The Maple Leafs began the week third in the Atlantic division, and riding a three-game win streak coming out of the All Star break.
Monday vs. Florida Panthers
Toronto’s first game of the week was a Monday night battle against the Florida Panthers. Kasperi Kapanen slotted back into the lineup after a healthy scratch in the last game, due to “internal accountability”. According to Kapanen’s media the morning of, he was late to practice on Friday morning because he overslept.
The Leafs began the game strong and did not allow a shot within the first ten minutes. However, Mark Pysyk capitalized off of blown coverage in front of the Leafs’ net to give the Panthers the lead, which they held until the end of the first frame. Michael Hutchinson started the second period in relief for Frederik Andersen, who left the game with upper body injury following two severe collisions. The Leafs overcame the early first period deficit off of goals from John Tavares and William Nylander, with both goals coming in the second frame. Nylander had goals in six of the Leafs last seven games and was on an eight-game point streak.
Auston Matthews added to the lead in the third, but the Panthers came back to tie the game 3-3 with a second goal by Pysyk and a powerplay goal from Jonathan Huberdeau. The Panthers then took back the lead with a Mike Hoffman goal. Pysyk finished the hat trick with an empty netter. Despite the Leafs playing one of their best defensive games under Sheldon Keefe, every mistake ended up in the back of their net. The Panthers downed the Leafs by a final score of 5-3, grabbing the important two points against a divisional rival. As Tavares remarked after the game, “we got sloppy early in the third” and they didn’t have “good response or momentum”.
Wednesday vs. New York Rangers
The next morning, the Leafs embarked on a single game road trip to face the New York Rangers for the third time this season. Andersen was listed as day-to-day with a neck injury, and did not travel with the team. Kasimir Kaskisuo was called up from the Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, to back up Hutchinson. This was also the club’s first ever “mentor’s trip.”
Travis Dermott returned to the lineup, and to a struggling defence corps, after missing two games due to food poisoning. The Leafs grabbed an early lead off a goal from John Tavares. Nylander picked up an assist on the tally, extending his point streak to nine games. Filip Chytil scored just over a minute later to tie the game at one. Off of a faceoff in the Leafs’ end, Mika Zibanejad to give the Rangers the lead. Six seconds later Chris Kreider, a game time decision for the Rangers, added to the lead, which lasted until first intermission. The Leafs came out strong in the second period. Igor Shesterkin made some key saves, but a rapid fire sequence by the Marner-Matthews-Hyman line drew a cross checking call. Despite some good looks on the powerplay, Shesterkin wasn’t beaten. The leafs finally broke Shesterkin with an incredible backhand shot by Matthews.
Auston Matthews comes off the bench and backhands his 38th of the season pic.twitter.com/WWdEz6xSAM
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 6, 2020
The Rangers came right back, with Pavel Buchnevich capitalizing on the opportunity provided by a scrambling Hutchinson, to restore the two goal lead. After a lackluster third period, Matthews struck with his second of the night coming on the powerplay, and bringing the Leafs within one with just over three minutes left in the game. The effort was too little, too late, and Greg McKegg potted the empty netter. Once again, the Leafs fell 5-3. As Keefe said post-game, they “dug themselves into a hole they couldn’t get out of.”
Cody Ceci, who left the game against the Rangers with an ankle injury, was placed on LTIR and will be re-evaluated in a month. The club also called up Timothy Liljegren, who lined up for Friday’s game alongside his former Marlies defence partner, Rasmus Sandin. Keefe informed the media that Andersen would be unavailable for the weekend games, a back-to-back where they face the Anaheim Ducks and the Montreal Canadiens.
Friday vs. Anaheim Ducks
The Leafs came into the game against the Anaheim Ducks with two new additions who had not yet practiced with the team, and looking to get back in the win column. The Leafs grabbed the first goal, Andreas Johnsson capitalizing off of a nice passing play. The Ducks tied it up but the Leafs came back to grab a 3-1 lead. However, they fell apart in the third. After the Ducks tied the game up at three, Jason Spezza went end to end, finishing with an incredible fake shot goal.
