The Nashville Predators visited the Air Canada Centre tonight, in one of just three games around the league. Frederik Andersen got the start after leaving Monday’s game due to an injury, making the suspended Filip Forsberg the only major omission from tonight’s action.
The Predators spent most of the first minute of play in Toronto’s zone, but Calle Jarnkrok’s handed the Leafs a powerplay with an offensive-zone holding penalty just 50 seconds in. This early opportunity was quickly wasted, as the Leafs struggled to generate offensive zone time against Nashville’s ultra-aggressive penalty kill. Neither team generated any significant scoring chances in the first ten minutes, and the goalies must have been pretty bored.
The Leafs continued to limit Nashville’s scoring chances, other than a couple of weak shifts from the Matthews line. A drop pass from William Nylander ended up on Colton Sissons’ stick in the slot, but Andersen had no problem bailing him out. Other than this giveaway, the Leafs were playing relatively well, but failed to generate many high-danger chances.
Tonight’s scoring got started with four minutes to go in the period. Travis Dermott was able to hold the puck in at the blue line with a chip pass, and Connor Brown kicked the puck to his skate and sent a pass into the high-slot. James van Riemsdyk fired a one-timer from the top of the circle, which tipped off Alexei Emelin to fool Pekka Rinne. 1-0 Leafs on van Riemsdyk’s 21st of the season, assisted by Brown and Dermott.
The Leafs held on to their 1-0 lead for the rest of the period, and while they lost the shot attempt battle, this game was both relatively even and uneventful during the first 20 minutes. Dermott was impressive, and Kasperi Kapanen looked over-qualified for fourth line work. The Matthews line and the Gardiner pairing were mediocre at best, but again, this was a relatively quiet period. 1-0 Leafs after one.
The first quarter of this period was mainly spent in Toronto’s end, and although Andersen was not forced to make any highlight reel saves, the quantity of attempts was concerning. The Leafs could not win a defensive zone face-off, and the Predators continued to generate scoring chances after these draws. The Matthews line was still invisible, and Brown took a hooking penalty eight minutes in after his line struggled in the transition game.
Losing defensive zone draws cleanly continued to be a problem, as the Predators spent the the first half of the powerplay in Toronto’s end. The Leafs did manage to limit the scoring chances though, which opened the door for “the Kapanen Show”.
Ron Hainsey’s clearing attempt rimmed along the boards, and Moore managed to tip the puck out to the middle of the ice. Kapanen then tipped the puck up over a sprawling P.K. Subban, giving himself a breakaway chance with Smith right on his back. Kapanen protected the puck, spun off the check, then fired a wrist shot past Rinne’s five-hole for a highlight reel goal. 2-0 Leafs on Kapanen’s fourth of the year, assisted by Moore and Hainsey.
The Matthews line finally showed some life with eight minutes left in the second, thanks to a strong individual effort from Nylander. The young Swede showcased his takeaway ability by picking Emelin’s pocket, then promptly drew penalty after a quick move. Unfortunately, just like the last man-advantage, the Leafs failed to get anything going.
As soon as the game returned to 5-on-5 play, the Predators put their first line out against Toronto’s fourth line and bottom pairing. Viktor Arvidsson broke in on a breakaway following a gorgeous stretch pass, but a brick wall wearing an Andersen jersey shut the door once again. The threat was not over however, as the Leafs failed to get the puck out, and Dominic Moore eventually took a tripping penalty as a result.
Nashville’s powerplay was clicking on all cylinders, but the puck refused to go in Toronto’s net. However, just a minute after the penalty expired, Pontus Aberg fired a harmless looking wrist shot from just inside the blue line, which hit van Riemsdyk in the head, and landed on Sissons’ stick in the slot. The re-direction gave Andersen no chance, and this cut the Leafs lead in half with two minutes to go in the second. 2-1 Nashville on Sissons’ 6th of the season, assisted by Aberg and Ryan Ellis.
Craig Smith nearly tied the game up just seconds later, after Nikita Zaitsev left his guy alone in front of the net. Toronto’s lead was hanging by a thread, but somehow, they managed to maintain a 2-1 edge heading into the intermission.
Toronto enjoyed their one-goal lead for another twenty-four seconds. Zaitsev couldn’t corral a dump-in, Matthews swung the puck into Nylander’s skates, and the puck landed on Arvidsson’s stick in the slot. The 24-year old wasted no time beating Andersen through the five-hole, tying the game up at two just twenty-five seconds in.
The entire first half of the period was spent at 5-on-5, and the Kadri line was the lone bright spot during this stretch. The Predators nearly capitalized with a pair of chances just past the halfway mark, as the Leafs were hemmed in their own end on back-to-back shifts. Despite several scoring chances, including a wrap-around attempt from Ryan Johansen with a minute to play, Andersen found a way to bring the game into overtime.
Mike Babcock played all of his skilled forwards in the extra frame, as Toronto’s forwards included Matthews, Nylander, Kadri, Marleau, Bozak, Marner, van Riemsdyk, and Kapanen. Nashville still found a way to hog the puck, but neither team was able to solve the opposing goaltender. This game needed a shootout.
Auston Matthews: No goal. Stopped by Rinne’s right pad.
Kyle Turris: No goal. Missed the net on his backhand
William Nylander: No goal, missed the net to Rinner’s glove side.
Kevin Fiala: No goal. Andersen closes the five-hole.
Tyler Bozak: Goal. Scores on a perfect shot under the crossbar above Rinne’s glove.
Ryan Ellis: Goal. Off the post, off Andersen’s back, and in.
Mitch Marner: No goal. Stopped by Rinne’s right pad.
Craig Smith: No goal. Misses the net after a deke to his backhand.
Patrick Marleau: No goal. Stopped by Rinne’s right pad.
Roman Josi: No goal. Andersen closes the five-hole.
Connor Brown: No goal. Misses the net wide.
Ryan Johansen: No goal. Deked himself out and missed the net on the backhand.
James van Riemsdyk: Goal. Fires a wrist shot to the bottom left corner.
Viktor Arvidsson: No goal. Andersen closes the five-hole for the win!
The Leafs did not deserve to win, but we’ll take it. They will have a couple of days off at home, before taking on the Senators on Saturday. Toronto needs more out of the Matthews line, and this was not a banner night for the Gardiner- Zaitsev pairing. They owe Andersen a nice dinner.