Are you ready for hockey for people who go to bed by seven? Well, it’s here. This is the next generation game, and if you’ve never watched a School day Game in the AHL, you will not believe how loud this can get. If the Leafs have succeeded in filling the stands with kids, it’s going to pierce the eardrums of people miles away.
Our preview is here for you while you wait for the game to start:
And below you’ll find a set of headings I’m going to fill in as we watch this game together today. I plan to update the post at least in each intermission, but hopefully more often, so this can be more like a liveblog and less like a recap. The post won’t refresh automatically, however, you’ll have to do that yourself.
The story of the game is supposed to be Michael Hutchinson in net. The Leafs could be clever and flip the script to be about all those goals they can score.
Hutchinson is wearing #30, and you can read about the Leafs who wore that number here:
Kyle Dubas is being interviewed, and he’s telling his usual tales about what the Leafs are about and how they plan to keep all their young players. When asked about Frederik Andersen, he wasn’t deeply reassuring — in other words, he didn’t say Andersen would be back next game — but he didn’t say he wouldn’t be back either.
dermott was miming the lyrics to lil wayne's "right above it" just before this, which was pretty funny https://t.co/H24mdeu8H8— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 3, 2019
The pregame is all about kids: Reporters, voice over artist, rink announcer, all set to music that was recorded before half the crowd in the stands was born.
Two teams of kids and four kids in stripes come out just like it’s a real game and do the warmup laps. It’s awesome. The Wild and the Leafs have kids behind the bench as coaching staff. Also awesome. They’ve got a redheaded guy to stand by Babcock.
Okay! Game on.
All-Star JT on the opening faceoff ... well, that went well. JT to Connor Brown to Mitch Marner.
Hutchinson with his first save.
Oh, right, Eric Fehr is on the Wild. And the Leafs take a slashing call. Par Lindholm is the guilty party. Early penalties against mean power plays for later when you’re ready for them.
Marner getting first unit PK time with Zach Hyman out. He’s doing good at it.
Hutchinson passes this test, but the Wild PP was not difficult for the Leafs to kill.
A great offensive shift is kicked off by Andreas Johnsson and William Nylander knowing how to get the puck up ice and in the zone. That leads to a great offensive shift by the Tavares line.
Non All-Star Mitch Marner pots another, to make it 2-0 Leafs. Make it a hat trick, Mitch.
Igor “fee agent nobody” Ozhiganov really easily handles the Wild’s Jordan Greenway behind the Leafs net. And I shouldn’t have said that because now Oz and Dermott are doing that thing they do where neither of then knows how to escape the boards.
The commentators are complimenting Hutchinson on positioning, and I’d say they’re showing excellent movement, but he plays out from the crease quite a bit. Maybe that works for him.
Trevor Moore beats the icing, and the puck goes to Freddie Gauthier, and yeah, that’s not a good shot, but points for trying.
Johnsson coughs the puck up just like Team Sweden did a million times last night. The Wild get some pressure going when Ron Hainsey fails to exit the zone. A little scramble here and there, and Charlie Coyle beats Hutchinson. And this period is barely half over.
The next scramble sees Hutchinson freeze the puck.
Zach Parise on a breakaway after stealing the puck mid-pass. Nikita Zaitsev with a hopeless attempt at a sliding block. Hutchinson saves it easily.
Nice tic-tac-toe play that ends with a Rielly shot that doesn’t go in. I like him on left wing on the Matthews line. And he gets another chance.
The Leafs are giving us all a long look at Michael Hutchinson in net.
Hainsey with a perfect pass out of the zone. Finally some time in the other end.
Great Matthews line chance that’s blocked.
Great Marner chance in the final minute. The first meaningful save Devan Dubnyk has had to make in a while.
Dumb little bit of silly hair-pulling stuff between Tavares and Mike Foligno in the final few seconds results in four-on-four. Ref should have just told them to cut it out. You don’t usually see JT expressing himself to a ref that vigorously, either.
- Hutchinson is playing a conservative puck-freezing game, and that’s good for a backup to do, but the game is going to lose some flow.
- Zone exits (and Hainsey is not the only offender, just the most recent) continue to be the thing the Leafs are worst at.
- Goal scoring continues to be the thing the Leafs are best at.
- Dubnyk looked shaky, but the Leafs never pressed him in the second half of the period.
I’ve never found the Leafs particularly gifted at four-on-four, and they struggle a little off the faceoff to do much until the Kasperi Kapanen group is out there at the end.
