Sunday, January 21, 2018
Saturday night featured an enticing matchup on Hockey Day in Canada between Ottawa and Toronto in the third edition of the Battle of Ontario. Despite having polar opposite season’s, the Senators have had Toronto’s number with a 2-0-0 record thus far versus their rivals from up highway-401.
Its been a tough stretch for the Maple Leafs, who have lost four straight because they can’t seem to hold down a lead. Frederik Andersen voiced his reasonable displeasures following Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss and put his teammates in a very remorseful position.
Andersen went on to provide some colourful insight,
“We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team,” and “We’ve got to look at each other in the eyes here and determine where we want to go from here. I don’t think we’re tired; I think it’s lack of effort at certain points and that’s something that can’t happen,”
It’s clear that Andersen’s teammates are behind him—Auston Matthews has his back even if it is tough love,
“He’s absolutely right. We have his back. We need to be better for one another, and we need to be better for him.”
But if you thought blowing another third-period lead was bad, it was barely scratching the surface. Remember when Morgan Rielly left the second period under noticeable distress, only to return for the third and finish the game?
Well, Morgan Rielly would miss his first game of the year with an upper injury after that collision with Jakub Voracek on Tuesday night. It’s an obvious loss for the Leafs, who are already without Nikita Zaitsev, but it provided an opportunity for each defenceman still in the lineup to prove their worth.
Travis Dermott moved up to the second pairing with Connor Carrick and Jake Gardiner assumed Rielly’s place alongside Ron Hainsey—which proved to be a pivotal pairing.
Furthermore, it took two shorthanded goals this week but Connor Brown finally earned his own promotion in the lineup to play alongside James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak.
Toronto dominated the first period with an overwhelming 61.29 CF% and managed to jump out to a 1-0 lead courtesy of Zach Hyman’s 8th goal of the season. A hard-working shift resulted in the icebreaker as Hyman was able to pounce on a loose rebound after Jake Gardiner and Auston Matthews each had shots on goal, respectively. Craig Anderson was sprawled out of position in an attempt to track down the puck, only to come up short.
That lead would remain intact going into the intermission, however, Ottawa stormed back in the second to take a commanding 3-1 lead on the back of their 52.94 CF% rating in the period.
Auston Matthews took what turned out to be just his second penalty of the season with a high sticking infraction on Cody Ceci—which led to an equalizer from Ottawa. Matthews’ uncharacteristic penalty turned out to come at a very inopportune time as Erik Karlsson sniped his 4th goal of the season on the ensuing play.
Several minutes later it would be Mike Hoffman answering the call for Ottawa and giving his team a 2-1 advantage. Hoffman received a break-in pass from Cody Ceci to attack the Maple Leafs zone and quickly walked away with his 12th goal after beating Andersen with a slick wrist shot.
The Maple Leafs hoped to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves with a fresh power play opportunity—but instead managed to suffer a much worse fate in the process. Tom Pyatt extended Ottawa’s lead to two with a shorthanded goal following extended pressure in the opposition’s zone. Toronto collapsed in their own end, allowing Zack Smith and Tom Pyatt to connect on a devastating marker to put the Buds down 3-1 late in the frame.
A strong third period would lift the Maple Leafs spirits but would it be enough to lift them to victory?
Auston Matthews kicked the frame off with his 20th goal of the season to retake his lead on the team scoring lead narrowly ahead of James van Riemsdyk. Zach Hyman threw the puck on net before Auston Matthews drove right to the net and put on the brakes in front of Craig Anderson, before collecting the rebound and making it a one-goal game.
Less than two minutes later the Maple Leafs were back at it igniting their supporting group inside of Canadian Tire Centre.
Mitch Marner potted an electrifying goal after entering the offensive zone with an entry feed from Jake Gardiner. Zack Smith and Kadri got tangled up, but Smith happened to be the only recipient of a penalty to give the Leafs a man-advantage.
The 20-year-old phenom has seen a downward offensive season but a creative goal could be just what he needs to kick his production unto the next year. He did already have 31 points coming into tonight as it is… He proved his offensive prowess with a profuse toe-drag to wait out Craig Anderson during a one-on-one before beating him clean and tying the game 3-3.
It took a few minutes for Toronto to regroup and continue their wrath but they would take a 4-3 lead thanks to Connor Carrick. Leo Komarov fed Carrick at the point for a clear point shot that found the back of the net—which would turn out to be the difference in a tight rivalry matchup.
Toronto dominated possession with a 60 CF% rating in the third period and would prevail over their four-game losing streak.
The Buds will return home for a match with Colorado on Monday and look to continue their winning streak before the All-Star break next weekend. It proved to be an admirable win, Jake Gardiner stepped up immensely in Rielly’s absence and produced a three-point night (3 assists) en route to a 4-3 victory.
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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs