The Columbus Blue Jackets came to town to take on the Leafs on Monday night, in a matchup that featured two of the top four teams in the standings. Both Sergei Bobrovsky and Frederik Andersen are tough to beat, so this looked bound to be a lower scoring game than we’re used to.
The Leafs were breaking out of their zone well to start this game, and the team had three two-on-one rushes within the first seven minutes. Tyler Ennis hit the crossbar with a slap-shot while on a two-on-one with Frederik Gauthier, but the Leafs simply couldn’t capitalize on these chances in the early-going.
The third two-on-one led to a scramble out in-front of Bobrovsky, but Connor Brown hit the post instead of finding the back of a fairly open net. While the Leafs were being out-shot throughout the start of this game, it sure felt like the Leafs should have an early lead. With six minutes to go, Nazem Kadri’s line continued to threaten Bobrovsky thanks to a strong shift, but it was the Blue Jackets who found a way to get on the scoreboard first.
Around the five minute mark, Ron Hainsey’s innocent-looking clearing attempt took an unexpected bounce and barely made it five feet. The puck landed at the feet of Pierre-Luc Dubois, and he made a nice cross-ice pass to an open Cam Atkinson, who made no mistake:
1-0 Columbus on Atkinson’s goal (13), assisted by Dubois (9).
The Blue Jackets quickly began to out-play the Leafs for the rest of the period, and Artemi Panarin came close to scoring just a couple of shifts later. Right when it looked like this game would remain 1-0 heading into the intermission, Nikita Zaitsev had a rough shift against that same Panarin line:
2-0 Columbus on Dubois’ goal (10), assisted by Atkinson (9) and Panarin (17).
The Leafs were trailing 13-6 in shots on goal, 19-14 in shot attempts, but the expected goals battle was just about even. There were no penalties this period.
This period started with a couple of odd-man rushes, as Marner line broke in on a three-on-two, then Zach Werenski hit the side of the net on a two-on-one. Frankly, the first half of this period was quite boring, with no penalties on either side, and minimal scoring chances. The Tavares line was getting outplayed by the Panarin line, and it’s tough to expect much offence from the lines centred by Par Lindholm and Frederik Gauthier.
Finally, with seven minutes to go, an outstanding individual effort from Tyler Ennis got the Leafs on the scoreboard:
Columbus 2, Toronto 1 on Ennis’ goal (3) of the season, “assisted” by Gauthier (2) and Hainsey (7).
Andersen stopped Josh Anderson on a partial breakaway a few minutes later, and the Leafs rewarded their goalie by generating some offensive zone time. Let’s call this this the TSN turning point of this period, as shortly after, Kapanen found Marner with a nice stretch pass, and #16 made his magic happen:
The Leafs tie the game at 2-2 on Tavares’ goal (13), assisted by Marner (21) and Kapanen (7).
What an outstanding play by Marner. Tavares must love playing with him, and it sure was weird seeing Kapanen on the other end of a stretch pass. The Leafs trailed 25-17 on the shot clock after two, but were leading 39-37 in shot attempts, and carried 54% of the expected goals share.
The Leafs did not have a shot on goal in the first five minutes, and Andersen had to make a nice glove save through traffic to keep this game scoreless. This period was pretty uneventful heading into the first commercial break, and there were still no penalties in this game.
Who knows what was said during this commercial break, but everything started to open up as soon as play resumed. The Marner line created a couple of good chances against Bobrovsky, then the Panarin line jumped on to return the favour on the very next shift. The game remained tied after the first half of this period, and every player continued to refuse to take a penalty.
Andersen kept this game tied with a few big saves, and the Leafs were really starting to chase play. Out of all the Leafs, Dermott was having the toughest time:
In a tied game with five minutes to go, Mike Babcock sent out the Tavares line on short rest after the Blue Jackets iced the puck. Hyman took the face-off on his strong side, Tavares came in to poke the puck back to Rielly, and Rielly shot for the deflection. Hyman headed straight to his office following the face-off win, and tipped home the puck to give the Leafs a 3-2 lead:
3-2 Toronto on Hyman’s goal (2), assisted by Rielly (17) and Tavares (12). There was just 4:22 remaining in the period.
The Blue Jackets pulled their goalie in the final minutes, and while they gave the Leafs a bit of a scare, Andersen was up to the challenge. An empty net goal from Hyman sealed this game for the Leafs, and Marner picked up another assist on the play, because he doesn’t have enough of those.
4-2 Toronto on Hyman’s empty net goal (3), assisted by Marner (22) and Hainsey (8).
Final Thoughts (Toronto 4, Columbus 2)
There were no penalties! Do the refs still get paid? The Leafs lost the battle on the shot clock, but Andersen played well, and this was a pretty even game in terms of expected goals. Marner continues to be incredible, and both Hyman and Ennis stepped up in a big way.
The Leafs could really use Matthews and Nylander back, as their forward depth looked quite weak tonight, and their bottom lines couldn’t generate many chances. Still, this was a nice comeback win against a tough opponent, and the Leafs will certainly take the two points.