By Stan Smith
Oh, where to start with this game?
It certainly was an exciting game. One of the goals the NHL talks about achieving is the creation of rivalries. They certainly have succeeded with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning. This game was fast, intense, and physical. It had the feeling of a playoff game. Well, less the usual angst that most Maple Leafs’ fans feel in the postseason. You can tell there is no love lost between these two teams.
I’m going to start with the “Ugly” because the game started out ugly for the Maple Leafs. They came out flying to start the first and Auston Matthews had a great scoring chance ring off the crossbar. For the first game in five games, the Maple Leafs scored the first goal. But then, for seven minutes, the game became the Nikita Kucherov show.
Kucherov’s Power-Play Show
It started with Matthew Knies taking a strange cross-checking call in the Tampa zone. Knies knocked the puck past Mikhail Sergachev in the left corner of the Lightning zone and then he lifted his stick to attempt to get past Sergachev. As he did so he caught Sergachev in the back of the helmet with his stick just below his top hand.
It took just 16 seconds to score on a one-timer to tie the game at one. It was Tampa’s first shot on goal at that time to Toronto’s four shots.
Just under three and a half minutes later, Kucherov faked a one-timer and instead directed the puck to Alex Barre-Boulet who had gotten behind TJ Brodie and Morgan Rielly. Barre-Boulet deflected the puck past Ilya Samsonov.
Three and a half minutes later with Jake McCabe off for hooking, Kucherov didn’t fake a one-timer. Instead, he blasted it past Samsonov to make the score 3-0 Tampa. This time it took just four seconds off of the original draw to start the Tampa Bay power play.
That was three goals on four shots in a span of just over seven minutes. Two of those goals were scored in just 20 seconds of power play time.
Sheldon Keefe Makes Best Call of the Game in Pulling Samsonov
Sheldon Keefe did not hesitate to pull Samsonov following the third goal. When he was asked about it after the game Keefe did not pull any punches. He simply stated “You can’t let in three goals on four shots. That is it.”
One other ugly and scary incident that happened in the first period was Knies taking a shoulder to the side of the head from Michael Eyssimont with just over five minutes left in the first period. Knies was slow to get up following the blow and slowly skated to the bench. After suffering a concussion in the playoffs last spring, my first thought was that he had just suffered another one. Luckily for the Maple Leafs, he was able to return for his next shift.
Joseph Woll Was Great
With the final score of this game being 4-3, Joseph Woll will not get credit for a shutout in the game. But, that is exactly what he did. He came into the game with 6:31 left in the first period and stopped all 29 shots he faced in the remaining 50:36 of the game. Woll had to make a number of highlight reel saves in the game.
According to naturalstattrick.com, the Lightning had a whopping 20 High Danger Scoring Chances in the game. Figuring three on Samsonov, that leaves 17 High-Danger Chances stopped by Woll. In his two starts this season, Woll has shut out the opposition in five of the six periods he has played. After two starts his Save Percentage is 0.949 and his Goals Against Average is 1.69. Following the game Keefe stated Woll would be getting the start in Washington on Tuesday night.
Matthew Knies and Max Domi Teamed Up for the Tie
In his first four games, Matthews Knies has played fairly well. He hadn’t figured into the scoring of any of those games, but he has looked like an NHL player. He has won numerous puck battles and has been sound defensively.
What Knies hasn’t shown is the offence he demonstrated in the playoffs last season. Keefe had moved him around a bit in an effort to get his offence going. Knies started on a line centred by Fraser Minton and then moved up alongside John Tavares and William Nylander.
In an effort to spur some production from his team, Keefe juggled the lines midgame, moving Knies alongside Max Domi and David Kampf. That move paid off. Knies and Domi teamed up to score two goals on back-to-back shifts late in the third period to tie this game and send it into overtime.
Knies finished off two great setups from Domi to give him two goals and an assist in the game. He had the secondary assist on the Nylander goal to open the game.
Domi Finally Shows Up
After struggling to make the simplest of plays with the puck in his previous games, Domi appeared to have some jump right off the bat in this game. His play with the puck was crisp and clean all night.
