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Jared McCann, Zaitsev McCan’t: Leafs 2 - Panthers 3 (OT)

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A strong effort from the team sees them leave Florida with 2 in 2

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

[20:00 - 15:00]

Patrick Marleau gets a decent shot from the slot right off the opening draw, as Mitch Marner finds him beautifully. Already, it seems like Marner is continuing his stellar play. Not much else happens until Tomas Plekanec draws a hooking penalty on Jared McCann. The Leafs get a chance to take an early lead.

Unfortunately, the power play appears rather disjointed, and results in no dangerous chances. At points, it was running through Connor Brown, which tells you a lot about how good it was.

[15:00 - 10:00]

As we return from a commercial break, I’m informed that Tyler Bozak takes a stupid interference penalty in the offensive zone. So now the Panthers have a power play, and they can do some damage from there.

They have a unique power play in that they run a lot of it from behind the net, through Evgenii Dadonov. It’s quite effective, and creates far more chances than the Leafs do. But Florida is sloppy, and the Leafs generate a crazy amount of shorthanded chances. First Zach Hyman gets a breakaway, on which he is stopped. Maybe 30 seconds later, Morgan Rielly fires a point shot that Roberto Luongo handles awkwardly, and sits right in the slot for Brown to pounce on. He tries to go through the legs (the Marek Malik special), but Luongo covers his own error. Wild sequence, but the power play ends at 0-0.

The Panthers have more turnovers than a bakery, and the Nazem Kadri line forces a few more in the offensive zone for another strong shift. The Bozak line follows up with momentum killing penalty... it’s Bozak again, this time with a lazy slash.

[10:00 - 5:00]

This time, the Panthers make the Leafs pay. Their behind the net setup causes fits for the Leafs, as Jonathan Huberdeau catches McElhinney looking the wrong way, and sends it out into the slot for Aleksander Barkov to roof. 1-0 Panthers.

The Leafs are owning the shot clock at even strength, but honestly, haven’t generated many dangerous chances. It’s been a lot of point shots into a mass of bodies.

[5:00 - 0:00]

I’m very sorry that I don’t have more to say, but nothing has happened. William Nylander had about as fun a shift as possible without anyone on his team taking a single shot, but that aside, nada.

That period was very boring, aside from the two Florida power plays. The Leafs have a strong advantage in even strength shots, but as mentioned, neither team has generated any quality opportunities. We go to the second with the Leafs trailing.

Second Period

[20:00 - 15:00]

Barkov’s line with Nick Bjugstad and Dadonov have a strong first shift against Kadri’s line. They have been largely contained at even strength, and the Leafs will need to keep that up to make sure they can get back in the game.

Flrodia then takes advantage of a Leafs change to score. Vincent Trocheck finds Huberdeau in the slot, and he shows great strength to hold Plekanec off, and great patience to outwait Curtis McElhinney and tuck it into the net. Really pretty goal for him. 2-0 Florida.

But Toronto gets it back in a hurry! A terrible turnover by Michael Matheson behind his own net leads to Kapanen being left all alone in the slot. His shot is blocked, but it falls right to Dominic Moore, who rips it past a nonplussed Luongo. 2-1 Florida.

Another strong shift after hte goal for Barkov’s line... they’re ramping up, which is not a good sign, especially if they start to dominate the Kadri line, who are so important in generating offense without Auston Matthews.

Just as this five-minute block comes to an end, JvR grossly miscalculates the amount of power he needs to chip the puck out off the boards. He ends up air-mailing it into the 50th row, and Florida gets another power play.

[15:00 - 10:00]

This Panthers power play features a lot of passing, but good work by the Leafs to keep them to the outside and limit shots. Leo Komarov is eventually able to exit, and has Travis Dermott with him for a potential 2-on-1, but they decide to play it conservative. Toronto kills it without further incident.

I know I’m harping on this a lot, but through this second period so far, the Kadri line has not been able to keep up with Barkov’s, mostly with Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev behind them.

[10:00 - 5:00]

Huberdeau absolutely sons Connor Carrick in a board battle, which for better or for worse (let’s be real, for worse), is what Babcock prefers about Roman Polak relative to him. Carrick has many strengths relative to Polak, but not in the areas that seem to matter most to the coach.

I was just about to say that Nylander had been quiet tonight, but my God, he just shut me up. He forces a turnover in the neutral zone, gains the blue line, gets a partial break, dekes Luongo, and tucks it back to Hyman for the empty net. 2-2 tie, what a play by Willie. He just needs one play to change a game, and that was it.

By the way, Kasperi Kapanen has continued to demonstrate that he is well above 4th line duty tonight. He dominates the puck when he’s played with and against 4th liners. His debut in a higher spot in the lineup didn’t go great yesterday, but you have to think that’s where he’ll eventually end up.

The Kadri line finally gets something going against Barkov, as a nice passing play leads to Marleau centring the puck to Kadri, who is stopped nicely by Luongo.

[5:00 - 0:00]

Some hustle from Connor Brown and a sloppy play by the Panthers leads to a ping-pinged point shot that Luongo is able to handle. As the play continues, Marner draws a hooking penalty on Bjugstad, and the Leafs head to the power play before the period ends.

Unfortunately, they’re not able to take advantage, and we go to the third tied. The Leafs were able to generate more offensively in that frame, without giving up much more defensively.

