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Leafs vs. Habs Recap: Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead

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Toronto triumphs 4-3 in overtime over our arch-nemesis.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs journeyed to Montreal tonight to take on their oldest, vilest enemy: the Montreal Canadiens. As is their wont, the Habs put on a stupid opening ceremony before the game, because no one has thus far been able to stop them.

First Period

Leafs push their way into the Habs zone right off the hop, but the play fizzles when Nylander gives the puck away to Brendan Gallagher. There’s a bit of back and forth that doesn’t materialize into anything dangerous; the Kadri line eventually goes offside.

Habs get a nice zone shift after Brandon Davidson springs Charles Hudon with a long pass. There’s a dangerous looking rebound after Freddie kicks a point shot out into the slot that’s probably a goal if the Habs get there, but the Leafs recover in time.

The Bozak line has struggled in the goals against department, and this was no different. Jonathan Drouin gains the zone, sets up on the half boards, then throws back to Jeff Petry at the front. Petry hits the far corner with a low slapshot that Freddie probably ought to have had, though screened. 1-0 Habs.

The Habs are doing a good job putting traffic in front of Andersen, and I can’t say I feel too good about it. That said, Gallagher and Paul Byron run a very nicely executed give-and-go, with Byron getting a chip shot glove side right in front of the net. Freddie’s there with a big glove.

Mete narrowly misses a goal on a good pinch. This is not going well for us.

The Bozak line tries to make up for its earlier goal against with a goal for: JVR throws it net front to Mitch Marner who tries for the tap in, but Carey Price is there with the save, albeit he doesn’t seem to realize it.

But good news! The Leafs score right off the hop. Bozak’s faceoff win goes off Lehkonen’s skate, and via a deflection by Petry, JVR buries it. 1-1.

Kadri blocks a shot. Looks like a stinger off the left wrist...please be okay. (He was.)

HOLY SHIT AUSTON MATTHEWS. He takes a pass, chips it to himself, then does a curl and drag snapshot. Price stumbles, possibly in response to the move and boom, it’s 2-1 Leafs. Auston Matthews is God.

That’s French for “I wish we had a franchise C.”

Karl Alzner, marquee FA signing, takes a penalty off a dumb cross check because he’s not very good. Leafs to the PP. Some close calls, but no goals for the good guys this time. Paul Byron gets a briefly scary SH chance, but Nylander cuts him off and he settles for a weak shot that Andersen handles.

Pacioretty puts a shot into Freddie’s glove. Not all that dangerous a spot, but Patches can score.

Willie does a one-man army rush where he passes to himself because he’s amazing; this is part of another strong shift for the Matthews line, which is a top five line in the NHL now. So there.

Nazem Kadri takes a high sticking penalty chasing Shea Weber that should have been called a hook, but whatever. Unfortunately, the Leafs have chosen this moment to play slumpbusters, because the Habs get their first PP goal of the season. Alex Galchenyuk comes in accompanied by Hudon on a two-on-one, looks at the pass and decides to shoot, and boom, stick side. 2-2. Sigh.

Gallagher does his usual net-crash thing and Freddie pulls a big save out of a crowd. Yikes.

There’s an offside at the Leafs’ line, and Matt Martin doesn’t realize in time to let up on bodychecking Brendan Gallagher. Well, either he didn’t notice or he didn’t want to, anyway. Can’t say I’m crying about it.

Anyway, that’s about the size of the period. The Matthews line was absolutely tremendous. Freddie didn’t have his finest hour; the Habs were doing a good job crashing the net on him, and he made a couple of good saves, but at some point we’re going to need more than stopping six shots out of seven.

Second Period

Marner is doing laps, man. So fast.

Zach Hyman gets a stick in on Galchenyuk on a two-on-one, preventing a shot on goal. Phew.

Nylander makes a rush on which he basically forces Brandon Davidson to mug him in order to even slow him down....and Nylander still puts a pass through the crease. This line is magic, guys. Anyway, Davidson to the box for holding.

The Matthews PP unit predictably has the best chance, but Arturri Lehkonen manages to get a stick in the middle of a nice play to stop a chance near the end. No goals.

The Habs put together a scrambling rush, but Andersen makes a baseball catch in the slot to keep the puck out of danger.

After a pretty action-packed first period, the second period has settled down into two patterns: either the Matthews line is on or very little is happening. (P.S.: this was true at the time I wrote it, halfway through the second, and then a bunch of stuff immediately happened quite quickly.)

After some fantastic set-up work by Nylander, Auston Matthews high-sticks the puck into the net. While I’d like to say it should be 3-2, this was probably the correct call. A challenge doesn’t avail the Leafs, and it’s no goal.

Because we live in a soulless world with no justice, Karl Alzner slaps a puck in the direction of the net and Jonathan Drouin tips the puck past Freddie. 3-2 Habs. The Leafs have a pretty tenable case that Mitch Marner was interfered with, giving Alzner time for his shot-pass, but no call.

After an extended, strong o-zone shift by the Kadri line, Price bobbles a Komarov shot out to the right side of his crease, Kadri swats at it, and Patrick Marleau mashes it in. It takes a review to confirm it, but it’s a good goal. 3-3!

