By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished their trip to Sweden a perfect 2-0 with a lucky 4-3 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild.
The Maple Leafs did not deserve to win this game. They were outshot, out-chanced, and outplayed for 50 of the 60 regular minutes of this game. Timely scoring and solid goaltending by Joseph Woll made the difference.
The Maple Leafs started the first period on their heels. At the ten-minute mark of the first period, the shots were 10-2 for Minnesota and the score was 1-0. For the Wild.
The play the Wild scored on started and ended with Nick Robertson. Off of a faceoff win in the Minnesota zone, Robertson attempted a bank pass off the boards back to William Lagesson at the point. The puck bounced off the boards right to Kirill Kaprizov. After gaining the Maple Leafs’ zone, the Wild passed it around and played keep-away with it for close to half a minute before defenseman Jon Merrill fired a shot toward the Maple Leafs’ net. Robertson got his stick on the shot just enough to make it change direction and beat Woll over his glove hand.
As I stated at the opening, the Maple Leafs were outplayed for 50 minutes in this game. However, from the middle of the first period until close to the end of it, the Maple Leafs outshot the Wild 10-0. The total number of shots in the entirety of regulation was 35-23 for Minnesota. So, outside of the last half of the first period, the Wild outshot the Maple Leafs 35-13. The shots in the second period were 11-5 Wild. The shots in the third period were 13-4 Wild.
According to Naturalstattrick.com, the Wild had 71% of the High-Danger Chances and 60% of the Expected Goals in the game.
After the Maple Leafs went up 3-1 early in the third period, Minnesota scored a minute and a half later to make the score 3-2. Then they scored again just over two and a half minutes later to tie the game at three. The 3-2 goal came off of a lost draw by Auston Matthews in the Toronto zone. The puck came back to the point and Jake Middleton beat Woll with a wrist shot. Mitch Marner attempted to block the shot but failed. Morgan Rielly failed to box out Joel Eriksson Ek on the play and Eriksson Ek provided the perfect screen not allowing Woll to see the shot.
The third Minnesota goal came off of a cross-crease pass from Brock Faber that was tipped past Woll by Mats Zuccarello. William Nylander attempted to tie up Zuccarello as he broke for the net but failed.
The Maple Leafs made the most of the 10 minutes they did dominate in the first period scoring two goals. The first was on a power play. Matthews won the opening draw on the power play and John Tavares dropped the puck past to Rielly at the point. Reilly found Nylander to the right of the Wild net. Nylander fired a shot that Marc Andre Fleury stopped. However, the rebound went right to Matthews, who scored his league-leading 14th goal of the season.
Matthew Knies Scored for the Maple Leafs
With 1:37 left in the first period Knies scored to finish off a play that started behind the Maple Leafs’ net. McCabe started the play when he fought off two Minnesota forecheckers and made a nice short pass to Knies, the puck went to Matthews and then back to Knies exiting the zone. Knies carried the puck into the Wild zone and passed it over to Mark Giordano who had joined the rush. Giordano dropped the puck to Marner entering the zone. At the same time, Matthews headed for the front of the net. Marner feathered a pass over to Knies who one-timed it past Fleury to put the Maple Leafs up 2-1.
The Maple Leafs Added to Their Lead Early in the Second Period
The Maple Leafs added to their lead early in the second period. This time the play started with a save by Woll. Matthews picked up the rebound and headed up-ice with Marner alongside. After entering the Wild zone, he fired the puck into the righthand corner of the ice where Marner picked it up and fed it back to Matthews behind the Minnesota net. As Knies breaks to the net and creates a screen, Matthews passes the puck to Rielly in the faceoff circle to the right of Fleury. Rielly fires a shot over Fleury’s right shoulder. Because of Knies’ screen, Fleury did not see the puck until it was in the net.
William Nylander Was the Show in Overtime
It was the William Nylander show in overtime. Rielly blocked a shot on a Minnesota two-on-one. He also didn’t take a penalty when he slid under Marcus Johansson without tripping him.
Rielly tapped the puck up to Nylander in the Toronto zone, and Nylander did the rest. He skated up ice with the puck, blew past the three Wild players on the ice, and made a slick backhand to forehand move with the puck to beat Fleury and win the game for the Maple Leafs.
Goalie Joseph Woll Was the Maple Leafs Best Player
Woll was the best player on the ice for the Maple Leafs during the rest of regulation. If it wasn’t for Woll, the game never would have gone to overtime. He stopped 33 of the 36 shots he faced to up his record to six wins against four losses.
Maple Leafs’ Milestones
Rielly had a goal and two assists in the game to give him three goals and 15 points on the season in 17 games played. Rielly is now tied for 11th place in league scoring for a defenseman.
Nylander’s assist on Matthews’ goal extended his point streak from the start of the season to 17 games and moved him one point out of first place in NHL scoring.
Matthews’ 14 goals tie him for first in goals in the league with Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets.
Marner had two assists in the game. His first assist was the 400th assist of his career which makes Marner the fastest Maple Leafs’ player to reach 400 assists. I don’t think anyone who has watched the Maple Leafs this season would say that Marner has had a great season up until now. But, he still has 20 points in 17 games.
While Woll has cooled off from the hot start he had at the beginning of the season, he still leads in three categories for rookie goaltenders, Save Percentage at 0.909%, Goals-Against-Average (GAA) at 2.90, and rookie goalie wins with six.
The Maple Leafs took the long flight home. They now get ready for a mini-road trip where they play back-to-back games. The first is in Chicago on Friday afternoon. The second is Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
The Maple Leafs have now won four games in a row and five of their last six. They remain in third place in the Atlantic Division, one point behind the second-place Florida Panthers with the same number of games played. They are two points up on the Tampa Bay Lightning with a game in hand.