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First line quiet as Canucks beat Leafs again

Two losses to the Canucks, who saw that coming.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 6: Brock Boeser #6 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates after a Vancouver goal during their NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Rogers Arena on March 6, 2021 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

After beating the Edmonton Oilers three times in a row, the Leafs have lost back to back games in Vancouver. The Canucks beat the Leafs 4-2 on Saturday on goals from Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, JT Miller, and Nils Hoglander out-paced goals from Jimmy Vesey and John Tavares. Andersen gave up four on 31 shots, while Thatcher Demko stopped 37 of 39.

The Leafs first line of Matthews, Marner, and Thornton fell silent for the full 60 minutes, with turnovers and gripped sticks accounting for two goals against and some chances that disappointed.

First Period

Nylander started right where he left off on Thursday and beyond with two really good chances on his first shift of the game. Unfortunately, Thatcher Demko also started where he left off on Thursday, making two great saves on him in the slot.

Unlike Thursday, Frederik Andersen was in the net and had to work hard to avoid the Canucks from jamming the puck into the back of the net. Tempers definitely rose a few degrees as a result of that play.

0-1

...and like Thursday, the Canucks scored first. This time, Brock Boeser on the power play with Matthews in the box. Per Omar’s comment on the goal, there wasn’t much Freddy could do, but there was a lot the defenders could’ve done better there. Boeser was left completely uncontested at the back door.

Then we hit a lull in the game where not much happened. Chances weren’t coming from either team, the Canucks just circled around the outside and the Leafs couldn’t get purchase through the neutral zone.

1-1

Johnny Toronto! Following an early Nylander chance a quarter of the period left, the puck came back out but Holl was able to corral it and send a stretch pass to Kerfoot. The winger made a great one-touch pass to Tavares on a completely barren half of the ice. As he wound up for a slapper, he caressed it a bit and sent a wicked slingshot past Demko’s blocker.

Marner twisted together a nice chance a little later on.

The Leafs then went full Harlem Globetrotters mode with a 90-second shift featuring Tavares, Nylander, Kerfoot, Matthews, Muzzin, and Holl at points. Muzzin (3), Nylander (2), Tavares (1), and Matthews (1) all had shot attempts.

After One

5v5 stats:

  • Shot attempts: 27-12 (69%) nice
  • Shots on goal: 16-7
  • Scoring Chances: 14-4
  • Expected goals: 0.88-0.34 (72%)

Thoughts:

Nylander led the Leafs in shot attempts (6) and shots on goal (3) in that period, though it was his linemate, Kerfoot, who led in expected goals (0.26) — Nylander was second. Tavares had the goal for the team along with a few good chances, rounding out a line that dominated the ice every time they were on it. Nylander and Kerfoot were only on the ice for one shot attempt against in that period, while combining for 13 offensively.

Second Period

2-1

Jimmy Vesey? Alright then! The fourth liner scored his third goal in as many games after tapping in a beautiful passing play starting with Spezza and going through a jumping-up Brodie. The Canucks defense was a mess on the goal, leaving both Brodie and Vesey uncovered in front of the net. Spezza creating yet another goal and Vesey doing his job — finishing in front of the net.

Love our first baseman. Keep yer foot on the bag there.

The Leafs got a power play a little later and it was quite the disappointment. The best chance came from Brandon Sutter, who beat Marner to the open space and got a breakaway chance on Andersen.

While the Leafs were on the forecheck, Kerfoot ran into Miller from behind, hitting the numbers. Once Demko covered up the loose puck, there was a big kerfuffle around Kerfoot as the Canucks were not happy with the non-call. I will say it was a slower hit than I’ve seen in the past. Miller didn’t go down on the play, it was Boeser’s stick that knocked him to the ice during the scrum.

To quote Katya, “just pay him.” On this shift as well as his next was a demonstration in tenacity, forechecking, and handling the puck on your back hand. Hyman, Mikheyev, and Engvall were an absolute nightmare for the Canucks all within the 10 or so square feet around the net. It was mesmerizing to watch. Every time the MEH line goes on the ice, they choose violence.

After Two

5v5 stats:

  • Shot attempts: 14-22 (39%)
  • Shots on goal: 10-12
  • Scoring Chances: 8-11
  • Expected goals: 0.60-0.66 (48%)

Thoughts:

While the Canucks came out of the box in the second a stronger team, their possession didn’t translate into much as both their shot quality was sporadic and Freddy could see everything in front of him. That said, the Leafs did need Andersen to bail them out a few times with that breakaway and a few other shots from the slot.

Offensively, if the first period was about Nylander and the Tavares line, the second period was about Zach Hyman. His play is infectious when he gets going and the defense falls a step behind. Matthews, Marner, and Thornton put together eight 5v5 shots after two, but their overall impact was disappointing.

Third Period

The Leafs had a strong start to the second, getting chances and out-shooting the Canucks 9-0 at one point. The Leafs did a really good job of controlling the neutral zone, Marner got the best chance of that portion of the game while trying to deflect a puck floating in front of the net from a Thornton shot.

2-2

With Nylander in the box, the Leafs did a great job killing most of the penalty, but a point shot in the final 30 seconds got through and the Canucks scored.

2-3

Not long after, a shot from Boeser bounced off Rielly, fell to Miller, who beat a hapless Andersen to put the Canucks back on top. Marner made a careless pass going forward, but the Leafs had numbers going back. Unfortunately, Boeser made a move on Brodie, Thornton lost Miller, while Rielly was left in the cold.

After the goal against, the Leafs pushed on, but didn’t make much of it. Marner tried a couple solo charges that got swallowed up by the Canucks defense. Matthews wasn’t dangerous, Nylander and Tavares connected for a couple chances, but that was it.

2-4

After missed passes going both ways, the play opened up a lot. A second turnover from Marner led to this Hoglander goal that was initially waved off before a review showed that the puck went in.

Takeaways

Full game 5v5 stats:

  • Shot attempts: 65-48 (58%)
  • Shots on goal: 37-25 (60%)
  • Scoring Chances: 31-22 (58%)
  • Expected goals: 2.18-1.53 (59%)

Thoughts:

It goes without saying, Nylander was the Leafs best player in this game and has been for a few weeks now. He’s generating chances for himself and his linemates, he’s been calm and patient under pressure, and defensively the line has been excellent. Don’t come at me with the penalty weak sauce, Matthews took one that led to a goal, too. Players take penalties, it’s malicious to hold some to the highest standard and ignore those moments for others. If I could sum up the controversy on Nylander it’s that he’s constantly put under a microscope and given a double standard to live up to. You’d think he was a woman or minority given the flack.

The Leafs should’ve come out of the first period up, but Demko was too good. Andersen at the other end was being his usual Freddy self. By the end of the game, it was two power play goals and two turnovers that primarily led to the goals.

On the turnovers, Marner did not have a game worth remembering. From the beginning it didn’t look like he was up for it, and after the first turnover his game completely unravelled. I was speaking to Jared about this on twitter and it’s so clear how much he gets in his own head once he makes a mistake. He clenches up, puts his head down, and tries to beat a whole team all on his own. Shots from everywhere, no matter how contested, trying to go through two in-position defensemen on his own, forcing passes. That mentality may have worked in junior, and it’s an admirable trait to have, but you can see how they fall short in the NHL.