The Maple Leafs took on the NHL’s worst team at home tonight, which also provided Auston Matthews with an opportunity to beat his childhood team. Frederik Andersen went up against Antti Raanta in this one, and Niklas Hjalmarsson returned to action for the Coyotes. This looked to be an easy win on paper, but unfortunately, the game is not won on paper.
The Leafs failed to start on time. The first few minutes were spent in their own end, and although the Coyotes did not generate many high danger chances, Frederik Andersen was forced to deal with the first handful of shots in this game. A strong shift from Dominic Moore’s line finally started to reverse this trend, but Connor Carrick took at interference penalty at the offensive blue-line shortly after.
Leo Komarov’s unit started the penalty kill off well, but the Leafs ended up hemmed in their own end for close to a minute. After Andersen prevented the initial flurry, Derek Stepan decided to throw the puck on net from the corner. The rebound landed right on the stick of Brendan Perlini, and the 21-year old made no mistake. 1-0 Coyotes halfway through the first.
The Leafs finally started looking like the better team in the second half of the period, as both the Bozak and Matthews lines quickly answered with their best shifts of the frame. Unfortunately, Toronto’s shooters were regularly missing the net, and the puck kept bouncing on them in the slot. The Leafs remained scoreless after one, but Nazem Kadri drew a holding penalty with a handful of seconds left to put the Leafs in a good position to start the second. 1-0 Coyotes after one.
Arizona did not enjoy the lead for long. Just 30 seconds in, Mitch Marner’s slap pass was tipped by Kadri in the slot, and Antii Raanta was out of position after the puck changed direction. Raanta made the initial save, but had no chance after the rebound landed on the stick of James van Riemsdyk. 1-1 tie, 33 seconds into the second period.
The Leafs continued to pick up right where they left off at the end of the first, and the Coyotes failed to get any significant chances in the first five minutes. Rookie-of-the-year candidate Clayton Keller nearly beat Andersen with a quick wrist shot on the rush, but Toronto’s goaltender made a nice save with his shoulder to keep the game tied with nine minutes to go. Keller’s speed and skill continued to be on full display, as he drew a penalty courtesy of Ron Hainsey shortly after.
Once again, Arizona’s powerplay looked to be extremely dangerous. The Coyotes spent plenty of time in Toronto’s end, and the Leafs were lucky that Frederik Andersen was up to the challenge. Komarov was nearly sprung on a shorthanded breakaway, but he failed to control the breakout pass on his backhand. Toronto’s penalty kill was successful on this occasion, but they would not be as fortunate the next time around.
With two minutes left in the period, Marner got caught for a hooking penalty after getting his stick tied up in the arms of Perlini. Hyman lost the defensive zone faceoff cleanly, and Ekman-Larsson’s wrist shot found its way past a screened Andersen just five seconds into the powerplay. 2-1 Arizona After Two.
The Leafs started off the frame by killing off Hyman’s high-sticking penalty, but Keller continued to look dangerous. Just seconds after the penalty expired, Keller’s speed caused Carrick to trip him, and the Leafs were very fortunate that a penalty was not called. Keller quickly got up and created a few more chances, but Andersen had no problem keeping the deficit at one.
A boring first half of the period kept the score at 1-1, and Mike Babcock changed up the lines in an effort to create some offence. Marner joined Matthews and Hyman, Brown took his place on the Bozak line, and Nylander skated alongside Kadri and Patrick Marleau. Brown nearly tied the game up after deflecting Ron Hainsey’s shot with nine minutes to play, but the Leafs failed to get anything past Raanta.
The newly formed Matthews-Marner duo looked like they finally tied it up with 3:50 to play. Marner intercepted a breakout pass in the neutral zone and dished the puck off to Matthews, who zoomed behind the net and sniped a wrist shot past Raanta’s glove-hand. It briefly looked like the Leafs tied it up, but Hyman’s stick interfered with Raanta a few seconds before the goal. A borderline call went Arizona’s way, and score remained 2-1.
Just a minute and a half later, the Matthews line was at it again. The trio created a series of dangerous scoring chances, but it was capped off by Matthews hitting the post on an outstanding scoring chance. A pair of empty net goals from Max Domi and Tobias Rieder sealed the game for the Coyotes.
The Leafs will now head to Florida to take on the Panthers on Wednesday. They cannot be happy losing to the last-place Coyotes, but it felt like the Leafs simply could not catch a break in this one.