PP goal that turns out to be the winner after a soft call. If this game had gone another five minutes it feels very much like the Canes would have tied it.
  • Pesce and Slavin are the best defence pairing that people still don’t talk about enough, and Jeff Skinner is a phenomenal talent. I still think Carolina would stun a bunch of people if they’d gotten Matt Duchene.
  • Anyway: the new Hyman-Matthews-Marner line, notwithstanding the bad giveaway on goal #4, was definitely the best the Leafs had (and the only player to finish above water in CF% was Mitch.) Connor Carrick was okay, although he got shots primarily because the team had no other option. Beyond that this was a really awful performance by pretty much the whole team.
  • I know, a win is a win. But my God was this ugly. Carolina is a very good possession team that matches up extremely well against us, but the Leafs cannot play like this and expect to regularly win hockey games. Simple as that.
  • Next game is against Washington Saturday night, where the Leafs will hopefully both win and play better.