Maple Leafs vs. Wild observations: William Nylander’s OT winner completes Sweden sweep

The Toronto Maple Leafs benefitted from having the most ideal schedule of the four teams participating in the Global Series. They caught the Detroit Red Wings on the second half of a back-to-back and won on Friday and did the same against the Minnesota Wild. Well, not exactly the same thing.

The Leafs started slow, got a 3-1 lead, blew said lead and won in overtime. Star play and goaltending got the team the victory as well as an excellent defensive play from Morgan Rielly. However, the defensive lapses piled up exponentially as the time continued to tick on. The Leafs have already established themselves as a team that can outscore their problems and push past deficits, and we’re still waiting to see when they can completely and consistently take away any momentum the opposition tries to create for themselves.

Three Stars

1. William Nylander 

I guess there are only so many Rolex watches you can own as William Nylander had a strong case to be named the Player of the Game for the second time. His primary assist on Auston Matthews’ goal extended his point streak to 17 games and his overtime goal secured the win for the Leafs.

2. Morgan Rielly

Rielly had the 3-1 goal in the third, capitalizing off the blue line activation the Leafs started pushing more as the game went on. He also had the sole assist on Nylander’s goal starting with a sprawling block on Marcus Johansson.

3. Mitch Marner 

Two assists, including the 400th of his career making him the fastest Leaf to reach the milestone. The first was a perfect set-up to Matthew Knies for the one-timer while the second wasn’t only a touch of the puck. You can see Marner directing play on the zone entry getting Matthews to cover the left side of the ice on the entry. Matthews being there gave Rielly the time to move in and pick his spot on Wild goalie Marc-André Fleury.

The infamous see-saw

The Wild were ready to play quicker than the Leafs were. They played with more desperation and were quicker on pucks and in their positioning. The Leafs had to survive the first half of the opening frame, and Minnesota’s recovery on plays made it difficult to slow the game down and catch a breath. 

That ended once John Merrill made it 1-0, that’s when the see-saw tipped in the Leafs’ favour. They started to move their feet and match the urgency Minnesota played with. As a result, the Wild didn’t get a shot on goal after the 10:14 mark. 

John Tavares had two Grade-A chances hit the crossbar and the post on the rush. The fourth line’s speed drew a tripping penalty in the offensive zone leading to Matthews’ power-play goal. Knies’ goal in the closing minute of the first started in their own end and worked thanks to Mark Giordano joining the rush as an option and puck distributor. 

The third period started the same way the game did: All Wild. That speed and quickness returned and they scored two in two minutes to tie it at three. 

Consistent quickness was the Leafs’ kryptonite. 

Winning goaltending

This game is a perfect example of the stats not matching the performance (although a .917 save percentage isn’t bad at all). The Wild beat Joseph Woll three times and I have a hard time throwing all of the goals on him. At first, it looked as if Nick Robertson’s stick got a piece of the Merrill shot that beat Woll glove side, however, that’s a stop you want given Woll’s style of play. From then on he was steady and secure while the team in front of him was not. 

His two best saves came on Kirill Kaprizov, who got behind every Leaf on the ice for a breakaway, and his sprawling save in overtime. Kaprizov was due in this one but Woll got the paddle down and used his pad to do the rest of the work to stop him. Three Leafs were all at the left corner in overtime leaving Joel Eriksson Ek alone with all the time in the world. Rielly’s block led to Nylander’s goal, but this save kept the game going.

Post-PK line mash

Sheldon Keefe threw out Robertson-Matthews-Knies after the penalty kill and the trio spent the entire time in the O-zone. It won’t be an option when Matthews is on the kill, but the line had life with both Robertson and Knies maintaining pressure and possession of the puck down low while Matthews was higher in the zone. 

Fire from the faceoff

Quick shoutout to the centres, especially David Kampf who went 14-4.

Minimal adjustments 

Minnesota took advantage of the point and free regions along the wall to do it. On their first and third goals, the Wild had a player win the puck in the right corner, and move it to a lone defender at the left point. The Wild continued this for more scoring chances in the third period and the Leafs didn’t adjust. They couldn’t close off the wall or block those passes to the point and the shots on goal piled on.

Game Score

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Final grade: C+

The plus is for walking away with the win. Again, save for another set of strong individual performances, there is a lot more negative than positive here. Killer instinct is something that has been brought up with this team a lot. And sure, it’s still only November, but the Leafs put themselves in these positions way too often, a lot of them coming from unforced errors and a lack of awareness. There were too many times when you could count at least three Leafs in one confined area of the ice, and the Wild got the puck up to the free player more times than not.

They went from outshooting Minnesota 14-11 in the first to being outshot 11-5 in the second, then 13-4 in the third. For a team that loves a good comeback, they give the opposition too many opportunities to pull the comeback on them.

What’s next for the Leafs

The Global Series is over, but the road trip isn’t as the Leafs have another afternoon game at 2 p.m. in Chicago on Friday.

(Photo: Claudio Brescianti / Getty Images)

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