Video: TOR@STL: Marner shows off quick hands, goes five-hole
1. Marner gets Leafs off on right foot, opens scoring to post second goal in as many games. Winger Mitch Marner had a goal and two points in the Leafs' 6-3 loss to Dallas Tuesday, and the rookie started a two-game scoring streak Thursday when he recorded the first goal of the night at 14:22 of the first period.
Marner showed extraordinary hand-eye coordination on the goal, his 13th of the season: he corralled a loose puck directly in front of Blues goalie Jake Allen and went from his backhand to his forehand in the blink of an eye before putting it into the net and giving Toronto a 1-0 lead. The 19-year-old - the NHL's rookie-of-the-month for January - can hurt his opponents in so many ways, and his deft puck-handling skills is just one of them.
2. Blues pull even on Steen goal late in first, push ahead with three goals in second. The Leafs' lead was relatively short-lived, as centre Alex Steen netted his 10th of the season at the 17:58 mark of the first to tie the game at a goal apiece. And in the second period, St. Louis pulled ahead with two goals that came 35 seconds apart: the first came from centre Paul Stastny at 6:27, and winger Vladimir Tarasenko made it 3-1 at the 7:02 mark. They then followed that up with a power play goal from Colton Parayko at 11:02 of the period to give the home team a three-goal advantage.
Toronto has struggled on the road and in general of late - they're currently in the midst of a two-game losing streak and they've dropped four of their past six contests - and their focus wasn't consistent in the early portion of the game against the Blues. Head coach Mike Babcock has spoken openly about his displeasure with the Buds' effort, and he likely hadn't changed his opinion midway through this tilt.
3. Third period sees Blues continue applying pressure, Leafs unable to capitalize on power play. St. Louis outshot the Leafs 8-2 in the first six minutes of the third period, and although centre Auston Matthews drew a penalty - and Toronto's third power play of the evening - at 7:27 of the period, the Buds were unable to convert it into a second goal that would've given them a fighting chance to draw even late in the game.
The Blues deserve credit for collapsing around their net and limiting the Leafs' secondary scoring chances, but Toronto's passes weren't as crisp as they'd been when the team was at its best, and St. Louis was able to match their speed throughout the game. The Buds were facing a team that clearly wanted to do well in the first game of a new head coach (Mike Yeo), but the Leafs' performance left much to be desired.
4. Stastny registers second of the night to put game out of reach for Leafs. The Blues did not relent at any point Thursday, and Stastny's second marker of the game (and 14th of the season) at 12:28 of the third made the final result all but a formality the rest of the way. St. Louis wound up outshooting Toronto 31-26, and fully deserved the two points.
5. Buds need to forget about recent slump and prepare for big game against division-rival Bruins. Despite having dropped three games in a row now, the Leafs remain in the thick of things as far as the Eastern Conference playoff race goes: they're just three points behind the Boston Bruins (on whom they have five games in hand) for third place in the Atlantic Division, and three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers (on whom they have three games in hand) for the final wild card berth. And they face the Bruins Saturday night in Boston in what promises to be a hotly-contested game.
That tilt will be the second-last road game in the Leafs' current six-game road trip - they'll take on the New York Islanders Monday, before returning home the next night to spar with the Dallas Stars - and their Original Six rivals in Beantown understand full well how important the result will be in helping determine who gets to keep playing after the end of the regular season.