Eric Staal gets caught hooking, and the Leafs get their first power play.
PP1 takes a while to set-up, but then they just never leave on a change as they keep up the pressure. PP2 gets only a few fruitless seconds at the end.
Oh wow. I thought that was a save, but it’s an in and out. Spurgeon has the puck and Staal is pushed into Hutchinson, who can’t react very quickly to get back in position. Mikko Koivu ties the game.
2-2 on the scoreboard.
Nylander and Matthews do the thing they do in behind the net.
Nylander gets it. Damn, that’s sweet. Up high, where he likes to shoot.
Wild get a crossbar. Guys, get some zone time.
Whoops. Oz passes it to Nylander, but he’s going off on a change.
Well that’s a problem. Wild get yet another easy zone entry against the Leafs, and Nino Niederreiter gets a free pass to just stand and screen Hutchinson who looks totally unaware of the Jared Spurgeon shot that beats him easy five hole. Not a great defensive moment by the third pair.
3-3 on the scoreboard.
Leafs are getting some offensive chances, but the Wild disrupt passes well. [Insert long rant about Team Sweden not realizing they had to adapt to a tough defensive Swiss team.]
Matthews line with more chances. Is Johnsson a keeper on this line?
Lindholm with a near miss! Leafs look like they’re trying to increase the pace here.
Power play time!
Right away, Marner has a good chance.
The Wild disrupt the passing, and Fehr gets a shorty breakaway that Hutchinson has easily.
The clock runs out with the game tied.
Minnesota is a weird team, and it would be wrong to think of them as bad because of the standings, and ideas that the Leafs should dominate them don’t take into account that they are the third best team in the NHL by Expected Goals percentage (Offside Review). The weird part is that they are only just over 50 per cent in shot share. The heavily emphasize shot quality in their offensive and defensive systems.
They also have the best Expected Save percentage in the league. That means their goalie has a very easy time most of the time because they defend well. (The Leafs have crawled up to fourth in this measure.)
So why are the Wild not on top in their division? Lack of shooting talent, simple as that. You put that mix up against another mediocre shot-share team in the Leafs, with a goalie who last played NHL hockey in October, and this is what you get. The Leafs are pitting their skill against the Wild’s systems. And at this point in the game, the Leafs have pulled ahead on Expected Goals share.
- Every time Nylander gets near the net now, he’ll look like he is about to score. Even though he’s playing exactly the same as he was before today.
- Also, now we know the hair really was the problem.
The Leafs are playing a sort of over-calm and casual style, that is great when you’re on top of your puck control. Johnsson looses the puck right beside Hutchinson, who freezes it. The Leafs are not on top of their puck control.
Saw that coming.
The Leafs fail over and over to make a good pass to move up ice, and the Wild come back at them with pressure. Parise scores.
The commentary is blaming the forwards for this, and okay, that’s fair because the forwards can be too eager to take risks. But the quality of the passing needs to be sharp. It’s possible I’ve just spent days watching Rasmus Sandin make these passes perfectly, but ALL the Leafs defenders dish up bouncing bombs to the forwards, not just the PK guys with the rock-hard sticks.
Really good offensive pressure on a delayed penalty call. Wild going off for too much man which might not be all that fair a read on the situation.
Wow. Two times, a pass back to the defender on the power play rolls over or off a stick. Some days, you just can’t see a clean pass from this team. The power play ends with Dubnyk having to make one meaningful save.
Marner draws a penalty by being himself, and even though he was on the ice, PP1 is starting out. The second unit is very much back on the drawing board with the injuries and return of Nylander disrupting things.
This is a very good power play. Unit one is staying out and pouring on the pressure. Sometimes the puck just doesn’t go in. The second unit actually gets a shot before the penalty expires.
Leafs cough up the puck with the net empty and nearly end this game early.
Brown with a point-blank chance, but Dubnyk has it.
Excellent pressure at the end from all the Leafs, but Dubnyk makes the big save when it’s needed.
Leafs drop a game they maybe, kinda, almost, shoulda won.
Big chart to show the whole game, here. So this is all-situations Expected Goals. As you can see, the Leafs pulled ahead in the second, and then well ahead in the third. If they’d got the bounces on the power play, and outscored their expected instead of underscored, this game was theirs, no matter who was in net. Freddie might have won it for them, however.
- Hutchinson sure got tested in volume of saves, but the Wild were not actually producing the quality they’re known for.
- We never have to talk about Nylander not scoring again.