So about half an hour before the game starts, we hear that Timothy Liljegren will not play in the WJC due to his ankle injury, and Zach Hyman will not play in tonight’s game vs Florida because of his own ankle injury.
...It’s hard to start the recap off on the right foot when there are no working feet left.
Oh and then like 5 minutes before the game, Igor Ozhiganov was announced as missing the game due to illness with Martin Marincin taking his place. The end result is this lineup:
#Leafs line in the first period:— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) December 21, 2018
All I want for Christmas is a Willy hat trick.
Less than thirty seconds in and the Leafs give up a Hoffman breakaway, but Zaitsev managed to get a stick on his shot attempt to sort of deflect it away. Maybe thirty seconds after that they have a two on one with Hoffman again having basically a breakaway that Andersen stopped. Maaaaaaaaaaaybe let’s tighten up that defense, guys.
Not the best shot attempt, but Fred was ready all the same. pic.twitter.com/OPUTpqhPmD— Flintor (@TheFlintor) December 21, 2018
The Leafs recover with some good offensive shifts after that, but Zaitsev had to make another nice defensive play to shut down a chance by Brouwer on a partial break. Feels like the Leafs have been the one with better offensive pressure. Marner had a great chance in front but he got robbed by a vintage Lou glove save.
Their next shift, Marner and Tavares had a magical passing exchange that led to a good scoring chance for Johnsson. At this point it’s been a few minutes since the Panthers had any sort of offensive chance, zone time, or anything.
Eventually the Tavares line dominates in the Panthers zone, and I swear they and the next line spent a full minute or two cycling, picking up loose pucks, and buzzing through the zone. No good chances really came from it except some harmless point shots, but it was fun to watch. If you’re refreshing NST you can see exactly when this shift happened too lol.
Nylander got a great scoring chance off a GREAT pass by Brown, but poor ol’ Willy shot it off the side of the net.
Pretty much all of the Panthers’ shots and scoring chances has come on breakaways and 2-on-1’s. Somehow Zaitsev always seems to be the one defending them, and he broke up another one. Mitch and Tavares have looked dominant this period, and their work finally pays off as Johnsson draws a penalty.
The Cannon Dolls wind up the beneficiaries as they connect on a classic PP goal — Marner with the pass through the same to Matthews for the empty net tap in goal.
First Period Thoughts
A sloppy start led to some odd man rushes for the Panthers, but that period was one of the most dominant performances I’ve seen by this Leafs this year. The Panthers had almost NOTHING going offensively, and the Leafs just sent wave after wave back into their end, and looked like the much faster team. You can see where they started taking over the game, and it’s when they had that insanely long shift in the offensive zone:
The second period starts along the same vein — the Panthers sorta get some odd man rushes, and the Leafs push the play back up into the Panthers zone. We even got to see Gauthier ring the puck off the post! What followed is what my colleague Fulemin called “the most bullshit icing call I’ve ever seen” and I cannot analyze that any better.
The Matthews line came on and put on a clinic. Kapanen was dancing with the puck and made a smart pass to Rielly, who followed with his own brilliant pass to Matthews for a nasty snipe. 2-0 Matthews.
TIL, Matthews only has one hat trick... and it was his first NHL game where he scored four. How is that even possible???
The Leafs look like they scored after Kadri very obviously kicked it in. The Leafs’ colour commentator says “he didn’t kick it in, he just shoved it in with his foot” which... I wish I had that way with words. The goal was reviewed for all of 30 seconds before they called it back. “Wow, I guess I was wrong!” says the aforementioned analyst.
The puck lands in the crease and Kadri nudges it with his foot to put it in. pic.twitter.com/hD6NuRDddU— Flintor (@TheFlintor) December 21, 2018
No worries though, the Leafs get their own odd-man rush not long after and Kadri managed to kick his scoring drought after two great passes by Rielly then Brown presented him with an easy goal. Rielly has an assist on all three goals so far. 3-0 Leafs. The best part? Kadri did the Matthews “good goal point” after. I love this team so fucking much.
With a 3-0 lead the Panthers either woke up a bit or the Leafs lifted the foot off the gas a bit, and the Panthers draw a penalty with their first real offensive zone pressure. Even on the PP the Panthers look a bit overwhelmed by the Leafs’ speed, as they only really had one chance while the Leafs continually cleared the puck.
I haven’t mentioned him much in the recap, but I’ve loved watching Kapanen fly. He’s not only been fast but smart. He just flew through the Panthers for a partial breakaway that was stopped by Luongo.
Right after the Panthers get their second PP on... well I’ll call it a “late” whistle and a “questionable” penalty call that Martin Marincin just laughed at. The Panthers got a couple of good chances on this PP but Andersen stood tall to preserve the shutout by the end of the penalty kill and the period.
Second Period Thoughts
More boring but still dominant period by the Leafs. It was lower event and not as many crazy amounts of scoring chances for the Leafs, but they also prevented the Panthers from getting anything going themselves even with two power plays. I can’t think of a Leafs player that’s had a bad game, and every single player is at 50+ CF% this game. For the third period I just want to see a Willy goal.
The period starts with the Panthers narrowly avoiding a too many men penalty twice in 10 seconds, then a high sticking penalty on Kadri, before Ennis finally drew a tripping call behind the Panthers’ net.
On the PP, Matthews had like three shots on goal to get the hat trick, but his final shot lead to Tavares putting home the rebound. A very fast PP and the Leafs have a 4-0 lead. Dominance. The Panthers looked like they asked for a challenge for a puck going out of play earlier, but apparently that’s the only thing not reviewable so the goal stands!
Maybe a couple minutes later Mitch does a Mitch thing and makes a brilliant pass for Tavares out from behind the net, 5-0 now. Florida looks like they stopped trying, so even though the Leafs eased up on the gas pedal they’re still dominating.
The Panthers bring in Reimer, who got a surprise cheer and standing ovation by the Leafs fans in the ACC. Love you forever, James! He comes in cold and makes a pretty great save on a Kadri shot.
My editor has informed me that I am still writing for a Leafs blog, not a Panthers blog. Ahem...
Johnsson takes the Leafs’ third penalty after slashing Barkov. So of course Kapanen goes wild in the Panthers zone lol I love him so much. The Panthers got a big fat nothing going in the first minute of their PP, so of course they score a bit of a surprise goal after Borgstrom flick of a shot snuck through Andersen and a screen. 5-1 Leafs.
Late in the game Dermott drew a penalty and Babcock put out the top unit to try and get Matthews or Tavares a hat trick. Marner tried his damnedest to make it happen but his pass bounced off of a Panther defenseman and gets the goal. 6-1 Leafs.
MITCH MARNER— Flintor (@TheFlintor) December 21, 2018
Marner tries to find JT in front but ends up hitting the defenceman and scoring. 6-0 Leafs. pic.twitter.com/4my1H7qFa0
The fans rain down hats not realizing it was Marner’s goal, and you could see how apologetic Marner and Kadri were about it hahahahaha.
Third Period/Final Thoughts
One of the more dominant games I’ve seen from the Leafs, though it didn’t seem like the Panthers had much of a spirited effort against them. The Leafs just looked so much faster and consistently pushed play in waves up into the Panthers’ zone, for which Florida had no answer.
The Leafs started giving up more shots in the third period when the game was in hand already and they really started taking it easy. Much as I wanted a Willy goal and you might see him have blanks on the score sheet again, he was fourth among forwards in shot attempt% and fourth in expected goals. He just needs some of the chances he has or creates to start going in.