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Maple Leafs 5 - Canadiens 3: Special teams bring out the best in the Leafs

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A great PK gives the Leafs the win.

Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

It’s pre-season game number five for the Leafs and we’re getting to the final NHL roster more or less. Good thing we still have two more exhibition games to go...

The game didn’t start out like the Leafs were icing their almost optimal line up. The Canadiens quickly took possession and got the first shot off after Nikita Zaitsev passed the puck right to the Canadiens. The Leafs are doing a good job keeping the Canadiens out to the perimeter, but it would be better if they could have gotten out of their own zone first (the perimeter thing doesn’t last long either). When the Leafs were able to rid their zone of Canadiens they would take their time to set things up before exiting their zone, but when they get into the Canadiens end their pretty much kicked right out, except for the fourth line of all things.

Par Lindholm, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson get the best chances early on in the game for the Leafs, but it takes over five minutes into the game for an actual shot to be recorded in Toronto’s favour. Johnsson gets tangled with Jordie Benn and is called for tripping which gives us a first look at the Leafs penalty kill for this game.

Mitch Marner is out there and has the speed for the forward role on this line, but Petry gets around him at centre ice. The remaining Leafs formed a wall in the defensive zone, and forced Petry to the boards. Kapanen is out there and gets to the top of the scoring area to knock the puck away. It doesn’t all go Toronto’s way as Tomas Tatar scores:

Jonathan Drouin plays well in this game, one great attempt he gets is when he slips in behind Igor Ozhiganov, and goes into the offensive zone with a good chance, but he misplayed the puck and lost it. Classic Jon. He gets a comeback when Kotkiniemi gets him the puck for a shot, but it gets saved by Frederik Andersen.

The Leafs are showing some life, and getting into the Canadiens zone more as the game goes on, but it’s a shocking struggle against these Habs. Perhaps it’s still the pre-season, perhaps it’s my own fault for putting the Canadiens down at the Senators level.

The Maple Leafs got to test out their Globetrotters like power play near the end of the period after Kenny Agostino gets called for hooking. The Canadiens clear the puck easily on the Leafs first two attempts but after that it’s basically this:

Mitchell Marner, Auston Matthews, and Nazem Kadri have great chemistry in their first power play together, and it leads to this:

Let’s see it again

The Habs enjoyed that so much they bring it out again after Tomas Tatar high sticks Kasperi Kapanen to end the first period. The puck goes in and out of the Canadiens zone, but once the Leafs are done toying with the Canadiens, Marner sends a screaming pass to Matthews who catches it with easy and bangs in the puck off the cross bar.

The fourth line comes out after the all-star power play and it gives the Habs a bit of an advantage, and the play says in the Leafs end a little bit more than it should. As play goes on Nazem Kadri and Phillip Danault get caught up with each other and they both get penalties. Kadri for interference on Danault and Danault for a high stick on Kadri. With 4 on 4 Nikita Zaitsev continues what he’s been doing all night and takes the puck right to the Canadiens net, and passes back to a forward. It’s another Globetrotter show at 4 on 4 until Morgan Rielly is called for interference (face shoving) on Jesper Kotkaniemi. We get back to 4 on 4 and Brendan Gallagher makes a diving play to score and tie the game at 2.

It’s at this point in the game, after the play resumes, that I make the very obvious observation that Marner and Tavares are very good together. Speaking of, David Schlemko gets called for cross-checking so it’s back to that power play!

It’s not as good as the previous, and they get no shots. Plus Artturi Lehkonen gets a bit of a break away after Matthews mishandles a puck, Andersen bailed the Leafs out, as he often does. As the period comes to a close there’s a frenzy of Canadiens action, and the Leafs can’t get the puck out. Tomas Tartar kicks things off by collecting a Marner turnover, gets a shot then Danault does, then Gallagher, but Freddie stands tall to end the period.

And to top it off Josh Leivo gets a slashing penalty.

It’s okay though, because Mitch Marner is on the penalty kill now, and fifteen seconds into the period he scores after Paul Byron and Carey Price both forget what hockey is.

As play resumes the Maple Leafs score ANOTHER short handed goal on the same penalty.

This penalty keeps on giving up the goals, but this time it’s into the Leafs net as Dave Schlemko scores from the point on a clear slapshot.

The Maple Leafs are finally picking things up in the third period - they get double digit shots for the first time and more than the Habs - and the special teams get more practice in as Andreas Johnsson is called for goaltender interference on Carey Price, giving the PK more time to work on defending - and Montreal does not score - and then two more power plays come about after Nikita Scherbak serves a too many men penalty and at the end of the period Gallagher is called for goaltender interference.

Neither power plays are successful, but in between penalties Mitch Marner gives Patrick Marleau the best set up he could to put the Leafs up by two.

The game would end 5-3 for Toronto, with no empty net goal to double up the score.

It was gradually a better game for the Leafs, but overall they’re lucky it’s still the pre-season. Two more games against Detroit to work things out, as well as one Nylander to sign, and the team should be ready to ease into the season.