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Leafs vs. Sharks Recap: Jaws

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Leafs lose 3-1 in a game that was not as close as it sounds.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at San Jose Sharks John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs journeyed to San Jose tonight to take on the grand old men of the Sharks. Brent Burns and Joe Thornton both continue to lead the league in mountain beards.

On the Leafs’ side, this was the first game for new Leafs’ 4C Brian Boyle, now the tallest Leaf. At the other end of the height spectrum, sparkplug rookie RW Mitch Marner was back in the lineup tonight.

First Period

Boyle and his new friends got the first shift, but aside from Boyle losing a d-zone faceoff :(, things were uneventful. The first few minutes were mostly neutral zone scuffling for a few minutes. The first really good chance came when Nazem Kadri found Leo Komarov wide open in front of the net, but Komarov couldn’t beat Martin Jones despite multiple point-blank whacks at the puck.

Kadri and co. generated another chance when Naz nearly banked a puck in off Brent Burns’ skate.

The Sharks were moving well, but their first really good chance came on a two-on-one led by an aggressive Marc-Edouard Vlasic rush. Vlasic fired a shot Andersen was obliged to kick out into the slot, but the Leafs successfully cleared before the Sharks could hit the rebound.

The Sharks followed this up with a very strong sustained sequence in the Leafs’ zone, which nearly ended in a goal for the teal team. A point shot rifled in on Andersen and he struggled to corral it; Joel Ward nearly whacked a rebound past the sprawling Leaf goalie. Morgan Rielly got the emergency clear to save the situation.

The Leafs had a nice shift where Nylander just played keepaway in the Sharks’ zone for a bit. The Sharks responded with another pressure shift, one that ended with a Brent Burns SOG.

The first PP of the game went to the Sharks, as Morgan Rielly took an interference penalty. Brian Boyle had a bit of a rough go in his first Leafs PK, as did the Leafs as a whole; the Sharks had five (!) SOG on the PP, and only some excellent work by Andersen kept the game scoreless.

Having relied on Andersen to save them, the Leafs seemed to decide to just keep doing that, and they were absolutely besieged for the remainder of the period. The Leafs basically couldn’t move through the neutral zone, and when they were in their own zone, the Sharks devoured them. Nonetheless, they escaped the period tied 0-0, which was about as much as could be hoped.

It was bad in this one. The Kadri line had such chances as the Leafs managed, in the first part of the period before they totally fell apart. But it was a rough, rough 20 minutes.

Second Period

The Leafs looked marginally more alive to start the second, with a decent chance from the Bozak line. (There was also an icing call in the Leafs’ favour that was definitely wrong, but it didn’t lead anywhere. Feels only fair to acknowledge it.)

The Sharks had a particularly good chance—I can’t list all of theirs or I’ll run out of room—when Tomas Hertl made a neat move to set up Joel Ward point-blank. Andersen made another great save. At the other end, Mitch Marner showed his Mitch Marner-ness, whirling around Paul Martin and nearly beating Martin Jones.

The whole shift was generally impressive, and ended with Auston Matthews drawing a hooking penalty on a rush to the net.

The Leafs struck on the PP. William Nylander got the zone entry and hit Leivo on the right wing; Leivo found Auston Matthews in the slot, and Auston Matthews—look, I’m running out of ways to describe Matthews’ shot. Just watch the damn goal. It’s gorgeous.

Unlikely as it seemed, it was 1-0 Leafs.

Unfortunately, all that o-zone pressure by the Sharks finally told a few minutes later. Brendan Dillon fired a cannon top corner past the beleaguered Andersen. 1-1.

The Leafs were a little more alive this period than the last one, especially when Marner or the Matthews line went to work. But the Sharks were still definitely the better team. Logan Couture, after one particularly dominant Sharks sequence, had the entire top half of the net to shoot at over a flopping Andersen, and he fired it over. It was hard to see the Leafs holding the Sharks to one goal.

Bozak and Leivo struggled to complete a two-on-one, and then Marner hit Bozak with just a gorgeous pass. I normally try not to be too hard on Bozak for missing chances—he hits more of them than people realize—but...

He fired this wide.

