The game starts and Edmonton immediately has the territorial control. The first four minutes are almost all Oilers, though the Leafs do a reasonably good job at keeping them to the outside and limiting second chance points. The exception is a shot (or possibly pass) in tight from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the first shift of the game, which is blocked in the crease by Justin Holl.
Toronto’s offense in the earlygoing is more dependent on the rush, which is atypical of the Leafs under Keefe in general. Matthews rings the bar off a shot from the dot and Thornton nearly capitalizes on the rebound, but otherwise, the first few minutes were a lot of up and down action without many great chances at either end.
As has been the case in each of the first two games of the mini-series, Keefe is playing Hyman - Engvall - Mikheyev as the de facto second line to go against one of the Oilers top two groups. They’re getting the shifts immediately after the Matthews group comes off the ice, and we should expect to see that continue going forward. Of course, that frees Tavares and Nylander to go against an Oilers depth line, which should be advantageous for Toronto.
The first goal comes off the back of such a shift from the Tavares group along with Travis Dermott and Zach Bogosian. The Oilers try to exit the zone after offensive zone possession from the Leafs, but Dermott intercepts a stretch pass in the neutral zone.
Toronto is able to gain the zone halfway through a change, with Jason Spezza, Jimmy Vesey, and Travis Boyd coming on, along with Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl. Vesey coming in off the bench ghosts behind the Oilers, and pots a loose puck after a Spezza pass is directed to an open area. 1-0 Leafs, who have stabilized well after a rocky start. Even before the goal, the Leafs were starting to take over the territorial battle.
JIMMY VESEY 🚨— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 4, 2021
Fourth line strikes again! pic.twitter.com/6BmFFJRDXG
The next major chance belongs to the Oilers. After a spell of offensive zone possession by the Matthews line and Rielly - Brodie, Rielly is caught low in the zone without support from his forwards, resulting in a 2-on-1 for the Oilers and Leon Draisaitl in particular. Brodie makes an excellent play to cut off Draisaitl’s pass and get rid of the danger, bailing out his teammates. It must also be said that as impressive as the Leafs offensive zone possession was, it resulted in no dangerous shots or chances.
With about 5 minutes to go in the period, Kailer Yamamoto looks to take a skate to the face from his teammate. Potentially a really scary Zednik situation that luckily results in a bloody nose but nothing more.
The Oilers are basically double shifting McDavid to get him shifts with the Oilers 4th line in advantageous matchups and zone starts. So far, it’s not resulted in any offense, but it’s something to monitor as the game progresses.
Meanwhile, the Hyman-Engvall-Mikheyev line continues to be pretty competent. There’s basically no puck skills, but they’re so dogged on the forecheck that they create offensive zone turnovers and even modest NHL players can convert those into some offense. We’ll see if that translates against teams with better puck movers on the back end than the Oilers, but for now, it seems to be working. They’re able to generate some scrambles in tight and good chances as a result, but they can’t quite convert yet.
After the first few minutes, the Leafs have had the majority of the territorial control in this period. The period ends with another shift from the Matthews line in the offensive zone, this time flanked by Holl and Muzzin. In general, the Leafs have been able to stymie the Oilers in the neutral zone, with Dermott and Brodie in particular looking impressive to my eye. And as usual, the Leafs have been puck hounds in the offensive zone too. Overall, a pretty encouraging start against a team that should be super motivated to play against them.
Shot map after 20 minutes
The Leafs get a second goal early in the second period, as Zach Bogosian makes an astute stretch pass to Travis Boyd, who has both Spezza and Vesey with him, and behind the Oilers D, who are executing the world’s slowest line change. Spezza dishes to Vesey on the 2-on-0, who pots his second of the game. 2-0 Leafs.
JIMMY VESEY 🚨— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 4, 2021
On fire! pic.twitter.com/TvYIUeeAuW
James Neal takes a penalty for slashing James Neal. Weirdly, that shift starts with Engvall centering Nylander and Kerfoot. Another thing to keep an eye on. Tavares is out for the power play, so it’s not an injury.
In fact, Tavares scores on the power play, just six seconds in! After winning the draw, he goes to the slot, Marner finds him there, and he re-directs it on net. His first shot is saved, but Thornton pokes it back to Tavares, who doesn’t miss the second time of asking. 3-0 Leafs.
JOHN TAVARES 🚨— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 4, 2021
JOHNNY TORONTO! BLOWOUT! pic.twitter.com/V40Dll3hVg
And the Leafs get another, just 7 minutes into the period! This time Ilya Mikheyev gets in on the action. Hyman shows his strength and speed and manages to shovel a puck to the net off a zone entry. The rebound falls perfectly to Mikheyev, who is alone in the slot and makes no mistake. 4-0 Leafs and that’s 3 goals in about 4 minutes of game time.
