What a night. It’s a shame that the NHL deprived the biggest and best hockey market in the world a chance at watching this game at prime time because it was an absolute classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.
The Leafs, who won the game 4-1 by the end of it, showed their vintage offensive firepower with the likes of John Tavares and Auston Matthews scoring the goals for the team. However, the Leafs also showed their old-school defensive ability from the Randy Carlyle era as Frederik Andersen had to stop 38 of 39 for the win, all of which could have been breakaways, our counter broke after the third Brock Boeser save.
Matthews scored his 19th goal of the season, while Tavares got goals 11 and 12, plus the assist on the Matthews goal. Justin Holl also finished the night with primary assists on both Tavares goals. He was at his best in this game and has evolved into a really solid option in the top-four.
Early on, the Leafs had the edge with a very loud chant of “Go Leafs Go!” The Canucks quickly responded with annoyed silence. Advantage, Toronto.
Mitch Marner had the first shot of the game for the Leafs when his perimeter shot found its way through a maze of bodies, but Jacob Markstrom parried the puck away with his his stick.
The next big Leafs chance came when William Nylander executed a give-and-go with Auston Matthews in the neutral zone, opening a lane for Nylander to drive the net and get a chance on the short side. This was a good playmaking move by Matthews, who also drove the net and attracted a Canucks defenseman to him, opening the lane for Matthews.
Nylander had a second amazing chance when he was released off the wing, but his shot clinked off the shaft of the goalies stick otherwise he was destined for the top corner. Unlucky, but so promising.
Another heavy “Go Leafs Go” chant. Wow the Leafs are already up 2-0 in that category. Amazing start.
And then Antoine Roussel earn himself and interference penalty! The blue and white fans in Vancouver were fully on board with it. The first unit was competitive, getting a couple chances from Nylander and Matthews, but the Canucks double-teamed Nylander in the high slot and were able to clear the puck.
The second unit got the biggest chance, with Nic Petan nearly scoring on the rebound from in front of the net at the dead end of the power play. Even after the power play was over, the Leafs hemmed the Canucks in their own zone, forcing an icing that help them in the offensive zone for another minute.
Also, this Alex Kerfoot guy might be pretty good.
Marner took an interference penalty of his own late in the period. The Canucks looked so... put together on the power play. They were in control of the puck and had their players move in deliberate and smart ways. *Sigh* I wish we had that. Luckily, the Leafs didn’t give up a goal and we headed to the first intermission tied at zeros.
It was a decent first period for the Leafs, who started off slow, but made up for it with a strong middle part of the frame. They slowed down by the end thanks to the penalty, but overall, the shot metrics between the two teams was pretty close to even. At 5v5, the Leafs were down in shot attempts (14-16), and shots (7-9), but were ahead in scoring chances (7-5) and expected goals (62%). All of this on the road.
The Leafs finished off the penalty kill at the end of the first, which allowed the Leafs to run a shift with Matthews, Marner, and John Tavares. The trio took advantage through nifty work down low between Tavares to get Matthews the puck and score. Justin Holl, who had a great first period defensively, took the shot from the point and got the secondary assist on the play.
Thank you, Freddy.
I’ve said this already, but I really liked Holl in this game. He started an exciting series of plays when he broke up a zone entry, leading to a rush for Tavares and Hyman. Those two couldn’t complete the play, but the Leafs were able to get a second chance when Tavares and Marner got away on a 2-on-1. Tavares fed the puck to Marner at the far post, but the winger couldn’t get the puck up and into the net. He and (noted Leafs fan) Quinn Hughes crashed into the net, with Hughes coming away the worse for wear. Luckily for the Canucks, he was able to skate back to his bench without much hassle.
Chaos ensued in the later part of the period when Keefe put Nylander, Matthews, and Marner on the ice together. The trio nearly got a chance for Morgan Rielly, but he had the puck roll of their stick. After going back the other way, a nice pass by Kerfoot released Marner with Barrie on the weak side. Barrie connected on the saucer pass, but roofed it. Markstrom seemed hurt on the shoulder after the goal, but he stayed in the game. Pierre Engvall had a rush chance of his own, and his shot nearly squeaked under the elbow of Markstrom, but he parried that away too. There were lots of chances in this timeframe. I think Tavares had another one himself, too.
Third “Go Leafs Go!” chant from the Vancouver faithful! 3-0 Leafs!
John Two-vares doubled the lead for the Maple Leafs at the tail end of the second period when he tipped home a point shot from Cody Ceci (yeah!) It was a beautiful tip. That’s all I can say. Also, after starting the season slower than Josh Leivo, Tavares is well on his way to 30 goals.
I know the period was full of end-to-end action, and what the Leafs were doing was not sustainable because Freddy bailed them out way more than he should’ve. BUT! I love where the Leafs are taking their shots from. They’re in dangerous spots, there’s quality with the quantity, and no high number of point shots!
This. This is so much better. 36-33 shot attempts, 24-14 scoring chances, 70% xGF%! The Return of the Blob of Death! pic.twitter.com/RittSZOtqz— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) December 11, 2019
The Leafs kept the fast-paced play going all through the beginning of the period, backed up with an “above average” start from Freddy Andersen. Nylander and Pontus Aberg got their signals mixed in the neutral zone and Brock Boeser got away for a break. Freddy stopped him cold, causing a massive cheer from the majority Leafs fans in the audience. Shades of Buffalo Sabres games. The “Go Leafs Go!” score up to 4-0.
The Leafs had a power play at some point. I couldn’t tell, it was awful. Nothing happening in the middle of the ice and I think I saw Matthews on the right side and Barrie on the left wing. I didn’t like that. Ugh.
Another “Go Leafs Go!” chant! 5-0!
Oh, then Matthews went off and got about three amazing scoring chances all by himself (with some help from Rielly and Nylander). Going the other way, Boeser was robbed for a *third* time by Andersen!
Josh Leivo scored. Andersen had the puck covered, the Canucks pushed it loose. Andersen was pissed the play wasn’t blown dead. It was all gross.
Once again, Justin Holl. Once again, John Tavares. What a player. Woo!
JT nearly got a hat trick with the empty net with two minutes left. He was so close twice!!
But after trying to get his centre the hatty, Hyman stripped JT Miller of the puck and scored the empty-net goal. Elite grinder I will not hear any objections.
After Three Stats
The Leafs got shelled in the third period, that’s for sure, finishing the night with 44% corsi and even scoring chance and expected goal numbers. However, if you account for the fact that the Leafs were on the road and with a lead, their score-adjusted numbers were much better. They were a solid 50% in shot attempts and 55% in scoring chances and expected goals. Now, if we could never have a night where Freddy has to stop at least four breakaways in one period, it would be too soon. That said, Leafs win!