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Recap: Maple Leafs lose in overtime to the Avalanche after tying the game 3 times

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Nate MacKinnon outplays the Leafs, and a tired team can’t do more than get the loser point.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Colorado Avalanche
The two most important players in this game.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to be an interesting game. The Maple Leafs are bringing newly acquired Calvin Pickard in hot to face his old team and his old number one netminder in Semyon Varlamov.

Varlamov has had a better year than last year, which wouldn’t be hard. So has Pickard, and ditto on the low bar to climb. But Varlamov, as the games have piled up has contributed to his team’s success sometimes, and their frequent failures other times. He hasn’t been a disaster, but he is offering less than Frederik Andersen to his team.

The Avs are a one-and-a-half line team. They have a super line with their three offensive threats on it, and a checking line, the Carl Soderberg line, who will likely play a lot against the Leafs top lines, and they are truly effective at controlling possession, and they can score a little bit.

Erik Johnson is not a bad defender, but after the Avs’ few forwards and him, they are some college prospects and some guys who should be in the AHL.

That doesn’t mean the Leafs will win this easy, particularly without Nazem Kadri to match up to that top line that is young, fast, and skilled. The Leafs are also struggling to fill Nikita Zaitsev’s minutes ehile he’s out of the lineup, so seeing something good from the three-man third pair, with Martin Marincin in for Connor Carrick, might be nice tonight.

First Period

The Soderberg line opens against the Tyler Bozak line, and we’ll see how well the defensively challenged, but high Corsi, Leafs line can handle a real two-way line.

It’s a mixed bag, with some action each way and then the Nate MacKinnon line roars out against Auston Matthews, and holy cats, is Pickard ever busy. Shots are raining down, and he is kicking out some rebounds, but he’s got it under control. No one else on the Leafs does.

Patrick Marleau has Leo Komarov and Connor Brown with him, and this line might have some fun versus the Avs depth. So might the Leafs’ fourth line, but in their first shift, it’s the Avs doing the shooting.

Deep breath, Leafs, and now it’s time to play this game for real on the next cycle through the lines.

(Gabriel Landeskog taking a shot at Pickard looks really weird to me, no lie.)

Leafs are winning some board battles early, but they clearly are not turning on the full force offence. Yet.

Avs are a very young team and can roll out fast and hard at altitude. Let’s see how well the Leafs do as this game progresses, but a tactic of slowing the play early is not a bad one.

By the way, I’m not convinced that altitude effects in a single game are a big deal. I think the problem teams face is often dehydration from grossly underestimating how dry the air is.

The Leafs take a penalty for too many men, and the Avs have an okay power play, but the Leafs disrupt the setup well and keep the Avs from getting a shot on goal.

Matthews line gets some time against Tyson Jost, who will be a good player someday, and they get a sniff of the offensive zone.

James van Riemsdyk gets a nice rush chance, and is that the first shot for the Leafs?

Varlamov bobbles the puck behind the net for the second time, but the Avs get it together, get down the ice where Pickard makes a stop on MacKinnon (also weird).

Landeskog sneaks up behind Matthews and just takes the puck from him. The play goes the other way, and a long shot in bounces off of Pickard (in a bad rebound he should not be giving up) and MacKinnon is there untroubled by any defenders to get the easy goal with a bouncing puck.

1-0 Avs

Borgman gets a pass and wails the shot right at the net for a tip. This is a skill he excels at, and one reason Connor Carrick is out of the game is because his point shots are big and impressive and not well timed. That might also be the Leafs second shot (of any kind) in this game.

The Bozak line gets some badminton practice in, but mindless batting at the puck won’t get you a scoring chance.

Okay, so, what just happened? Josh Leivo chips the puck up off the boards a bit too far for Matt Martin, and he’s cool with that, because he can smash the Avs guy if he beats him to the puck in the corner. But Martin wins the footrace!! and he gets the puck to Dominic Moore who has charged the net, and in it goes.

Go to the net, clap, clap, clap. Good things happen, clap, clap, clap.

1-1 on the scoreboard

It turns out the goal was scored by Martin as Moore never actually touched it. It went in off of Blake Comeau.

Leafs get messed up on a half-done change and ice the puck.

Marner gets tripped by Comeau, and then Bozak falls on him, so it’s off to the power play.

Gardiner with a hell of a point shot, and Varlamov looks shaky on the play.

