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Leafs Blast Sharks 5-3

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Kasperi Kapanen leads the Leafs to a win in San Jose.

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

The Leafs continued their California road swing tonight by journeying to San Jose.

Elliotte Friedman had a sombre factoid before the opening faceoff about how Erik Karlsson has more points against the Leafs than any other franchise. Can we retire these player-against-team stats? I know I’m setting him up to crush us tonight but like, the Leafs were garbage and in his division for most of his career prior to now. This is not a very meaningful number!

First Period

I like the anthem singer in San Jose better than Martina because she doesn’t do the key change in O Canada. I will not be accepting replies on this point.

The Sharks don’t like Nazem Kadri because he ripped out part of Joe Thornton’s beard a while back. This hurts them early as the Sharks take an early penalty trying to hassle him. Leafs to the power play eight seconds in.

An aggressive Sharks PK mostly holds off Toronto during the powerplay itself, though Tyler Ennis makes a nice play to Josh Leivo that he tips wide. Right after the power play ends, though, the man with the magic touch, John Tavares, centres the puck from behind the net and banks it in off Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s skate. 1-0 Leafs!

Love ya, Johnny Pajamas.

The Sharks charge back hard; a point shot makes its way through and Andersen has to make a solid leg-out save to hold off a rebound. The fourth line then turns the play up ice and, as is their habit, gets a lot of zone time without quite getting the puck to the danger areas. There are worse things for a fourth line to do, I guess.

Strong shift from the Tavares line that ends in a Gardiner shot. The Leafs are playing well, so you know what that means: a flukey goal against!

Erik Karlsson (of course) shoots it in, and Andersen is expecting it to come around the boards to the right side, but this one bounces straight out and stays on the left. With Freddie staring in the opposite direction, Sharks forward Kevin Labanc zooms in and shovels it into the mostly-empty net. 1-1. Ah well. Even great goalies have brainfarts.

The Sharks run the Tavares line around for a bit and Freddie makes a nice little kick save on Logan Couture. The Leafs’ third line has a nice shift in the Sharks zone with the recently re-energized Andreas Johnsson zipping around in style. Good to see.

The Sharks are trying to murder Nazem Kadri, and it leads to offsetting minors for him and Timo Meier after a spat. It also leads to another Leafs goal after Joe Pavelski coughs it up in the neutral zone (off a pokecheck by Dermott—good work!) Patrick Marleau sails off on a two-on-one with Kasperi Kapanen, hits him with a gorgeous pass, and Kappy absolutely rifles it home. 2-1!

Morgan Rielly takes a chintzy slashing call to give the sharks a 4-on-3 power play (for the first 48 seconds.) Ron Hainsey winds up winning a faceoff. Unfortunately once the Sharks set up they bury the Leafs pretty quick—Brent Burns fires a hard pass through the slot that Joe Pavelski tips in. 2-2.

Timo Meier takes what can only be described as a really dumb retaliatory penalty on Andreas Johnsson, and the Leafs head back to the power play. They don’t cash, though there are some admirable efforts from Morgan Rielly and Tyler Ennis.

Sharks sustain some heavy o-zone time here and the Leafs can’t seem to get the clear before a shot deflects out. There’s some back and forth and then the Leafs just utterly botch a rush against coming off a change. Hainsey can’t figure out where to go; Pavelski throws it to Vlasic and he wires it home with all the time in the world. 3-2 Sharks. Ouch.

The Sharks get one last SOG before the whistle but Freddie saves it.

That was a really sloppy period. The Leafs got their chances and it was wide open, but I wouldn’t say they were the better team, though the Sharks’ temper helped them out. The 5v5 numbers do not favour Toronto at all, and the Leafs best CF line by far was the fourth line and its mostly impotent shooting. Tavares continues to be deadly and Tyler Ennis is working his ass off for a goal that never seems to be coming, but the team also got run around in its zone as per usual, including a couple of failed clears from the golden boy Travis D. Hainsey looked pretty rough out there. For the Sharks, Pavelski is sizzling and their defence is obviously strong, but man, we don’t have to make it so easy, do we?

Second Period

Well, would you look at that? After a hell of a lot of hard work and not a lot of chances, Tyler Ennis and Josh Leivo get away on a two-on-one. Ennis hits Leivo with the pass, and Leivo shows off some of that famous shooting ability and snipes it home. 3-3.

Honestly, those guys earned it. I’ve really liked Ennis’ effort especially of late, he’s small but he has some hands and he plays his heart out.

I wouldn’t quite say this is now a well-played game defensively, but it’s a little less crazy. That said, Martin Jones went swimming away from his crease for a bit and was lucky the Leafs couldn’t get a shot set up into the empty net.

The fascinatingly-named Rourke Chartier takes an elbowing penalty, and the Leafs head back to the power play. Toronto doesn’t do much with it; the second unit finally gets set up at the end to give Josh Leivo the best chance of the two minutes. We remain tied.

