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Leafs vs. Blues Recap: Loser Points Are Okay

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Andersen’s quality showing gets the Leafs into overtime, where they lose 2-1.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Blues came to Toronto tonight, in a rematch of last week’s game. I recapped that one, and it didn’t go so hot. Noted man who is actually still alive Josh Leivo drew into the lineup at 4RW, replacing Nikita Soshnikov.

First Period

The Leafs had the first early chance, as Matthews and Nylander combined for some heavy offensive pressure that ended with Nylander hitting the far post past Jake Allen.

Josh Leivo seemed determined to make the most of his first game in months, charging the net with ferocity and even getting Ben Smith a chance. Leivo actually had one of the more creditable Leaf performances in a period where most of the skaters looked bad.

Unfortunately, despite some good early pressure, it was the Blues who got the first goal. Jake Gardiner made an unfortunate giveaway which the Blues recovered. After some more scrambling, Jaden Schwartz hit Magnus Paajarvi; Paajarvi fired a shot which Patrick Berglund recovered off the rebound, and Berglund scored off the post. 1-0 St. Louis.

The goal seemed to deflate the Leafs; they were caught scrambling on the goal and thereafter were unable to stop scrambling.

After some more unfortunate skirmishing, Auston Matthews (!) took a rare penalty, hooking Magnus Paajarvi down. The Leafs killed the penalty well, keeping shorthanded pressure up led by bulldogs Hyman and Komarov. The penalty kill was actually the best the Leafs looked in the last fifteen minutes of the period.

The Leafs had a few decent shifts, but when the Blues got into the Leafs’ zone, man it turned out ugly. Frederik Andersen made a very patient glove save while lying sideways like a pin-up model.

This was a really ugly period. The Leafs were absolutely shelled in shots and attempts against, and were stone-cold bullied by the Blues in their own zone. They simply could not get the puck back anytime the opposition set up. For whatever it’s worth, the Leafs did actually look good in the first couple of minutes, so...there’s that. But this was a very bad start.

Second Period

The Leafs came out looking somewhat better in the second than the first, though that’s a jump over a two-inch hurdle. The Blues still wreaked havoc on the Leafs below the goal line and whenever they set up; one moment where Nikita Zaitsev got his pocket picked by Jaden Schwartz particularly stood out to me.

The Leafs had their first really solid chance of the period seven minutes in, as Bozak fired a quick shot from the slot that nearly eluded Jake Allen. The game subsequently opened up a bit, with chances at both ends (which was better than the earlier version of chances only at one end.)

Ben Smith made a surprisingly effective offensive rush, holding the blue line and then cutting in at the net. Nice work, Ben.

Andersen was still being called on to make quality saves on a pretty regular basis. Without him, the game would have been 3-0 or worse by the halfway point. If you were seriously contemplating turning to Curtis McElhinney as the Leafs’ everyday starter down the stretch, please dunk your head in some ice water.

The Leafs really struggled to get to the danger areas in this period, although there was a surprisingly dangerous shift with the odd mixed-line group of Matthews, Smith and Leivo.

However, in defiance of the flow of play, the Leafs finally struck late in the frame. Komarov won a d-zone draw and got it to Rielly, who got it to Nazem Kadri. Kadri went on a strong rush and made a nice shot to generate a rebound into the slot. The rebound was tipped slightly by Nylander before Rielly fired it into a half-open net. 1-1!

Despite a good shift by Matthews late where he nearly scored, the period ended tied. This was a better period than the first, but the Leafs really did struggle to get dangerous chances, as well as regularly getting pinned in their zone. To some extent, as Jake Gardiner goes, so go the Leafs, and Jake Gardiner was having a bad night. Still, the Leafs at least managed to come on a bit in the late going. Being tied going into the third in a game where you’ve been outplayed ain’t bad.

Of note: Paul Stastny took an injury in this period and did not wind up returning.

Third Period

Rielly was flying to start the third, stepping up in spite of his nagging ankle sprain.

Mitch Marner blocked a puck with his arm. Marner was clearly stung but stayed on the ice and in the game.

The Leafs seemed much more alive in the third period, getting more possession and more offensive time. During one shift, JVR drew a penalty with Alex Pietrangelo holding his stick in front of the net—only the second penalty of the game, after Matthews’ hooking call in the first.

The extremely aggressive Blues PK unit did a good job preventing the Leafs from operating freely, though it still had a good chance from Kadri (and an appearance for Josh Leivo on the second unit.) Jake Gardiner duffed a shot right at the end of the PK, and Alex Pietrangelo got a break coming out of the box. Andersen stopped both the breakaway and a chance subsequent to the shot.

The Blues are a good team, and they’re a tough match for us, but they’re not good enough that we should look as bad as we did in the first. The Leafs heated up considerably in the third and finally started to make Jake Allen earn his money.

Mitch Marner had what looked like a sure goal on a partial break; he got in on Allen and deked him out, but the puck bounced just enough to stop him finishing the play. Marner continued to generate thereafter, nearly rushing Jake Allen into a clearing error. Nikita Zaitsev made a good play to neutralize a two-on-one back the other way, and we had an extended stretch of action where the Leafs looked as dangerous as usual.

There were some tense moments on defence too, including one where the puck came suddenly through the Leaf crease with Andersen facing away. The Leafs almost took the lead with three seconds left (!), as Leo Komarov knocked a puck loose in through Jake Allen, but the whistle had clearly gone before the puck went in. The Leafs couldn’t generate a shot on the final play of the frame, and we went to OT.

The third period was the Leafs’ best by orders of magnitude, highlighted by a fantastic showing from Mitch Marner. Getting a point, after how the early part of the game went, felt miraculous...

Overtime

...and we’d have to settle for it, because Tarasenko ended the game very quickly in overtime. What a shot.

Thoughts

  • Andersen got this team a point. Simple as that. That’s really the story of this game; the rest is detail.
  • The Leafs were very bad for the last sixteen minutes of the first. It was probably one of the worst five periods they’ve had all season. The Blues just cycled around them and played shooting gallery, and the Leafs couldn’t exit the zone worth a damn. After that, they were modestly outplayed in the second and much stronger in the third. They could easily have won this game there, which is more than I would have dared hope in the first intermission.
  • This was a weird, weird night for possession numbers. Roman Polak was the best Corsi player on the Leafs, and Jake Gardiner was the worst. This is exactly opposite to normal. The Leafs’ fourth line did well in controlled situations; Josh Leivo is a good offensive player if he can get zone time, and tonight he did.
  • Gunnarsson-Shattenkirk is a pairing to be feared. They gave the Leafs hell all night.
  • Vladimir Tarasenko was the worst Corsi player on the Blues and it mattered very little, because he is one of those players who can destroy you with one shot. He did it in overtime; he froze Kadri and Komarov and then beat Andersen clean. What a sniper.
  • This is fun:
  • The Leafs did not get much help on the out-of-town scoreboard tonight, as Ottawa and Boston both won. The three teams fighting for second and third in the Atlantic now sit at: Ottawa, 62 points in 52 GP; Toronto, 61 points in 53 GP; and Boston, 60 points in 56 GP. It’s not a bad spot to be in, but it’s by no means secure. Next game is against Buffalo on Saturday night.