There were two interesting storylines entering the game between two of the league’s bottom-end teams. The obvious one was the Auston Matthews and Arizona connection, while the other was maybe not talked about as much leading into the game. Peter Holland was playing his former club for the first time since being traded to the Coyotes since his relationship with the Maple Leafs soured.
Earlier this season, Holland was told to stay home as the team headed out onto the road after being a healthy scratch for most of the season. Following that, it was made clear that the forward was going to be moved and it didn’t take long.
With Max Domi going down to injury, the Coyotes were looking to fill the hole and looked to Toronto for the services of Holland. The traded included a conditional pick that went the other way and it didn’t take long for Holland and the Coyotes to make a trip back to his former stomping ground.
While Holland only won 45 percent of his face-offs and didn’t have a major impact during regulation time, he played a big role by scoring the shootout winner on his former club.
Obviously though, a number of eyes were on Matthews. He’s been hot as of late and the Leafs were looking to grab an important two points from his hometown Coyotes.
Matthews, unlike Holland, was a big player during regulation time. He scored the first Leafs goal and had a number of opportunities. But he was also the subject of a questionable hit by Coyotes’ defenceman Luke Schenn. While the Leafs weren’t able to pull out a full two points – once again – they were able to grab one point thanks to a second period goal to tie the game.
Goaltending was certainly the story of the first period. From the somewhat lesser workload of Frederik Andersen to the sensational stops that Mike Smith was forced to make over and over again. The Leafs out shot the Coyotes 21-7 and Toronto’s chances were coming in close on the Arizona goaltender.
Time after time during the first 20 minutes, he was forced to throw out a pad at the last minute or dive out of his net to cover up a loose puck sitting idly in front of him.
However, Andersen was also test a couple of times. While killing a penalty, the Leafs had a brutal giveaway in the neutral zone as Gardiner dropped the puck back to an area where there was no other Leaf. Tobias Rieder picked it up and went in alone only to be stoned by the Leafs net minder.
As well as the goaltending was in the first period, the Leafs offensive push paid off with a very late period power play goal. Tyler Bozak won the face-off to the right of Smith got it back to the point before it came over to Matthews on the left point. After a spectacular defensive play on minutes before, Matthews fired a hard wrist shot from the point and it got past Smith with eight seconds left in the period to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.
The Leafs started the second eager to stretch the late first period lead they got, but it ended up playing against them. Pushing for some extra opportunities, the Coyotes were able to grab an early opportunity. After Andersen was able to stop the initial shot, Jordan Martinook fired a quick shot back towards the net and it found its way past the Leafs goalie.
Following the tying goal, the Leafs seems to lose a step. They took consecutive minor penalties that gave the Coyotes an extended two-man advantage and they capitalized on their opportunity. Cycling the puck in the Leafs’ end, the puck came back to the point and Oliver Ekman-Larsson fired the point shot through traffic to give Arizona an early 2-1 lead.
Toronto was having a harder time getting deep into the Coyotes zone throughout the period, but started to use the long pass as time went on. All it took was a sneaky Marner to get in behind the Coyotes’ defence and the Leafs were back in the game.
Marner, sent in by a lead pass from Polak as he waited at the Arizona blue line, fired a perfect shot by Smith to not only tie the game at twos but end a personal 11-game goalless drought.
That’s when things got chippy. Hanzal took a slashing penalty on Kadri and Luke Schenn followed that up by boarding Matthews with a suspect hit in the corner. They Leafs, however, weren’t able to capitalize on the advantage and the period ended in a tie.
Matthews continued to prowl around in the offensive zone early in the third and got an opportunity off a Nylander pass in the high slot. However, after misfiring the puck, Matthews attempted to retrieve the puck off of Ryan White and was called for a double-minor for high-sticking.
The Leafs were able to kill off both minors and the teams continued to trade chances.
With just over four minutes left, Doan was sent in on a partial break. Having say on 399 career goals for some time, it seemed as though this could be number 400. Doan tried to go glove hand on Andersen, but the Leafs goalie came up huge with the glove save to keep the veteran locked at one shy of the milestone.
With six seconds left in the period, the Leafs iced the puck and the face-off came back into the Leafs zone. The only bonus was that the Coyotes had only won three offensive face-offs all night. Arizona did grab one shot to close out the period, but it was easily turned aside by Andersen and for a second game in three nights, the Leafs headed off to overtime.
It almost seemed fitting that Matthews opened the overtime period with an exemplary opportunity. On a partial 2-on-1 break, Nylander fired a high pass across to Matthews in front of the net. He knocked the puck right out of the air and into the pads of Smith who was able to get across.
Again, with two minutes left, Matthews got another opportunity – tipping the puck just wide. As three-on-three overtime goes, Martinook came back and got a partial breakaway. With the Leaf defender diving behind him, Andersen was able to come up with a huge save.
Finally, mere seconds to go in the extra frame, Vrbata had Andersen beat only to find iron as he rang it off the crossbar. As Andersen and Smith passed each other following the overtime, they gave each other a tap on the pads recognizing the outstanding play each had put forth in this one.
TOR – Auston Matthews (14) PPG assisted by William Nylander and Jake Gardiner
ARI – Jordan Martinook (6) assisted by Radim Vrbata and Brendan Perlini
ARI – Oliver Ekman-Larsson (6) PPG assisted by Tobias Rieder and Anthony DeAngelo
TOR – Mitch Marner (8) assisted by Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick
TOR – Tyler Bozak – Post
ARI – Anthony Duclair – Post
TOR – Mitch Marner – Missed
ARI – Radim Vrbata – Stopped
TOR – James van Riemsdyk – Post
ARI – Peter Holland – Scores
THW Three Stars
First: Mike Smith (44 saves)
Second: Frederik Andersen (28 saves)
Third: Peter Holland (Shootout winner and 2 hits)
Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre – 7:00 p.m. EST on Saturday, December 17
Broadcast channels – CBC and ROOT
2016-17 Season Series: Pittsburgh leads season series 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.