The story from the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night came from the two players with the most padding standing at either end of the rink. It started with one leaving the game early after taking a skate to the face and the other stopping an early penalty shot. But it soon became a story of how both of them did everything they could to keep their team’s in the game.
Frederik Andersen saw 34 shots. Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray saw 49 of combined. Between the three they only gave up three goals. With the quality of talent facing off in this game – the high-powered offences – it certainly couldn’t’ve been predicted that the final score would be 2-1.
Along with the goaltending dual, the game was a story of completely different special teams and an NHL first that made the night for one Leaf defenceman.
Needless to say, it didn’t just take 60 minutes to decide this one with the way the goaltenders were playing at each end of the rink.
The Leafs went to their new shadow player to open the game as they like to line-up Nazem Kadri opposite other team’s top lines. McDavid. Landeskog. And tonight, Kadri had the job of playing against Crosby in a tough and aggressive manner.
Regardless, with the quality of talent in this game, it had quite the furious pace from the get-go. As it often does, speed and possession can lead to penalties. While these two teams don’t exactly have a storied rivalry over the past few seasons, the both play with a bit of an edge that tends to go unnoticed at times with some of the other teams they play.
That being said, the first period was filled with interesting twists and turns. For starters, the Penguins decided they were going to play aggressive offence right off the bat with the long passes. Carl Hagelin was able to get in behind Connor Carrick on one of these deep attempts and was tripped as he came in on Andersen. Hagelin was awarded a penalty shot on the play and fortunately for the Leafs, Andersen was able to come up with a solid stop.
The Penguins did lose their goaltender for a short time in the first frame as he was clipped by the skate of van Riemsdyk and had to leave for repairs. Matt Murray took over for the short break, but Fleury returned soon after.
As the period went on, the penalty boxes didn’t remain empty for the entirety of the frame. Ian Cole, William Nylander and Justin Schultz all sat for two with Nylander’s penalty shortened when Malkin scored a power play goal to put the Penguins up 1-0.
But, it didn’t take long for the Leafs to respond as Nikita Zaitsev was able to fire home his first NHL goal just 14 seconds after the Malkin strike with a bouncing puck that found its way to the back of the Penguins net.
Zaitsev first NHL goal pic.twitter.com/hsrCxtmvTA
— steph (@myregularface) December 18, 2016
The Leafs and Penguins managed a few more opportunities late in the period, but both goaltenders were up to the task. Toronto out shot Pittsburgh in the first 14-13 – something they seem to be doing in most games over the past couple of weeks.
The Leafs continued the shooting trend in the second managing 20 shots to the Penguins 10, but the story of the game through two periods became special teams.
While the Leafs had only give the Penguins one power play to work with, the Penguins capitalized on their opportunity. Toronto, however, was 0-for-4 through the first two periods on the power play in a game they could’ve easily had the upper hand based on their special teams opportunities alone.
The chances were there. In fact, the Leafs had a number of chances in close that didn’t even count as actual shots on goal. But, once again, both Fleury and Andersen stood on their heads in the second period to keep their teams deadlocked at one.
The penalty train continued in the third, however, this time it was the Leafs who found themselves in penalty trouble. But as they say, it’s the goaltender that needs to be a team’s best penalty killer and Andersen was certainly one of them.
Toronto’s Matt Hunwick was tagged with a four-minute double minor five minutes into the period when he lifted Hornqvist’s stick into his own face. Certainly a questionable call, the Leafs were forced to kill it off. But midway through that call, the Leafs were hit with another minor as Soshnikov fired one over the glass and Toronto was shorthanded for two full minutes.
The Leafs were able to kill off the big opportunity, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd and the two teams went back at it five-on-five.
Following the kill, both teams had their chances with neither able to capitalize and a fast-paced game resulted in a 1-1 tie through 60 minutes of regulation time.
For the third straight game, the Leafs went to extra time to settle the score. The difference in this game was that they didn’t have to wait until the shootout and that this time Toronto came out on top. Yet again, the Leafs’ Marner came out from the corner with the puck. As he went down, the puck came off his stick and went right to Gardiner who was streaking in from the point. Gardiner put just enough on it to get it over the sliding defender and into the open cage.
While the win is a big one for the Leafs, who collect another two points in their sixth five-game segment of the season, nothing can be taken away from either goaltender in this game as both came up big time and time again.
PIT – Evgeni Malkin (13) PPG assisted by Justin Schultz and Sidney Crosby
TOR – Nikita Zaitsev (1) assisted by Mitch Marner and James van Riemsdyk
TOR – Jake Gardiner (6) assisted by Mitch Marner
THW Three Stars
First: Frederik Andersen (33 saves and 12th win of the season)
Second: Marc-Andre Fleury (41 saves)
Third: Jake Gardiner (GWG and 4 shots)
Anaheim Ducks at Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre – 7:30 p.m. EST on Monday, December 19
Broadcast channels – SNO and PRIME
2016-17 Season Series: First meeting of the season