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Leafs falter in tired loss to Canucks

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They had the offense, but didn’t score.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 04: Bo Horvat #53 of the Vancouver Canucks is stopped by goalie Michael Hutchinson #30 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in close during NHL hockey action at Rogers Arena on March 4, 2021 in Vancouver, Canada.
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Thatcher Demko stopped 32-31 and Jake Virtanen scored two as the Canucks beat the Leafs 3-1 after four games in six days. Michael Hutchinson allowed three goals on 27 shots in his first loss in three games when he gave up three to Calgary. Pierre Engvall scored the lone goal for the Leafs. It took an impressive rush from the team’s top centre to beat Demko on a night where he was honestly very sharp.

First Period

Before the game, the Canucks gave a tribute to Leafs assistant coach (and one of my hockey heros) Manny Malhotra.

0-1

The Canucks opened the scoring when Jake Virtanen walked around Justin Holl, got the defenseman to knock in his rebound in for him. Hutchinson got the initial shot, but it was tumbling in the air behind him. Holl’s stick knocked it in while he was trying to swat it away. Holl got turnstiled pretty bad there, neither getting the body, stick, or puck.

Before the goal and after, the Leafs put together three great shifts in the offensive zone. Thornton hit the post within the first 30 seconds of the game, Nylander fed Tavares for a one-timer in the slot, and Hyman nearly connected with Mikheyev for a third chance in front of Thatcher Demko.

The Leafs kept on the pressure throughout the period. Matthews had a spin-o-rama shot. Tavares, Nylander, and Mikheyev combined for a great play from behind the net to the slot and Demko had to make an incredibly rapid leg save. Early on, it felt like the Leafs were getting goalie’d. It makes sense, they hadn’t seen a goalie stop a shot and be less than 10 feet from his net in over a week!

Alex Edler tripped up Matthews and the Leafs got a power play. Both units were very solid with Marner, Thornton, Spezza, and Nylander all getting shots.

1-1

At the tail end of it, the MEH line came on an... OH MY GIRAFFE! Pierre Engvall cut through the middle, put on a move, and beat Demko with a contested wrister. Mikheyev did a great job of winning the battle and getting the puck to Engvall, and it was an inspired move to cut to the middle and beat everyone with his shot. Ironically, it wasn’t Hyman as the third man on that line as he had just finished a power play shift, it was Jimmy Vesey! MEV line? Sure, the MegaElectronVolts line.

After One

5v5 stats:

  • Shot attempts: 17-13 (57%)
  • Shots on goal: 11-7
  • Scoring Chances: 9-4
  • Expected goals: 0.68-0.3 (69%) nice

Thoughts:

On the back of his goal, Pierre Engvall led the Leafs in personal expected goals with 0.16. Nylander was right behind him with Tavares, Mikheyev, and Spezza all trailing. Tavares and Nylander were arguably the most dangerous at even strength in the first period with Kerfoot working away to get them pucks. I saw Mikheyev with the the Tavares line for a shift as well and they got a good chance, which was nice to see.

Marner had a bit of a quiet first period in terms of consistency, but he set up Thornton early and again on the power play, and Matthews had a nice spin-o-rama shot on a lonely rush.

Second Period

Marner and Nylander were both buzzing in the neutral zone right across both ends of the first intermission.

I liked this improvement from Nylander since in the last game, he had a rebound chance that Mike Smith fumbled that he wasn’t as aggressive on. This game, he was right on his rebound and worked to kick it to the middle. I really enjoy noticing the little improvements Nylander makes. Like his overtime goal last week that he fixed from a few nights before.

It really goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that Nylander has improved consistently every year since he got in the league.

1-2

With Holl in the box for tripping, the Leafs had a really good first half of their penalty kill. Marner hounded Hughes all the way into the boards at the far side of the ice and didn’t let him leave. Then, Kerfoot and Mikheyev connected for a shorthanded chance that Demko stacked the pads to stop. Unfortunately, Virtanen got a lucky shot from a terrible angle and took back the lead.

Holl made up for his penalty by drawing a tripping penalty for his own team. The first unit with the first line, Tavares, and Rielly, got a couple okay chances, but largely missed Matthews’ shot. Matthews was playing the bumper, presumably because of his percolating wrist injury. Honestly, I don’t know why they didn’t put Nylander with them. He’d been the teams best player by that point in the game.

After Two

5v5 stats:

  • Shot attempts: 12-14 (46%)
  • Shots on goal: 8-10
  • Scoring Chances: 7-3
  • Expected goals: 0.61-0.37 (63%)

Thoughts:

Make no mistake, Hutchinson was one of the Leafs best players in the period. He stopped several really good chances and had to be sharp in the period. It’s unfortunate that the chances added up and one eventually got in.

While Vancouver controlled more of the play at times, the Leafs still had the large edge in quality of chances. Nylander had a 33% goal chance early in the second that really pushed the Leafs ahead in the first period. Tavares also had a really big chance too.

Third Period

The Leafs started the third period with Hyman skating with Matthews and Marner.

1-3

After being hemmed in their own zone for a long shift, a fresh Marner and Matthews galloped off the bench for a 2-on-1 that Matthews nearly buries. The puck went the other way and Horvat scored the third goal for Vancouver, beating Hutchinson high blocker.

The Leafs tried to apply pressure in the third but beyond a few jamming plays, it didn’t feel like the team had it in them. They had the possession and zone time as the Canucks turtled, but couldn’t find enough free space in the slot to get there.

Matthews was so close, but this highlight just about sums up the game.

Takeaways

Full game 5v5 stats:

  • Shot attempts: 42-45 (48%)
  • Shots on goal: 23-26
  • Scoring Chances: 22-15
  • Expected goals: 1.87-1.37 (58%)

Thoughts:

Nylander was great in this game, but it was Virtanen who came away with two goals. Hutchinson was okay, but it was Demko that was near-perfect. The Canucks played ball with the Leafs in terms of possession, but the Leafs had the clear edge in quality (in both locations and in the personnel) but they just couldn’t beat Demko. It was as simple as that. The two teams play again on Saturday at 7pm ET. Pettersson might be there, but at the very least expect a better showing from the Leafs. See you then.