Nashville Predators 0, Toronto Maple Leafs 3: Saros’s heroics not enough for win

The Predators got steamrolled by the Maple Leafs tonight.

The Nashville Predators headed north for the beginning of a slackened Canadian road trip (their planned Thursday game against the Ottawa Senators has been rescheduled due to COVID-19 concerns with the Sens’ roster). Tonight’s opponent was the Toronto Maple Leafs, on a similar hot streak; one of these teams was going to have to take a cold dose of reality.

Ryan Johansen and Philip Tomasino had a spectacular chance within the game’s first minute, but Tomasino’s shot went off the post. It was a great start, but the Preds didn’t get much momentum out of it; play was back and forth for the next several minutes, with the Leafs getting a great chance of their own around five minutes in.

The first penalty of the game—a thing the Preds should have worked to avoid—came as Ryan Johansen was called for cross-checking at 6:46. and Auston Matthews scored to put the Leafs up 1-0 shortly thereafter. The penalty kill could have looked a little better on that, but Matthews is one of the best goalscorers active in the NHL; the best way to kill that penalty would have been to keep the game 5v5.

The Leafs tried to add to their lead, but Juuse Saros stayed sharp and the Preds weathered the initial storm. Unfortunately, Tomasino was then called for hooking with 11:10 elapsed, in a confused flurry at center ice. The Preds’ penalty kill made a better start, and Saros and company made a better finish; the penalty elapsed with the score still 0-1 and Tomasino, just out of the box, lost the puck on another great chance.

A spectacular Juuse Saros save on Matthews was immediately followed up by a fight between Michael McCarron and Nick Ritchie. There was a connection—Ritchie’s hit on Mattias Ekholm, which Ekholm objected to on its own merits, caused Ekholm to lose the puck and allowed Mitch Marner to set up Matthews.

Overall, though, the biggest impact of the fight was to amp up the tension between both teams. Checks were harder and post-whistle conversations longer as the period wound to a close. While the Preds had a good flurry toward the very end, we went to first intermission with them still trailing by one.

The second period began with Matt Duchene’s turn to hit a post in the first minute, but this time the early penalty was taken by the Leafs. Their aggressive penalty kill kept the Preds from converting on the opportunity, although the power play looked pretty good.

Moments later, a Leafs shot pinballed off the Preds’ goal cage, and the play went under review. The initial call was a goal, but the review proved that the puck never crossed the line. Saros’s frantic second-attempt save with the blade of his skate was key in keeping the deficit to one.

The Leafs piled on the pressure after that, hemming the Predators in their own zone for what felt like hours. When the Preds finally did get a chance in the Leafs’ end, it turned into a sprawling mess in front of Jack Cambpell. Ondrej Kase might have covered the puck in the crease in all the chaos, and that play also had to get reviewed to see if somehow the puck had crossed the goal line, but we moved on with neither score nor penalty shot.

With the period almost over, Luke Kunin was called for embellishment. The Leafs’ power play looked a lot more lackluster this time, and Kunin was able to escape the sin bin unshamed. The period trickled to an end with the score still 1-0 Leafs.

Tommy Novak hit the Preds’ third period post, about five minutes in. On the next shift, the Preds’ attempt to get back up the ice was interrupted by a scuffle behind the play, as Mark Borowiecki and Wayne Simmonds were both called for roughing. When play resumed, the Preds went back to working their way up ice, but William Nylander caught a long pass and went flying towards Saros—who made another spectacular save.

Roman Josi and Matt Duchene both made valiant efforts to tie the game up as the clock ticked down to fewer than ten minutes left in regulation, but Philip Tomasino was called for tripping with under seven minutes to go. The Leafs’ power play was back in gear, and Saros had to make another huge save while the third pairing each made a painful-looking block. Colton Sissons managed a shorthanded chance just as the penalty expired.

The next goal, though, was scored by David Kampf, as Mattias Ekholm fell into Saros and Kampf put the puck into the exposed area of the net with just under four minutes remaining. Not sure Saros really needed the additional hindrance, there, given how little defensive support he’s gotten over the course of the game and the total lack of goal support or offensive support, but he did, and the consequences were predictable.

The Predators went empty-net with under three minutes remaining, and Mitch Marner scored into it with 22.6 seconds to go, managing to aim the shot perfectly despite Tolvanen, Johansen, and Ekholm all trying to stop him.

Jack Campbell picked up the shutout—a nice easy one, with the Leafs’ defense easily keeping the Preds out of the high-danger areas—and the Preds took the L.

OTF’s Three Stars of the Game:

1. Juuse Saros, who could have given up ten goals in the last five minutes before snapping and decapitating one of the skaters with his stick and still would have gotten first star in my books. (Okay, maybe not the decapitation part. The ten goals, though? Yeah.)