The Leafs face the Avs after really blowing their meeting a few games back in Toronto. That game was not fun, so let’s hope this one is.
The Leafs face a team who thought they were solidly in the playoffs not that long ago and now are behind the Canucks and four points behind the Wild (who are winning in their game as we get underway) for the last wildcard spot.
All the pregame talk is about Andreas Johnsson on Nazem Kadri’s line tonight.
But it’s Kasperi Kapanen who makes it all about him with a rush chance in the first minute.
Frederik Andersen is having to work hard saving shots in traffic. And there’s Carl Soderberg, who has the Leafs number, right at the goalmouth.
Andersen, again, has to make a great save on a hard shot.
The Matthews line gets pinned a bit by the Avs super line, but none of the Avs super shooters get any chances, and then the puck is lobbed out by Matthews for Kappy to try that rush chance again. Scores!
The fourth line sure is having an easy time with the Avs, and it nearly gives Morgan Rielly a goal.
But the Leafs are always the Leafs, and they’re making Frederik Andersen work hard on a flurry of shots from the Soderberg line.
A puck goes off of Jake Muzzin’s skates, and it neatly illustrates how he plays. He almost looks like he’s unaware, but he just calmly backs off and then gets the puck in play. The Leafs play panicked a lot, and he doesn’t.
Kappy gets the power plays rolling by taking a slashing penalty.
So, um, this Colorado power play is really not so good. They don’t get set up, they get no shots and Par Lindholm ends up with the best chance on a shorthanded rush. Lindholm had Mitch Marner with him, but there was no pass there.
Booo. The Leafs killed the penalty, but a long bomb from a guy I’ll be honest and say I’ve never heard of gets by Andersen. Lots of traffic there on that shot:
1-1 on the scoreboard.
(This goal was corrected and given to JT Compher on a tip.)
(This goal was then given back to the first guy, Ryan Graves, when JT Compher said he didn’t tip it.)
Muzzin draws a penalty, and I’m shocked the Leafs got the next power play. Funny how that works.
The first unit starts, and they have the puck but can’t get it going, but they set up again easily.
Uh, except for how the Avs suddenly have a short-handed rush, and it’s Soderberg again. Andersen with the save, just.
The Leafs send the puck over the glass just as they get it going, and the second unit has some puck movement and not much else to run out the penalty.
Not a great power play, not a horrible one.
The Leafs control the puck a lot more as they run out the first period clock than the did for most of this 20 minutes.
This was a weird period, and while the Avs owned the puck, their good shooters didn’t do much with it.
The Avs shoot a lot from the point, and the Leafs did not get their offence flowing at all in that period other than on the rush.
The Matthews line gets something going early, but they don’t get a good shot.
Whoa. How is that not in? Nate MacKinnon gets a hell of a chance that Andersen flails back and saves somehow.
The Leafs clearly feel the stretch pass will work for them against the Avs, and they aren’t wrong. Sometimes the Avs are breaking it up, but not often.
Hyman draws a penalty when Tyson Barrie decides to just haul him down to stop the cycle. This was a good Tavares line shift.
The first unit starts the power play even though the Tavares line were just out.
Matthews passes the puck out from behind the net (do this more, guys) and Varlamov barely saves the shot from Tavares. But then they do the perfect tic-tac-toe, and Auston Matthews has his 99th goal.
The Leafs are heading to the power play again, after Compher tries to take Travis Dermott’s head off. The Avs take a lot of penalties, one of the highest rates in the NHL. They also draw a lot too.
And whoo hooo. Kadri with a goal on the very first few seconds of the power play.
This is still a power play because the penalty is a double minor. The second unit gets a chance, and hey, look at that, it’s Kappy.
Varlamov gets the hook, and it’s Philipp Grubauer’s turn to try this tending goal gig for the Avs.
The Avs roar back with a hell of a flurry, but Morgan Rielly accidentally makes a great save on an unintentional block.
