Mitch Marner leads Toronto Maple Leafs to victory in Battle of Ontario

A career-high five points from Mitch Marner and a first-period onslaught helped the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for the first time since 2015.

Mitch Marner leads Toronto Maple Leafs to victory in Battle of Ontario
Mitch Marner salutes the crowd after his career-best performance on Saturday night against Ottawa. Photo: Kevin Sousa/ NHL via Getty Images
Toronto Maple Leafs
6 3
Ottawa Senators

A perfect start for the Toronto Maple Leafs and a dominant performance by Mitch Marner on Saturday night helped the Buds snap their five-game home losing streak against the Ottawa Senators.

Having not won in their own building against their provincial rivals in nearly three years, the Maple Leafs scored quickly and often in the first period, chasing Ottawa’s goaltender less than twelve minutes into the game on their way to a 6-3 win, their third win in a row.

Maple Leafs come out flying

The home team began to dominate from the opening faceoff and wasted no time in taking the lead. Toronto applied merciless pressure in the opening minutes and the Senators could not handle it.

Less than two minutes into the game, the giveaways were already flying off the Senators' sticks. One of them landed on the stick of Mitch Marner, who was alone in front of the Ottawa net. Marner beat Craig Anderson to give Toronto the early lead.

Senator-slayer Auston Matthews celebrates putting Toronto up 2-0. Photo: Mark Blinch/NHL via Getty Images
Senator-slayer Auston Matthews celebrates putting Toronto up 2-0. Photo: Mark Blinch/NHL via Getty Images

Smelling blood, the Leafs kept coming. Soon, it was the top line's turn to go on the attack. Auston Matthews led a rush into the Ottawa zone, narrowly missing the top corner with his lethal wrist shot.

William Nylander won the race to the puck in the corner, skated around the Senators’ zone before dropping it back for Matthews near the top of the right faceoff circle. The Leafs star whipped out one of his trademark curl-and-drags, sniping the top corner to double Toronto’s lead before the halfway point in the period.

The home team had two goals on eight shots in the first ten minutes of the period.

As if things could not get any worse for the Senators, a defensive breakdown led by their superstar defenseman dug the visitors further into the already-deep hole they found themselves in.

After a draw in the Toronto zone was won by Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau won a battle with Erik Karlsson around the centre ice boards. Karlsson failed to pick up a man as the puck was chipped to Kadri who brought it into the offensive zone before dropping back to Marleau.

The veteran hit a streaking Marner with a cross-ice pass. and Marner beat Anderson for his second of the night and a 3-0 Toronto lead less than 12 minutes into the game.

Mitch Marner celebrates one of his two first period goals against the Senators. Photo: Kevin Sousa/Getty Images
Mitch Marner celebrates one of his two first period goals against the Senators. Photo: Kevin Sousa/Getty Images

After allowing the third goal, Anderson was pulled in favour of Mike Condon. The Sens’ starter allowed three goals a mere 10 shots.

The Senators seemingly could not do anything right in the first period. After going to the power play, courtesy of a Jake Gardiner holding penalty, the Sens found themselves stuck in the neutral zone before taking a too many men on the ice penalty to negate their powerplay.

The lone positive for Ottawa in the first was they managed to kill the brief ensuing Leafs' powerplay, along with a full one in the dying minutes, keeping Toronto’s lead at three goals after one period.

One step forward, one step back for Ottawa

In the early stages of the second period, it appeared that there would be no fresh start for the Senators as Kadri swept in on a breakaway and had four attempts from behind the Ottawa goal line to bank the puck off Condon but failed to convert.

Erik Karlsson losses a puck battle to a sprawling William Nylander. Photo: Mark Blinch/Getty Images
Erik Karlsson losses a puck battle to a sprawling William Nylander. Photo: Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Surviving the early pressure allowed Ottawa to start to get into the game. Midway through the period, Mark Stone hit Johnny Oduya with a cross-ice pass at the Leafs blue line, allowing him to move in alone.

Oduya, who had committed the giveaway that Marner turned into a goal in the opening minutes, made up for his early error by ripping a slap shot past Frederik Andersen to put Ottawa on the board.

The Senators had a chance to fully flip the momentum when Karlsson drew a penalty behind the Toronto net, but Ottawa failed to get much pressure on Andersen. That failure to convert would come back to haunt them as Tom Pyatt took a holding penalty not long after.

On the power play, the Maple Leafs set up their cycle perfectly before Marner’s centering pass deflected off James van Riemsdyk and Sens' defenseman Cody Ceci and past Condon to re-establish Toronto’s three-goal lead.

Leafs match Senators shot for shot

After disastrous starts to the first two periods, Ottawa finally got the start they wanted in the third, as Dion Phaneuf’s point shot deflected off of Derick Brassard’s knee and past Andersen to once again cut the deficit to just two goals 45 seconds into the third period.

The Leafs celebrate Nazem Kadri's (right) third period goal. Photo: Mark Blinch/NHL via Getty Images
The Leafs celebrate Nazem Kadri's (right) third period goal. Photo: Mark Blinch/NHL via Getty Images

But just like the last time Ottawa scored, Toronto was quick to respond. Once again, it was some Marner magic, as the Leaf’s winger kick-started an assault by winning an icing race.

Marleau would cause a turnover that ended up back on the stick of Marner, who fed the puck cross-crease to Kadri. On his sixth shot of the night, Kadri fired the puck into a wide-open cage to once again put Toronto up by three. Marner’s assist tied his career-high for points in a game with four.

As time ticked down, the Senators refused to go away. With just over six minutes to go, the Leafs failed to clear the zone, resulting in a scramble in front of their own net. The puck fell to Ryan Dzingel, who ripped it top corner to keep Ottawa in the game.

The final goal of the game very much summed up Ottawa's night, as Marner won a battle with Erik Karlsson (on the ice) before setting up Patrick Marleau's empty-netter. Photo: Mark Blinch/NHL via Getty images
The final goal of the game very much summed up Ottawa's night, as Marner won a battle with Erik Karlsson (on the ice) before setting up Patrick Marleau's empty-netter. Photo: Mark Blinch/NHL via Getty images

But the Senators just could not shake their provincial rivals. With Mike Condon on the bench with under two minutes to go, Marner capped off his magical night by winning a battle with Karlsson in the Sens’ zone, fighting the puck to Marleau who buried it into the empty net to seal the win for Toronto.

By the numbers

The Maple Leafs dominated the Senators in almost every facet of the game. They outshot their rivals 41 to 25, won 53 percent of the faceoffs and were better on special teams. Toronto only took two penalties, killing both, while going one-for-five on their own powerplays.

When van Riemsdyk scored in the second period, there was a moment when it appeared that it may have been Marner’s goal, giving the sophomore his first career hat trick. Even though it turned out to just be an assist, that was enough to match Marner’s career-high in points in a single game with four.

Marner would later set a new career best when he assisted on Marleau’s empty-netter, giving him a new career-high of five points in a game (2G, 3A).

The win for Toronto combined with the Boston Bruins' loss moves the Leafs to within three points of the Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division and a home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. However, Boston still has four games in hand on the Leafs.

The win also allows Toronto to keep pace with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the division, conference, and league, although the Lightning has two games in hand.

The Maple Leafs’ homestand continues on Monday in what could be a crucial battle in the Atlantic Division race as they host the league-leading Lightning.

Ottawa will now make the trip south of the border to visit Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.