January 07 2017 09:29PM
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS
A huge opportunity to jump into second in the Atlantic Division and make first not a pipedream, evaporated by, well, a pretty close effort all around. The Toronto Maple Leafs fell 5-3 to the Montreal Canadiens in an interesting game. Here's how it all broke down.
Max Pacioretty puts the Habs up 1-0 early in the first period. Like, seconds early. pic.twitter.com/ptwmXNLckD— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 8, 2017
It didn't take the Habs long to get on the scoreboard. Like, at all. Twenty seconds or so was all it took for Alexander Radulov to find Max Pacioretty, who buried a one-timer past Frederik Andersen to put his team up 1-0. Not much later, Artturi Lehkonen spread the gap to a pair with a snapshot from the right side that trickled through Andersen, leaving fans wondering if the back-to-back was the greatest idea.
Tyler Bozak brings the Leafs within one. What a gorgeous one-touch drop pass by Mitch Marner to make it happen, though. pic.twitter.com/VFMtWNDCi2— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 8, 2017
That wouldn't matter if the Leafs could outscore their problems, though. For a moment, it looked like that wasn't really a pipe dream; a wicked pass by Mitch Marner made it possible for Tyler Bozak to put the Leafs on the board, and a few minutes later, Nazem Kadri tied the game with a drive to the net to grab an open rebound.
Nazem Kadri ties the game for the Leafs, 2-2. Celly was fierce pic.twitter.com/JhNOCLSuec— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 8, 2017
The even score lasted all the way until the end of the period. Well, almost. Nikita Scherbak managed to squeak behind Morgan Rielly and pull off a gorgeous spin in front of Andersen to pick up his first NHL goal with a second to go in the first period.
Alexander Radulov makes it 4-2 Montreal on the powerplay pic.twitter.com/S3oAa5Jnzb— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 8, 2017
The situation got worse before it got better. Dealing with another penalty kill, the Leafs succumbed to Montreal's firepower once again, as Alexander Radulov picked up a loose puck in front of the net and scored the last tally that Montreal would really need in this one.
Mitch Marner goes for a skate and sets up James van Riemsdyk to make it a 4-3 game. Wicked assist again for the rookie. pic.twitter.com/T7F5JF8BUy— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 8, 2017
A glimmer of hope came in the form of a James van Riemsdyk goal with two minutes to go in the second period, but that's as close as the situation got. Michael McCarron added another early into the third period, and despite their best efforts, Toronto couldn't beat Carey Price for a fifth, or even a fourth time.
Why The Leafs Lost
Babcock says he didn't make the right decision in playing Andersen tonight.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 8, 2017
This, perhaps, is the issue with believing in Frederik Andersen as much as the Leafs have, and in them not having a definitive answer for a backup goalie. I get where Babcock was coming from here; Antoine Bibeau is an unknown still, getting Andersen back in against New Jersey was strategical to get his confidence back after Washington, and it was hard to justify not double dipping.
But it backfired. It really, really did. That was Andersen's worst performance in weeks, and while there's an excuse to justify it, there's no need to do so.
Failed Turning Point
Sometimes, a fight can work out to your advantage. This time, it most certainly didn't for the Leafs; and it's a specific one that did them in. Matt Martin taking on Michael McCarron was whatever, and expected in the "any sort of physicality is a declaration of war" code that we have today. I get why Frederik Gauthier latched onto Bobby Farnham, but that fight took out a fourth line player for both teams, as both earned game misconducts for being the second fight in a sequence.
Both Mike Babcock and Michel Therrien switched to basically running three lines with two players to inject as necessary. That's fine on most nights, but when Montreal's biggest struggle is that they have a bunch of AHL call-ups playing up front, letting them lean more on their regulars while you do the same? Kinda gets rid of the injury advantage, even if slightly. I know that wasn't on Gauthier's mind, and I don't fault him, but it didn't work out.
Mitch Marner is so fun. pic.twitter.com/gbtdWxXHSV— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 8, 2017
Mitch Marner was unreal tonight. Dominant with the puck, and had assists on every Leafs goal. Easily the most exciting player on either side to watch tonight, which seems to be a recording of late.
See You Next Time
Mitch Marner was amused with the penalty call that led to the Radulov PPG pic.twitter.com/XA7rJksn25— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 8, 2017
It's on to the next pocket for the Leafs, who now have nearly a week off before playing three opponents over five games. Their next game will come on Friday against the New York Rangers, at Madison Square Garden. Puck drop is at 7:00 PM.