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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Blackhawks - 10/09/17

Five takeaways: Buds overcome tough start, roar back for OT win over Blackhawks

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Hawks stake out early lead as Leafs struggle with puck control. The Leafs and Blackhawks began their regular season with some identical numbers - a pair of wins and 15 goals-for for each club - but Chicago established themselves early in Monday's contest by capitalizing on Toronto breakdowns in their defensive zone and jumping out to a two-goal lead (on markers by defenceman Jan Rutta and centre Jonathan Toews) by the 7:57 mark of the first period.

The Leafs settled down after that and the two sides finished the opening frame with an almost equal amount of shots on net - Toronto had seven, while the Hawks had nine - but the most important and telling stat of the frame was in the giveaways department: the Buds surrendered the puck 10 times, while Chicago did so just four times. Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said at the morning skate his players had to be better when they had possession, and that wasn't the case in the first 20 minutes.


Video: CHI@TOR: Brown sets up Zaitsev for five-hole snipe

2. Leafs cut into Chicago's lead on Zaitsev goal, terrific assist by Brown. Toronto looked more confident in the middle frame, outshooting the visitors 19-6 and forcing Chicago into taking four minor penalties. And the Leafs' hard work paid off in the form of their first goal of the evening - a Nikita Zaitsev marker that went through Blackhawks netminder Anton Forsberg's legs at 10:20 of the second and cut the Hawks' lead in half.

Zaitsev's goal - which included blueliner Calle Rosen's first-ever NHL point - was his second of the season and was set up beautifully by winger Connor Brown. Zaitsev had four goals with the Leafs in 82 games last season - and with a little more luck, the sophomore blueliner probably should've had more - but getting halfway to that total in Toronto's first three games this year has to give the 25-year-old Russian a mental boost.

3. Buds' discipline issues add up, lead to Hawks' third goal. Although the Leafs pressured the Blackhawks into giving them a quartet of power plays, they also had penalty issues of their own - and on Chicago's fifth man advantage of the game, winger Richard Panik batted a loose puck past goalie Frederik Andersen to make it 3-1 at 7:52 of the third.

Eight of the 13 total penalties called Monday were for slashing, an indication the league's crackdown on that particular rule is still being adjusted to by players and officials. However - and has been said in this space numerous times over the years - the NHL is a league in which special teams can be the difference between winning and losing. And giving a skilled squad like the Hawks five chances is never going to be something that endears Leafs players to head coach Mike Babcock. 

Video: CHI@TOR: Bozak banks game-tying PPG off van Riemsdyk

4. Burgeoning Brown pulls Leafs within a goal, van Riemsdyk ties it on power play. Like Zaitsev, Brown is entering his second full NHL season, and the 23-year-old winger was arguably Toronto's best player Monday, skating at full strength, and on the power play and penalty kill. Most importantly, he came through with the Leafs' second goal, taking a pass from Zaitsev, spinning and firing the puck past Forsberg with seven minutes left in regulation.

Brown's goal brought the ACC crowd alive, and Toronto built on their momentum - outshooting Chicago 14-6 in the final regulation period - by leaning on the Hawks until Rutta was called for a slashing minor at 14:22; on the ensuing power play, winger James van Riemsdyk had centre Tyler Bozak's shot go off his skate and into the Blackhawks for the game-tying marker at 15:42. That was enough to send the game to overtime and assure the Buds of at least one standings point.

Video: CHI@TOR: Matthews snipes top-shelf OT game-winner

5. Leafs dominate OT, Matthews nets game-winner on sizzling shot. They might not have started the game in an ideal manner, but the Leafs got better and better as it unfolded, and by the time overtime began, the Blackhawks were doing all they could to stop Toronto's attack, let alone develop one of their own. And with 1:17 left until a shootout, the Buds got the game-winner thanks to centre Auston Matthews, who snapped a blistering shot over Forsberg's shoulder.

The marker was Matthews' second goal of the year, and it gave the Leafs a three-game win streak and even more confidence heading into Wednesday's home tilt against the New Jersey Devils. Toronto's game remains uneven, but they're also at the top of the Atlantic Division standings and have yet to taste defeat in the regular season. Leafs Nation can't ask for more than that.

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