The angle on Jason Spezza's goal is crazy pic.twitter.com/1Q8DsGH6e2
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 8, 2020
The Ducks tied up the game with the puck being batted out of midair to beat Campbell, and the game went to overtime. On the powerplay in overtime, Mitch Marner set up John Tavares for the game winner, earning his 200th career assist. Campbell saved 26 of 30 shots, and the Leafs salvaged a blown lead in order to move back into third in the Atlantic Division.
Saturday vs. Montréal Canadiens
Against the Canadiens, Keefe made the decision to start Campbell back-to-back and Nylander was absent due to illness for the second consecutive game. This is also captain John Tavares’ 800th NHL game. The game quickly took a physical tone, notably with Jake Muzzin taking down Max Domi.
Muzzin said sorry zones closed pic.twitter.com/l3AZx7YLhu
— Leafs ALL Day (@LeafsAllDayy) February 9, 2020
The two teams traded chances, but the first frame ended with the score stuck at 0-0.
Early in the second period, Justin Holl hit iron off of a beautiful and following that, Carey Price reached back to bat the puck out the crease. Soon after, Jonathan Drouin took a slashing penalty and the Leafs power-play went to work. Artturi Lehkonen blocked a shot with his open palm off the first draw and after the next whistle went to the locker room. He would return the game in the third period. The Leafs power-play was unsuccessful and directly after, Campbell was forced to make an aggressive save. The teams continued trading chances and power-plays, with Price being the busier of the goalies, but both netminders making some excellent saves.
The Leafs did a great job at keeping possession and reducing high quality chances, holding the Canadiens to four shots through the second period. John Tavares opened the scoring just over a minute into the third, beating Price with a quick wrist shot following a deceptive passing play. That tally was Tavares’ fifth goal and seventh point in the last four games. After the goal, Montréal came out flying, and the Leafs held on with some scrambly saves by Campbell and a good defensive effort by Sandin and Liljegren. Campbell stood tall in the third period as the Habs started to apply pressure.
Toronto took a late too many men call, and Campbell was forced to make a huge save following a cross-seam pass by the Canadiens first power-play unit. The Leafs took their foot off the gas in the third, going over 14 minutes without a shot following the goal. The Canadiens broke through with just over two minutes left. A high shot on Price rang around the boards and down to the Leafs end, resulting in Marco Scandella blasting the puck through a screened Campbell. The game headed to extra time. After an impressive poke check save by Campbell on a Nick Suzuki breakaway, Matthews failed to clear the rebound, and Ilya Kovalchuk buried it. As was the theme this week, the Leafs fell short in the third period and blew yet another lead.
The Leafs emerged from a week, in which they faced serious third period issues, with three of eight possible points. Looking at recent results, the team endured the back-to-back, with their backup starting in both games, and collected three of four points.
- The Leafs ended the week as it began, third in the Atlantic division. However, the Panthers are now only two point behind them with two games in hand.
- Auston Matthews tied Alex Ovechkin with a league-leading 40 goals on the season.
- Sandin has established himself as an integral penalty killer with Ceci injured, and is beginning to prove himself to be more than capable in his own zone.
- In all, Campbell’s second game was an improvement on his first. He was much calmer in the net throughout the game and never gave up on a play. However, the Leafs defensive effort on Saturday night in the first two periods was much improved, following a post-game scrum where Keefe called out his team’s effort.
- We unfortunately saw William Nylander’s point streak come to an “end” after he missed two games due to illness. However, the winger is expected to make his return on Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.
- Jason Spezza has been excellent throughout the week.
- The Leafs are waiting on injury updates on Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci before making a decision on whether or not they will trade for help on defence.
- Lastly, there is no definite timeline for Andersen’s return. As of now, he is still day-to-day, although there is hope he makes his return on Tuesday night.