On Knies’ first goal, Domi went end to end with the puck before finding a wide-open Knies in the slot. After turning the puck over prior to the tying goal, a great defensive play by Kampf sent Domi and Knies in two-on-one. Domi drew both Lightning defensemen to him before finding Knies alone in the slot once again.
William Nylander and John Tavares Are Rolling
Nylander opened the scoring in this game with an assist by Tavares and Tavares closed it off with an assist from Nylander. Tavares’ goal was eerily similar to the one he scored to eliminate the Lightning in the playoffs last season. Both goals were scored in the fourth minute of overtime and both of them careened off of Tampa defensemen sticks before entering the net.
There was a question of whether or not Tavares even touched the puck this time but slo-mo replays showed him getting the tip of his stick on the puck.
Both Nylander and Tavares lead the Maple Leafs with nine points in five games this season. Nylander has four goals and five assists, while Tavares has two goals and seven assists. They are both one point out of the NHL point-scoring lead.
Mark Giordano Has Been the Most Effective Defenseman Recently
While it has been in a third-pairing role and with limited minutes played, Mark Giordano has been the Maple Leafs’ most effective defenseman in the past few games. Since Keefe moved John Klingberg to the third pair with Giordano, Klingberg has been a lot more effective as well.
Giordano made some key defensive plays in this game. These included some blocked shots and interrupted passing plays in the Maple Leafs’ zone. Giordano is the type of defenseman that makes whoever he plays with better.
We covered the three goals in four shots in the first period in the “Ugly” section of this report. I wanted to touch on it again here. The Maple Leafs have had a penchant in the early going of this season to give up goals in bunches. They have given goals in bunches of two or three in every game they have played this season.
Timothy Liljegren and Jake McCabe Had a Tough Game
Timothy Liljrgren and Jake McCabe were the worst defensive pairing for the Maple Leafs in this game. I counted three times they allowed Tampa players to get behind them in this game. Each time Woll saved their butts on each occasion.
They also took the penalty that resulted in the 3-1 Tampa goal. I say “they” because McCabe was called for hooking on the play, but both he and Liljegren had their sticks in the hands of Anthony Cirelli on the play.
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner Didn’t Play Badly, But …
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner did not play badly in this game. They had a combined eleven shots on the net and had numerous scoring chances in regulation and overtime. But, they were both held off the scoresheet in the game.
After scoring six goals in his first two games, Matthews has been pointless in his last two games. Last season, Matthews was held off the scoreboard for consecutive games only twice, and was held scoreless for three games in a row just once. It will be interesting to see if they can find their scoring touch against Washington.
One observation I made in the game was in regard to the penalty taken by Klingberg for an illegal hit to the head on Brandon Hagel. I guess by the letter of the law, it was s hit to the head.
However, it looked to me that Klingberg just did what a good NHL defenseman should do during the play. He simply put his body between Hagel and the puck. It was more Hagel’s momentum and the position Hagel was in at the time of the collision that resulted in the head contact. The observation I made on the contact was that Klingberg seems to have a solid build to his 6-foot-3 frame. I wonder if this is an area of the game that Klingberg could use to improve his defensive play. I’m sure that Keefe and Brad Treliving wouldn’t mind seeing more physicality from Klingberg.
When do we admit that the Maple Leafs do not have a starter and backup situation with their goaltending? I think there is a legitimate battle going on for the number-one spot on the team. If Woll has another quality start in Washington, it might be his net to run with over the next while.
The Maple Leafs will try to improve on their 3-2 record and post a winning record for the month of October for the first time in three seasons. They travel to Washington to take on the struggling Capitals on Tuesday night. As of Saturday, the Caps have won just one of the four games they have played. They have been outscored 15 to 6 in those games and outshot 132 to 99.
The Capitals’ biggest problem seems to be in their defence. A way to gauge their issues on defence is to see that former Maple Leafs’ defenseman Rasmus Sandin, who struggled to stay in the top six for Toronto, is playing on Washington’s top pair with John Carlson. Sandin has averaged just over 22 minutes per game this season, is pointless, and minus two. Alex Ovechkin is goalless as well.
It will be interesting to see if the Maple Leafs can take any momentum from the Tampa game into Washington.