Okay, this is one of those games. Grubauer comes way out, and Nylander misfires on a bouncing puck with the whole net to shoot at.
The D pairs seem shaken up with Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev making a pair for a bit. I am expecting (brace yourselves) that rather than trading Zaitsev as everyone wants, you’ll start seeing this pair as a defensive specialist pairing when protecting a lead.
The Avs cannot control the Leafs fourth line. It’s fun when that happens, even if none of them can score.
Oh, cool Nikita Zadorov takes a dumb penalty. I once said I’d trade him straight up for Roman Polak, and I still would. You kids today have no idea what bad defenders really look like. Watch this guy ply his trade.
After a terrible opening to the power play, Marner nearly hands the puck over while back in the Leafs zone. He nearly did that once before tonight too, and his super casual puck control on the power play is not a new thing. The second unit looks like the grownups this time, but not much comes of it.
The post power-play minute and a half is mostly the Leafs.
Gabe Landeskog sets Muzzin back on his ass, so I guess the Avs are the better team, then? Tougher? Something, something grit/grind wins in the end, however that goes.
The period ends with a fastidious time keeper making them play the one second that was left after a late whistle.
So what’s different on the power play? Well, not a lot. It wasn’t all that broken either, with only some unlucky shooting through to early January making it look bad and making the coaches tinker perhaps too much (or the players overthink it). Since early January, all of the players haven’t been getting the sorts of shots off they’re capable off, but that’s been changing for most of them before tonight. The main difference is that they’re trying to mix up the order of the passing, and that’s a thing they’ll need to keep doing. Interestingly Tavares has been the guy who hasn’t been shooting well, and if I had to guess, I’d say the Marner to Tavares tip wasn’t there, but they kept trying to make it happen. That’s a guess, though, not something I’m sure of.
This game is not going to be much from this point on, so forgive me, I’m going to look at defensive usage more than anything else.
In terms of five-on-five minutes through two periods, Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott are playing the least. and they’re playing mostly together, more than Gardiner is with Zaitsev. Zaitsev is mostly with Muzzin and Ron Hainsey is with Morgan Rielly.
I know this was talked to death when Muzzin first arrived, but I’ll tell you honestly, I don’t like Rielly on the right, and Mike Babcock hasn’t been subtle in saying he doesn’t either. The reason i don’t like him over there is that his value is in offence, and the Leafs run an offensive system that relies on the left-side defender to be the more active. Running one pair opposite to that is not optimal.
The Gardiner - Dermott pair puts Dermott on the right side which is very interesting if you think about it.
The Leafs look very dominant on the puck through the early part of the period, and the Avs have conceded the neutral zone entirely.
Yes! It’s not 4-1 anymore.
Nylander bulls his way to the puck and hands a goal to Kadri:
I know it’s 5-1, because it says that right above, but there are some very lazy clearing attempts from the Leafs PK. Okay, and then just as this penalty to Dermott ends, this happens on a failed clear by Marner, not his first in this PK:
And now, because the refs don’t want this to ever end, they call the Leafs on one of their fire drill line changes for too many men.
The Avs aren’t playing like a team down by three. They are testing Andersen a great deal.
So as that period wore on, Hainsey played less, Dermott and Gardiner more, and they stated as a pair. Zaitsev stayed mostly with Muzzin. There was a lot of PK so that meant all of Hainsey, Zaitsev, Muzzin and Rielly played a lot of minutes there too. Hainsey’s PK time must be much lower now, with Rielly taking regular shifts.
The Avs play hard to the end, and so do the Leafs. But this game was over a long time ago. It ends on a silly power play that means nothing.
- Nylander’s pass to Kadri is the play of the game
- The Leafs made their own lives harder with a lot of poor puck control
- The Avs played better than the Leafs for the first period, but after that, they had no answer for the Leafs offensive pressure even at even strength
- Excellent road win even if it wasn’t picture perfect