Despite scoring four 5-on-5 goals for the first time this season, a sloppy first period and an unlucky bounce in the third doomed the Blackhawks as they fell 5-4 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
The Blackhawks opened the scoring just 1:53 into the game off Jonathan Toews’ second goal in as many games.
NHL Video Highlight - Jonathan Toews scores against the Toronto Maple Leafs to make it 1-0. pic.twitter.com/eSgBSYIl5U— Chicago Blackhawks Bot (@BHawksGameBot) December 12, 2021
Unfortunately, that was the last of the good news for the Blackhawks for a while as the Leafs scored three goals before the first 20 minutes were over.
After great puck cycling on the power play, John Tavares’ lasered a beautiful shot that was just too hot for Kevin Lankinen to handle to tie the game 1-1. The Leafs’ goal came only about a minute after the Blackhawks’ goal.
NHL Video Highlight - John Tavares scores a power-play goal against the Chicago Blackhawks to make it 1-1. pic.twitter.com/jBcTrpA0cq— Chicago Blackhawks Bot (@BHawksGameBot) December 12, 2021
William Nylander then put the Leafs up 2-1 before the period’s halfway mark after a nifty pass from behind the net courtesy of Tavares. Nylander was left alone in front of the net for an easy tap-in goal.
NHL Video Highlight - William Nylander scores against the Chicago Blackhawks to make it 2-1. pic.twitter.com/FYgk1MEseF— Chicago Blackhawks Bot (@BHawksGameBot) December 12, 2021
Speaking of tap-ins, Auston Matthew extended the Leaf lead to 3-1 with 5:28 left in the period with a goal from the slot on the power play. Again, the Leafs’ cycle on the man-advantage was too much for the Blackhawks and Lankinen was kept moving constantly.
NHL Video Highlight - Auston Matthews scores a power-play goal against the Chicago Blackhawks to make it 3-1. pic.twitter.com/fMSlhGzTTf— Chicago Blackhawks Bot (@BHawksGameBot) December 12, 2021
The second period picked up where the first ended with the Leafs scoring 3:25 into the frame. Pierre Engvall was able to walk the puck out from behind the net unopposed before firing home a wrist from the bottom of the circle to beat a screened Lankinen.
NHL Video Highlight - Pierre Engval scores against the Chicago Blackhawks to make it 4-1. pic.twitter.com/rAkrcD6XMr— Chicago Blackhawks Bot (@BHawksGameBot) December 12, 2021
Connor Murphy would cut the Leafs’ lead in half with 4:29 to go in the second period. Give a ton of credit to Brandon Hagel for outworking everyone on the ice before handing the puck off to Murphy and to Dominik Kubalik for the screen.
NHL Video Highlight - Connor Murphy scores against the Toronto Maple Leafs to make it 4-2. pic.twitter.com/gOo3d7qKbC— Chicago Blackhawks Bot (@BHawksGameBot) December 12, 2021
The Blackhawks kept their foot on the gas in the opening minutes of the third period and were rewarded with a goal to make it 4-3. Philipp Kurashev out-hustled two Leafs players to a puck and whacked it over to Dominik Kubalik who shoveled it into the net.
NHL Video Highlight - Dominik Kubalik scores against the Toronto Maple Leafs to make it 4-3. pic.twitter.com/cTwXt1qKXY— Chicago Blackhawks Bot (@BHawksGameBot) December 12, 2021
Then pretty much a miracle happened: the Blackhawks scored a fourth goal as a long shot from Jake McCabe made it through traffic to beat Mrazek. It was the first time this season the Blackhawks had four 5-on-5 goals and the fourth time Chicago has scored three or more regulation goals in a game this season.
NHL Video Highlight - Jake McCabe scores against the Toronto Maple Leafs to make it 4-4. pic.twitter.com/gdtkoviAwT— Chicago Blackhawks Bot (@BHawksGameBot) December 12, 2021
Unfortunately, the Leafs would go up 5-4 with 1:20 left after an unlucky puck bounce of a post along the boards found David Kampf, who apparently can still only score when the goalie is out of the net.
The Blackhawks were unable to pull off the comeback and fell 5-4 to the Leafs.
Bit of a heartbreak, honestly.
- There were a few more defensive issues to start this game, especially on the two 5-on-5 goals in the first half of the game. On the first, both S. Jones and de Haan followed Tavares to the boards and left Nylander wide open in front of the net while Dach didn’t attempt to cover him, either. On the second, Lankinen left his post a bit too early, but absolutely no one was paying Engval attention until it was too late. Even a little pressure and Engval would have been forced to pass or continue cycling.
- The Leafs power play is extremely good, but they made the Blackhawks penalty killers look like the Keystone Cops. Taking three penalties — all of them stupid — in the first period was just asking to get scored on, too.
- Lankinen was very scrambly, but a large part of that was due to the Blackhawks having no answer for the Leafs’ cycle game through the first 30 minutes. As mentioned above, he shouldn’t have left his post so quick on the Engval goal, but he didn’t have much help on the other goals against.
- The Blackhawks continued to suppress high-danger chances against at 5-on-5, but this game is a perfect example of why that strategy alone isn’t sustainable: there are plenty of teams that can score a lot at mid-danger chances. The Blackhawks will need to start expanding their defensive progress out farther from the net.
- But hey, four goals is a big deal! We’ve been asking for more offense and the Blackhawks definitely provided that. Tonight was only the third time the Blackhawks scored three or more goals in regulation and first time for four goals at 5-on-5. The Leafs definitely went into cruise mode after their fourth goal, but the Blackhawks took full advantage which allowed the Blackhawks to dominate puck possession.
- Hagel, Kurashev, and Strome were the most noticeable forwards for a majority of the game. The first two were rewarded with assists after impressive hustling while the latter was moved up to center the top line for his good play.
- DeBrincat, Strome, and Kane had a 56.14 percent share of expected goals when on the ice together in in nearly 10 minutes while facing the Leafs’ top two lines almost exclusively. If they could get some relief from top quality of competition — from, say, the use of a defensively sound checking line — they might have a had a goal or two.
- Who’d have thought Kubalik and Kurashev together would work? No matter who their center was, their line was the best when it came to expected goals share — 74.68 percent with Strome and 93.35 with Dach.
- Toews’ scoring again is excellent and hopefully foreshadows that they’ll keep up a decent pace the rest of the season. No one should expect a goal-per-game pace obviously, but Toews has been playing well enough that he’s due for major progression.
- Glad to see that new dad goals are still a thing with McCabe getting on the score sheet.
- Overall, this was a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of game from the Blackhawks: they were disjointed in the first half, but when they were on in the latter half, they were really on. If the Blackhawks can consistently play like they did in the final periods, they could be a formidable force in the league.
- William Nylander (TOR) — 1 goal, 2 assists
- Jake McCabe (CHI) — 1 goal, 1 assist
- John Tavares (TOR) — 1 goal, 1 assist
The Blackhawks are back at the United Center to face the Calgary Flames Monday for a 6:30 p.m. start.