The game started off much like yesterday’s - it was uneventful, to say the least. Mike Babcock seemed intent on hard-matching Nazem Kadri’s line to Patrice Bergeron’s. That’s harder to do on the road, but early on, he got the matchup he wanted. Nonetheless, the Bergeron line did their thing, creating regular chances in the early going.
The fourth line struggled a bit in their first shift against Boston’s depth, which is never a good sign. Boston loads their top line like no other team, at the expense of their depth. If their depth is beating you, it’s really problematic.
And early on, that’s pretty much what happened. The Leafs really generated nothing offensively, and when your goaltender is Curtis McElhinney, that doesn’t bode well. The lone exception was the Bozak group, and this is the type of game where you want (need) them to excel, especially without Auston Matthews.
Mitch Marner is no stranger to stepping up. Early on, he jumps all over a terrible pass from Brandon Carlo, and snipes it off the post, past Tuukka Rask. 1-0 Toronto. He’d been active early, having sent William Nylander in all alone during some 4-on-4 play. Nylander couldn’t get it done on his chance (bit of a theme this season), but Marner could.
Aside from the turnovers, the Leafs were on the back foot from jump. It seemed like a game where they’d have to be opportunistic to win, and after JVR tips in a pass from Nazem Kadri just seven seconds into a power play, it seems like the Leafs knew it. 2-0 Toronto. That was a beautiful set play that ran on the back of controlled possession off the draw. The penalty was drawn after a strong fourth line shift.
But Boston’s shot clock domination came home to roost, as Frank Vatrano made a deft backhand tip on a Torey Krug shot to cut the lead in half. 2-1 Toronto. Hard to say that was undeserved on the whole - Boston had created far more shots than the Leafs to this point. So while the period ended on a somewhat sour note, on the whole, it had to be viewed positively. Despite playing pretty mediocre for large stretches of the period, Toronto had a lead.
Obvious standouts were the Bozak line in its entirety. But aside from them, it’s been slim pickings. The Kadri line got vaporized by Bergeron’s group in the first, and in particular, Nylander looked somewhere between disinterested and throwing the game. Borgman and Carrick didn’t cover themselves in glory on Vatrano’s goal either. It hasn’t been a great couple games for that pair.
Mike Babcock is nothing if not details-oriented. To start the second, he swapped Kadri and Marleau, while still matching Kadri’s line to Bergeron’s wherever possible. Maybe this was designed to get Nylander going, or because he felt Brown is a more natural ‘defensive’ winger. The lines flopped around for much of the period, back and forth from what they were at the start of the game. It might have been nothing more than a way for him to hedge his lines for the second period drop to account for the uncertainty in predicting who the Bruins start with.
Lineup changes or not, the Leafs still struggled to get anything going, and the Bruins had their way with them throughout the second, in zone time if not in scoring chances. In the first, the only chances the Leafs generated were off colossal brain farts by Boston, or power plays. The Bruins eliminated both, and the Leafs lead has to be viewed as undeserved right now. Aside from a Brad Marchand shot off a cross-crease pass from Bergeron, quality chances have been limited for the Bruins. But Toronto played with fire the entire period, and are very fortunate that they didn’t get burned.
The period was rather uneventful, except for a possible injury. About 12 minutes in, Matt Martin lined up Anders Bjork from a different area code, nailing him with a huge open ice hit. Unfortunately for the Leafs, it appeared that Martin got the worst of that collision, though he ultimately stayed in the game and took his regular shifts. He also felt good enough to take on Matt Beleskey in a fight a few minutes later, which probably had the Leafs medical staff cringing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin sat some of the Leafs’ practices in their upcoming break.
The third started ugly for the Leafs. Two quick penalties by Andreas Borgman and Dominic Moore mean the Leafs have to kill three straight minutes of penalties, one of which was a 5-on-3. After some spirited work by Leo Komarov, Ron Hainsey, and Nikita Zaitsev, they do just that. That was a highly impressive kill - the Bruins got about as few chances as you could reasonably expect to concede in that situation.
So often, it seems like a team fails to take advantage of a chance, and through some divine intervention, their opponent makes them pay. That’s pretty much what happened in the third. Marner gains the zone, and after throwing the puck on net, a bounce finds JvR. He gives it to Rielly, who fires a weak point shot that is seemingly deflected about 2921409124 times on the way to the net, beating Rask. This was horrifically unlucky from a Bruins perspective, but if you’re the Leafs, you take that. 3-1 Toronto.
Predictably, the Bruins poured it on from this point out, even more so than during the rest of the game. Once you accept it as a given that the Leafs weren’t going to generate any offence from this point, their defensive performance was quite admirable. No real quality shots, despite being shorthanded once. No real heroics required of McElhinney (who was solid when needed to be, for sure). A workmanlike business end to the home and home, and despite the poor performance, the Leafs have gained four points on Boston in the past two nights. A empty netter from Patrick Marleau seals it, and the Leafs win 4-1.
- I love the guy, but Nylander was hot garbage.
- Marner and his line were the only set of forwards that came out to play. Komarov was good on the PK and had some nice defensive moments later in the game.
- As part of my conspiracy against Patrick Marleau, I cannot comment on his game, but I heard his mother is a hamster and his father smells of elderberries.
- I don’t know what has gone wrong with this team, but they cannot keep playing this poorly at even strength. Notwithstanding a decent effort last night, the last time I can say that we thoroughly outplayed a team was when we beat the Ducks’ AHL roster a few weeks ago.
- Toronto’s full season numbers still look fine, but strip out the first few high-flying games, and it becomes much less rosy immediately. Granted, that’s sort of unfair - every team will look worse if you remove their best games. But for the Leafs, those games ALL came at the start of the year, and they’ve not come close to replicating those performances since.
- With that being said, that was an important win that guarantees the Leafs go through the first 20 games gaining at least 24 points. That’s a good spot to be in, all things considered, especially since we’ve missed Matthews for the last three games.