Welcome to this blog’s new hockey column, Plus-Minus. In these posts, I’ll dive into certain games and discuss what I saw as the pluses (positives) and minuses (negatives). Get it? See, in hockey, the plus-minus rating is used to measure a player’s on ice impact in a game, and it’s represented by the goal differential when a certain player is on the ice, and…
(5 LONG MINUTES LATER)
So yeah, this column will discuss who and what had both positive or negative impacts on a certain game. Whew! Let’s dive in.
As I discussed yesterday, this Leafs/Oilers game was billed as the start of a new rivalry between 2015’s 1st overall draft pick, Connor McDavid, and 2016’s 1st overall pick, Auston Matthews. As it turns out, the game ended up being exciting and chippy enough to signify a rivalry between the two teams as a whole. It really was one of the more fun games to watch early on in this 2016-2017 season.
In what should have been a standout game for Matthews or McDavid, it was Kadri who was the best forward on the ice for 60+ minutes. Leafs coach Mike Babcock worked brilliantly with his lines, making sure a physical guy like Kadri was out on the ice whenever McDavid was. Kadri started chipping at young McDavid, pestering and checking him everytime he had the puck (and sometimes when he didn’t). Early in the first period, you could see the frustration on McDavid’s face and you could see how comfortable Kadri was being the one causing that frustration.
On the offensive end, Kadri started off perfectly. The Leafs’ speedy forecheck forced a turnover in the Oilers zone and a beautiful pass from Connor Brown through the legs of Edmonton’s Adam Larsson led to an easy tap in by the crease for Kadri. It was a team effort for the goal, but Kadri’s positioning and finish were textbook.
He started the game off, and he finished it as well. Mere seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime period, Kadri took off toward the Oilers’ zone, receiving a great pass and fighting off (stickholding?) a speedy Connor McDavid. Kadri controlled the puck after getting past McDavid and a quick deke led to the game-winning goal heading into Cam Talbot’s net. It was a thing of beauty.
He may 3 goals against, including the Leafs’ game winner, to his name but Edmonton’s number 1 goaltender was brilliant for most of the game. After two goals that were the result of poor puck possession and poor defense, Talbot had some highlight reel saves, including two pad saves off two very nice Tyler Bozak shots. A lesser netminder would have given up either of those as goals. Unfortunately, again in OT, Talbot was left all alone to defend the goal and Nazem Kadri was not to be stopped. Talbot didn’t lose that game. Frankly, he was the reason Edmonton escaped with a point.
Bob McKenzie of TSN said after period number 2 that he thought Toronto’s goaltender was having a pretty good games, all things considered. I really just didn’t see that. As I referenced last week in a piece about the Maple Leafs, he looks unsure in his decision making and his footwork isn’t great. His worst move in Tuesday’s game was coming out for a puck behind the goal when he had a teammate and Edmonton’s Tyler Pitlick bearing down on him. He wasn’t able to dig the puck from up against the boards and Pitlick deftly grabbed the puck and centered it to Anton Lander who laid it up into an exposed net.
Andersen had a couple other moments where he just looked unsure of himself, coming out for a puck where he was unsure whether to grab it himself or knock it to his teammate, even looking shaky on a couple of glove saves where the puck looked like it might have been able to slip out. All in all, he wasn’t terrible but he certainly didn’t convince me that he’s figured his issues out.
-McDavid vs Matthews
It was clear Mike Babcock didn’t have any interest in pitting Matthews against McDavid for the sake of a rivalry. He was only interested in shutting down McDavid and getting into his head. He was pretty successful, as this was far and away McDavid’s weakest game so far this year. He missed badly on a couple of great shot opportunities, even whiffing on a one-timer from the left circle that could have easily been a goal.
Unfortunately, the McDavid vs Matthews story line was virtually none existent, as Matthews didn’t look amazing either. Sure, he played well on his Matthews-Nylander-Hyman line, looking comfortable as ever with William Nylander by his side, but he had some great shot opportunities as well that couldn’t find the back of the net. It wasn’t the best start to their personal rivalry, but it was a great start to the Leafs and Oilers rivalry.