The Leafs move the puck well, and keep up the pressure after the penalty expires. Good chance by Marleau.

The Avs PK is very good, but with Johnson on the PK, the top PP unit with Tyson Barrie out and playing top pair, he’s playing Hainsey minutes, so we may see that PK degrade as the game goes on.

And another “whoa, there’s MacKinnon, where’d he come from?” moment gives this period the last major scoring chance. But post power play, the Leafs had some occasional forays near the Avs net.

Thoughts

Matthews is grossly overmatched by the MacKinnon line. The Bozak line are doing much better against the Soderberg line than I expected. And look who scored? The better depth.

The Leafs started slow in pace and footspeed, perhaps on purpose, and it showed on the shot differential at first, but by the end of the period the Corsi was 14-11 for the Avs, and the Leafs got right in to the low slot with no problem to get some decent changes. Not many, but some.

Second Period

Leafs. What are you doing? They have another messy change, and Jake Gardiner ends up icing the puck. Too many roster changes all in one game? Too much uncertainty about who should be where?

Somewhere in there, and I didn’t see it, Mikko Rantanen takes a highsticking penalty, and that boy does that sort of thing way too much.

The Leafs killer power play goes to work. And a dead on shot on Varlamov looks like something, but isn’t going to get you nothing, Matthews.

I love Marner on the power play. He plays with the same calm assurance as Nylander does. He set up a good play, but it’s a well he and van Riemsdyk are going to too much. They need to vary their bag of tricks even more.

Matthews gets a couple of great shots, and again, as is usual with the Avs, you can stretch the offensive pressure out for an extra half-shift after the penalty is up.

Pickard watching his replays on the gigantic Pepsi Center screen is weird when he’s in blue and white. His mask is lovely, by the way.

Roman Polak with a sweet centring pass to Connor Brown, and damn, that could have been something. Seriously, the pass was great.

Avs are looking a little, “What is it we’re here for, again?” which is their normal state for long stretches of time. The Leafs should hit the gas right about now and take advantage.

Pickard plays the puck along the boards much like Andersen does, which makes for a seamless transfer from one goalie to the other.

Marner and Matthews get something going but the Leafs will need screening traffic to beat Varlamov tonight.

Rantanen gets a chance on Pickard, and Picks gives up another rebound, this one worthy of Antoine Bibeau. He’s not as cool as he looks most of the time.

So, the Marleau line gets some nice zone time, and I’m tilting my head and saying, yeah, but who can score here? And lo, it is Marincin with the good chance from the point. Yeah, really, Marincin. He picked up his offensive game in the AHL, maybe it has changed him a little.

And then Marincin just jumped up in the play with the fourth line. He looked like a drunk giraffe, but he’s got the puck again! And he’s shooting. Wow. MarMar shift of weird excellence.

Marleau’s line are on the ice and failing to stop MacKinnon’s line from gaining the zone. MacKinnon just roars in the zone, grabs the puck from Brown, and pops it over to Rantanen who is in perfect position.

2-1 Avs.

That line stays on the ice, and get more chances. The Leafs have no response for these guys.

You know what’s coming right? The Leafs top players need to step it up. Bozak’s line is still getting some zone time, as is the fourth line, but someone has to score here.

Borgman fires the puck in on a keeping it alive sort of play, and Polak, yes, really, drives (slowly) down the right boards and shoots the puck at the net from very deep, and it finds that little hole between the horizontal pad and the glove hand when a goalie doesn’t get down in RvH or full butterfly perfectly. (The James Reimer special.)

2-2 on the scoreboard

Right after the goal, Marner takes a penalty for hooking.

The Avs power play is not much without Barrie and the Leafs PK is very good.

The Leafs get way out of formation, and PIckard bails them out.

Marner is out of the box, has the puck, and they all crash the net, but nothing comes of it. The Leafs need to get the speed going here if they want to take this game.

It’s MacKinnon who brings speed after he takes the puck off of Matthews, and Pickard has to make a good save on him.

Marleau shows the old man speed back the other way.

Komarov hands the puck right to the Avs (this play stunk, seriously, Matthews is getting outplayed by more experienced elite players, this was a trashy giveaway). Pickard bails out his new teammate.

The Leafs control the puck for a bit at the end of the period, but nothing comes of it and it’s still tied after two periods.

Thoughts

Go ahead and laugh, but there’s a reason the Leafs depth, who you think are bad, are scoring against a team with some real roster weaknesses.

