It’s time to play the Habs!
The first and second teams (by points %) in the North face off, and the winner gets to complain even louder than the loser. I believe that’s what’s at stake.
What do I want to see?
Maybe I’ll tell you what I don’t expect. The Canadiens are a good system team. Better than the Leafs defensively and as good offensively. They get excellent Corsi, but they have less talented shooters. Their power play is, frankly, stupid while the Leafs’ is stupidly good.
Given that, the Leafs need to really work to get to the net and get the quality shots they rely on. So I don’t expect to see absolute dominance. This ain’t the Canucks.
But I do want to see that work from the start.
This is the lineup structure:
Auston Matthews will skate in the 300th regular season game of his NHL career tonight.— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) February 21, 2021
Justin Holl will skate in his 100th career regular season game.#LeafsForever
And after a deeply Montreal anthem, this game is on.
Frederik Andersen with the opening save on, you guessed it, Josh Anderson.
Good o-zone shift by the Franken-third-line. Anyone who hated it on sight is a little relieved.
Canadiens’ fourth line let Jimmy Vesey deke around alone for an hour in their zone waiting out a change, and I would bench them if I were their coach.
Nylander with a great drive to the net, but the finish fizzled.
Nylander under pressure has no real choice but to low-to-high it out to the point, and we see the big improvement on this team from last year and from the first 10 or so games of this year — the defenders are moving in much lower, getting much better shots if they take them. There’s a risk, as in all things, that if that rings of a shin pad, they’re too deep to handle a transition out, but hey, goals come from risk.
Nylander's steal in the offensive zone leads to a long shot on net for Muzzin pic.twitter.com/IGkx0gKMDd— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 21, 2021
The Josh Anderson vs Jake Muzzin show is back. I looked into this, but they have never played against each other meaningfully before, but they act like mortal enemies.
Bogo bailed out Dermott on a backcheck he’d written that his feet couldn’t cash:
Andersen stops three straight hard shots, and then another on a rush. This is the first meaningful Montreal offence and it comes as they are capitalizing on some defensive errors.
Bogosian takes a “not fast enough” hooking call, and the Leafs get to PK.
Andersen makes one killer save, and now the scary final three minutes of the period are upon us.
Okay, Mikheyev has an hour with a wide-open net, and Price makes the save. Engvall tries the same thing, and nope.
Leafs on the power play for the final minute after that offensive pressure. And it’s not very good, but the Canadiens flip it over the glass to make it a five-on-three for 14 seconds in this period, which doesn’t pay out.
The Corsi is close: 15-13 for the Leafs.
And that’s not shot quality from anyone.
The Leafs are having a harder time getting through the neutral zone, and as we saw form that set of shots that all make up the one red oval in from the Canadiens, this is a team that will capitalize on mistakes. Most of the rest of the North lets you off the hook.
During today’s morning skate and tonight's warmup, @wmnylander honoured Willie O'Ree and celebrated #BlackHistoryMonth by wearing custom skates that will be auctioned off by the @NHL in support of @BlackGirlHockey.#NHLBlackHistory pic.twitter.com/dsknjHH4Gb— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 21, 2021
We begin with a scrap of a five-on-three, and the Leafs can’t gain the zone, and it looks like it’s all going to just fizzle and then finally, they get one shot off. It only takes one when this guy shoots:
Leafs are still on the power play for a few seconds, and... did I say stupidly good? I did:
Okay, Leafs. How are you going to try to hold this lead for two periods?
Oh! Like that. Brodie jumps up in the play, and the coverage from the forwards is not pretty. Some people will blame Morgan Rielly, but hey, people see what they see.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi puts the Habs on the boards pic.twitter.com/FMZmoqSsiJ— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 21, 2021
Holl jumps up in the play, and the coverage from Boyd (again) is not pretty. Some people will blame Holl, but hey, people see what they see.
On the bright side, the Leafs don’t have to struggle to hold that lead now. Memo to self: check in about 10 minutes and see if Boyd has played a shift.
