On a night where William Nylander gave a lot of Leafs fans hope that he was “back”, it was his Finnish doppleganger who stole the show. Kasperi Kapanen opened the night with his 13th goal of the season, then finished it with his 14th in overtime, completing a two-goal Toronto Maple Leafs comeback against the Detroit Red Wings in a 5-4 Sunday night thriller.
Mississauga-native John Tavares featured heavily in the comeback, assisting and scoring on two game-tying goals in the second half of the game, He’s on pace for 53 goals, a feat not accomplished since Dave Andreychuk scored 53 in 1993-94, and if he can get one more, he will tie Ricky Vaive’s record for the Leafs goals in a season of 54 set in 1981-82. Talk about a debut season.
Garret Sparks got his fifth win of the season in only his sixth start. He had a shakey start to the game, but eventually settled in and was really solid. The Leafs clamping down defensively (for the most part) helped him a lot.
Welcome to Hockey Night in Canada, on a Sunday! It’s Hometown Hockey in Mississississ— oh Kappy already scored, oh alright then!
The Kapanen, Matthews, Nylander line is a brilliant concoction of speed, skill, and beautiful hair, and I’m really glad Mike Babcock gave it to us as a stocking stuffer on the last day of the shopping season.
The joy ended quickly when Flip Hronek’s shot from the top of the circle bounced off Jake Gardiner’s skate and past Sparks. Would’ve like Nylander to have stopped in the shooting lane and try to get his stick on it. In his defence, he didn’t do that often last year anyway.
Marner (tripping), Nylander (high-sticking), and then Marner again (holding the stick) got into penalty trouble in the second half of the period. One could successfully argue at least one or two of those calls were very weak, especially the Marner trip, but Marner was definitely at fault on the hold the stick penalty. He grabbed the shaft (heh) of the Red Wings defenceman for over two seconds too long.
The Leafs were able to kill off all three penalties, but the sheer momentum gained by the Red Wings led them to out-shoot the Leafs 3-11 and then draw another penalty when Justin Holl got caught for boarding. He didn’t get an official penalty because...well...
Michael Rasmussen tipped a point shot by Dylan Larkin off Sparks and into the back of the net, giving the Wings their first lead of the game. The assist extended Larkin’s point streak to 11 games. So that sucked.
So that period sucked. At even strength, the Leafs were out-attempted 10-17 and out-shot 3-10. The craziest part of the period was that the scoring chances were even at sevens.
Christoffer Ehn scored his first NHL goal (of course) mid-way through the second period. He received a Wade Megan stretch pass right at the offensive blueline. Travis Dermott was right on top of him, but the 22-year-old defenseman lost the battle and Ehn was able to score on the breakaway. Justin Holl was close, but too far away to make a difference.
If Trevor Moore had a signature move in his time with the Marlies (oh, look! I’m talking in the past tense!), it was his ability to burst into the offensive zone from the wing, do a button hook that usually put the opposing defenseman on his ass, and find a teammate trailing. He did that on this play to great effect and Par Lindholm was able to feed the goat Frederik Gauthier for his first goal of the season! HE HAS A GOAL NOW, O-DOG!
It took some time for him to warm up to the NHL game, but Andreas Johnsson has been really good lately, especially on the Tavares line. Marner got the puck into the offensive zone, protecting it along the boards while he waited for help. Johnsson came in right away and showed some really impressive hand-eye coordination in order to get the puck from inside his feet to his stick. He then passed it off to Tavares, who set up Rielly for another brilliant 5v5 snipe.
With two points tonight (he assisted on Kapanen’s goal), Rielly is starting to score at even strength as well as on the power play. Of Morgan’s 13 goals and 30 assists, 12 and 18 are at even strength. So even if he had no power play production, he’d be on pace for 26 goals and 66 points!
The second period was a lot better than the first, especially since the Leafs out-scored the Red Wings, but they also brought the shot attempt differential down by a fair margin (13-16) and were able to tie the Wings in even-strength shots at nine. They also had a 9-7 advantage in scoring chances. Sparks was super shaky in the first period (he was battling!), but he settled down a lot more in the second and kept his lanky form within the area of the net. For the most part.
Another note, Nylander was really good in this period. Arvind, Kevin, and the others in the PPP office were pointing out a lot of positives that Nylander was doing in the second. Lots of smart passes, coverages, rushes, things of that nature. In fact, after two periods, Nylander had the best CF% on the team (11-6) despite not being given one offensive zone start. Seriously! Over 40 minutes, Nylander’s shift start breakdowns went as follows: zero in the offensive zone, three in the neutral zone, one in the defensive zone, and six on the fly.
The two teams were relatively even for much of the third, but at the 12-minute mark, a crucial mistake gave Frans Nielsen a tap in at the far post. Kapanen probably could’ve come down and helped cover, but it was really Justin Holl — in only his second game of the season — who jumped over to Dermott’s side for no reason, leaving Nielsen open for the goal. Holl was on the ice for three Wings goals against, and the first two weren’t that bad, but this third one was pretty clear.
It took until the last gasp — I really thought they were going to lose it — but with seven seconds left on the clock, Mississauga boy (okay, really Meadowvale) John Tavares tipped home a point shot from Jake Gardiner, tying the game!
This was Tavares’ second point of the night, and Gardiner’s first. Jake hasn’t looked himself this season — much of it comes down to deployment and Nikita Zaitsev — but throughout all that, he’s been able to put together a two-goal, 20-assist campaign through 37 games.
The Leafs pounded the Red Wings in the 3v3 overtime. It wasn’t close. Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Tavares all looked amazing, but it was the shift by Kasperi Kapanen that sealed the comeback for the Leafs. A backhand spin-o-rama in the slot with a guy on your back? Have mercy, Kasperi!
December 24, 2018