All anyone could talk about were the new lines going into this game, and it distracted nicely from the defence corps that’s missing two key players. For the first game of a back-to-back, the hope has to be a quick and painless game that isn’t end-to-end exhausting skating or ten million shots faced by Frederik Andersen. Let’s see if a team built for speed can deliver that. (Ron Hainsey has a special request for very little PK time.)

First Period

Before we begin, just a note about Jeff Glass, in net for Chicago. He’s a hell of a guy, and a good pro in all ways. He turned a good, not great KHL career into a chance on the Marlies, and that in turn led to a better chance in the less-crowded crease in Chicago’s AHL affiliate. I like him. And while any goalie can have a good enough run to seem plausible in the NHL — ask Vegas — I don’t think Glass is some undiscovered jewel. He’s just a guy having the best luck trying to fill in for Corey Crawford.

On to the game...

I’m going to see what it’s like watching NBC with Ray Ferraro in the mix as he’s providing colour for them. Immediately it’s odd that Mike Milbury, in the opener, seems to get that the Leafs want a dynasty, not a one off go for it on their ELCs cup run. You don’t really hear that kind of talk on the regular Leafs broadcasts. He also thinks Chicago might believe the hill is too high to climb to get in the playoffs.  I think so, they’d need multiple helpers dropping like stones to do it.

LOL. First play and we have a “Michael Nylander”.

The matchup is Toews vs Matthews.

Whooooa.  Nasty gaping open-net chance as the puck bounces off of Andersen, and the Leafs just escape.

Andersen is back and forth working to stop a wrap around, and the defensive execution here is bad.  (Dermott - Carrick).

Marner gets it up-ice off of a faceoff after an icing, and Glass has to make a save. I expect to like the Kadri line with Marner on it.  I don’t hold out hope for Bozak without him.

Kapanen gets a nice rush chance. And they remember he’s Sami’s son, not Sami.

Glass tries to clear the puck, and he golfs it right to Nylander. But this is the Leafs, so that naturally turns into a three-on-one against, and Kane misses the net. The defence on that was a good sliding block by Polak and an oh-shit backcheck by Gardiner who had coughed up the puck. Leafs got lucky.

Borgman digs a puck out on the boards, and the Leafs bat it harmlessly at Glass.

More bad defensive coverage leads to a: a Chicago chance and b: a Chicago power play.

The Chicago power play is okay, well structured, but for some reason, the Leafs usually stellar penalty kill is all motion all over the place, particularly Leo Komarov chasing the puck around like a cat after a laser pointer. This power play is over fast when Brent Seabrook scores.

1-0 Chicago

The Leafs celebrate this by staying hemmed in for the most part, and Chicago has nice, crisp puck control going for them.

When the Leafs do gain the zone, there is Duncan Keith to break up the play.

Chicago gets a really good chance on a DeBrincat shot that goes off the post. Andersen looks a little wild, but then, he’s largely out on the highwire without a net right now.

Marner keeps a bad pass alive with a sweet slick little move. This is like a fun look at the future when Marner can play on this line all the time, and I like it.

We are in a period of slow back and forth, the kind of circles - turnover - up the ice to circles - turnover style of play that needs the skater’s waltz played in the background. An icing breaks it up.

Chicago is bad. Seriously. And the Leafs should be taking it to them.

Some lazy Leafs player is barely backchecking on Toews, and oh, god, that’s Matthews. Does he have the flu or something? Freddie has it. Auston owes him one.

Carrick gets a point shot through all the way to the netting by way of a deflection, and it’s waved off right away for goaltender interference by van Riemsdyk. Which fair enough, he’s pretty much knocking Glass over on the play.

Bozak gets a chance, and Chicago blocks it right into a turnover.

Every faceoff in the Leafs end ends up in a scoring chance for Chicago. This one goes right off of Andersen.

Hainsey makes a good defensive play, and I’d like to clone him right now. Remember last summer, when we all thought his signing was meh?

Seabrook assumes an icing not in evidence, and the Leafs get control of the puck. (He might have a point on this, they never seem to have waved it off.)

Hainsey gets a decent shot on goal and than a point shot, and this is the Kadri line out here with Marner in the goal mouth like he does that all the time.

Hainsey’s shot goes off of something or it might be a Marner pass right out to Jake Gardiner who says, hey I’m good too! He is. It’s in, tipped by Marner. Game is tied.

1-1 on the scoreboard

I like this period way better now than I did. I’ll give the Leafs this: These days, I assume they’ll keep trying, stay in the game and maybe win it.

Kapanen with a nice hit in the corner. Can i gush a little about how he’s turned into a really good fourth liner? Please, please keep him. He’s so much fun and tough, fast and can score. Can we keep him, Mom, can we?

I’ve already seen Dominic Moore do 25 things Frederik Gauthier can’t do.

