Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, this wasn’t a night for the present, but one for the future. One where the focus wasn’t on tthe players who skated through the last sixtyish games kicking and screaming, but for the ones just starting their NHL careers in hopes of being ready next year. In a night that began as a look back at Dion Phaneuf’s tenure, it was the young blood that ran the show in a – wait for it – hard fought, thoroughly controlled, one-goal regulation loss.
After a touching tribute to former captain during the first TV timeout, the Senators almost immediately took advantage of the attention shift and pushed the puck to the net. In Bobby Ryan, they had someone who moved it a little bit further, stripping Matt Hunwick of the puck before roofing home the icebreaker.
Just a couple of minutes later, the focus was shifted to back to Phaneuf. This time, it wasn’t from the fans, but rather an angry Colin Greening; the two dropped the gloves with the new Leaf coming out ahead. Shortly after the two settled their differences, the moment that fans have all been waiting for finally happened.
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 6, 2016
That, my friends, was William Nylander’s first NHL goal, and it was a beauty. The reaction to the faceoff was quick, the wrister was quicker, and the celebration was fantastic. You can’t go wrong with that; especially when the man who sets you up, Brooks Laich, was the man who set your dad up for the last goal of his career.
The Leafs comfortably outshot the Sens in the first period, something which they did in all three periods. With that considered, it should come of no surprise that they struck again. This time, Nikita Soshnikov took advantage of a penalty against Zach Smith and used his lightning quick hands and release to roof his second of the season above Andrew Hammond. Toronto held that lead into the third period, at which point it all fell apart.
Marc Methot tied the game for Ottawa just three minutes into the final frame, taking advantage of an opportunistic bounce near the front of the net to shovel a backhand past Jonathan Bernier, who was otherwise stellar up to this point. With just as much time remaining in the period, a clear cut giveaway from Martin Marincin put the puck on the stick of Martin Stone, who had Smith in front of the net at his disposal to tap in the game-winner, creating a 3-2 final score.
Why The Leafs Lost
The thing about this game? The Leafs controlled it from front to back and looked like they were going to win or get a point for almost every second played. You can’t give a big picture evaluation here to pinpoint a reason for failure, really; it just wasn’t the intended result.
With that said, the icebreaker and the game-winner both came off of ugly, ugly defensive efforts. Martin Marincin’s giveaway on the winner, in particular, is a perfect example of why he’s such a polarizing player; you know the numbers run in his favour, but then he makes an extremely obvious mistake like that and costs the team a point. It’s a rough place to be in for him.
The Hamburglar is cool and all but he always misplaces the McNuggets, best had with Sweet and Sour Sosh pic.twitter.com/IVbbgCXtOV
— The Tank Nation (@TLNdc) March 6, 2016
I’ve said it all year and I’ll continue to say it; Nikita Soshnikov is an NHL-calibre player. His stats with the Marlies, even if still quite solid, were also deceptive in the sense that he played tough defensive minutes on a shutdown/energy line. The rookie has a deadly release and very strong puck protection skills that he’s already begun to show at this level. Will he pot one in every four of those wristers for the rest of his career? Probably not. But don’t be shocked if he’s an effective full-timer on the team next year.
As for what makes him the Warrior tonight? Beyond the goal, he had the second highest CF% at 63.27, despite starting fewer than 40% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Just a strong game in so many regards.
See You Next Time
Toronto now gets a day off before taking on the Buffalo Sabres. Tankers beware; after four consecutive one-goal regulation losses involving great performances against good teams, the Leafs might beat up on someone their own size on Monday. Puck drop is at 7:30 PM.