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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Rangers - 10/07/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 8-5 victory over the New York Rangers Saturday at Air Canada Centre:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

Moore tips in the opening goal

NYR@TOR: Moore deflects Zaitsev's shot, opens scoring

Dominic Moore positions himself in the slot and redirects Nikita Zaitsev's wrist shot past Henrik Lundqvist to open the scoring in the 1st

  • 01:05 •

1. Leafs roar out of the gate, score five times in first 20 minutes. The Leafs quickly delighted the sold-out ACC for their first home contest of the year, scoring a game's worth of goals in the first period: centre Dominic Moore - back in a Buds uniform for the first game of his second tour of duty with the club - was the first Toronto player to beat Henrik Lundqvist when he deflected a Nikita Zaitsev shot at the 2:30 mark of the opening frame; and although the Rangers rebounded to tie it 1:12 later on J.T. Miller's first of the season, winger Zach Hyman put the Leafs back in front at the 5:34 mark on a terrific second effort all alone on Lundqvist.

Toronto continued coming in waves after that, with blueliner Jake Gardiner completing an exhilarating rush from centre ice through a pair of Blueshirts defenders and firing the puck past Lundqvist for his first of the year for a power play marker at 11:07. Zaitsev netted his first of the season 2:52 later with a shot from the point, and Hyman notched his second of the game at the 17:19 mark by forechecking behind the Rangers' net and getting the puck to bounce off a Blueshirts defender.

Defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk scored on a man advantage with 23 seconds left in the period to cut Toronto's lead to 5-2 heading into the intermission, but the Buds left the ice to a deserved ovation from the crowd and a major advantage entering the middle frame.

2. Rangers push back in second, tie it up with three unanswered goals. The Rangers pulled Lundqvist in favor of Ondrej Pavelec to start the second, and the visitors played a more aggressive game in the frame, forcing Toronto into taking a pair of penalties and dominating possession while knocking the Leafs off the puck in all zones. As a result, the Blueshirts steadily chipped away at the Buds' lead: centre Mika Zibanejad made it 5-3 on a man advantage at 7:43 of the period; D-man Marc Staal pulled New York within a goal at 12:14 of the frame on a delayed penalty; and centre Mats Zuccarello tied the score at five goals apiece at 14:06.

Needless to say, the Leafs were not at their best defensively in the second, and head coach Mike Babcock couldn't have been pleased with the disparity in their performance.

Video: NYR@TOR: Bozak buries Gardiner's smooth dish

3. Toronto finds its offensive magic in third via goals from Bozak, Komarov. After Toronto outshot the Rangers 17-12 in the first period, the Blueshirts outshot them 15-11 in the second - and the first seven minutes of the third frame featured more tentative, careful efforts from both sides. However, the Leafs began asserting themselves as they did in the opening period, making Pavelec work to keep the puck out of the net - and at the 7:17 mark, Gardiner set up centre Tyler Bozak beautifully on Bozak's first goal of the season to put the Buds ahead 6-5.

The Rangers disputed the goal on an offside challenge, but video replay ruled in Toronto's favour, and with the NHL's rule change on offside challenges this season, the Blueshirts wound up receiving a two-minute penalty for losing the challenge. And on the ensuing power play, the Leafs struck again when winger Leo Komarov scored his first of the year to extend the Buds' lead to 7-5 with 10:09 left in regulation time.

The burst of offence brought energy back to the 19,621 on hand, and gave the Leafs a little breathing room down the stretch.

Video: NYR@TOR: Kadri dances around defenseman for PPG

4. Rangers pull goalie for extra man, but resolute Leafs withstand pressure, get insurance via Kadri's slick goal. The Rangers pulled Pavelec with more than four minutes left in the third, but Toronto weathered a brief push before getting the play back out of their zone and forcing the visitors to put their goalie back in net. Toronto also pressured the Blueshirts into taking a late penalty - a hooking call on D-man Ryan McDonagh at 17:18 - and that effectively put the Rangers away. Nevertheless, the Leafs got one more goal when centre Nazem Kadri scored his second of the season with 1:30 left, and that assured Toronto of starting the 2017-18 campaign on a two-game win streak with a chance to continue it Monday when the Chicago Blackhawks come to the ACC.

5. Leafs' offence can't be questioned, but defence still a work-in-progress. The Leafs have combined for 15 goals in their first two wins, but Saturday's win demonstrated Toronto still needs to tighten up their play in their own zone. Their second period was especially wobbly, but Babcock understands his team can't always depend on the offence to bail out their defence and will very likely stress the importance of structure and collapsing in and around their net to limit secondary scoring chances.

The high-powered Blackhawks will be an immediate test in that regard, but the marathon that is the regular season will give the Leafs a more meaningful verdict on their D-zone play. It's not where it should be right now, but thankfully for Buds fans, Toronto's collective offensive generation machine is already looking like one of the league's best.
 

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