After a terrible performance in Buffalo on Saturday night, the Leafs needed to take advantage of a Florida Panthers team that appeared to be coming apart at the seams. They needed to come out and take advantage of a tired team that played last night, while the Leafs had been idle since Saturday. The Leafs, however, would have to rely on backup goalie Curtis McElhinney to stop the bleeding, as Frederik Andersen had been ruled out due to an upper body injury.
This may have been as dominant a period as the Leafs have played all season in terms of controlling the play. They managed to out shoot the Panthers 13-3, taking the onus off of McElhinney and peppering James Reimer with shots. Kasperi Kapanen, making his season debut managed to have two scoring chances, one where he was unable to bat the puck out of the air past Reimer, and another where he broke in with speed ahead of the pack, but got in too tight and was unable to push the puck home. One player that had no trouble burying his scoring chances was Auston Matthews, who just past the midway point of the period, scored to break Wendel Clark’s Leafs rookie record for goals with his 35th of the season. It was also his 20th go ahead goal of the season, breaking another Leafs record. Less than three minutes later, Connor Carrick managed to create a turnover, play the puck up to Nazem Kadri, who found Connor Brown breaking in on a two on one with Leo Komarov. Brown fed Komarov who fired the puck past Reimer for his 13th goal of the season, and also continuing the milestone theme of the period, the goal was Komarov’s 100th career NHL point. That goal gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead that they’d carry with them to the locker room at the end of the first period.
As dominant as the Leafs were in the first period, they were equally bad in the second. The Panthers came out and tested Curtis McElhinney early and often, but McElhinney was up to the task. There was one particular sequence where he made a terrific toe save, and then managed to get his stick flat to the ice to make the save with his paddle down. Kasperi Kapanen had another good period for the Leafs, drawing a penalty and also breaking out on a short handed two on one that Reto Berra was able to stop. Berra was in the game because James Reimer took a hit to the head as he came out to play the puck while Brian Boyle was skating past. Reimer was down on the ice for a few moments before skating off under his own power. Unfortunately for the Leafs, after Auston Matthews lost a late period draw, Keith Yandle was able to find Reilly Smith, who scored to cut the lead to 2-1 after two periods. Late in the period, the Leafs were the victims of an awful call, as Roman Polak batted the puck out of the air, and the puck hit Jonathan Huberdeau in the face. The referees initially called Polak for high sticking, but after conferring twice, the correct call was made, and Polak was freed from the box.
The third period started out as an uneventful one, but that all changed when Alex Petrovic hit Mitch Marner in the corner. The hit was high, but as is argued in football, when a player is hunched over as Marner was, where do you hit him. I can see where Petrovic thought his hit was fine, and I can see where the Leafs thought it was high. What happened however is that the next time Petrovic was on the ice, Matt Martin sought him out of fight and was called for an instigator penalty. This seemed to be a questionable call as situation like this occur all the time in hockey, and no instigator is called. If the NHL is serious about diminishing fighting, that might be one way to do it, but that’s a debate for another time. In this instance it left the Leafs shorthanded, as ironically, Mitch Marner skated to the box to serve Martin’s extra penalty. Sweet Vindication came quickly however as 23 seconds into the penalty, Leo Komarov and Zach Hyman broke in two on one and Hyman rifled the puck past Reto Berra to give the Leafs a 3-1 advantage. Later on in the period, William Nylander took a penalty for cross checking Jason Demers. It was a correct call, but what made the incident stand out for me, is that it’s one of the first instances I can remember one of the big three sticking up for themselves. Demers had flung Nylander into the corner, and then ragdolled him a bit when he tried to get up. Although he needs to find a more inconspicuous way of doing it, it’s nice to see that Nylander refused to be pushed around. McElhinney held the fort on the ensuing power play and the Leafs carried a 3-1 lead into the final minutes, when with the Florida net empty, Jake Gardiner was called for tripping, a call that TSN analyst Ray Ferraro deemed “soft”. Jaromir Jagr was able to score on the Six on Four power play to cut the Leafs lead to 3-2, but that would be as close as it would get as the Leafs would hang on. The win keeps them one point ahead of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, four points ahead of Tampa for the last wildcard spot, and five points ahead of Carolina and NYI. The Leafs are in action again Thursday night as they travel to Nashville to take on the Predators.
SCORING BY PERIOD
Toronto Goal 11:54 A. Matthews (35) assisted by Z. Hyman and W. Nylander
Toronto Goal 14:43 L. Komarov (13) assisted by C. Brown and N. Kadri
Florida Goal 15:31 R. Smith (14) assisted by K. Yandle and J. Demers
Toronto Goal 3:32 Z. Hyman (10) (short-handed) assisted by L. Komarov
Florida Goal 19:04 J. Jagr (15) (power play) assisted by A. Barkov and K. Yandle
SHOTS ON GOAL BY PERIOD
MIKE BABCOCK POST GAME SCRUM