Third Period

[20:00 - 15:00]

After an icing by Florida’s 4th line, Babcock sends out Kadri’s group with Dermott and Carrick. Predictably, they control the play and generate a strong chance. The Leafs fourth line missed a shift in order to facilitate that. Once again, I’m reminded of Marner’s brilliance in tight spaces, as he set up Marleau beautifully in the slot. His attempt is deflected off target.

Nylander’s turned it on now. He starts below his own goal line, exits the zone, plays a give-and-go with Plekanec and fires a shot at Luongo. He makes the save on Willie, and stops Plekanec on the rebound as well.

[15:00 - 10:00]

Zaitsev has trouble keeping pucks in on the right point twice. He hasn’t looked particularly steady today, to my eye, but that might just be the general sense of unease I have watching him. Despite this, he does have a nice zone exit on a play with the fourth line that results in a point shot and mad scramble in front.

Speaking of Zaitsev, he makes a nice play off a defensive zone draw to find Gardiner who can exit the zone. I watch Zaitsev in the defensive zone a lot, and I think he does a lot right in there.... but he very regularly fails to protect his own zone, and get out of it. He’s the inverse Marincin! Unfortunately, we’re not paying him like that.

Florida gets their first big chance of the period, as Matheson passes to a streaking Vrbata, who has a beat on the Leafs defender. McElhinney doesn’t look good stopping it, but he does stop it, as is his wont.

[10:00 - 5:00]

Rielly gets aggressive offensively for the first time that I can remember today. He drives wide and pulls it back to Marleau in front of the net. It seems like Marleau has been snakebit for a while, and Luongo continues that streak, stoning him. Rielly has been quietly excellent today... this was the first time I remember him really forcing the issue (in a good way), but he’s taken quite a few shots and has come out best in matchups with most of Florida’s top players.

The Leafs are playing quite well. In the first, they won on the shot clock but didn’t generate anything dangerous. Since then, they’ve done both. As I type that, Connor Brown nearly sets up JvR for a tap-in, and then gets a great chance in the slot. Brown has been excellent tonight, and I say that as someone who is generally very critical of his play.

Of course, now that I say that, Florida has about 90 seconds of dominance where they get their first bit of extended zone time in a while and generate some scary shots. A combination of McElhinney and the Leafs defenders prevent disaster.

[5:00 - 0:00]

But now, Florida is really coming on. The last two minutes or so has been the Leafs weakest stretch of the game thus far, and it’s not coming at a great time.

Oof, Willie has had a great game, but he makes a boneheaded error, clearing the puck over the glass in his own zone. The Panthers go to the power play with 4 minutes left, and a chance to effectively win it. Big time penalty kill coming for Toronto.

McElhinney comes up big on the kill, robbing McGinn on a cross-ice pass from Ekblad. The Leafs are able to make it through the Nylander penalty, and he might owe McElhinney a steak or something.

Marner has deserved a point tonight with his play; he gains the zone and sets Marleau up again. This time, Marner was open if Marleau made a back-door pass, but the veteran doesn see him, and fires a harmless shot into Luongo.

Interestingly, Babcock double-shifts the Kadri group with Gardiner and Zaitsev with about 40 seconds to go. The next line / pairing up would have been Plekanec’s group with Dermott/Carrick. But Babcock knows more than me, and Kadri gets two golden chances in the last ten seconds of the game that he just barely misses. We head to overtime.

Overtime

Marner/Marleau/Rielly start the OT for Toronto. Barkov/Huberdeau/Ekblad are their counterparts. It’s an open start, and Barkov and Huberdeau get a 2-on-1 about 30 seconds in. Barkov finds Huberdeau, and for all the world, it looks like the game is about to end.... but McElhinney saves it. Absolutely brilliant save that may rescue a point for the Leafs.

Kadri/Kapanen/Gardiner are the next trio, up against Trocheck/Dadonov/Ekblad. Not much happens in that stretch, but a few seconds later, Nylander goes end-to-end and nearly puts it by Luongo.

Both goalies are doing their part to send this to a shootout. Just a few seconds later, Brown sends van Riemsdyk in alone, whose deke doesn’t get by Lu. Been a wild and very open OT that we’re heading towards the end of now. But before we do, Zaitsev pinches but gets beat to the puck by McCann. He comes in alone and beats McElhinney with a shot to win the game for the Panthers, 3-2.

That’s one of those plays that gets magnified in OT. If Zaitsev is half a second faster, the Leafs have a scoring chance. He wasn’t, so the Leafs surrendered one, and it ended the game.

Thoughts

  • Overall, the Leafs played rather well, and since they’re not realistically playing for a whole lot in the standings, that means a fair bit to me. They dominated stretches of the game, and on the whole, were the better team
  • Rielly stood out in a positive way, as did Marner and Nylander. Nylander’s on-ice numbers were nothing special, relative to his team, but he seemingly created everything for his line, and he also had other dangerous shifts that just didn’t result in a shot.
  • McElhinney was solid, as he’s been his entire Leafs career
  • Bozak and JvR were poor. Both took stupid penalties (Nylander did too, but he made up for it), and both were largely ineffective facing the Panthers second line.
  • Hyman earned some amazing karma in a past life, because he is being set up for some tap-ins on a fairly regular basis.
  • Plekanec was far better this game than in his first. It helps to play with Nylander, but I also like what I saw of him in general.
  • Carrick was fine, but still isn’t going to play against good teams.

The next game for the Leafs is in Annapolis, for the Stadium Series against Washington. We’ll catch you then!