The Toronto Maple Leafs entered Pittsburgh on a five game winning streak and were winners of eight of their past nine games. They entered the night three points behind the Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division. Home ice advantage is so close. I sat down to watch the game with my son who’s in his first year of house league hockey (and is an expert on the game because of it) and we watched observed and yelled at the game.
The Maple Leafs started the game strong. The took the puck right to Matt Murray and after a flurry of shots, Murray made a diving save while Zach Hyman and William Nylanderattacked the net after a Morgan Riley shot. Minutes later Evgeni Malkin took a Leafs turnover and takes it to the Leafs zone and it goes Malkin-Bryan Rust-Carl Hagelin for the first goal of the game.
After the commercial break the Leafs came out hard - which would be a theme tonight - Tyler Bozak sends the puck along the boards into the Penguins zone, to James van Riemsdyk who’s behind the net and he gets it up front to Connor Brown who ties things up at one each.
Once again coming off a TV timeout, Travis Dermott shoots from the blue line and Bozak is there to backhand in the rebound to give the Leafs their only lead of the game.
The Penguins tie the game after a Jake Gardiner clearing attempt gets caught by Malkin, who sends it to Hagelin who in turn passes to Rust and Rust scores Penguins goal #2 while Malkin falls over into Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen.
In the second period William Nylander causes a turnover which leads to a Penguins rush into the Maple Leafs end, the ensuing chaos leads to Crosby kicking the puck into the net for a quickly waved off goal.
The Penguins don’t quit and a couple minutes late newcomer Zach Aston-Reese gets his fifth of the season as he sends a rebound over Andersens pads. He kicked the puck into position to score rather than into the net.
None of the Maple Leafs defenders were watching the kid at all, and he was uninterrupted with the puck. The second period didn’t go well for the Leafs as the first half of the period goes by without a Leafs shot on goal, and a shotless power play as well.
One of the worst almosts happens when Kasperi Kapanen pulls Matt Murray to the far side of the net and passes across the crease but the winger couldn’t catch the pass. The Penguins are dominating the second period and Frederik Andersen is on top of his game, keeping the Leafs alive. It may as well have been Andersen vs the Penguins for the first 15 minutes of the period.
The Maple Leafs got their best chance of the night as Patrick Marleau sits in the crease blocking Murrays view, Marner passes to Kadri who shoots but somehow Murray gets his glove on it. After another TV timeout dressing down from Babcock the Leafs go hard into the Penguins end, and Tyler Bozak is in alone but he doesn’t score. Ian Cole is called for slashing Bozak to the LEafs get their second powerplay of the night.
This time it’s much better, with proper shots getting set up and not time spent in the Leafs end. Marleau ends up scoring his 20th goal of the season on the power play tying the game at three apiece.
Nikita Zaitsev gets called for interference after hip checking a streaking Anton-Reese into the boards. The rest of the period is spent with the Penguins attacking the Leafs net, and Andersen keeping the team alive.
In the third period, Ryan Reaves is behind the Leafs net and gets a pass up to Olli Maata at the blue line, and Maata rips a shot across the Leafs zone into the net, scoring the eventual game winner.
Closer to the end of the period Maata and Zach Hyman were skating into the Penguins end, and Maata tried his nonchalant stick trip, but they get tangled and Hyman goes into the boards knees first as Maata falls on him and slams Hymans head into the boards. After talking to a trainer Hyman leaves the ice and the Leafs bench for a few minutes.
Olli Maatta gets his stick out and Zach Hyman goes flying into the boards pic.twitter.com/Wvw6LbibUu— Richard Lee-Sam (@RLeesam) February 18, 2018
The Leafs pull Andersen and eventually Bryan Rust scores the empty net goal to make it 5-3 Pittsburgh.
This game left the Leafs hands after a pitiful second period, where they went ten minutes before getting a shot on net. Everything was just out of reach for the Leafs tonight. The Penguins are one of the teams that the Leafs need to be able to beat if they’re going far but if they play like they did tonight they won’t get past Boston let alone a Tamp or Pittsburgh.
But! One bad game doesn’t sour a season. After winning eight of their past ten games, the Maple Leafs have more than enough time to fine tune things. Heck they have four exhibition games against Buffalo to play!
The Maple Leafs will use the flight to Detroit to shake things off and go over what went wrong and avoid two losses in two nights against the lowly Red Wings.