Man, this Matthews line does not quit. Another strong shift that narrowly misses a grade-A scoring chance when Nylander can’t get a slot shot off. The Marner line follows up with more extended zone time. Leafs are personifying “best defence is a good offence” here: you can’t give up shots if you’re always on the attack. The Habs are basically hanging on for dear life, but unfortunately they do seem to get a good rush chance whenever the play breaks up.

Tyler Bozak takes a holding call on Charles Hudon, and the Habs have the chance to go for PP goal #2. Zaitsev makes a couple of quality clears, and it’s a nothing powerplay for the Canadiens. The period ends 3-3.

The Leafs took the Habs for a ride in the latter half of this period, and in my humble opinion, were unlucky not to take the lead. The basic flow seemed to be extended Leafs zone shift, extended Leafs zone shift, Habs rush chance, and then back to the attack. All of the Leafs’ lines, including the fourth line, seemed to do this at some point, and it was nice to see our forward depth shine through. I will say, though, that the Habs blocked a hell of a lot of shots, and when the Leafs did allow a chance, it was a scary one. The more things change...

Third Period

Andersen is cool under some early pressure and shots. The Habs have come out stronger this period than they did finishing the last one. The Leafs, as always, look like the best team in the league when they get going on offence, and a lot less impressive when they don’t.

Martin again does his thing where he tries to avoid boarding the other guy on the icing. I can’t recall seeing this before I saw Martin do it the other night, but good on him.

The game seems to have slowed down again, and not coincidentally, I think the Habs are starting to get the better of the action. Some of their shots are from distance, but as the Petry goal showed, those can go in. [tension]

The Matthews line goes video game on the Habs for a long o-zone shift. Shea Weber hammers Zach Hyman with a hit, but it doesn’t hold the Leafs up, and the play only ends when Price manages a smother.

The Habs come back hard, though. A dangerous shift ends when Freddie manages to snatch a rebound puck away from a lurking Andrew Shaw. Andersen flashes his glove hand on a subsequent shift; after a rough first, he’s steadied in the last two periods and has particularly had to be strong here under heavy Montreal pressure.

Alright, yeah, it’s a siege now. As much as the Leafs had the game in the late second, Montreal is dominant now. Shaw is buzzing around, in particular, but at least Connor Carrick figured out a solution to that.

This is worrisome, though. The Leafs will not survive giving up this many chances for long unless Andersen is superhuman.

Matt Martin gets a partial break, a rare Leaf chance in this period. He doesn’t wind up getting a shot on it, but oh well. I want to see Martin score on a breakaway one of these days.

More Habs pressure, including a head-height Weber cannon. Kadri and Marleau trickle a sneak shot in on Price, but he gets a pad on it. The Leafs are belatedly getting back on offence a little as the period ticks down, but Price is up to it. Nothing more, and we’re headed to OT.

There’s no easy way to say this: the Habs owned the third. I was generally okay with the Leafs’ play through two periods—it was a Leafy game, but it was a good Leafy game. The third was not good, Leafy or otherwise. Andersen went some way to redeeming himself with several excellent saves. The Matthews line was—surprise—the most impressive, insofar as the Leafs had an impressive line.

Overtime

AUSTON GODDAMN MATTHEWS

Just watch the replay. The only thing I have to add is that William Nylander was utterly heroic for the entire shift, not just on this goal.

4-3 Maple Leafs is your final. Eat it, Habs.

Thoughts

  • God, this feels so good. It’s been too long.
  • Auston Matthews, you guys. My Lord. I think he may be the best player we’ve ever had. As a franchise.
  • No, seriously, Auston Matthews. He broke even in possession, but every time he stepped on the ice (along with Nylander, who was similarly incredible) he was the focal point of the action. Watch that first goal again. And then watch the second goal again. That’s the main takeaway from this game, the rest is just window dressing.
  • The Leafs actually had the edge in adjusted Corsi, but were down in adjusted Fenwick. As you might expect, this was a function of the Habs blocking an awful lot of shots. The Habs get fewer dangerous shots than they should as a percentage of their total, but they did have quite a few of those tonight, especially in the third. They also put traffic in front of Freddie.
  • Nazem Kadri had a very strong possession game, and I would say a strong game in reality, too. Tyler Bozak did not, and again, I would say that is reflective, although in Bozak’s case there may have been some face-off-get-off shifts that are skewing his numbers down.
  • I particularly liked Zaitsev on the back end, he did well on the last penalty kill of the game. Also noteworthy: there were fewer penalties tonight than in previous games. This was not necessarily for lack of infractions, the refs just pocketed their whistles in the third.
  • After a tough start, Freddie battled back to post a respectable .912 save percentage, and he got the Leafs through a rough third after they outscored his own rough first. It wasn’t perfect, but it was creditable, and nice to see. I believe in you, Andersen.
  • Amongst the Habs: Drouin is honestly not bad, he’s functioning fine as a centre. I also think Victor Mete is actually a pretty good defenceman. Galchenyuk looked good on his goal but was otherwise not much used and not especially successful, to judge by his shot numbers. Kidding aside, Montreal is a good team. But they don’t have as much finish as they should, and if Price is less than amazing, that’s going to be an issue for them.
  • Raise that Leaf flag high, Seldo. And fly it proudly.