The New York Rangers came to town tonight for another key match-up. The Rangers are in the weird position of dueling Columbus for a Metropolitan third seed both have reason not to want (the third seed will probably play Pittsburgh in round one, while the first wild card will draw a weaker Atlantic team.) The Leafs, of course, want every point they can get as they try to hang onto the third seed in the Atlantic.
The first really good chance of the game came off an uncharacteristically bad giveaway by Auston Matthews to Derek Stepan. Stepan and Nash then had a two-on-one, which ended with Frederik Andersen making an excellent save on Nash.
At the other end, Jake Gardiner fired one of his now-patented seeing-eye shots through traffic, but Henrik Lundqvist stopped it.
The Rangers threatened again as the Zuccarello line made hay around the slot. Again, Andersen made the save. There was a subsequent bad shift where the Bozak line failed repeatedly to exit the zone. It was not a great opening ten for the home squad.
Despite this, the Leafs struck first eleven minutes in. Jake Gardiner fired a point shot that Bozak tipped in on Lundqvist; Connor Brown drove to the net and flipped the rebound over Lundy. 1-0 Leafs!
Back down the other end, Chris Kreider threw a cross-zone pass to Mika Zibanejad, not totally unlike the Scheifele-to-Laine opening goal last game. Andersen got over laterally quick enough to stop it for a spectacular save.
The game’s first penalty went to Chris Kreider, who hooked Nazem Kadri trying to stop Naz from getting to a loose puck in the corner. The powerplay led to an absolutely spectacular save—by Frederik Andersen. A botched hold attempt at the line by Gardiner led to a two on one for Ryan McDonagh and Michael Grabner, which ended with Grabner apparently staring at an open net. Andersen, so far as I can tell, teleported to make the save. It was insane.
The rest of the PP was a complete mess, as the Leafs handled the puck like a hot potato.
The best shift towards the end of the period, surprisingly, went to the fourth line. Soshnikov rushed the puck in, and he, Gauthier, Martin, and the Gardiner-Marchenko pairing proceeded to have a merry minute running the Rangers around, including a point-blank shot for Matt Martin. Nonetheless, the period ended 1-0 Leafs.
Nick Kypreos described this as “the most undeserved 1-0 lead they’ve had all season long.” This was a bit strong—the Leafs were surprisingly close to even in 5v5 attempts—but Andersen had to make three stellar saves, including one that was damn near impossible. The Leafs’ powerplay was almost their worst of the year (“almost” because I distinctly recall them getting slaughtered for a SHG against Carolina, so I’m still giving the edge to that one.) Big takeaway: Andersen was great.
Andersen continued to impress as the period got underway, clearing pucks out of his crease and seeing the game well.
There was a strange quality chance at one point for the Leafs—a puck came down on Lundqvist, and he came out to play it; the Leafs recovered, and the puck came to JVR in the very high slot before Lundy was totally settled in his net. JVR fired a wrister off the far post. Shortly after, Matthews fired a high shot that Lundy grabbed out of the air with elan. After that, Andersen made another stunning save on a partial break for Oscar Lindberg.
In a surprise twist, Frederik Gauthier and Nikita Soshnikov got in on a two-on-one. Gauthier’s pass was juuuust a little too hot for Sosh, or we may well have seen a fourth-line goal. This led into an excellent shift from the Matthews line where they threatened regularly.
The pace of the game seemed to hit top gear after this, and these are two offensively very potent teams. Zibanejad’s line had an excellent shift running the Leafs around their own end.
Frederik Gauthier took the puck and drove in towards Henrik Lundqvist, and knocked the goalie over. That was enough to book him for two minutes, and the Rangers got their first PP.
Connor Brown had a partial break shorthanded, but lost his handle on the puck; this was actually the best chance on the PP. Shortly after it ended, Nazem Kadri got a partial break of his own which Lundqvist stopped. I believe this is officially the point at which the game was fairly characterized as a goalie duel.
The Nash line had another terrifying shift where they ran the Leafs around for an extended stretch. The highlight involved Nash essentially wearing Marchenko like a cape. Josh Leivo, who had a gross giveaway earlier, made up for it by stick checking a streaking Chris Kreider.
Andersen made another save on a spinning shot from Brandon Pirri. Then yet another on Derek Stepan. A terrified voice in my head was screaming “this is unsustainable.”
Connor Brown drew a tripping penalty. As is his habit, Michael Grabner streaked up the LW on the PK and made a decent shot in on Andersen. The period ended shortly thereafter, still, incredibly, 1-0, with the Leafs still on the PP.
The Leafs had a few good chances this period—even at their worst they usually do. But they were getting swarmed. Frederik Andersen’s performance this period was superhuman. I did not feel at all good heading to the third.
