The Toronto Maple Leafs unleashed a clinic on the Montreal Canadiens at home in their fourth preseason game of training camp. Frederik Andersen stopped 26 of 26 in a 3-0 shutout win by a Maple Leafs squad that looks all but ready for the first game of the season. Trevor Moore, John Tavares, and Auston Matthews scored the three goals for the Leafs, with Mitch Marner instrumental in the latter two’s tallies.
The top three lines were buzzing all night, with standout performances on all three lines. Marner, of course, stole the show on his line. As did William Nylander, who quietly did his job of transitioning the puck up the ice and helping his teammates get the puck to the net. His line was barely a step behind Marner’s all night.
On the third line, all three members showed up and proved that they deserve some praise. More had his two points, but Alexander Kerfoot was facilitating the puck all over the ice and getting in the dirty areas no problem. But the real star of the line was Ilya Mikheyev, making his first real debut to Leafs fans on an NHL line. His size, strength, and skill were all on display in this game from puck drop to final horn. He got in the dirty areas and made plays, and stood up for his teammates in the defensive zone.
On defense, Cody Ceci was not awful, and actually showed some offensive ability! Morgan Rielly was buzzing, Tyson Barrie came on strong in the second half, and Jake Muzzin came back with a much more solid performance than last Friday night when he was a -3 and not where he should’ve been defensively. On what looks to be the opening night third pair, Martin Marincin was moving really well and made plays with the puck that didn’t end up with a grenade in front of his net. He finished with the second-best corsi on the night at 89%. The first? Rasmus Sandin! He had an impressive night, showing the poise and competitiveness of a prime Nicklas Lidstrom. I’m kidding. Or am I?
Let’s get into the game.
Dmytro Timashov dumped the puck in. Jake Muzzin shot it off the post with Jason Spezza and Frederik Gauthier in front. Spezza got to the rebound and hit the other post.
On his first shift, with the Auston Matthews line in front of him, Rasmus Sandin iced the puck twice in a row. It took Marincin going up the opposite side to get the puck out and the boys into the offensive zone.
Starting with the end of Matthews’ shift and the beginning of Alexander Kerfoot’s shift, the Leafs were moving the puck at an incredible rate. They were winning the puck in the middle of the ice, pushing it around really crisply to the defensemen who put it on with traffic heading to the net.
This exact thing happened on the first goal with Ilya Mikheyev retrieving a won puck battle by Kerfoot and Trevor Moore and sending it up to Morgan Rielly, over to Sandin, before he promptly threw the puck on net. Kerfoot was battling for position in front of the net and got pushed into Keith Kinkaid by Mike Reilly, opening Moore on the back door to drop the puck into the net.
Quickly after, Moore got called for interfering with Kinkaid, sending the Leafs to the penalty kill. The Habs got two shots on net, but Andersen was able to parry them away. The first was from Jonathan Drouin from distance, the second was from Brendan Gallagher in front of the net (seen below).
Once again, the Matthews line got onto the ice, played in the offensive zone for a bit, then got off and the John Tavares line took over and overwhelmed their opponents. Mitch Marner was a blur on the ice, evading checks and using his body positioning to make clean passes to his teammates.
Eventually, he got the puck behind the net and thrust it to the front of the net where Tavares and Moore were waiting (Moore was on because Kasperi Kapanen lost his helmet and the new rule states that he must leave the ice). Tavares banged around, eventually getting the puck in off Kinkaid for his second preseason goal of the season and second goal of the game for the Leafs.
That was a brilliant first period from the Leafs. They crushed it. Ignore the four shot attempts and two shots created by Montreal on their power play, the Leafs were far-and-away ahead at 5v5. Shot attempts were 24-13, shots were 13-6, and scoring chances were 16-5(!).
Looking at performances, Marner was outstanding in his second-half shifts. He was controlling the puck and looked very comfortable on the ice. The defense combined for 11 shot attempts, four on net, but several of them led to rebound chances, including Sandin’s leading to the Trevor Moore goal. their involvement in the offense and pushing the puck towards the net will definitely be something to watch become a system tactic this season.
The Leafs kept going right where they left off in the first period. All five players on the ice working together to cover for each other and provide options for passes and shooting opportunities. They looked like a well-oiled Mercedes Formula 1 car. Even the less sexy parts like Cody Ceci were jumping into the play and making plays, although not perfectly. Similar to the chance below, Ceci had a second where he had the backdoor open, but his pass bounced off a Habs skate on it’s way. So far, so good for the new RHD.
Ilya Mikheyev continued to be a very impressive option for the Leafs on their third line, he nearly scored in front of the net. Great positioning and hand-eye coordination, but just missed it on the finish. Maybe if he was born a little west of Russia he would have some of that... Finnish.
Charles Hudon drove the net on the powerplay with the puck coming to him. Marincin was late covering and there was a level of chaos before the puck entered the net. Looking at the replay, Hudon kicked it in, the puck crossed the line, then the net fell off its moorings. Long story short, the referee called it off for a kicking motion and the play restarted without a goal added to the scoresheet.
With Tavares and Andreas Johnsson in front of the net and Rielly at the top facilitating the puck back and forth, Marner and Matthews proceeded to take slapshots from their wings that were not effective in any sort of way. I hope this isn’t their tactic because it just looks like a bastardized version of the Tampa Bay Lightning power play. I know that power play is good, but if you don’t have the same players in terms of specialty talent, it’s not going to do you any good. Matthews looked awful taking slapshots, as did Marner.
It was not effective! https://t.co/1HaMyXicUp— Back to School Lad 📝🏳️🌈 (@HardevLad) September 26, 2019
The second period wasn’t as adrenaline-filled as the first, but it was nonetheless positive in the Leafs direction, despite Montreal’s push. At 5v5, the Leafs led in shot attempts 19-15, shots by the same margin as the first 13-6, but trailed in scoring chances 7-10. On the bright side, expected goals were still in their favour.
One thing that did stand out in the second period was the utter lack of Timashov. He played five shifts in the first (2:46), and two shifts in the second (1:01). You don’t see that kind of ice time unless you’re a fourth liner in the OHL.
The Leafs dominated the first half of the third period, led by Tyson Barrie from the back. His transition game was fantastic and complimented the Tavares line really well. His skating and confidence with the puck really showed.
After a faceoff violation penalty, the Leafs got onto the power play. They once again tried the slapshot thing but it really wasn’t doing much. That is until Marner changed the angle and sent a diagonal pass up to Matthews at the opposite wing for a one-timer. It wasn’t your classic PK Subban one-time slapper, but it was more of a hybrid wrister that allowed Matthews to get that perfect accuracy while still being hard with a lot of flex.
Late in the period, after things seemed to be settled and the Habs had given up, Gallagher tried to start some nonsense when he drove the net hard on Andersen and got a few extra licks on Andersen from the side of the net. Mikheyev took exception to Gallagher and pushed him against the glass, presumably telling him what they do to goalie attackers back in mother Russia. Or that he’s a poopy-head in broken English. Either works.
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