Kadri picks up the puck in the neutral zone and dekes and dangles and gains the zone, and OMG he’s an offensive player of such quality!

But the horn goes while I’m thinking about the consequences of taking the shackles off of Kadri.

The Numbers

The Leafs got outplayed in that period in every way. The Corsi was 27-20, and the heatmap is ... well, terrible.

That one circle of decent shooting that includes their goal came in the last few minutes of the period. Meanwhile, that’s horrendous at the other end. Simply horrendous.

Auston Matthews was on the ice for 11 CA and 4 CF. Half of that futility was with Carrick-Dermott, who were terrible, and the other half with Gardiner-Hainsey, who are the only reason this game isn’t 5-1. Okay, Andersen is the only reason.

So this is what you get when you let the Matthews line play the top line if that’s what the other coach wants. This is what you get when you don’t use Kadri as a checking centre, however flawed he is at it. This is what you will put a young line of second-year NHLers through night after night if these lines play every game, and line matching is conceded to the opposition.

I can’t help but think of Mike Babcock talking about why he doesn’t want to rush Nylander into playing centre. He said he doesn’t want a young player like that hearing nothing but how bad he is all the time.

The other lines were Kadri: 11-7 in Corsi, Bozak: 3-5, Moore: 2-4.  Roman Polak played the least minutes of any player and was pretty bad, a few good plays aside.

Second Period

Kadri opens the period, and we’ll see who decided to get better this period.

A giveaway leads to a Chicago shot.

The Schmaltz line gets lots of zone time, and Andersen ends up flailing around with no stick or blocker. Leafs get away with it.

Duclair gets a rush chance, and he just dangles Polak like he’s not there, and Andersen has the save.

Matthews does essentially the same thing to Keith, so points to Matthews for difficulty, and Keith goes to the box for slashing. Milbury whines.

The Leafs power play gets too cute with passes in traffic, and Chicago roars off with the puck. This is trash play by the Leafs. Chicago hits the post, and then Marleau takes a penalty.  Trash, trash, trash. Lucky it’s not worse.

Kadri gets the puck on four-on-four and they’re offside. Leafs, you suck right now.

Doc Emrick, dryly and accurately, points out that some of Marner’s choices are high-risk, but if you get away with it, you look like a wizard. Truth.

Chicago has a few seconds of power play they do nothing with.

Patrick Sharp tries to outman Dermott, and Dermott just lifts him up and carries him. It’s like half wrestling - half pairs figure skating. Also Dermott is a weight room regular, and is not as small as he looks.

Wow, the Bozak line have some zone time.  They get shots and everything. Man, this game is sort of boring, otherwise right now.

Van Riemsdyk carries a puck to the goalmouth, but no go. Not even the between the legs trick works, though.

Kadri roars down the ice with it and can’t get it on net in a good way.

Now Matthews has a very short stretch of zone time.

Schmaltz gets loose with the puck, and the Leafs get out of that jam.

Marner does Marner things, and they get some zone time, and then Chicago are up the other way with the Leafs defenders are making auxiliary saves in the blue paint.

The pace is picking up, but it’s the up and down, tire you out game that is not what you actually want the night before you play Dallas, who invented that style. I am reminded that Chicago plays at the highest pace (CF + CA) of any team in the league. The Leafs can’t outrun them.

I’m seeing Polak on the ice a lot more, and they have to play him, Hainsey and Gardiner can’t play the whole game.

Matthews is out with the fourth line wingers and they end up in the zone.

Nice forecheck by Brown, but no shot results.

Dermott, who got caved in in the first, is just so good offensively. Like, you know what people think Timothy Liljegren is? Dermott actually is it, for good and ill. Liljegren is much more of a puck up ice, first pass guy who is always a better defender now than he was a minute ago, or so it seems. Dermott is very creative offensively, and he’s showing a lot of discipline out here in the NHL. (Yes, this is me saying I was mostly wrong about the guy, and he is ahead of where I thought he was.)

The Leafs get another power play and it’s not as bad as the first one! They get a couple of shots and only give up one rush.

Matthews double shifting on the fourth line again as part of a change, I think. More on that at the break. But that essentially makes that fourth line of Komarov-Matthews-Kapanen a better top line than half the teams in the NHL have.

OMG, I hate this Chicago team, and I’m mad online about Milbury questioning Toews’ character, even gently. It’s not the money! Whatever the hell is up with the guy it’s not that. Yes, he looks off, has for a while, but you can’t doubt this guy’s heart. I won’t have it!

Marleau with a pass to Marner, and yes, yes, yes, this line is lovely. It is. (Go get Charlie Coyle, Lou, and this can be yours every night.)

Leo, man, are you trying to torpedo your own boat? Weren’t you in the Navy? Don’t you know better? He takes a penalty and gives Chicago a late-period chance to go ahead.

