Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets came to town tonight for a battle of the 2016 draft picks. I want Matthews to dunk all over Laine’s face, but for a brief moment we might appreciate this is one of the best Calder races this century, featuring two incredible offensive talents.
Anyway, let’s clown these slushie fiends.
The Leafs struck early on a lol goal. Josh Leivo retrieved a puck and handed to Leo Komarov, who fired it parallel to the goal line. Connor Hellebuyck was not properly flush to the post, and the puck trickled in past him for an embarrassing 1-0.
The Jets had some decent pressure as the game settled into a back-and-forth; Blake Wheeler unsurprisingly stood out early. On the Leaf side, Josh Leivo continued his campaign to finally bag a permanent NHL job, charging up the right wing for a shot.
There are three forwards in the NHL who I class as having otherworldly shots: Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, and Patrik Laine. Laine also has a fantastic set-up man in Mark Scheifele. When Scheifele can make a Royal Road pass across the offensive zone to Laine, they sometimes do things like this.
Good God. I mean I’m not happy about it (and not great work by Rielly-Zaitsev), but that is a skill goal. 1-1.
This was a gunfight, and it’s hard to accurately recap all the chances. Hellebuyck, recovering well from his terrible first goal, made a quality toe save on JVR. Matt Martin’s stick exploded to allow Winnipeg a rush, but Martin recovered well to close out the play physically.
Nazem Kadri took the first penalty of the night, retaliating against Dustin Byfuglien after a hit. The Jets struck quickly on the PP. After a filed Zaitsev clear, Byfgulien fired a shot that Andersen couldn’t corral fully, and Bryan Little charged in to chip the rebound over Freddie. 2-1 Jets.
Carrick hurt his shoulder after a hit by Mathieu Perreault.
Here's the Mathieu Perreault hit that took Connor Carrick out of the game. pic.twitter.com/24HAuh91h1— Alec Brownscombe (@MapleLeafsHS) February 22, 2017
After Carrick headed to the room, Roman Polak was promoted to pair with Jake Gardiner. Carrick did not return.
Dustin Byfuglien took Winnipeg’s first penalty of the evening, tripping Auston Matthews. Despite some solid puck movement, Winnipeg’s defenders did a good job getting into shooting lanes, and they kept the puck away from Hellebuyck for the most part. There was one excellent chance where Bozak seemed to miss a wide-open close-side net, much to the frustration of Leaf Twitter.
Roman Polak took a slashing penalty after two-handing Mathieu Perreault’s stick into two pieces. The Jets appeared to stretch their lead to 3-1 after a Byfuglien slapper that Bryan Little tipped, but Little’s stick was ruled too high.
The Leafs had a lot of chances this period, but the Jets capitalized beautifully on the ones they had, and the penalties hurt. The shot attempt numbers were heavily in Toronto’s favour, but they got burned on the powerplay and for letting Laine get open.
The Leafs had the remainder of Polak’s penalty to kill, and they did so, although Nikolaj Ehlers scared us by turnstiling Nikita Soshnikov before it was done. The Jets kept threatening but didn’t cash.
William Nylander had a great little deke to cut around Josh Morrissey, but he wasn’t able to beat Hellebuyck. The Leafs began an excellent run of offensive pressure as the Kadri line got up against the Mark Stuart/Paul Postma pairing and made hay.
Byran Little appeared to have a tap-in for a near-empty net goal, but he spiked the puck over the net. Phew.
The Kadri line continued its strong play with an odd-man rush, but couldn’t convert (yet). Subsequently, Zach Hyman took a high sticking penalty, which the Jets negated after 48 seconds by taking a too many men call. Neither team did much with their fragmented powerplays.
Still, the Leafs’ dominance in the shot attempts finally told. Josh Leivo took a bouncing puck at the blue line and flipped it to spring Nazem Kadri, who stepped around Connor Hellebuyck and put it into the net. 2-2!
Unfortunately the tie was short-lived. Josh Morrissey had a point shot, which Nikolaj Ehlers tipped in past Frederik Andersen. 3-2 Jets.
After Hyman took the puck from him, Ehlers took a hooking call with just over a minute left in the period. William Nylander made a breathtaking pass to hit Leo Komarov, who chipped it into the open net. 3-3.
Unfortunately, that still wasn’t the end of the offence for the period. Kadri and Martin threw a couple of huge hits that the Jets took exception to, and it looked like we were poised for an end-of-period scrum. But: the puck came to Scheifele behind the net; Scheifele hit Laine alone in the high slot, who rifled his second of the night with two seconds left. Credit to Laine, but the Leafs’ defensive effort on this one was atrocious’ maybe they thought the period was over. It was not. 4-3 Jets; the awaited angry scrum ensued.
