The Toronto Maple Leafs closed out their Western Conference road trip with a confident 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. The Leafs walked all over the Oilers, achieving 60% or better in shot attempts, shots, and scoring chances at even strength. Birthday boy Morgan Rielly, John Tavares, and Jake Muzzin scored the three goals for the Leafs on one side of the ice, while the penalty kill went 4/4 on the kill, including a 5-on-3 kill in the third period, at the other end.
The unlucky finish should not cover up the George Vezina-calibre night from Frederik Andersen, who stopped all 30 shots he faced — including some unbelievable chances — before giving up two out of three in the final two minutes.
I had no idea what happened in the first five minutes of this game because Leafs Nation and I were too busy losing our minds over the smudge on the lens of the camera. I fully admit that I was rubbing the screen of my laptop with my thumb, thinking it was me for a little too long at the start of the game. Thankfully, by the second period, the smudge was gone. Fare thee well, Edmonton Smudge.
Someone at Sportsnet needs to get some Windex and clean this spot off the camera. Now that I have seen it I cannot unsee it and it is so annoying. pic.twitter.com/WvbzMkM34t— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) March 10, 2019
The Oilers played Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on separate lines for this game, despite having last change. Both of those top lines ended up being the victim of a great scoring chance by both of their counterparts: John Tavares and Auston Matthews.
10 minutes into the game, Tavares got the puck in front of the net and muscled his way through McDavid before trying to stuff the puck home on the backhand. He was inches away from burying it, but the maze of sticks were able to keep him at bay.
A few minutes later, Matthews stepped on the ice. Kasperi Kapanen skated down the wing and was able to create enough space to make a centering pass to the middle of the ice. Draisaitl was covering Matthews through the neutral zone, but lost track of his man as the pass from Kapanen came. Draisaitl lazily poked out his stick to stop the play, but by the time he noticed, he was way too far away. Matthews, unfortunately, tipped the centering pass off Anthony Stolarz’s shoulder, off the crossbar, and into the corner.
Morgan Rielly got his birthday party officially started when he scored his second power play goal this season on a shot from the point. Tavares and Nazem Kadri got the power play assists. It must also be noted that William Nylander drew the slashing penalty on Draisaitl before the goal. The now 25-year-old Rielly has 18 goals and 65 points in 68 games this season. Not bad, eh.
Rielly’s 18th of the season has him approaching a club record for goals by a Leaf defenceman in a season. Al Iafrate and Ian Turnbull each scored 22 to set the bar. Iafrate did so in 1987-88, Turnbull in 1976-77. #leafsforever— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) March 10, 2019
It was a great period for the Leafs. Against the “balanced attack” of the Oilers, the Leafs led in 5v5 shot attempts (26-16), shots (14-9), and scoring chances (12-6). The Leafs had two power plays in the period, and scored on one of them, getting eight shot attempts in those three and a bit minutes.
Four minutes in, a nifty scoop pass from Nazem Kadri in his own zone opened up Patrick Marleau to start a rush the other way starting in his own zone. Marleau passed the puck off to Rielly at the offensive blueline and rushed to the net. With Nylander trailing, Rielly threw the puck on net and Marleau got a perfect tip on it. Unfortunately, Stolarz caught the puck with his glove while doing the splits. It was a great play from start to finish and included everyone on the line, except Igor Ozhiganov.
The Leafs extended their lead when Nikita Zaitsev sent a stretch pass across three lines to Zach Hyman at the offensive blueline while the Oilers were changing. Hyman promptly dished the puck off to Tavares, who drove to the net. and scored on a play that went end to end in about six seconds flat. Tavares tied his career high in goals with 38. Hyman got his 16th assist and 32nd point He’s on pace for another 40-point season despite missing 10 games due to injury. And let’s not forget Zaitsev, who got his 10th point of the year on the goal.
It was a less active period for both sides, but the Leafs still carried over 60% of the possession. During the second period at 5v5, the Leafs were ahead in shot attempts (20-11), shots (12-7), and tied in scoring chances (9-9).
During the intermission, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet gave an update on Jake Gardiner’s injury. Long story short, his injury is related to a disk in his back, it doesn’t require surgery, and this week he’s going to test it to see if he can play the week after.
The Leafs kicked off the third period with another goal. This one started with Nylander grabbing a rebound in the defensive zone and using Tavares as a bounce board to get across the offensive blueline. As Nylander skated to the net, he saw Jake Muzzin wide open on the other wing and few him a perfect saucer pass for an important brace goal for the Leafs. Muzzin now has two goals and 11 points in 19 games with the Leafs, while Nylander brought his boxcar totals to five goals and 17 points in 40 games.
Later in the period, the Leafs got caught in some penalty trouble. First, Rielly tackled McDavid in the corner, drawing a holding call with 9:34 left in regulation. Then 1:23 later, Muzzin got caught for poking Alex Chiasson in the leg with his stick, which was apparently called a slash. The three penalty killers on the Leafs (Hyman, Zaitsev, and Ron Hainsey) did amazingly to cover the passing lanes buy time until Rielly. The best penalty killer, by far, was Freddy Andersen. He made several massive saves despite the traffic in front. Once Rielly got back, the Leafs were able to clear the puck out and relieve the pressure.
3-1 and 3-2
With two minutes left, the Oilers pulled their goalie and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored from the side of the net. McDavid and Draisaitl with the assists, because of course. Then, McDavid set up Oscar Klefbom for another goal. At the end of the day, the Leafs were able to hang on and win. Despite giving up two goals late, it was still an amazing night for Freddy Andersen. Vezina-calibre performance.
The Leafs have a four-game week coming up. First, a visit to Toronto from the Tampa Bay Lightning, then the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday, before starting a weekend doubleheader against the Philadelphia Flyers (home) and Ottawa Senators (the cottage in Kanata) starting on Friday. See you there!