I feel like Marner is an inch away from a goal here, and no one on that ice is less useful than William Nylander playing against that guy he trains with every summer in Landeskog. He has to be chewing nails about now.

If this is your first taste of the Rantanen and MacKinnon show, well, that’s where Nylander and Matthews are heading, MacKinnon just has a head start bought with years of hard work.

The Leafs are behind in shots 29-22 (largely courtesy of Matthews and Bozak), and this is the Avs, they block like crazy, so the unblocked differential is way worse, but the overall dangerous changes contest is about even. The score’s not a fluke in either direction.

Komarov and Leivo each have less 5on5 TOI than Martin, the usual least used player. This is not the first game lately that is true of Komarov, and Babcock seems to understand that without Kadri, he brings very little to the table.

Remember last night when Gardiner looked terrible? Suddenly he’s leading the team in CF%.

Third Period

We open the third period with Soderberg getting a shot off. And the slooooow pace continues. This is not a good sign.

Yeah okay. Alex Kerfoot. Lemme tell you about him. He’s got an inflated shooting percentage, college-taught positional skills, and if you put him with good players, and the Leafs defend the way they can sometimes — badly, he can get you.

3-2 Avs.

You’ll notice the Leafs all way, way over on one side of the ice together, they let in a goal one night I was recapping doing that exact thing, and everyone decided it was that one guy they didn’t like who was at fault. It’s a systemic problem! They do this too much, they just usually outscore this problem.

This game is now dull as dishwater as the crowd is so quiet, you’d think this was the ACC.

The Avs get a power play and it’s the Leafs PK that has degraded, and looks sketchy. So much for the overtaxed Avs D theory. When’s Zaitsev coming back?

The Leafs have five minutes to go, they’re tired, their opponent looks kind of bored, and this is when they ask themselves if they’re a team that plays every game or if they’re a team that gives up on some points here and there.

Hyman fights off Rantanen, so he’s in. Nietto gets a scoring chance against the Bozak line, but Marincin is playing and wins the next battle. Polak gets a point shot through. The Leafs are trying, let no one say they aren’t. Very trying at times, to be honest. But they’re trying.

MacKinnon gets a rush going with Rantanen, and Pickard makes the save, which sends the play back the other way.

Babcock pulls Pickard with over two minutes to go.

Okay! JvR ties it up after sustained offensive pressure. They all have their passing game going, they look like they know what they’re doing. I know you guys, you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs!

3-3 on the scoreboard.

Thoughts

I spent this entire broadcast disagreeing with the commentary on who was good and who wasn’t. It was breathtaking how differently I viewed this game to them. And the last one too. The one thing we agreed on was how the Leafs depth D are not replacing Zaitsev very well at all.

It won’t kill Matthews to get his ass handed to him by a centre who played a hell of a lot better. He will only want to get that good. Same goes for Nylander or Marner. I never worry about those guys.

I love Kadri a lot and I miss him. I hope he’s better for the Vegas game.

Pickard was okay. Very good on the PK, which is when McElhinney scares me a lot. I’d play him again. And again, and frankly, I’d just keep going here while McE slowly heals. Pickard needs practice time with the Leafs to improve.

Nothing is funnier that tying the Avs in their own house with the goalie pulled early.

That was the regular game, one point is in the bag, and now we go to fun times with OT.

Overtime

Guess who the Avs have out there? MacKinnon, Rantanen and Zadorov, which is er, dumb. He gets turnstiled pretty easily by Marner.

Then we get Matthews, Nylander and Gardiner doing passing practice to no avail.

Ron Hainsey gives the puck to MacKinnon, and Brown takes a penalty on the play that, well, what else could he do? Really, it’s at least 60% MacKinnon rolling over Brown, but it’s still a penalty. It saved a breakaway from a master of the art, so no one should complain, but it ended up deciding this game.

Pickard holds it together on the power play and Rantanen misses wide on a gimmee. Finally Hainsey lobs it down the ice. This was worse than the first MacKinnon line shift.

The Avs get the puck moving and it goes to JT Compher, who is just another young guy like Kerfoot, and that shot goes in. Good power play by the rookies, and a lot of tired nothing from the Leafs on the PK.

4-3 Avs win it.

Tough loss for Pickard in a very difficult situation after some good and sometimes great play, but it’s a point on the road at the end of the day. A point a lesser team would have let slip away.