Call it a comeback.
After dropping their first game back from the Bye Week to the Detroit Red Wings, and getting down by two goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Toronto Maple Leafs stuck to their systems and persevered and were rewarded with a 3-2 win at home on Saturday night. Garret Sparks made 27 saves for his seventh win of the season, while Auston Matthews, Travis Dermott, and Zach Hyman scored the three goals for the Buds.
The Nazem Kadri line had a lot of interesting moments in the first period. They were looking very dangerous and dynamic in the offensive zone, including a moment when Connor Brown sent a pass into William Nylander’s feet. Willie tried his best to step back and get his stick on the puck, but didn’t quite get there and completely whiffed. Later in the shift, Kadri got hauled down and into the boards, shaking him up. It looked like it was his ankle that got bent. But after getting to the bench and having it looked at, he was deemed good to go and was back out on his next shift.
Jake Muzzin probably got briefed on how to make a good first impression on Leafs Nation. Knowing he probably couldn’t score four goals in one game, Muzzin decided to go for the big hit. Veteran move.
I noticed this yesterday as well, Muzzin will often tap his teammates to let them know to go for the puck while he stays with the man pic.twitter.com/DHEhs7X0zp— Flintor (@TheFlintor) February 3, 2019
With Connor Brown in the box for high-sticking Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby scored off a one-timer from the wing. There’s not much more to it. Muzzin and John Tavares were both slow to translating over from their right to left to cover Crosby, giving him too much room to shoot. Sparks got beat high glove, but c’est la vie.
To quote Nafio: “*headdesk.*” I don’t know who Teddy Blueger is, it was rumoured that Seldo just made that name up in the preview, but was the recipient of a broken play and took advantage, giving the Penguins a two-goal lead. It was Andreas Johnsson’s job to get the puck up the boards and out of the zone, but he got pinched by Olli Maatta, sending the puck back towards the middle of the ice. Frederik Gauthier made the decision to help his Swedish winger, but left Blueger wide open for the shot and goal.
A few minutes before the Auston Matthews goal (spoiler alert), Kadri made a great stick and pad save. The Leafs were scrambling in their own zone (despite starting the shift in the offensive zone against an iced Penguins line), and with Sparks down and out, Kadri got his stick on the rebound chance before kicking the puck away into the corner.
The pressure released and the Leafs were able to go back the other way. After an offensive zone start, Dermott saw that he had both Matthews and Patrick Marleau causing havoc in front of the net so he threw the puck on from the point. While Marleau was busy getting into a wrestling match in the blue paint, Auston was able to sneak over to the side and slot home the loose puck with relative ease.
The Leafs weren’t perfect, not by a mile, but the aggregate showed that the Leafs were better in every shot metric, including high-danger chances: shot attempts (26-20), shots (12-8), scoring chances (17-10), high-danger chances (5-1). On special teams, the Leafs have been terrible. The power play is completely useless and has been for a while, and the penalty kill is still putting new faces into new places. I guess it’s a good thing the referees tend to never call penalties against Toronto, they’re better at 5v5 anyway.
Marleau won the offensive-zone faceoff to Jake Gardiner, who set up Travis Dermott for a one-timer that beat Murray from distance, tying the game at twos early in the second period.
Hold on... Dermott-Gardiner? Where did that come from?
This is something I first really noticed in this game on the Matthews goal. The pairings set at the beginning of the game are just for regular 5v5 shifts, but most of the deployment is specialized. Whether it be post-special teams, or against certain competition, or after icings, the Leafs have several different ways they deploy their defensemen. For example on this goal, instead of putting Dermott-Hainsey out against a very tired Crosby line with Letang, Babcock (or DJ Smith) sent Gardiner with the young defenseman to help maximize that quick puck-moving offense. Why waste Hainsey’s minutes on an offensive shift, right?
It also makes me wonder if we should care as much about Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev’s corsis and expected goals relative to their teammates. They’re being deployed to fail in those stats so that their teammates can succeed. Like the old proverb says, lose the battle to win the war.
Zach Hyman scored to give the Leafs their first lead of the game on the most Zach Hyman goal of all time. Marner took a shot from the wing that created a rebound in front of the net, and while being pulled down by Letang, Hyman got a hold of the puck and scooped it up and over Murray’s glove. I love the caption by NHL.com on the goal: Hyman scores while falling down (it’s different on the site itself and I don’t know why so don’t @ me).
Just like the first period, the Leafs out-shot their opponents by a lot to a little. This time, they actually had their chances go into the net. At 5v5: shot attempts (27-16), shots (10-8), scoring chances (14-9), high-danger chances (3-2).
Also during the intermission, the HNIC men relayed some news on the Auston Matthews contract negotiations. There was nothing new that hasn’t already been written this week.
Midway through the third, and with the Leafs getting faceoff in the offensive zone, Dermott’s pass to Hainsey at the blueline broke the old man’s stick. I will say that throughout the moment of panic, Hainsey did a great job of disrupting the Penguins winger from getting away without taking a penalty. Dermott had come back at this point, and as the shift went along, Marleau had a really big chance that nearly gave the Leafs a cushion before the final set of turns before the finish line.
Marleau blows past the Pens D and nearly scores a beauty on Murray pic.twitter.com/jh96K9ym3t— Flintor (@TheFlintor) February 3, 2019
The clock kept ticking, and within the last minute of regulation, the Leafs had four chances at the empty net, including one with less than 10 seconds to go that hit BOTH POSTS. Nevertheless, Sparks and the Leafs kept the Penguins to the edges of the ice and came away with the win.
leafs win baby— Aisha (@aishaapatell_) February 3, 2019
So there you go. A terrible loss to Detroit, followed by a really solid win over the best player in the world and his Stanley Cup contending team. Just like it was drawn up. See you next time when the Buds are at home to face the Anaheim Ducks who just lost 9-3 to the Winnipeg Jets. Hey, they beat us by one goal. That means Randy gets to keep his job this time, right?