Leafs jump on top early, add to lead before Preds get one late in opening frame. The Leafs put together a terrific 5-2-0 home record heading into Tuesday's game, and got off to a great start thanks to the stellar shooting of winger Mitch Marner. The rookie put a puck on net from Nashville's corner near the goal line, and Preds goalie Marek Mazanek failed to stop it, giving Marner his sixth goal of the year and giving Toronto the game's first lead just 1:04 into the first period.
Buds winger James van Riemsdyk made it 2-0 for the home side with his fifth goal of the season - with linemates Marner and Tyler Bozak picking up assists - at 14:04 of the first, but Nashville got on the scoreboard at the 17:53 mark on James Neal's seventh of the year. That's clearly not the way the Leafs want to end a period, but all things considered, they dictated the pace of the game for long stretches and had the Preds on their heels more often than not
Buds reestablish two-goal advantage thanks to terrific setup by Bozak. The Marner-Bozak-van-Riemsdyk line was making their presence felt throughout the first half of the night, and at 7:52 of the second period, they underscored their impact when Bozak carried the puck down the wall, then somehow found van Riemsdyk as he drove toward the net and made a fantastic pass for van Riemsdyk's second of the game.
Toronto's lead increased to 3-1 on the goal, and gave the line a combined eight points before the halfway point of the game. The two veterans are enjoying the creativity and vision Marner brings, and all three players were among the Leafs' most dangerous.
Breakdown at Preds blueline results in Nashville's second goal. Toronto maintained their pressure on Nashville for much of the middle frame, but blueliner Jake Gardiner's pass attempt from the Predators' blueline late in the second was picked off and turned into a breakaway for speedy winger Viktor Arvidsson. He made no mistake, beating Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen with 3:51 left in the period to cut the Buds' lead to 3-2, and that's the way things stood entering the second intermission.
The Leafs outshot the Preds 15-10 in the period, but Nashville's transition game can't be dismissed, and limiting their risks - even in the offensive zone - has to be a focus for the Buds.
Video: NSH@TOR: Komarov bags excellent goal on redirection
Komarov's deflection gives Leafs breathing room. Blueliner Martin Marincin isn't looked to for offence on this Leafs team, but he is gaining confidence with the puck and his statistics reflect it: after scoring his first goal of the season in Friday's win over the Flyers, he had an assist in Toronto's loss to Pittsburgh the following night - and after firing a shot at Mazanek that was redirected by Leo Komarov to make it 4-2 for the Buds at 7:18 of the third, Marincin now has a three-game point streak.
The 24-year-old Marincin logged 14:32 of ice time Tuesday - a season low for him - but he's slowly becoming more comfortable in the offensive zone. And that can only help the Leafs as they look to get contributions from all three defensive pairings.
Video: NSH@TOR: JVR nets backhand shot to tally a hat trick
van Riemsdyk completes the hat trick to put the game out of reach. The Predators didn't give up after Komarov's goal, but Toronto didn't let up, either - and with 6:22 left in regulation time, van Riemsdyk took the puck on his backhand and beat Mazanek on his far side to record the hat trick and give the Leafs a four-goal advantage.
Marner picked up an assist on the play - giving him nine helpers for the year - and the good news didn't end there: winger William Nylander scored an unassisted goal just 1:45 after van Riemsdyk's third of the game, and that deflated any hope Nashville had of making a comeback. The Leafs were by far the better team, and the Predators' road woes (they fall to 1-5-2 with the loss) continue to mount