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Recap: Maple Leafs grind the Devils with machine-like precision

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It was all Leafs, all game, and they barely let up even with a big lead.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs face the Devils tonight, and over the full season so far, the teams are fairly even in shot differential while holding very different places in the standings. Note: the darker line is the score and venue adjusted number. The Leafs shot share usually goes up when you score adjust because they have the lead a lot (albeit not the last few games), and they generally hold to opposition to just at or under the score adjusted 50% mark. This is one way they have shown improvement over the last two years.

That said, Moneypuck has the Leafs with a 56% chance to win this game, even though the Devils are the home team. That also means that in 44 out of 100 possible future realities, the Leafs lose this game.

Hopefully, when it’s done, we all end up in the same reality together! On to the game.

First Period

The game starts with the Kadri line, and I like that a lot. They can counter, they can carry the play, and no matter what, they can do it.

Zach Hyman takes a hooking call, and the Leafs have a very early penalty to kill, but that can work in their favour. If they kill it.

This is new: Kapanen and Marner are out killing right away, not as the late arriving PKers who are there for the offensive-zone faceoffs. The Leafs kill the penalty with the bulk of the labour done by the forwards.

And like clockwork, the Devils take a hooking penalty themselves.

The second unit begins the power play. They try to use Ennis as misdirection to open up Nylander, and he does get a shot, but it’s not a spectacular one.

The first unit struggles to get set up, but the chaos works for them as the Devils almost get a two-on-one but then Morgan Rielly turns it into a transition that becomes this goal just after the penalty expires:

1-0 Leafs.

The Leafs pour on the pressure and the play with the Matthews line on the ice goes exactly how you expect: Jake does the board battle, Zaitsev rolls in on an aggressive pinch and Matthews does the scoring. Okay that part is expected.

And yet we get a review for interference on the goalie as Matthews and Damon Severson were battling, and Severson fell/was pushed onto Keith Kinkaid.

Woo hoo! Good goal, and it’s 2-0 Leafs

Hyman takes a turn drawing a penalty, and the Leafs are on the power play again.

This power play will also not win an award for set up precision until the second unit gets out there. They get the only real chance on an Ennis to Johnsson pass.

The penalty is over, and there’s a little Christmas caroling by the Leafs net.

Taylor Hall is suddenly showing some life for the Devils. But Freddie and the defence handle it fine.

The play quickly swings the other way, and the Kadri line does everything right (even when the pass wasn’t perfect) and this Marleau goal is the result:

3-0 Leafs. Note: it really looks on the replay like the puck does hit Nylander’s stick, so the pass was on target.

The goal ties Marleau with Maurice Richard at 30th all time in goals scored.

The Leafs continue to dominate with Andersen only needing to make the occasional save.

Nylander wins a defensive zone faceoff, but the Leafs third pair lose the war on control of the puck. Sami Vatanen gets the Devils on the board:

3-1 Leafs

Numbers

moneypuck.com

The bottom three segments on the Devils side all happened in the last four minutes of the game.

Thoughts

  • The Devils aren’t this bad, and they will come out hard and fast in the second period to try to build on their late goal.
  • The leafs are suddenly clicking in all the ways they haven’t been. But then, that’s easy to do for them offensively against weak counter-pressure.
  • Score adjusted, post the third goal, the Leafs look better than they do on raw Corsi.
  • The shot quality of the Leafs offence is not very exciting.

Second Period

The Leafs don’t let the Devils in this game at all. as less than two minutes in, Marner passes to Tavares, who hits the iron, but Marner pots the rebound.

4-1 Leafs.

Morgan Rielly gets a high stick in the face, but it’s only a two minute penalty to the Devils.

The Leafs are good with both units out, but they don’t convert on this one. The Devils have very effective defenders on the PK.

Taylor Hall draws a tripping penalty on Hall, and well. It’s a call that was made.

Hyman kills many seconds by just lying on top of Travis Zajac. All the Devils manage is some shots wide and high.

Kinkaid gets run over by his own player, and they call out the trainer, but he seems fine.

Hey! The Devils can do stretch passes too, and it’s a beauty that forces Andersen to make a save on Palmieri.

The game got very dull for a bit, but then someone found the speed knob and everyone is skating hard. Four minutes to go in the second is a weird time to get in the game, Devils.

It seems like we’re just running the clock down, but the Leafs have been treating this period like a drill they mean to do right. The Leafs get some offensive zone time, and Rielly scores with less than a second on the clock:

5-1 Leafs.

Numbers

The Leafs are absolutely dominating at five-on-five, and it goes way up score adjusted.

The ice time for Johnsson is almost two minutes lower than Matthews, so I sense some disquiet from Babcock about that LW assignment.

Thoughts

  • The Leafs are not playing the fourth line much like they do in blowouts.
  • Tavares is rolling over Hall’s line.
  • Shot quality improved in this period, which means that while ahead by a mile, the Leafs shot more and better than they should.

Third Period

The Leafs come out hot on new goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, but he makes his first save.

So this would be like the Leafs playing Eamon McAdam in a game.

Kapanen lets the puck rip and hits Marner by accident, and that’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in the first half of the period.

Marner puts on a clinic on how to move through the neutral zone and arrive in the offensive zone with a plan.

Blackwood with a save on Matthews, which is not something every first-time goalie can claim.

We’ve reached the stage of the game where the board battles look less than vigorous, and the clock just needs to tick down on this one.

And that’s a dangerous time.

The Hall/Hischier line finally get some offensive zone action against Tavares, who has a 76% Corsi at this point. Zaitsev loses his stick, and that’s a goal for the Devils:

5-2 Leafs.

Blackwood looks like he’s going to stand up to a heavy fourth-line flurry, but Tyler Ennis says, “Buddy, I need the stats, okay?”

6-2 Leafs.

Brown looks good on that goal too.

Dermott gets knocked into the goal crease from behind, and he looks sore after.

There’s some more fourth line action to help run out the game (Babcock likes them suddenly), and Ennis really needs the stats okay?

7-2 Leafs.

Dermott finishes the game by popping the puck over the glass. The commentary praises his gap control, but I’ve enjoyed his passing. Some of his defensive zone play has not been stellar, however.

Numbers

The Leafs were never behind by any measure in this game, ever. The low ice time for Johnsson persisted, and he finished a full three minutes behind Matthews. I’d almost expect a lineup juggle is coming.

Thoughts

  • Morgan Rielly, who was not all that hot in Florida, seemed very dialed in this game.
  • It was a good game, and the team kept up the pressure, but really, they were never tested. This is not as easy a game as they had against the Kings, but it’s close.
  • Mike Babcock wanted them to play like a machine, and without any inconvenient hard checking and sticks in lanes, they looked it. Now do it against the Bolts again!
  • Winning is fun!