Leafs get a shorty rush, and Kapanen is just zipping out there. Hey! Kapanen is good at PK, did you know?

Great block by Hyman at the horn, and there is no score in this one, and Chicago has a few seconds of power play left.

The Numbers

It is a little bit of doubleshifting with Matthews on the fourth line. Gasp! Moore has taken some short shifts, gone off and Matthews has come out, but not as part of his line rolling out. Interesting idea.

This period was almost even in Corsi: 15-14 for Toronto, and seemed to be more evenly played all around. The Leafs are getting shots from better locations but haven’t suddenly become defensive geniuses.

Polak has moved up in minutes, still at third pair amounts though. Borgman is being underused, even though he’s been okay, but he’s a risky guy on the ice in a close game. Dermott is not looking good in the Corsi department.

Kadri’s line is great, Matthews has added some shots for without any more against, and it’s not a bad state of affairs.

Third Period

The Leafs are struggling to get the stretch pass they love so much through the neutral zone, so it’s back to carrying the puck up and down.

The broadcast discussed a former Chicago player for a bit, and I don’t care about him, but it brings something to mind I said recently: Imagine Brett Hull playing for Mike Babcock. I’ll just let you think about that.

This arena is so quiet, you would think the score was 5-0 for someone.

Chicago takes a stupid penalty on an accidental open-ice collision. It’s time for the Leafs, the team that used to have a good power play, to do their thing.

I’m going to count how many time Andersen handles the puck: 4.

And now I have to apologize for lack of faith. This is just a beautiful passing play from Bozak after the puck comes to him from behind the net, and NAZEM KADRI has a damn goal! (The whole rest of the power play was terrible, though.)

2-1 Leafs.

This does not feel like the Leafs have this game in hand, but wow, Chicago just don’t care. Neither do the fans.

Van Riemsdyk with a shot right on Glass. He’s good positionally, and moves well, does Glass, but get some traffic in front of him, and he’s maybe not even up to McElhinney levels.

Leafs take a high-sticking penalty, and this is an accidental one from Marner.

The Leafs PK looks more like it usually does, controlling the puck and wasting minutes.

Well, it did. That should not have been a goal. It’s a net-front scramble, and Hainsey doesn’t make the play, and everyone else is just watching Schmaltz in the slot. Hey, he’s just the best Chicago player in this game, no worries.

The Leafs challenge for interference and why not? No one knows what that rule means. This goal will stand though.

And it does. The impact with Andersen was largely after the goal was rolling over the line.

2-2 on the scoreboard.

Well, Leafs. Come back from this with some energy is my advice.

We open the last 12 minutes of a tie game with the Matthews line not really getting anything going.

The Kadri line almost instantly draws a penalty against Seabrook. Marner is the player too good for him to defend.

Babcock is not starting the power play with Carrick, like he had been, it’s Gardiner out there off the drop. This is a way better power play than the one they scored on. How it goes.

We are nine minutes away from a hertbreaking overtime goal for the wrong team.

Wow, Polak just outskated one of the Chicago forwards to the puck.

The Leafs have more oomph here, but I still feel very uneasy as Andersen is making some key saves here. Matthews is looking like he’s handling his job much better.

Bozak took a shift at 4C while Moore sat.

The Kadri line gets good zone time with chances: this is a recording.

Dammit! Nylander on a break and he just sort of shovelled it at Glass on the backhand. He had no chance for a better shot, but Dammit!

Milbury and Ray Ferraro are doing a thing on the Chicago defender not playing safe enough late in a tie game, and it’s so weird to see a team that is as bad at that as the Leafs.

Polak with a point shot that Glass barely handles. If that had gone in, man, he’d have been the hero in what might one of his worst games.

Okay, how is Alex DeBrincat out playing the Matthews line on the boards? Come on, guys. Work some battle drills with Marner next practice.

Oh, Freddie! He did an over the shoulder look there, and that was scary. The puck is loose in front of him.

Kadri line out in the last minute. Hainsey and Gardiner should play the rest of the game.

Matthews line comes out loaded for bear, and Matthews shoots it twice, but no dice, even though they were great chances.

DeBrincat gets one back the other way at the horn that Freddie gloves.. One point for the Leafs again.


One stat from regulation first: Moore played the least minutes, and I didn’t see him play badly, so it might have been merely an attempt to leverage the fourth line wingers into offence, and not a knock on him.

Now, on to the fun:

Nylander with a chance right off the faceoff, and there’s a penalty shot called! (Really stupid move by Keith there.)

Do it, Willie! Shoot it, you can do it!

He does it!  Willie! Wins the game.  Whoo hooooo.  What an amazing finish.

Leafs win 3-2. Take your loser point, Chicago, we don’t need it!