The West was won, and decisively so. From January 18th to Monday night, the Maple Leafs took on their traditionally out-of-conference Canadian rivals in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver, and skated out with 17 of a possible 20 points – an 8-1-1 record where the one regulation loss came in just the second game of the stretch. But now, with that behind them, it was time to return to their roots and take on their traditional nearby rival, the Montreal Canadiens. The Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge appear to be their biggest threat to the division throne moving forward, adding even higher stakes to one of the sports’ marquee matchups this year. This game wasn’t Toronto’s best at the start, but they stepped up in the end and used it to pull further ahead in the North division race, winning 4-2 on Wednesday night.
The Leafs had a pretty flat start in this one that would stretch across the period, but punish them on the scoresheet within just seconds. Moments after Zach Hyman put up the game’s first scoring chance, Josh Anderson took advantage of some poor defensive coverage and beat Frederik Andersen with a five-hole shot that kind of felt like the reaction of someone who wasn’t prepared for puck drop. That shakiness wore off after a couple of minutes, but the score didn’t, even with two late-period powerplays for the blue and white, which helped them turn around a quickly-accrued shot gap in the first half of the period.
Toronto’s flatness continued to persist into the second, but as time progressed, the team began to pick up steam. With five minutes remaining in the period, Travis Dermott turned that steam into success, ripping a wrist shot from downtown past Carey Price’s blocker to tie the game. Toronto continued to get their step back in the period’s final minutes, and initially even appeared to draw a powerplay to start the third – but several minutes after Joel Edmundson was penalized for tripping Zach Hyman, with intermission under way, we found out that Hyman also received a penalty for embellishment. (Weird, right?)
No matter. At the 1:50 mark of the third period, ten seconds before a theoretical powerplay would have ended, John Tavares found Justin Holl at the point, and the Minnetonka native blasted a slapper to give Toronto the lead. Just 42 seconds later, the Leafs were at it again – Hyman found Alex Kerfoot in front of the net, and while Kerfoot whiffed on the shot, he provided just enough spin on the puck to put it in the direction of Ilya Mikheyev, who trickled the puck into the back of the net. Toronto was once again outshot in this period, but by the smallest margin of the three, and they would not be outscored. Tomas Tatar closed the gap with three and a half minutes remaining by crashing the net and making the most out of a deflection off of TJ Brodie’s stick, but Hyman responded with an empty net goal two minutes later to put the game on ice.
This season, I’m going to showcase the stellar work of Hockey Stats Cards for post-game data, as Cole Palmer has done a fantastic job presenting a combination of data from Natural Stat Trick and Dom Lusczczysyn’s Game Score model. Be sure to check out the site, which does cards for all games automatically and lets you subscribe to email pushes for your favourite teams.
- Tonight was a night of firsts! Dermott, Holl, and Mikheyev’s goals were all their first of the season, all in the span of just eight game minutes.
- On the other side of the coin, Auston Matthews’ goal streak ends at eight games. He now “only” has 11 goals in 13 games. What a slacker. On the plus side for him, his assist on the Hyman empty netter keeps the point streak alive at 9.
- John Tavares briefly went through concussion protocol after having Shea Weber fall on him. Thankfully for the Leafs, he appears to be no worse for wear, and he went on to pick up the primary assist on the game winner.
- Montreal definitely had more control in this one, but I’d be a little careful with the final numbers. Rhys Jessop pointed out some inconsistencies in counting Toronto’s shots and attempts for in the first period, and Draglikepull noticed a few weird quirks in the game logs in the second. Might just be a technical glitch, maybe a scorekeeper who didn’t notice. This stuff tends to smooth itself out as the season progresses, but just something to keep in mind for the final counts.
- Frederik Andersen, after a terrible first goal conceded, had an excellent night, stopping 32 of 34. Tonight’s performance gets him firmly across the 0.900 barrier, at least for the time being.
- Quote of the night comes from Holl when asked if he pictured his first goal of the year would come by going roof “Oh yeah. Hammer time, baby.”
- Toronto’s next game will come on Saturday night, once again against Montreal. It looks like the push for tradition has afforded them a second day off, which I’m sure both teams will appreciate. Naturally, this means Hockey Night in Canada at 7:00 PM.