We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.
All of a sudden, the Toronto Maple Leafs are on a bit of a roll.
Though they had to erase a deficit for the third consecutive game, the Maple Leafs beat the Vegas Golden Knights 2-1 in overtime on a three-on-three winner from John Tavares. While the captain was the difference in the end, Frederik Andersen submitted probably his best performance of the season with 37 saves, and was absolutely the reason Toronto escaped with points.
Tavares said after the game that Andersen earned all three stars, and we certainly didn’t hear any argument from anyone.
It’s the Philadelphia Flyers for a second straight Saturday before heading straight to Chicago for another back-to-back.
Hello, Michael Hutchinson.
Until then, three points.
First Point: Why wait?
How long will you win when you seem to be playing not to lose?
Head coach Mike Babcock was perhaps as pleased as he’s been all season in his post-game conference earlier this week, saying it was “beautiful” to watch his team stay patient enough to eventually earn their breakthrough — two goals in 30 seconds — in an ugly contest versus the Los Angeles Kings.
It was as though he wanted his team to adapt to the opponent, rather than to dictate terms against an inferior opponent.
But this team is too talented and carries too much potential to think that way, to not be attack-minded — especially in games like they’ve competed in recently, where they have barely led at all.
Against Vegas, the Maple Leafs created nearly nothing at even strength in the first period, were thoroughly dominated in the middle frame before a late push, and generated only two high-danger looks with the game on the line in the third.
There are limitations to waiting, to not forcing the issue. The Leafs just happened to avoid experiencing them so far this week.
Second Point: ‘What do we have to lose?’
While there were chances created early, the Maple Leafs failed on their first five power plays awarded versus Vegas, and to that point had converted on only two of their previous 32 chances when adding up the failures over the last few weeks.
It seems Auston Matthews had had it.
With a television timeout preceding what would be the Leafs’ final opportunity with the man advantage, Matthews spoke up in an effort to scrap the schemes that had failed them to that point.
“We were a bit stagnant, so I thought in the third, I pretty much said: ‘What do we have to lose?’ Let’s move around. Let’s get the penalty kill thinking more. And I thought we did a pretty good job of that — different guys going to different areas, and just reacting, playing off our instincts. Not just drawing up plays, but reacting off one another.”
With many others without say seeing it the same way as Matthews, his insight doesn’t look all that favourably on those running the power play.
Though Babcock did mention that he piped up during that timeout, too.
“That's what we said before the power play there, 'Come on, lighten up here fellas. Let's just go out there and breathe a little bit and do what we're supposed to do.’”
Third Point: Worst of Nylander
For reasons that may or may not be associated with the previous point, Babcock is challenging William Nylander, but there’s probably still not a more divisive figure with the Maple Leafs than the top-line right winger.
His immense talent is on display every time he handles the puck and his largely positive on-ice impact shines on the spreadsheet. Nylander is the leader among regulars in scoring chance share, which would be the preferred analytic for Babcock. Assuming he has one.
But there are those blips — many trivial, and others not — that just blind certain folks from everything positive that he does.
There was a costly one in Philadelphia.
There was another he was lucky to see become insignificant tonight versus the Golden Knights.
We saw the worst of Nylander early in the second period when Andreas Johnsson sauced a backhand pass into space for his opposite winger, offering the idea that Nylander would engage in a low-risk 50-50 battle.
Except Nylander simply bailed on the play, offering a stick lift when Jon Merrill hadn’t even reached out for the puck.
Merrill earned possession and sent the Golden Knights’ top line in on the forecheck, and of course Nylander back into his own zone. Toronto handled the forecheck reasonably well, but twice had to rely on Nylander to move the puck out. He failed with each — particularly on this unconvincing touch:
As the play continued, eventually the puck was rimmed back around to Nylander’s side. Instead of trying to beat Reilly Smith in a footrace, Nylander slowed, reached out, and took a simply inexcusable holding penalty.
The Golden Knights hit a post, missed an empty net, forced Andersen into a brilliant glove save, and had three more legitimate looks on the ensuing power play — all because Nylander wanted to avoid that contact from Merrill.
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