Auston Matthews is back!

The lines for this game were all back to normal, like Matthews was never gone, and as if that everyone onto the fourth line experiment never happened.

Nikita Soshnikov got his one game, Josh Leivo got a contract that guarantees he never needs to play all year, and the only question now is: how much Russian can Soshnikov teach Roman Polak and Leivo by the end of the year?

The Canadiens are suffering from injuries and the flu, and have had a horrible year so far. Their Corsi looks good, but it’s hiding some flaws in their game. They are neither so bad as their record, nor as good as that CF% implies. They sit somewhere in the middle and their fortunes tonight rest on Charlie Lindgren, a goalie the Marlies know well and have struggled with. He’s not price, but the guy can win a game on his own.

We all know what happened the last time these two teams met, the streak died, and there was much rejoicing. Time to add to that one Leafs win and start a new streak, a blue streak, a blue streak that goes on forever.

On to the game:

First Period

Patrick Marleau, on the first rush, passes to where Leo Komarov really should be, and it looks like OT from the last game with William Nylander trying to feed the absent Nazem Kadri.

The Kadri line versus the stacked Habs line is mostly working for Toronto until Drouin gets loose with a shot Andersen handles well.  There’s a speed deficit there that can hurt the Leafs.

Danault with a chance that Andersen handles well. He’ll need to keep that up, Montréal are not sitting back.

Borgman with a sweeeeet check on Brendan Gallagher which leads to some zone time for the Leafs.

Weber with a rocket from the circle on a bit of a gentle rush by the Habs, and Andersen saves it no problem.

The passes are not clicking right away for the Matthews line.

I feel like the Leafs are not using their speed yet.  They’re too stationary and not keeping control of the puck very well.

Lindgren decides to freeze a puck rather to play it, and I’d be pouncing hard on that sign of nervousness if I were the Leafs.

Mitch Marner agrees and tries a quick shot, and now the Bozak line are cycling.

Andersen with a superb stretch pass to Marner, and his old buddy Victor Mete says yeah, I don’t think so.  Great sequence from both sides.

Morgan Rielly with such a weird bobble on the puck in his own end, I checked twice that he wasn’t Jake Gardiner.

Nylander fights off two guys on the boards to keep the play alive.  Good shift for the top line. Lindgren is suddenly busier and the Leafs are skating and passing well.

Connor Carrick watches the puck go through his legs while the Kadri line is struggling to clear the zone. Eventually they get control.  I don’t think I like the third pair in the defensive zone with a candlestick, no wait, with the Kadri line.

The Bozak line gets seriously hemmed in by the Canadiens top line, and somehow Marner draws a penalty while the opposition is in total control.

Nylander with an open net seconds in on the power play, but Lindgren’s right-hand glove is there again.

Nylander is all over the place this power play, he’s looking very feisty.  Oddly, the other Leafs player who has really looked like that is Matt Martin. He smells weakness on the Habs fourth line, I think.

Oh, right, Karl Alzner plays for this team. He hit a guy. Give him another million.

Leafs miss a centering pass in the slot, and I think that’s about the third one of those. Some of that is Canadiens with sticks in lanes, some of it isn’t.

Bozak looks a little hapless trying to make a zone entry happen.

Big scary scramble with Andersen down, but no puck goes in, and the horn sounds. 0-0 after one period of play. That sounds familiar.

And now it’s angry man time on HNIC, so I will turn that off.

The Numbers

This is what you call losing the Corsi battle in the best possible way.  The Canadiens out shot the Leafs 23-14 in that period, but the Leafs concentrated their shots excellently, while Montréal really did not.  That’s the bulk of their shooting from just inside the blueline in three orange blobs, and that right there is why the Habs have one of the highest CF% in the league and struggle to score. They seem to have turned into Boston. Huh. Imagine that.

Second Period

The Leafs need more speed, better puck control and to keep shooting from where they’re shooting and this might be a good period. That is if the Kadri line can get out from under that top line of the Habs.

Hyman gets the puck and there’s too many sticks around for it to go to Matthews in front.

Bozak line with a great cycle and Borgman jumps up and Marner perfectly covers him, and sigh. I love when that play goes like that. They all looked good.

Next up is Kadri with some tough offensive pressure.

How to take the puck away from the Leafs? Wait for them to pass it right to you.

Okay, they’re better tonight than they’ve been in ages, but there’s often a sense a panic to their play. “Must pass it now!”

The Drouin line get too many chances, and they get another by getting on the ice vs Bozak and co.

Someone set the game to grind.

It’s suddenly all battles in corners, fourth liners all over the place, hits, blocked shots and chaos.