ILYA MIKHEYEV 🚨— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 4, 2021
SOUP'S ON! pic.twitter.com/NevuTVgqQH
The Oilers look absolutely shell-shocked at this point.
In a game like this, the natural tendency is to point at the offense, but the Leafs defense has been incredibly impressive, and in a much more robust way than in the previous game between these teams. Honestly, the team offense has been more opportunistic than dominant. It’s the team defense that is primarily responsible for the strong performance in this game. Andersen has not had a lot to do thus far, and it’s a credit to the Leafs defense (as a group, both forwards and defenseman) that this is the case. Brodie has been absolutely fantastic, to single out someone in particular. With about 12 minutes to go, he stymies Draisaitl as the latter tries to get by him on a zone entry.
With 10 minutes to go in the period, Ethan Bear holds Marner, and the Leafs go to the power play again. This time, they’re unable to capitalize.
The Oilers finally get one back with six minutes to go in the second. Nugent-Hopkins is able to pot a rebound off a Draisaitl shot from the right circle. The Oilers have some life now, and I’m sure no Leafs fan is 100% confident right now. 4-1 Leafs.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scores the first Oilers goal in 4 days pic.twitter.com/w7nFQjmbYY— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 4, 2021
This same line follows up with another strong shift shortly after this goal. It’s been Edmonton’s most dangerous tonight, though that isn’t a tremendously high bar. The Oilers get the better of the play in general the rest of the period, but that is to be expected to some degree just by the nature of score effects. Once again TJ Brodie has a heroic play to stuff Draisaitl as he attempts a wraparound. The Leafs offense in the last 5 minutes of this period has been restricted to counterattacks as a result.
However, the Leafs are still super dangerous on counterattacks, which William Nylander politely demonstrates with 90 seconds remaining in the period by toe-dragging Caleb Jones and ripping a wrister by Mike Smith to make it 5-1. As we all know, 5-1 leads are completely unassailable.
WILLIAM NYLANDER 🚨— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 4, 2021
The patience is perfect pic.twitter.com/Y5YgA4kA0E
Joakim Nygard takes another Edmonton penalty by tripping Marner with 16 seconds remaining in the second. The Leafs don’t do much with the first 16 seconds, but we’ll see how they do with the remaining 104 in the third.
Shot map after 40 minutes
The Oilers get a breakaway while shorthanded, but Andersen stops Draisaitl again. The German has been the most potent Oiler offensively tonight, but has been kept from a goal by some great plays by Brodie and great saves by Andersen.
About 5 minutes into the period, Hyman sets up a 2-on-1 through his motor. He keeps, shoots, and is saved, but Mike Smith decides to be a baby and punch him for having the temerity to get shoved into the net afterwards. The official calls Smith for a penalty, presumably for being a moron.
Hyman taken down on his way to the net.— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 4, 2021
Smith with a gutless hit pic.twitter.com/zRFfQLYxJM
Sadly, the Leafs can’t capitalize on this one either.
But they do take advantage of the next power play, which happens after Nugent-Hopkins trips Tavares a few minutes later. And of course, it’s Zach Hyman, because God is real. Spezza hammers a shot into Hyman’s dick, but does Hyman care? No. He calmly turns around and shovels the puck in behind a sprawling (is there any other kind) Smith. 6-1 Leafs, and it’s hard for this night to get any better.
ZACH HYMAN 🚨— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 4, 2021
Right in front of Smith! pic.twitter.com/eOZL7SAAcz
The rest of the period floats by, as both teams accept their fate and roll four lines to get the game over with quickly. That’s fine by me, because I’m heading to every Oilers fan site in existence to watch the reaction to this set of games.
On our end, this has been phenomenal. The middle game in this set was a goaltending win spurred by Hutchinson, but this was not. The Leafs restricted the Oilers pretty heavily in the first, especially after the first few minutes. In the second, the Leafs blew the game open through a handful of big chances, and while the Oilers pushed back in terms of shot share, they weren’t getting to the front of the net in the competitive part of this game. The offensive performance today was fine. They obviously took advantage of the Oilers defensive weaknesses. But for all the faults of the Oilers, they’re a genuinely good offensive team, and the Leafs essentially shut them down in the competitive portion of the game, and even when you’d expect score effects to take over, the Leafs have held their own. Enjoy these nights folks... things are never this good for long, so lets make the most of it.