Pretty entertaining hockey game, in the end.
I don’t really like writing about referees, and I don’t believe that their calls influenced the game in the end, but on four occasions the crew of Chris Lee and Marc Joanette only called a minor penalty after a retaliation happened. These retaliatory penalties included two slashes near the hands, both of which could have been avoided if the first penalty was just… called without issue. Veteran referees, I’ve noticed, love to put their stamp on the game and control the flow of play, when their job is to call penalties and keep players safe. The NHL needs to sort that out.
Onto the actual game and, it was very evenly-played. The Leafs are not a bad rush team and they’re a very good forechecking team, but the Oilers did a pretty good job of slowing the Leafs down in the neutral zone, holding the Leafs to just 30% of their entries with control, and on dump-in recoveries, holding the Leafs to 47%. It’s probably a good blueprint for how you want to play against Toronto, and I was very impressed with a lot of individual Oilers performances.
However, if you’ll remember the game, it was defined by three plays late in the second period: a Ryan McLeod turnover turned into a Mitch Marner goal two seconds later, and Vincent Desharnais turnover turned into a William Nylander goal four seconds later, and a Darnell Nurse turnover turned into a John Tavares goal four seconds later. A lot of times in this game, all the preparation can be undone by one play. In this case, it was three, and despite Edmonton probably being the better team, on average, for the remaining 59:50 of the game, the game’s result rested on what happened in those ten seconds.
The Leafs also did a pretty good job containing the Oilers. Edmonton had a couple of rush goals, sure, but they were limited to just four rush shots all game. Toronto did well to disrupt the Oilers breakout and outside of McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Bouchard, didn’t create many defensive zone exits to go the full length of the ice. The Leafs did a pretty good job on Mattias Ekholm who, ignoring that key turnover on the penalty kill when he could have cleared the puck a few seconds before the Matthews goal that essentially put Edmonton away, also struggled at 5-on-5, converting just 2 of his 9 defensive zone exits into controlled exits. This allowed the Leafs to play a little bit more on offence when Bouchard was on the ice, who seems to be quickly turning into a key piece for that team.
And, lest we forget special teams, where a lot of this game was played. The Oilers powerplay is the most dangerous weapon in hockey, but on a rate basis, the Leafs powerplay out-chanced and out-scored them, thanks in large part to that late third period powerplay with Marner in the box when the Oilers didn’t really get much of anything set up.
It was two points earned for Toronto against a pretty good team, and with Tampa Bay slipping, the Leafs are getting pretty close to wrapping up that home ice advantage slot.
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