Joe Pavelski took an interference penalty on Mitch Marner to send the Leafs to their second power play. Mitch Marner hit a post, but that was as close as the Leafs came. The period ended with 17 seconds left in the penalty.

The good news: this was a better period than the first. The bad: when the Sharks got zone time they still ran the Leafs ragged. Mitch Marner was flying in the second, and he seemed determined to drag his line to success...although Bozak was making some mighty poor puck decisions. Still, the Leafs’ PP dazzled, and the Leafs were tied going into the third. It could certainly be worse.

Third Period

The Sharks made a trade mid-game, acquiring Jannik Hansen for prospect Nikolay Goldobin and a conditional fourth. Jim Benning is winning trades now, guys. In other trade news, the Habs acquired Steve Ott, which I mention only because it’s hilarious.

Anyway, back to the game. The Sharks came out hard to start, and the Leafs didn’t generate anything with the remainder of their PP. Kadri generated a partial chance on a rush with Brown, but he fired a shot off Brown’s skate and out.

Polak decided the time was ripe to take a tripping penalty. Much like the first Sharks PP, it took yeoman service from Frederik Andersen to keep the Sharks from scoring.

The penalty ended, the Sharks offence didn’t. Marchenko, having a rough night, got his pocket picked behind the net; Kevin Labanc hit Joe Pavelski alone in front, but Andersen, again, made the save.

Brenden Dillon high-sticked Connor Brown, sending the Leafs back to the PP. There was an ugly stretch that started with what should have been a Sharks off-side. Gardiner rightly objected that the refs should have whistled the play dead, but he seemed to stop playing for a second to argue his case, which let the Sharks get going for a spell in the Leafs zone despite being shorthanded. It was a rough PP.

With so many well-known names, it’s a little surprising when one of the other Sharks decides to dance your team, but that happened for a shift in the third. Sharks rookie Marcus Sorensen had the sort of one-man-army shifts we’re used to seeing one of our big three pull off. He rushed the puck in on Andersen and ran around the zone thereafter.

By this point the ice had tilted so thoroughly towards the Sharks again that there was nothing to do but pray the Leafs would hang on for a point. And...they didn’t.

With 83 seconds left, Patrick Marleau rushed in and gave the puck to Brent Burns. Burns gave it to Hertl, and Hertl fired it over Andersen. 2-1.

Pavelski added an empty-netter to seal the game at 3-1.

Thoughts

  • This was a miserable game to watch. Apart from a couple of blissful moments in the second by the Holy Trinity and a very solid showing by Andersen, the Leafs were awful. Corsi tells me the Kadri line was positive, as was the Hunlak pairing; I will say that apart from the obligatory Polak penalty, our third pair was competent tonight.
  • Gardiner-Marchenko had their worst night as a pairing. Rielly got torched on several plays and killed in CF%. Our new fourth line did poorly in limited minutes, other than hitting some people. Our penalty kill was butt. Bozak was a black hole for scoring chances fed him by Marner. JVR made me want to trade him tomorrow. Hockey is bad and we should change to another sport.
  • Okay, okay, I’m messing around. But more seriously, it’s pretty unpleasant to throw a point away when we seemed likely to scrape one with 83 seconds left. The Leafs are rapidly falling back from the top three in the Atlantic, and their grip on the second Wild Card (for the privilege of being crushed by Washington in Round One) is very tenuous. Every point lost hurts.
  • Andersen was excellent and we would never have been within two periods of winning this game without him. It’s a little unfortunate he got beat on two clean shots, but they were both perfectly placed, and he was easily our best player. Matthews had a great shot, Nylander was good on the PP, and Marner had a couple of impressive shifts. That’s it.
  • Deep teams who are strong in the neutral zone and against the cycle tend to make the Leafs look bad. St. Louis did it to us recently and the Sharks did it tonight. They seemed to come in waves, but rookie Sorensen (in limited minutes), Joel Ward, and of course Burns stood out to me as being the most dangerous Sharks tonight. The Sharks’ D as a whole did an excellent job holding the Leafs’ zone and very rarely getting caught for odd-man rushes. It’s trite to fall back on a cliche of slick-youngsters-meet-experienced-vets, but the Sharks simply made way fewer mistakes.
  • Okay, well, it’s done, anyway. Leafs play the Kings on Thursday. Gulp.