Oh, we’re not done.
Shea Weber chooses hitting over hockey, and Mitch Marner chooses hockey. I’m almost ready to say Marner is shooting better. Still not shooting more, though.
Matthews takes the hit to make the play at the blue line pic.twitter.com/Lq3MsW3a0O— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 21, 2021
Andersen keeps the game untied in a contest that has turned into a lot more of a track meet than I expected to see.
Andersen makes a big stretchy save and then seems a little, eh, winded by that. I’ll go with winded.
And the Boyd Benched Watch revealed he had a bit of long break after goal against two, but not too long for the fourth line.
Leafs on the power play, so that means they are easily the best team in the NHL for two minutes. See:
Blast and Damn.
Hyman takes a hard shot off his foot, and that looks baaaaad. And then the dirty Habs score.
Another painful looking block for Hyman pic.twitter.com/uwqb25EVRG— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 21, 2021
Hyman to the dressing room immediately. The Leafs think this goal should be disallowed because the Canadiens pushed the goalie pad in the net which allowed the puck to go in. That should sound familiar to everyone.
Leafs win the challenge, and there is no goal, overruling the call on the ice. And the miracles continue with Hyman back on the ice. The scary part is there’s a two-goal lead for the Leafs.
Kotkaniemi's goal is waved off for goaltender interference pic.twitter.com/NosfVOaRwe— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 21, 2021
The Leafs escape the end of the period by letting the Canadiens shoot at will, it seemed. But Andersen is on tonight so far.
The Canadiens continued to capitalize on mistakes, and the Leafs just don’t need five-on-five success in this game. They scored three five-on-four power play goals on three shots. Canadiens won the Corsi in that period 20-13 in a much higher-event 20 minutes.
Track meets give you quality shots at both ends, and so it was. Auston Matthews is losing his matchup vs the Gallagher line, but no one cares when the power play is this good and he has eight goals or whatever it is.
I’m cool with no goals this period, just dull neutral zone back-and-forth. Will I get it?
It really is heartwarming how much Anderson and Muzzin have this thing going. Anderson “adjusts Muzzin’s helmet” as Chris Cuthbert puts it.
At the half of a delightfully boring period, the Corsi is 7-5 for Montreal. Yawn.
Every so often, I swear the Leafs execute a five-spot defensive box like the Bruins do in their sleep. They’re also taking the puck away in the neutral zone, and the result is just nothing from anyone that could be a goal anywhere. Thumbs up.
My apologies to Alexander Kerfoot. And Jason Spezza who just chugged up the ice like a man his age, and wow, that was easy.
ALEXANDER KERFOOT— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 21, 2021
What a play by Spezza pic.twitter.com/utPkGK6TE1
Ding Dong the Habs are Dead. Or will be in six minutes.
Interesting (I’m shocked) discussion on-air about seeing if Engvall really can play as a 3C. He’s been fine tonight. Winning vs Suzuki, but not Kotkaniemi. Not sure this game should tell the tale though. He’s not going to start scoring goals there. He has shot the puck once this game.
Oh! Josh Anderson takes two minutes for his epic hate of Muzzin. Which is not bright, really at 3:50 left. I wonder if he’ll send angry texts to Muzzin in the long wait for the next game?
LMFAO Muzzin didn't even have to touch Anderson pic.twitter.com/jgQ0VhtsUp— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 21, 2021
Nothing comes of that, but then the Leafs get caught short with Muzzin taking a follow-through stick to the head, and this happens:
Leafs get to finish on the power play, which seems right somehow.
Rolling the tape back before the sleepy/chaotic third, which was a very expert shutdown period for 18 minutes, the Leafs really had not much to offer at even strength. Nothing new there. But at the same time, they faced a disruptive, decently skilled defensive team, and didn’t give up masses of cheap and easy opportunities either. Good game that both revealed their weaknesses but let them play to their strengths.
See you on Monday for a Flames game.