Special teams – that’s why played the biggest role in the Leafs losing yet again to a Western Conference foe. They took too many penalties against a team that has one of the top power plays and it affected the game. Anaheim was able to score two power play goals and shut the Leafs power play who got three chances of their own.
For Randy Carlyle, the taste of victory in Toronto was sweet. For Frederik Andersen, it was a tough pill to swallow giving up three goals to his former club in their first meeting of the season. That being said, there were some positives to take away from this game too.
The Leafs out shot their opponent yet again – surpassing the 35 shot plateau in this one. They were able to play a physical game against a bigger team, but it did have implications. The Leafs also had 18 giveaways which was far too many. Add to that their lacklustre performance in the face-off dot – at just 33 percent – and the Leafs certainly had things they needed to work on as well.
Playing a much bigger and more physical team in the Ducks, the Leafs were the ones who found themselves in the penalty box more often in the first 20 minutes. While Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell did take a penalty four minutes into the game, the Leafs ended up taking the next three with Carrick, Nylander and a bench minor all being called.
However, not only were the Ducks able to kill their only penalty of the period, the Leafs were able to kill all three Anaheim power plays in the first and even had a shorthanded breakaway from Zach Hyman with just under eight minutes left in the period.
Both teams played a hard, physical first period with each of them reaching double-digit hits. But the Leafs also carried one recent trend into the original frame of this game that they’ve seen over the past few games. Even having killed three penalties, the Leafs out shot the Ducks in the first frame 11-8.
Yet the score remained tied at zeroes, with both Gibson and Andersen coming up with a few big save each to hold their opponents scoreless.
Marner opened the second period of the Leafs with a glorious rush that ended in him trying to cut to the net and losing the puck. It seemed that Toronto came out flying early in the period and had the Ducks pinned in their own end for a couple of minutes.
During that time, Ducks defenceman Kevin Bieksa took a deflected shot that came off a stick and redirected right into his face only three minutes into the frame. Bikes didn’t return to the game.
Andersen also had to stand on his head in the second as the Ducks top players started to get looks about four minutes into the period as Rakell, Getzlaf and Perry started to kick it up a notch in the Leafs end. With as hot as Andersen has been as of late, he was able to come up with two big saves to keep the game tied.
However, it didn’t stay that way for long.
Just a couple of minutes later, Matthews (who had a good jump in his step all night) helped get the puck back to the point. Zaitsev fired a wrist shot on net and Matthews made an incredible one-handed deflection to get it past Gibson.
The goal gave Matthews 15 on the year to lead the Leafs and helped him continue his torrid pace since his 13-game goalless drought.
The Leafs were given another late power play opportunity when Ondrej Kase was called for hooking, but the Ducks were able to kill off their second penalty of the game. Depending on how you look at it, special teams were both really good as well as having a bad night.
Zaitsev continued the penalty train as he crushed Joseph Cramarossa in the Leafs zone and was called for roughing. This time, the Leafs’ penalty kill wasn’t able to protect their lead. Getzlaf fired the puck on net and after it deflected off the Leafs’ defenceman, the puck found its way past the Leafs net minder. The goal marked Getzlaf’s first career goal against the Leafs.
While the Leafs dominated the period early on, the Ducks were able to take advantage of their power play being out there and ended the period tied once again.
The third opened with the Ducks’ own young players having an extra jump. Then again, so did the Leafs. However, Anaheim’s players were able to take advantage of the situation with an early shot advantage in the period. Nick Ritchie got the pass as he broke towards the Leafs’ net and even though he whiffed on the shot, he was able to get it past Andersen to give his Ducks a 2-1 lead.
The Ducks followed that up with yet another penalty – this time to Josh Manson, however the Leafs once again missed out on the opportunity. While the Leafs had their chances on the power play, the Ducks were able to shut them down – including a big glove save by Gibson as the penalty expired.
A player the Leafs didn’t hear much from throughout the game was Kadri. But he seems to excel when that’s the case and yet again the Toronto forward came up with a big play. He made an intricate play at the offensive blue line before turning and just firing one on net and it got past Gibson.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 20, 2016
The Leafs tested one of the best power plays again with about seven minutes left in the game. Ryan Kesler who had won about 64 percent of his face-offs motioned Fowler over along the Leafs blue line before he stepped in for the offensive draw. He won the draw right back to Fowler and just three seconds into their power play, the Ducks took a 3-2 lead on a bullet from their defenceman.
Leaf fans got frustrated late in the game with refs as they felt the Leafs should’ve had a few more power play opportunities, but to no avail.
Toronto decided to pull Andersen with just over three minutes to play in the third period. The Leafs managed a number of chances and out shot the Ducks overall 35-28, but the Leafs came up empty as the Ducks picked up the win at the Air Canada Centre.
TOR – Auston Matthews (15) assisted by Nikita Zaitsev and Zach Hyman
ANA – Ryan Getzlaf (4) PPG assisted by Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler
ANA – Nick Ritchie (8) assisted by Ondrej Kase
TOR – Nazem Kadri (11) assisted by Matt Hunwick
ANA – Cam Fowler (9) PPG assisted by Ryan Kesler
THW Three Stars
First: John Gibson (33 saves)
Second: Cam Fowler (GWG and 1 assist)
Third: Auston Matthews (1 goal, 8 shots and 20:31 TOI)
Toronto Maple Leafs at Colorado Avalanche
Pepsi Center – 9:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, December 22
Broadcast channels – TSN4 and ALT
2016-17 Season Series: Avalanche lead 1-0-0
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.