The Leafs get pinned in hard, and at the end of it all, after some great Andersen saves, is a Weber penalty. Again, Montréal take the game off their own stick when they’re succeeding at out-grinding the Leafs.

Quick shot in the power play doesn’t fool Lindgren, but that shot came because Marner made it happen.

Habs break out on the shorthanded rush and it’s Marner roaring back to even the numbers and help break up the play. This is the man who is always on his game. Glad the Leafs didn’t trade him for Darnell Nurse!

All that failure at grinding seems to have led Mike Babcock to sprinkle Martin and Moore around up the lineup post-power play.

And Scores! Exactly who you knew was going to get it, Ron Hainsey with the rocket off a perfect Bozak setup while James van Reimsdyk was screening for all he’s worth.  1-0 Leafs!

God damn, I like this game now.

The announcer is still droning through that goal and, Andersen bounces the puck off the boards t0 Marleau who sends it to Kadri, who sails in and scores. 2-0 Leafs!

Do you guys remember last fall? How horrible that was as Andersen tried to work his game into the Leafs? Remember those frustrating games? Well it was all for this moment.

The Leafs are letting the game open up for the Habs, though, and the dirty red-shirts get some chances. Andersen is on his game.

The Hyman - Marleau - Brown line I don’t like is back, but for protecting a lead, I’ll live with it.

The Martin - Matthews - Marner line is just making heads explode everywhere, I’m sure.

Borgman threads the needle on a shot, gets the puck back and passes to Carrick instead of shooting it again.

The MMM line get a nice scoring chance. (Devante Smith-Pelly plays with Kuznetsov and Ovie now, so why not?)

Borgman on the ice with the Marleau line, and all he does is shoot, and normally I don’t like the defenders to shoot too much from the point, but his get through. Keep shooting.

The horn goes, and the Leafs are winning because the Leafs are good at second periods now.

The Numbers

So what actually happened in that period is that the Leafs maintained their pace of play, which wasn’t great, but was very well executed, and the Habs stepped things up and ran them around like fools, but didn’t actually get much out of their puck control in terms of shot volume or quality.

The Corsi is now 43-33 for Montréal, but the real chances to score are fairly even. Andersen is a wall. Lindgren has been very good.

Third Period

Connor Brown! That was quick. Brown wins a faceoff, and Zaitsev does his patented sidestep to get the shot through.  The rebound is easy for Brown to put in. 3-0 Leafs.

The crowd is totally silent after that start to the period.

The tough guy on each line arrangement has been kept for this period.

Petry knocks down his own goalie with a hell of a good check, and that’s the loudest noise the fans have made all night as they want the nearest Leafs player to be tarred and feathered.

Kadri has the solution to the boredom, though. He’s mad about a hit, so he stays on the ice and mixes it up with Shea Weber then Jordie Benn and then Weber again. He doesn’t go after small guys, that’s for sure.

And the result is somehow a power play for the Leafs, and well. That seems unfair to be honest. Kadri was headhunting, and the refs were unwilling to call anything until they had to call everything.

Big scramble in front of Lindgren on the power play, and he makes a great set of saves.

Nicolas Deslauriers, the tough guy the Habs got from Buffalo, rings it off the post. Bergevin isn’t wrong that Deslauriers has some more to him than a tough guy, but it’s not really NHL-level play.  He should be in Laval, and as well as Montréal has played and is playing in this game, they’ve got Avs disease, too many AHLers cluttering up the lineup.

Dominic Moore is on the ice with Bozak and van Riemsdyk, and he gets a gift of a bouncer that started with a good Bozak pass, and it’s 4-0 Leafs!

And that noted top line wing Matt Martin is on the ice with Matthews and Marner, and Matthews gets his first goal in his first game back and it’s 5-0 Leafs!!

Lindgren gets the gate, but I think he’s been good. It’s just been one those nights.

It’s Antti Niemi time in Montréal.  (His all-white mask is sad.)

And then the weirdest fight in hockey history breaks out. Nikita Zaitsev, yes, him, starts a fight with Paul Byron. Z has no clue what he’s doing, to be honest, but full marks for verve.  He gets tips from bruiser Mitch Marner in the penalty box.

Moore and Brown get a short-handed breakaway to break up the power play. Niemi gets the rude cheers for his first save. It’s not his fault, people!

The Leafs just need to run the clock down without getting too sloppy.

Auston Matthews agrees. So he takes advantage of the miles of open ice the Habs give him and makes it 6-0 Leafs!

The Marleau line I don’t like is doing great as a checking line, so I have to suck it up and say they are good at it.

Another dumb fight sort of breaks out, and who cares at this point.

The clock ticks down, Frederik Andersen last let in a goal in his driveway when he was 12.

Go Leafs Go! That’s six games in a row, and better still, two in a row against the Habs.