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Five Takeaways - Leafs @ Wild - 10/20/16

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild Thursday at Xcel Energy Center:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Leafs take first lead for the third straight game, but Wild answer soon after. After a scoreless first period in which Toronto outshot the host Wild 11-5, the Leafs got on the scoreboard before their opponent for the third game in a row when an unlikely producer of offence - veteran blueliner Roman Polak, who was appearing in his first regular-season game of the year - scored at 9:13 of the second frame. However, just 56 seconds later, the Wild tied it when an offensive-zone miscue from D-man Connor Carrick led to a breakaway goal by Eric Staal.

This has become somewhat of a pattern for the young Leafs squad so far this season: offense isn't proving to be a problem, but playing with the lead is leading to big gambles, odd-man rushes and opportunities galore for the opposition. Toronto needs more consistency in their own zone, even if it means pulling back on the reins when they do have the puck.

 

 

Video: TOR@MIN: Matthews puts home a rebound for the lead

2. Matthews puts Toronto ahead again, but Wild pull even early in third. Rookie centre Auston Matthews fired a rebound past Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk to record his fourth goal of the season with four-and-a-half minutes left in the second period and give the Buds a 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission, but Minnesota returned from the dressing room with fire in their bellies: they outshot Toronto 7-3 in the first 13 minutes of the third period, tied the game again at 2:27 of the frame on centre Zac Dalpe's first of the year, then took their first lead of the night at the 11:53 mark on Staal's second goal of the game.

The Leafs had occasional stretches in which they threatened in Minnesota's zone, but too often, they were on the losing end of puck battles and gave the Wild too much space and time with the puck.

3.   Leafs apply pressure late, but Wild saved by Dubnyk, and the crossbar. The Buds rediscovered a sense of urgency in their game in the final minutes of regulation time, but Matthews hit the crossbar with a shot and Dubnyk made several stellar stops to preserve the lead for his team. 

Toronto goalie Jhonas Enroth deserved a better fate, stopping 24 of 27 shots in his first regular-season start as a Leaf, but the Wild's discipline and familiarity with one another as a more veteran squad was evident as they hung on to win.

4.   Nylander quietly putting up points. Leafs forward William Nylander got the primary assist on Matthews' goal, his fourth helper of the season and his fifth point in four games. The 20-year-old amassed six goals and 13 points in his first 22 NHL games with Toronto last season, and almost certainly will eclipse that total in relatively short order this year. The improvement of the roster around him means he doesn't have to do everything on his own, and he looks more comfortable and confident with every passing game.

5.   Carrick logs season-high in ice time, showing why Leafs acquired him. Carrick may have made a mistake that resulted in Staal's first goal, but he played a season-best 21:53, including 5:38 of special team time, and is solidifying his spot as a regular NHLer. And remember, this is a youngster who is still just 22 years old. 

The Washington Capitals were at a point in their competitive cycle where they didn't have a roster slot for him, but the Leafs were happy to take him off their hands in the trade that sent Daniel Winnik to the Caps last season. And although he's still learning and growing like any other NHL player, Carrick is turning out to be a contributor of note for Toronto.

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