By Stan Smith

The Toronto Maple Leafs made it two for two against New York-based teams with a 3-2 comeback overtime win over the Rangers on Wednesday night. This game was not as easy as the Islander’s win on Monday night.

I found it a frustrating game to watch as both teams played much better defensively without the puck than they did offensively with it. As a result, there was no flow to the game. It was difficult for either team to get any sustained momentum until the latter half of the third period when the game started to open up. 

I can’t say the Maple Leafs deserved to win this game. However, I also can’t say they deserved to lose it. I remember back to a time when games ended in ties. A 2-2 score and a split of the points was probably what each team deserved from this game. 

The Good

Pontus Holmberg

The Maple Leafs scored on their first and last shots in this game. The first goal, on the first shot, was scored by Pontus Holmberg on a play that Ilya Samsonov started from behind his own net. On a Rangers shoot-in Samsonov, rather than just corral the puck and just give it to one of the nearest defensemen, threads the needle between two Rangers’ forwards and passes it up to Alex Kerfoot at the blue line. Kerfoot relays it to Joey Anderson, who then finds Holmberg breaking up the middle of the ice. Holmberg blows by both Rangers’ defensemen and fools Igor Shesterkin with a backhand over his right shoulder.  

It appeared to me that Shesterkin was expecting Holmberg to pull the puck to his forehand and was setting up for that.  

Holmberg is making himself noticeable for all the right reasons.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Forgotten Ones: Dion Phaneuf

Timothy Liljegren

There wasn’t much “Good” to write about between Holmberg’s goal at 2:27 of the first period and the Maple Leafs’ second goal of the game at 15:49 of the third.  

With the Maple Leafs gaining momentum and following a strong shift by the Matthews line, Keefe threw a line of John Tavares, William Nylander, and Pierre Engvall onto the ice. Mark Giordano and Timothy Liljegren joined them on defence. 

Timothy Liljegren, 2020-21 Upper Deck Allure – Red Rainbow Jersey

It didn’t take long for that to pay a dividend. Engvall beat out a dump-in by Giordano and then helped Nylander win a battle in the corner for the puck. Nylander skated out toward the left point with the puck and then turned and fired it at the net about waist-high, with both Engvall and Tavares creating havoc in front of Shesterkin. Tavares tipped the puck down and into the pads of Shesterkin. 

That deflection prevented Shesterkin from controlling the rebound. Liljegren came in late, got body position on Chris Kreider, and roofed the rebound over a sprawling Shesterkin to tie the game. 

Liljegren’s Long Journey

It has been a long journey for Liljegren. However, he has finally established himself as a bonafide top-four NHL defenseman. They mentioned on the broadcast that Liljegren has not been on the ice for a five-on-five goal in his last eight games. That amounts to over 133 minutes of five-on-five ice time without allowing a goal. 

The only goal Liljegren has been on the ice for in those eight games is a power-play goal by Florida. That is the only power-play goal Liljegren has been on the ice for in his last ten games. In those ten games, he has played over 17 minutes on the penalty kill only allowing that one goal.

This has truly been a breakout season for Liljegren. 

Mitch Marner

Earlier in the game, a turnover by Marner cost the Maple Leafs. He made up for it on a solo effort in overtime reminiscent of the William Nylander overtime goal against the Florida Panthers a little over a week ago.

On a scrambled draw to start the overtime, Marner gets his stick on the puck and passes it back to Liljegren at the Maple Leafs’ blue line. He then circles back and takes a drop pass from Liljegren in his own zone. Then, in what appears to be slow motion, he skates around all three Rangers’ players. 

Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Marner gets tripped by K’Andre Miller as he is going from his backhand to forehand moving across the net but manages to tuck the puck behind Shesterkin while falling (flying?). As the puck enters the net the only part of Marner still touching the ice is his stick. 

Ilya Samsonov

In his fourth straight start and his fifth straight game, Samsonov was solid stopping 27 of 29 shots. He wasn’t as busy as he was in his last two appearances but made the saves when he had to. He still has yet to lose a home game in regulation and has posted a 14-0-1 record at the Scotiabank Arena.

William Nylander

Nylander”s assist on the Liljegren goal was his 400 NHL point.

Related: Four Takeaways from Maple Leafs’ 3-2 OT Win vs. Rangers

The Bad

As I stated off the top, both teams struggled to sustain any offence in this game. It was not a pretty game to watch, with the exception of the finish if you are a Maple Leafs’ fan.  

The first Rangers’ goal involved a little bad luck for the Maple Leafs. Koodos to Filip Chytil for executing a play off the draw that you don’t see very often outside of faceoffs in the dying seconds of a period. He faked drawing the puck back, and then as the puck was dropped, rolled his hand around his stick and surprised David Kampf, Samsonov, and everyone else in the building by firing a quick shot on net. The timing on that had to be perfect. 

The Ugly

In the play leading up to the Ranger’s second goal, Matthews and Michael Bunting each had the puck on their stick in the Maple Leafs’ end once. And, Marner had it on his stick twice. But all three failed to get the puck out of the zone. On the last turnover, Marner’s attempted flip of the puck to a breaking Matthews up the middle is picked out of mid-air by Kaapo Kakko.  

On the ensuing play, four Maple Leafs’ players get caught on the wrong side of the puck creating a down-low, two-on-one with Justin Holl the only man back. Holl gets caught in the middle and goes down in an attempt to block a pass from Kakko to Chytil. Kakko makes a nice play to step around the prone Holl delivering the pass behind Holl right to Chytil. Chytil one-times a shot past Samsonov who had no chance on the play. 

What’s Next?

The Maple Leafs play their third of a five-game home stand on Friday night against the hot and cold Ottawa Senators. In their last four games, Ottawa has sandwiched two lopsided losses, 4-1 to Pittsburgh and 5-1 to Winnipeg between a 5-4 overtime win against the Penguins and a 2-1 squeaker over the New York Islanders in their last game. 

The Maple Leafs won the first meeting in the Battle of Ontario, 3-2 back in October. 

Matt Murray has been announced as the starter in that game. This will be the first game in which Murray has faced the Senators since being traded by them to the Maple Leafs in the offseason. 

It will also be Murray’s first appearance since being pulled against Florida after giving up four goals on eight shots. 

Related: How Can Maple Leafs’ Fans Not Like Conor Timmins?

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