The Chicago Blackhawks came to town tonight, and there was much narrativizing about whether the Leafs can mimic the Hawks semi-dynasty. The Leafs were wearing their hideous green St. Pats jerseys, in tribute to their badly-dressed ancestor team.
The early exchanges consisted of point shots through traffic, which both Corey Crawford and Frederik Andersen gloved smartly. The first really good chance of the night went to Mitch Marner, who took the puck off Johnny Oduya at the line and streaked up-ice for a breakaway. Unfortunately, Marner couldn’t corral a rolling puck, and Corey Crawford held his ground for the save.
Patrick Kane had a very dangerous play about four and a half minutes in, coming in two-on-one and firing a sharp wrister off Andersen’s blocker.
The Leafs had the first goal, and it was a huge one. Zach Hyman got the puck to Auston Matthews, who carried it through the neutral zone; Matthews threw the puck to right wing William Nylander and went to the net. Nylander passed it back, and Matthews chipped it past Crawford for the 1-0 lead.
The Hawks pushed back with some quality shifts, led primarily by the Kane line—the Hawks’ top-heavy lineup has only gotten top-heavier due to injuries. Still, the Leafs played generally competent defence, until a glaringly bad shift with about three and a half minutes left necessitated two big saves from Andersen.
The Matthews line continued to impress, although the star on the later shift of the period was William Nylander, who had an impressive rush of his own. Aside from a bit of rushing by the Hawks’ top line, that was all she wrote for the period.
This was a solid enough period of the Leafs, who played the Hawks a little better than even, so far as I could tell. The Hawks’ best forward was their 1RW, but the Leafs didn’t allow too many chances from the rest of the lineup. The Matthews line looked the most dangerous to me throughout, though that may be biased due to the goal. All in all, good period for the boys in
The Hawks came out quick, with John Hayden getting a good chance off the pad of Andersen. Andersen subsequently bobbled a wrister from Jonathan Toews, and only some quick work by Nikita Zaitsev closing off Artemi Panarin prevented Panarin from whacking the loose puck into the net.
Chicago had the better of the action in the early second, with some good work by Andersen and a painful-looking shot block from Rielly. The Leafs’ first good opportunity, such as it was, came from the Kadri line, but it wasn’t great. Nylander did subsequently have a laser beam of a shot that hit the crossbar.
The Hawks eventually tied the game on an impressive goal. Brent Seabrook fired a stretch pass up to Jonathan Toews, who had a two-on-one with John Hayden. Toews hit Hayden with a pass; Hayden kicked it to his stick and fired the puck top corner for his first NHL goal. 1-1.
The Matthews line had another strong shift, with some action in the front of the net and an eventual penalty drawn (Johnny Oduya for hooking.) The Leafs went to the powerplay, which featured a spectacular Marner effort to hold the blue line, but the Hawks successfully killed it off.
The Toews line got zone time against the Leafs’ fourth line, and ran them around in unnerving fashion before Nikita Soshnikov got a desperate clear. The Leafs had an absolutely spectacular chance as Zach Hyman beat out an icing and threw the puck to Matthews in the slot; Matthews fired it off the haft of Corey Crawford’s stick, missing what looked like a sure goal. Sigh.
This period was not great. The Leafs got killed in CF%, they got outchanced, they were pinned in their own zone. The Marcus Kruger line gave the Matthews line all sorts of shot attempt trouble, though when the Matthews line got loose against other opposition, they tended to get chances. To be honest, I just felt lucky to get out of the period tied, and I started having that “please get at least a point” feeling that’s usually a bad sign.
The Matthews line once again had the chances to open the third period, with Matthews somehow failing to cash a point-blank chance (Crawford got in front of this one.) I’m glad he cashed one early; these missed chances would have hurt even more if they’d continued his goalless streak.
Toews and Kane combined to scare the daylights out of me in the Leafs’ zone. Tomas Jurco and friends damn near took the lead; a puck went off Marchenko’s skate and then hit the post before being cleared by Morgan Rielly.
Aside from William Nylander, who was probably the best Leaf forward for much of the evening, the Leafs seemed distinctively in “hang on for dear life” mode. The numbers actually suggest they were doing better than they looked, so I may have had doom goggles on.
The Rielly-Marchenko pairing had a wild adventure of a shift where Marchenko nearly gave up a breakaway and then broke up a two-on-one later. After that, Kane ran the puck around wearing Nikita Zaitsev like a cape for a long o-zone shift.
Things were chaotic from there on out. If you were watching, you’ll remember that typical feeling of overstimulated panic. If you weren’t, cultivate a feeling of crippling anxiety and dwell on it for a while.
Despite all that...the Leafs survived to OT, and picked up a point.
The Leafs botched two two-on-ones and then I just started screaming. The Hawks had a bunch of chances. JVR got a break and didn’t score. Eventually, the Hawks got a two-on-one with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Hartman. Hartman did a stutter-step shot and beat Andersen. 2-1 Hawks final.
- The Leafs weren’t great, but they got a point. The Isles lost in OT and the Bolts lost in regulation, so the Leafs’ playoff chances actually improved slightly on the night.
- Matthews and Nylander seemed to have most of the chances; Matthews probably is kicking himself, because he had the game on his stick multiple times. The Bozak line, according to NST, had a good possession game and a bunch of chances, and yet I barely remember anything any of those three did at 5v5. Kadri and friends weren’t bad.
- The Leafs defence didn’t impress all that much, especially Marchenko, who had a rough outing. Rielly was okay, if you want a bright spot, and Jake Gardiner did his best in the OT. For the Hawks, well, Duncan Keith is a very good defenceman.
- The Hawks’ top line was consistently the most offensively impressive, even though it didn’t score. Marcus Kruger is a quality defensive C. The Hawks are a good team, if you were wondering.
- But most of all, this game is about goalies. Andersen was excellent and probably stole the Leafs a point; Corey Crawford made multiple saves that prevented the Leafs stealing two. Andersen’s work mostly came in surviving maniacal scrambles around his net, while Crawford had several super-dangerous chances that he turned aside coolly.
- This was a tense, tense game, and one point against a team of the Hawks’ calibre isn’t terrible. But we’re in every-point-counts territory, and it’s hard not to lament the one the Leafs didn’t get, as much as we’re happy with the one they did.
- Oh well. Next game is Monday against Boston, for a huge game. If the Leafs are going to try for the third seed in the Atlantic, winning Monday would make a huge difference in pursuing that goal.