It was an impressive 60-minute road performance by the Toronto Maple Leafs against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only were the Leafs able to keep Sid the Kid off the scoresheet, they kept Evgeni Malkin and everyone else on the Penguins off the scoresheet for a 5-0 confidence-filled performance on Saturday Night.
Morgan Rielly scored twice, including a beauty off the rush, leading the Maple Leafs in scoring. John Tavares, Patrick Marleau, and Zach Hyman also scored for the Leafs.
Frederik Andersen posted his first shut-out of the season, stopping all 31 of the shots he faced. Hyman also got a first of the season in this game: his first goal came short-handed at the tail-end of the contest, putting a nice bow on the night.
Mitchell Marner and Kasperi Kapanen each had two assists on the night. Both speedy wingers as well as Nazem Kadri were crucial in getting the puck into the offensive zone and towards Matthew Murray’s net. The Leafs finished the night with 44 shot-attempts for to 40 against despite leading for over 50 minutes.
We saw a similar shot performance out of the Leafs on Thursday against the Dallas Stars, the only difference was that the Leafs actually saw the puck go into the net.
Tavares and his linemates of Marner and Hyman were matched up against Team Canada teammate Sidney Crosby right off the bat. It would be logical to assume the other superstar on the Penguins Evgeni Malkin and Nazem Kadri would face each other on the night, but Kadri was able to take advantage of a few shifts against Riley Sheahan and his third line, and get a few great chances.
Kadri’s defensive play was strong early, and it was helping him and his linemates get the first few early chances. In transition, Kadri was the main man on the line to carry the puck, and he not only got a great scoring chance for himself on his first shift, but he set up Kasperi Kapanen on a 2-on-1 for a one-timer that Pens goalie Matthew Murray parried away with the blocker.
On the Kapanen chance, third-wheel Patrick Marleau got called for a hooking penalty while trying to follow up the play. The Penguins’ high-octane power play got a few chances, but the Leafs’ kill — anchored by Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev — held their opponents to choppy chances and shots from the side of the net.
The Leafs gained a lot of momentum from that kill; Marner really started to come alive on his next shift. The Leafs drew icing calls and hemmed the Penguins in their own zone for over a minute. At the end of the shift of the long shift, Marner carried the puck across the top of the slot, and threw the puck at the net with Hyman and Tavares right in the line of fire. Tavares got a piece of his body on the puck and deflected it home for the game’s opening goal.
From there, the Leafs really kept that momentum going. They maintained a 2:1 shot advantage for much of the period until the end, they out-corsi’d the Penguins 24-17, and produced more scoring chances than the home team as well (11-9).
Marner was back to his usual self, he dominated the play when he was on the ice, turning Tavares and Hyman into his personal bodyguards. Kapanen and Hagelin got into a footrace in the second half of the period, which was great to see, but the most amazing part was that Zaitsev was able to pivot from a stop and catch Hagelin in order to poke the puck away first.
I really liked his and Hainsey’s play in the period. The way the Penguins play — which is not a guns ablaze all speed game — has really suited the way those two defencemen operate. They did a great job moving players out from in front of the net, and pushing the cycle up towards the wingers and blueline.
Once again the Kadri line produced off a play in transition. Kapanen snatched the puck off the boards in his own zone and sped past Phil Kessel for a break. Speaking of Phil Kessel, that trade got just a little bit sweeter after watching that visual.
Phil Kessel just saw a Finnish blur go past his eyes pic.twitter.com/7UW0GuFj4T— Flintor (@TheFlintor) November 4, 2018
Anyway, Kapanen roadrunner-ed it up the ice, spotted Marleau who had beaten everyone to the puck of the net, and fed the man twice his age for the Leafs’ second goal of the game. It was a true beauty.
I swear to God, Mitch. You don’t need to go out of your way to set up third-liners for tap-ins. Sometimes you just need to freaking wire the damn puck through the net! I’m calm, I’m calm. I promise. It should be 3-0, but I’m calm. Really, I am.
Marner displays incredible patience on the PK but Lindholm can't beat Murray. pic.twitter.com/de5rm2q4g5— Flintor (@TheFlintor) November 4, 2018
After realizing that they were getting thoroughly out-played, the Penguins resorted to playoff tactics. Patric Honqvist tried to get Travis Dermott excited by hugging him in front of the benches, but the young defenceman was having none of it. Most teams in the AHL try shit like this, especially in the playoffs, so players like Dermott, Kapanen, Johnsson, and Hyman all have very thick skins against stupid.
Matt Murray had been having skate issues all game — it didn’t help that he was run into multiple times by the Leafs — so he left the ice to go get his boot replaced. Casey DeSmith stopped two of two shots in his absence.
And with two men falling on him, Morgan Rielly scored! The Leafs really got their feet moving even faster than before following a Jamie Oleksiak hooking penalty. Rielly jumped up into the rush with Tavares, took the centres pass in stride, and sniped a wrister off the corner of the net and in. The ping of rubber hitting steel was so good.
Nothing too exciting — other than the Leafs generally out-playing the Penguins at every turn — happened in that period. The one highlight would definitely been when Marner got the puck lodged in his skate. That’s always a hoot.
Puck gets stuck in Mitch Marner's skate. He even tries wacking it out to no avail. pic.twitter.com/neLY2e3E9o— Flintor (@TheFlintor) November 4, 2018
Despite leading all period, the Leafs still out-shot the Penguins in all categories at 5v5. Shots (8-4), attempts (13-7), and scoring chances (7-2) are all in Toronto’s favour. The Leafs got seven more attempts on their two power plays, and three more on two penalty kills. They were amazing for yet another night.
During the intermission, Elliotte Friedman made certain that the Carolina Hurricanes would be “all-in” on a Nylander trade. My only response to that would be this:
Re: @FriedgeHNIC saying the Hurricanes would be all-in on a Nylander trade:— Rasmus Sandin Appreciator (@HardevLad) November 4, 2018
Hey, you know what you should do when a smart team *really* wants your player? Keep him.
The Leafs and Penguins shared some posts early on in the period. Hornqvist tipped a puck that scratched Andersen’s shoulder and bounced off the cross-bar moments before Tavares whipped a backhand off the corner of the net from in tight.
Freddy continued to be sharp all period. My favourite moment of his was when he whipped the glove up to his ear and snared a Kessel shot out of mid-air. Remember when we saw Kessel streak down the wing and we just knew that he would score? I mean, score on any goalie who wasn’t a top-tier goalie in the league. We may not have Kessel, but we do have that top-tier goalie.
Rielly scored another goal on the power play in the middle of the third period. That goal gave Rielly one Mo goal, totalling two in the game. It also gave the Leafs four Mo goals than the Penguins at the time. We may have seen the first example of a new outcome created by the “Mitch Thing.” On this goal, Marner walked into the slot and whipped a shot wide to the short side that rebounded perfectly to a pinching Rielly on the far wing. Tyler Bozak scored a lot of goals banging home some direct rebounds off the goalie, maybe the Leafs are trying some indirect bounces.
LOL. With less than a minute to go in the game, Connor Brown took an interference penalty. The Penguins tried really hard to get at least one goal on the board, but Kapanen and Hyman got away for a short-handed rush and Hyman promptly scored off Hornqvist. Karma! Leafs win!
I had to include this from the post-game. Doesn’t your heart just melt? As well as laugh at the Islanders?