One of the fun things about hockey is you can dominate in possession, but if you have unfortunate defensive breakdowns against elite offensive players, you can still have problems. The Leafs were miles up in adjusted Corsi, but they got burned in bad situations.
The first chance of the period came off a Jets 3-on-1; William Nylander made a high-risk pass along the Jets’ blue line and the Jets ran it back. They weren’t able to convert, mercifully; Bryan Little looked dangerous coming around the net but lost his handle on the puck.
Scheifele elbowed Leo Komarov in the face; another scrum ensued where Kadri and the Jets’ Chris Thorburn took roughing penalties. Leafs went to the PP.
On said PP: Auston Matthews rifled a puck just wide, that hit the boards behind the net and bounced out the other side. William Nylander swooped in and fired the puck into the open net for the tying goal. Debate amongst yourselves whether the Matthews shot was actually an intentional miss.
4-4. Jesus. [deep breaths]
It looked like Komarov was going to pot a hat trick (!), on a great pass by Kadri, but he hit the post on a one-time play. The Leafs came close again as JVR tipped a Rielly shot just wide.
The Jets, however, were threatening too. Obviously we were all on tenterhooks waiting for Patrik Laine to cap his hat trick. But—in case you hadn’t noticed—the Jets have half a dozen very good forwards in addition to Laine, and they were all buzzing whenever the Leafs made defensive errors, which was more or less constantly.
Dustin Byfuglien got in on a bowling ball rush, cutting around Jake Gardiner and then knocking over Frederik Andersen. Byfuglien was called for goalie interference. The Leafs, unfortunately, didn’t do much with the PP.
With 25 seconds left in the period, Nikolaj Ehlers got rushing out of the Jets’ zone. Auston Matthews took a terrible hooking penalty. While I had approximately eight heart attacks before the third ended, the Leafs got out of the period alive and bagged a point.
The Leafs succeeded in killing the remainder of Matthews’ penalty with some quality 3-on-4 work. After some more panicky exchanges, Matthews managed to spring Jake Gardiner on a two-on-one with William Nylander. Gardiner squared up, and—
We won. Holy shit, we actually won.
- This was absolute madness. The Leafs have had more crazy games this season than I can remember; this is one of the craziest.
- Matthews finished with three assists, Laine with two goals. While Matthews had the point total, this was a banner offensive showing from Laine. His shot on the first goal was the platonic ideal of a one-timer. Don’t admit it to the Jets fans, but he’s going to be a top-five scorer in the NHL for quite some time.
- Matthews though.
- The Leafs absolutely crushed the Jets in Corsi. Like, to a staggering degree. No Leaf finished under 52% in adj. 5v5 CF% (Matthews, oddly enough) and no Jet finished above 44% (Wheeler.) Laine finished at 28%. No matter what quality of chances the Leafs were giving up (and they were good ones), you should win most games where you have two-thirds of the shot attempts at evens.
- This was a really tough night for the Rielly-Zaitsev pairing. They looked bad on three goals, including both of Laine’s, and it was once again striking how they aren’t quite an adequate shutdown pairing. They’re good! A good offensive duo. But their limitations were shown up tonight.
- Several Leaf forwards had great showings. Leivo, Kadri and Komarov were on fire, and had super-dominant possession showings.
- But one guy deserves his own bullet point. William Nylander is so good at powerplays it’s unfair. His pass to Leo Komarov was just gorgeous. You’ll think I’m being too cute, but if you ask me, the winner of tonight’s rookie duel was our fair-haired boy Willie.
- Connor Carrick seems set to miss at least a couple of games; Mike Babcock indicated Alexey Marchenko may get his crack at the lineup, as the Leafs’ next RHD.
- I wouldn’t say Freddie was really bad on any of the goals—two Laine one-timers, a tip, and a rebound off a Byfuglien point shot are all pretty understandable—but you’d like your starter to do better than .800 most nights. The Leafs need a little more from Andersen than they’ve been getting if they’re going to make the playoffs.
- Speaking of which: at time of writing, the Leafs hold the third seed in the Atlantic by one point over Florida and Boston (they’re now even with Boston in GP, while Florida has a game in hand.) The Isles are also just one point back of them, should the Leafs wind up gunning for the wild card.
- This team is going to make me old before my time, but damn, they’re exciting. Next game is Thursday night against the Rangers.