The Leafs fell behind early in their Thursday night game and ended up losing to the Detroit Red Wings 5-4 in overtime despite staging a third period rally to tie the game to and salvage a point. The outing marked the return of William Nylander to the lineup after the forward missed the first 28 games of the season while negotiating a new contract.

The Good

  • Kasperi Kapanen opened the scoring in the game, finishing a tic-tac-toe passing play with Jake Gardiner and Andreas Johnsson
  • With the Leafs trailing 4-1 in the third period, John Tavares, Zach Hyman and Johnsson scored consecutively in a span of 8:58 to even the score.
  • Hyman’s goal was set up by the crafty playmaking of Marner, who earned his 34th assist of the season on the play. Heading into Thursday’s game, Marner was second only to Mikko Rantanen of Colorado in that category.
  • After a shaky start, goalie Garret Sparks made some key third period saves, including a breakaway stop of Andreas Athanasiou and a one-timer on Gustav Nyquist.
  • Surviving members of the Humboldt Broncos were in attendance. They were honoured on the video scoreboard and received a resounding standing ovation.

The Bad

  • Sparks, over the first forty minutes, was subpar. In particular: on Detroit’s first goal by Jonathan Ericsson he showed limited mobility in attempting to move across the crease to his left for a save attempt, and on the Wings’ third goal by Nyquist he went down far too early.
  • Mitch Marner was late in backcheking on Detroit’s second goal, allowing Luke Glendening to outnumber the Leafs on the rush and score.
  • Nylander logged 12:29 of ice time, and as could reasonably be expected, looked to be generally a half-step behind the play, save for one decent rush in the first period. Coach Mike Babcock limited Nylander’s ice time to 2:07 in the third period, reuniting the trio of Matthews, Johnsson and Kapanen.
  • Babcock on Nylander: “Any time you’ve missed that amount of hockey, it’s going to be hard for him. I talked to [Matthews] about that too. They’re both going to have to do extra. We’re going to do every practice day and they’ll crawl their way back to being the players they’re capable of being.”

The Ugly

  • John Tavares made a brutal offensive zone turnover in overtime that led to the breakaway winner by Dylan Larkin.
  • Matthews was checked heavily into the boards by Niklas Kronwall and appeared to be favouring his shoulder, but to the relief of Leafs fans, skated off under his own power and remained in the game.

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca.

In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.