The powerplay in the third featured another Grabner break. Good God. Right at the very end (:01) of the power play, the Rangers took another penalty—Rick Nash tripping Rielly. Unfortunately, the Leaf PP continued its impotence; Andersen had to kick aside a shot from Stepan on yet another odd man rush. The Leafs finally did get one good chance at the very end, a jam play from JVR, but didn’t convert.
The Rangers just kept on coming. It was hard not to feel a sense of inevitability; the Rangers were just playing too well not to score. Nikita Zaitsev took a tripping penalty stopping Mats Zuccarello from getting in alone on Andersen.
The dam finally burst towards the end of the penalty. Brandon Pirri fired a shot off the backboards that came out the other side to Kevin Hayes; Hayes shot it off Andersen’s pad, and J.T Miller buried the rebound for the tying goal. 1-1.
The goal, by the way, was the 20,000th against in the history of the Leafs’ franchise. Woo.
Bozak and JVR had a two-on-one as they sought to restore the lead, but Bozak’s attempted pass was blocked by Nick Holden. Matthews and friends had a neat effort where Hyman and Matthews both tried for point-blank shots, but were unable to get them.
The Leafs got into an awkward rut where they kept icing the puck. At one point during this sequence, Nylander made a spectacular tip on a Matt Hunwick point shot, but narrowly missed. There was also an entertaining moment as Leo Komarov tried to do a stick exchange to buy rest time on an icing. The referee basically pulled Komarov back to the play.
JVR had a lovely chance on a wraparound that Lundy had to kick out into the slot, but no one was available to cash the rebound. The Rangers had a late flurry led by the Stepan line.
The Leafs had their best chance of the period when Zach Hyman hit Rielly with a Royal Road pass in front of the crease. Rielly fired at an empty net and hit the post. Morgan was clearly pretty down; he was head down on the bench thereafter.
That was it for regulation. Both teams nabbed a point and we went to OT.
It’s very hard to recap a 3-on-3 coherently, but the Rangers had the better of it. Gardiner made a giveaway and then made a goal-saving check on Grabner on the subsequent chance. Beyond that it was a ton of sustained NYR pressure. The Leafs didn’t really get on the attack until the final minute, but they did it in style.
Hyman sprung Leo Komarov for a breakaway but Komarov was unable to beat Lundqvist five-hole. Hyman had a great attempted redirect on a Rielly pass that missed the net. Matthews had a breakaway too, but couldn’t beat Lundy either. Then Rick Nash had a chance defended by Nylander—Nylander worked him off the puck, but Nash escaped and was stoned by Andersen with his pad.
Shootouts suck. Matthews had a nice goal, that was it. Anyway, the Rangers won, forget about it.
- Andersen was superhuman prior to the shootout. Forget about the shootout, where he got beat, he was the only reason the Leafs were at all close in this one. They gave up far too many chances in this one, especially in the first two periods, and he kept them in it.
- Lundqvist was also outstanding; the Leafs did get some good chances, and Lundy was equal to almost all of them. But Andersen had more work.
- The Kreider-Zibanejad-Zuccarello line ate the Kadri line alive. It was brutal. They got slammed in attempts and in chances and were almost totally ineffective in their customary shutdown role. Josh Leivo, who has heretofore been very impressive, generally had a pretty poor night. No other Leafs forward line was actually that bad (they were all in the 47-54% range in adjusted Corsi.) Kadri was 27%, Leivo 17%, and Komarov 15%. Even granted the Zibanejad line is one of the best offensive trios in the NHL—I have an enormous hockey crush on Mats Zuccarello’s game—this was a rough showing.
- Here is your reminder that Rick Nash occasionally does ridiculous power forward stuff.
- Alexey Marchenko had a respectable showing in his first game as a Leaf, although partnering with Gardiner usually helps with that. He narrowly led the D-corps in adj. Corsi and generally made safe plays, although he had one blooper giveaway in his own zone in the third. I would happily start him over Polak once Carrick is healthy, but then, that was true before this game as well.
- The best chances on the Leafs’ powerplay were pretty much all Michael Grabner’s. The Rangers’ aggressive PK shut ‘em right down, and threatened considerably the other way.
- I really ought to be happy with a point, considering, but this was a disappointing performance. The Leafs were collectively not good enough tonight, showing off their worst tendencies. It’s hardly the end of the world, and they’re never without scoring chances of their own, and the Rangers have a fantastic forward group. But it was a rough day out.
- The Leafs, at time of writing, were clinging to the third seed in the Atlantic, and they will technically hold it due to tie-breaking rules up to Saturday (though Boston and Florida could both be tied with them in points by then.) In other news—don’t look now, but the Leafs are four points back of Montreal, with a game in hand...and the Leafs play the Habs Saturday night.