It’s the first game after the holidays, with the streaking Toronto Maple Leafs facing off against the lowly New Jersey Devils. Sheldon Keefe has decided to mix things up a bit based on how the Carolina game ended. William Nylander will be with John Tavares, Mitch Marner with Auston Matthews, and Michael Hutchinson is getting a rested start against a bad team.

Galaxy braining? Good game and player management? Let’s find out!

Period One

Nico Hischier left all alone, 1-0 Devils

There aren’t many big offensive threats on the Devils, but you’d think that maaaaaaaaaaaybe you’d want to have a man covering one of their better forwards instead of leaving him all alone in the slot. It maybe should have been Ilya Mikheyev’s man, but both Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl were getting out-skated and out-muscled a lot behind the net on the turnover.

Nice pass by Matthews, and Marner.... maybe should shelve his slap shot until further notice.

Zach Hyman rescues a truly awful powerplay, ties the game 1-1

Off a faceoff in the Devils’ end, Morgan Rielly took a wrist shot through traffic that left a juicy rebound for Zach Hyman who poked it in for the goal. Honestly, I love that role for Hyman on the 2nd powerplay unit.

Mikheyev with the nifty deflection, 2-1 Leafs

Off another faceoff in the Devils’ end, Nylander passed it to Tavares at the point. His slapshot had a very nice deflection by Mikheyev in front for the goal.

First Period Thoughts

  • Offense: Leafs were dominant in shot attempts (28 to 11) and expected goals (1.38 to 0.66), but I wouldn’t say they looked particularly dominant or dangerous until after their powerplay when they seemed to shake off the rust.
  • Defense: They had the one big lapse leading to the goal against, and when they gave up any shots or chances, it was not from an area you want to give those up on defense. But overall they looked fine. Amazing what spending most of your time in the other team’s end can do for your defense.
  • Special teams: A four minute powerplay! A late present from Hockey Santa to the Leafs. Unfortunately it was almost entirely terrible, specifically being able to get set up at all. Pretty sure Hutchinson handled the puck the most of any player for the 3+ minutes. They got one goal out of it from Hyman near the end, but I’m keeping in my exasperation I felt at the whole powerplay leading up to it.
  • Lines: To me, the third line was the standout for most of the period. They had a lot of offensive zone time and a couple of good chances they didn’t score on, and only gave up one shot attempt against all period. The Tavares line with Mikheyev-Tavares-Nylander were right behind them by percentages but played at a much higher pace, and had the goal. The Matthews and Marner line... didn’t really accomplish much, only 6 shot attempts for the line. The fourth line was bad in limited time.
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Period Two

Gusev scores on rebound with gaping net open, tied 2-2

What better way to start a period than going down 5 on 3 for almost the full 2 minutes. Especially when you give up a goal almost right away and still have close to 2 minutes to kill off again. Nikita Gusev won’t score many goals easier than that.

Kappy turns on the burners and charges his lasers, 3-2 Leafs

Alexander Kerfoot with a nifty bank pass off the boards to hit a streaking Kasperi Kapanen in stride, and he fires a rocket of a wrister (maybe Blackwood’s position wasn’t great there) to restore their lead.

Leafs’ D plays Yakety Sax with turnovers, Palmieri ties it 3-3

Rielly with a soft as hell giveaway in front of his own net, then Tyson Barrie follows up with almost the exact same giveaway. No one gets a stick or a body in Kyle Palmieri’s way as he just skates into the slot and beats Hutchinson clean.

Kappy turnover leads to 2 on 1 and Bratt goal, 4-3 Devils

Kappy, come on, you can’t go and do that at the blueline. You especially can’t not use your speed to get back in the play and break up that pass.

Second Period Thoughts

  • Offense: Didn’t start out great, they didn’t have a shot attempt for the first 6 or so minutes. Turned out even worse, with terrible turnovers at the worst parts of the ice. As dominant as they were in the first, that’s as bad as they looked in the second period. The shot attempts were (19 to 16) and high danger scoring chances (7 to 2) favoured the Devils at even strength.
  • Defense: /
  • Special teams: Leafs gave up a PP goal very fast, but it’s tough to say their PK was bad when it was a 5 on 3 and the goal came on a bad rebound by Hutch. They were able to kill off the rest of the remaining penalty just fine.
  • Lines: The third line was still more of the same, good offensive zone pressure and got a Kappy rush goal. The Tavares line was pretty good too overall, but didn’t have the same offensive pace. The Matthews-Marner line may be fun in theory and sure looked great in the third period vs Carolina, but this game... oy. The two of them have been far too cute with the puck, and when they were paired with Rielly and Barrie their turnovers were ugly. That line has been mildly getting their teeth kicked in for both possession and expected goals as a result.
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Period Three + Overtime

Nylander with a gorgeous pass to Tavares, Leafs tie it 4-4

After a pretty uneventful period, the Leafs trade penalties with the Devils. After struggling to get set up for the first chunk of it AGAIN, Nylander set up Tavares with a perfect cross-ice pass for the tap in.

It would be a pretty devastating blow for the Leafs to lose Mikheyev and the dynamic duo he’s formed with Tavares. Subsequent reports said he went to hospital and he did not return to the game.

Tell us what you really think, Keefe!

William Nylander scores on own goal, Leafs win!

Nylander steals the puck in the Devils’ end and makes a great move to the middle of the ice. The Devils then knocked the puck in their own net, but credit to Willy with a three point game. Burke can shut the fuck up about him now.

Final Thoughts

  • Offense: Third period was somewhere between the first and second. It was more even in shot attempts and scoring chances, but the Leafs didn’t have the same level of bone-headed turnovers. It was very low-paced with about half as many shot attempts, which is not something that favours the Leafs.
  • Defense: They really cut down on the awful turnovers and poor coverage in the third, which was a welcome start.
  • Special teams: They didn’t give up a goal on their abbreviated penalty kill, and scored on their abbreviated powerplay. That’s a win in my books! The less said about their PP in overtime the better.
  • Lines: They had to juggle some things after Mikheyev got hurt, but the only standout line for me was the Tavares line in the third period. The third line was locking things down, and the Matthews line was invisible to me. The fourth line was invisible all game.
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