After some more back and forth, Zach Hyman takes down Justin Braun in the course of a puck battle and the Sharks head to the PP. And holy shit Kasperi Kapanen!

Kappy on a breakaway is pure money. That’s all I can say. 4-3 Leafs. The chastened Sharks PP gets a couple of good looks and Brent Burns rings a post, but no cigar.

Connor Brown just deked a guy! Not much comes of it but it was very nice and I wanted to share this moment with you.

Ennis gets in alone on a break, but this time Martin Jones makes the save. He and his line then sustain some zone time. I’ll say it again, this fourth line is absolutely grinding now, and I’m sure Mike Babcock is impressed with them. The third line follows this up with another pressure shift.

The Leafs continue buzzing for the rest of the period, though they don’t score again. A nice play by the third line in the dying seconds ends with a wide miss by Par Lindholm.

This was definitely a better period for the Leafs than the first, and I don’t just say that because they won the goals count 2-0 (though it doesn’t hurt.) Kasperi Kapanen has pretty definitively established himself as a top six NHL forward and a deadly PK threat. They’re not generally high percentage shots, but the fourth line is doing work out there and it was nice to see them rewarded (Gauthier has a point now, even if it’s a secondary assist.) Good to see.

Aside: Travis Dermott is having a very weird game to my eye test. He’s got great shot totals due to a ludicrous differential while playing with Gauthier (10 for, 0 against!) and yet he’s had multiple really odd sloppy moments, including one where I was shouting IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU like he was a character in a horror film. He did have that nice pokecheck to start the rush on the first Kappy goal though.

Third Period

The fourth line and then the Kadri line have successive decent shifts. Erik Karlsson and Joe Thornton, who even now are a terrifying o-zone combination, dance around the Leafs and have a scary moment with Andersen well out of his net. Toronto escapes okay.

After all those unusual nice things I’ve said about him, Gauthier takes a really dumb interference penalty. Zach Hyman charges away on an early SH rush and rings the post with a clapper. Lindholm and Kapanen subsequently have a SH rush of their on, but Kappy can’t field the flip pass from Lindholm. These are the highlights of a pretty solid Leafs PK, which gets through the two minutes without much trouble.

There’s some rapid end-to-end action, a sequence which eventually ends with Connor Brown getting absolutely rocked by Brendan Dillon and tumbling offside.

More fast play, highlighted by the star of the night who is fastest of all—Kasperi Kapanen cuts in on Martin Jones and forces him to make a great save to fend off the hat trick.

Freddie Andersen decides to see what all this stretch pass business is about, and hits Mitch Marner with one. Marner corrals it, dances into the zone, and fires a shot bar down to push the Leafs’ lead to 5-3. Hot damn.

Kadri gets into a nasty altercation with Melker Karlsson behind the net where they punch each other in the head and then Kadri comes away with Karlsson’s stick, then just tosses it away with the purest contempt you can imagine. It’s beautiful. They get matching double minors.

The Sharks look very, very dangerous 6-on-5 in the closing minutes, with Joe Pavelski missing what appears to be a wide-open net from the side. The Leafs hang on, though, with the Tavares line putting in a good last-minute shift to seal things off. 5-3 is your final.

Thoughts

  • This was Kasperi Kapanen’s night. He scored two terrific goals and was absolutely flying out there. Just an outstanding night for a player who is having a breakout season.
  • The San Jose Sharks were very, very mad at Nazem Kadri all night. Kadri, in his inimitable style, managed to get the better of these exchanges on the whole, since he got one extra powerplay for the Leafs out of it and his other two exchanges led to coincidental penalties. If teams want to be dumb with Naz, well, so be it.
  • Dumb penalty for Gauthier mars what was a nice night for his line on the whole. Good work from them as well as the third line; if they can run play against good teams it makes it a lot easier for us to survive the absence of Matthews and (sigh) Nylander.
  • Meant to add this: there is a non-zero chance Mitch Marner is going to finish top three in points this year. He’s on pace for 108, and this wasn’t even that dazzling a game by his lofty standards (until the goal, which was ridiculous.) What a player.
  • The defence looked iffy in the first and it wasn’t perfect thereafter, but it got the job done. Freddie was excellent.
  • The Sharks look a lot like a team that has two outstanding offensive defencemen leading its lineup. There were a lot of rush chances both ways. The Leafs won the CF% battle (despite the shots on goal) but expected goals were against us; I am going to exercise my Eye Test Privileges and say I think we were the better team on the whole. Not a flawless game by any stretch, but one the Leafs can feel good about.
  • Real glad I stayed up for an exciting win. Toronto heads to Anaheim tomorrow hoping to sweep their California trip against our old blog enemy, Randy Carlyle. Go Leafs Go!