The first period got off to a pretty tepid start. The first five minutes of action were characterized by unscreened point shots and board battles that didn’t really lead anywhere. The Leafs had more territorial control, as you’d expect against a team of the Senators quality, but they weren’t really able to turn it into great chances.
About seven minutes in, the Leafs get a break as Derek Stepan fires the puck out of play in his own zone, and they get a power play. The Leafs appear to be persisting with the spread out power play units, breaking up the loaded unit we saw under Keefe last season. The Tavares / Nylander unit got the first 45 seconds, with the Matthews / Marner group finishing it off. The latter looks better than the former, as they were able to maintain great possession in the offensive zone. However, Matt Murray stops the only real chance they generate, a Matthews one-timer off a scramble.
Shortly thereafter, Cedric Paquette holds Alexander Kerfoot, and the Leafs get another power play. And this time, the Leafs score! Nylander passes to Tavares in the bumper spot, who fools a defender by holding for a beat, rather than one-timing. Tavares shoots and the rebound pops up perfectly for Hyman to bunt into the net. 1-0 Leafs.
Matthews’ line came out for the next shift, and like we saw in the Blue/White scrimmage, they’re great at offensive zone puck recovery. This led to a Marner shot off a pass from Matthews, but it’s wayward (to say the least).
Tim Stützle had been quiet (hard to blame him, given the power plays of the Leafs), but he draws a slashing penalty on Travis Dermott. The power play led to the first real work for Frederik Andersen in the game, and he handles it ably. Politely, the Leafs gave him another chance to demonstrate his prowess, as Joe Thornton caught Thomas Chabot with a high stick with about two minutes remaining.
Hyman got a breakaway that he was unable to convert on, and afterwards, the Leafs took another bench minor for too many men. This resulted in a minute-long 5v3 that the Senators needed about half of to capitalize on. Drake Batherson finds Chabot for a one-timer, and he pounds it by Andersen. 1-1 game.
Thomas Chabot ties it on the 5-on-3 pic.twitter.com/JrWIsTUI9f— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) January 16, 2021
The rest of the period passes without incident, as the Leafs attempted to kill off the part of the bench minor.
In general, the 1-1 score is relatively fair. The Leafs haven’t generated much at 5v5, and what they have generated was almost entirely from the Matthews group. However, the Senators have generated even less. Both teams got reasonable chances via their power plays, and took advantage.
The second period started with Ottawa having a 40 second power play. However the Leafs manage to kill it without issues. It’s worth noting that Matthews didn’t get any PK time.
About five minutes in, the Mikheyev-Kerfoot-Hyman line hems the Senators in for about 90 seconds. Because it’s those three, there were precisely 0 dangerous shots, but hey, it’s better than spending time in your own zone. The shift afterwards, Justin Holl and Thornton somehow found themselves on a 2-on-1. Presumably shocked, Holl did literally nothing and the chance evaporated.
That said, the Leafs looked better in terms of territorial advantage and pressure in this part of the game. That said, they still didn’t really generate a large amount of great chances, especially when Matthews and his crew isn’t on the ice.
But sometimes, you don’t need great chances to score. Alex Kerfoot wired one in from the point, with Hyman and Mikheyev both providing effective screens. 2-1 Leafs.
Shortly after the Kerfoot goal, the Sens generated a mad scramble in front of Andersen that did not inspire confidence in the Leafs’ ability to lock this game down, but the puck stayed out. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the ensuing shift, where a Nikita Zaitsev shot from the right half-boards is tipped by Brady Tkachuk. 2-2 game, and the Sens aren’t going away quietly.
Joe Thornton then displayed some of the superlative skills he still has. He managed to box out a Sen below the net, and found a darting Matthews at the netfront. Matt Murray makes a great save to keep it tied. On the other end, the Leafs don’t get quite as good goaltending.
Nick Paul made a good play to get the puck off the boards in the offensive zone, finding Braydon Cobourn, who drops it off to Austin Watson. His shot from the right circle goes bar down, and it’s 3-2 Sens.
Auston Watson gives the Sens the lead pic.twitter.com/4ZxTGGIIxv— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) January 16, 2021
It’s a great shot, don’t get me wrong... but in a game where the Leafs have gotten more chances, you’d like Andersen to make a big save here.
The period then went from bad to worse for the Leafs. On a delayed penalty, Chris Tierney shovels a rebound into the net while facing the wrong way. 4-2 Senators and this is not ideal at all. While I’d say the Leafs have gotten more chances than the Senators on the whole, they’re not creating tons of golden chances offensively. And the few chances that the Sens are getting are basically right in front of the net, and pretty high value.
Chris Tierney. 3 straight for the Sens pic.twitter.com/eqvvk2276u— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) January 16, 2021
With three minutes to go, the Leafs received a chance to atone for some of their sins, with Chabot getting the gate for high sticking. Did they take it? Reader, they did not. Instead, Nylander turned the puck over in his own zone, and Spezza took a penalty as a result.
Toronto escaped the second without further damage.
Like the second period, the third started with Ottawa on the power play, and like the second, nothing happens in that time. Two minutes in, Chabot took another penalty, this time for holding. However, Toronto was unable take advantage of the power play.
At this point, Keefe started busting out the line blender, with Hyman moving up to join Tavares and Nylander.
After a pretty unforced icing from the Leafs, Brodie turns the puck over behind his own net. Derek Stepan finds Batherson in front, and his shot results in a loose puck that Stepan tucks home himself. 5-2 Senators.
The Leafs then loaded up their top unit power play with the five guys who you would expect to see there. It immediately paid off as Tavares absolutely rips a wrister home on a broken play. 5-3 Senators, and the Leafs have a glimmer of hope.
I gotta be honest. The fact that when the chips are down, the Leafs move Vesey off Tavares’ wing and play their five best players on the PP suggests that maybe they should do that from puck drop, instead of waiting until their win probability is in single digits.
After Dermott iced the puck under literally zero pressure, he then failed to clear the puck on the ensuing shift. As usual, the Leafs were terrible in their own zone, which led to a great chance for Erik Gudbranson, of all people. Andersen made a great save to keep it superficially close.
Nylander capped off a brutal performance by giving the puck away and then taking a high sticking penalty to kill off any chance of a comeback. After a strong opening night from him, this was a game to forget.
Nothing happens the rest of the game. I mean, maybe something did, but I paid as much attention as the Leafs evidently do when south of their own blue line. Final score, 5-3 Senators.
One thing I want to be clear about here. The Senators have not executed a smash and grab. They are basically going even with a team that they are far worse than on paper. There are universes where this performance resulted in a win for the Leafs, but Ottawa was by no means undeserving of the result here.
This third period is especially bad. Maybe the Leafs deserved better in the first two frames, but they’re in the position they’re in. To have a third period where you generate nothing offensively at 5v5, trailing, against a team like the Senators is inexcusable. Just a straight up terrible effort.