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Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs recap: Kovalchuk secures a critical victory – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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If you happened to miss the game last night between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, you missed a great finish, but you also avoided a plodding start through two periods for both sides. For all intents and purposes, the match really began in the third period, and it didn’t kick off in the way Montreal had hoped.

Leading on the shot counter through two periods, you could say the Maple Leafs deserved the first goal they scored just over a minute into the third. After netting two the previous night versus the Anaheim Ducks, including the winner in overtime, John Tavares opened the scoring.

That proved to be the only shot the Leafs had the rest of the period. They decided to turn to the tactic employed by many NHL teams that carry a lead in the final frame: abandon everything that made you successful through more than two periods and hope the other team doesn’t score.

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It nearly worked. Interim starting goaltender Jack Campbell held strong as the Canadiens turned what was a 22-12 shot disadvantage at the time of the Tavares goal into a 27-22 lead by the end of the period. The 26th came off the stick of Marco Scandella, and resulted in the defenceman’s first goal with his hometown team.

As the Maple Leafs collapsed into a defensive box, a half-hearted block attempt by Alex Kerfoot provided a partial screen for Campbell, while another defender was planted directly in front of the goalie. The puck made its way through all three players in blue and white to breach the wall the Canadiens had been hammering all period long.

The Habs had one more shot after the goal, and another chance right before the horn as Ilya Kovalchuk loaded up for a last-gasp attempt but missed the net with a fraction of a second remaining.

In overtime, Toronto finally added to their shot count, but Carey Price turned their only chance aside. Instead, it was the combination of the youngest player on the Canadiens’ roster and the oldest that completed the comeback in style.

Nick Suzuki collected the puck for a breakaway, but just as he was deking across the top of the crease to go to his backhand, the puck was knocked off his stick by a perfect pokecheck from Campbell. Kovalchuk was following up his rookie linemate, and caught the puck on a bounce between two Leafs skaters to fire it to the back of the net, and lead a raucous celebration at the Bell Centre.

In the same week that he shushed the crowd in New Jersey with a shootout decider, last night’s goal was Kovalchuk’s third game-winner since joining the team, and he now leads the Canadiens in that department despite playing just 15 games. This one was the most critical of the three, not only ensuring the Habs got the second point in the game, but also snatching it away from the Leafs to move Montreal one point closer to the third seed in the Atlantic Division. The Habs have now claimed the season series with Toronto, and have that tiebreaker in their back pocket should it be tight enough to need it at the conclusion of the 82-game schedule.

Such clutch performances will be needed all through the next week. Montreal has four games over a six-day span before getting a two-day break. It all starts with the freefalling Arizona Coyotes on Monday.

Thoughts

  • There were some noteworthy things in the opening two frames. Artturi Lehkonen blocked a shot with his hand on the penalty kill, and was clutching it the rest of the shift before skating directly to the dressing room. He came back to play the rest of the game, so hopefully that means there’s nothing too concerning there.
  • Nate Thompson had an excellent PK shift himself in the second. He took on four Maple Leafs players in their own zone, and battled even after getting stripped to kill off some more time. On the same penalty, Jake Evans was sent over the boards, getting some trust from the coach in his second NHL game. Making sure he didn’t mess his impression up, he was only out for about 20 seconds before sprinting back to the bench.
  • Jonathan Drouin made his return to the lineup. He wasn’t very noticeable in limited duty, as you’d expect for a player being dropped directly into a tightly contested battle. He’ll likely be feeling, and therefore looking, a lot more comfortable on Monday.
  • That’s pretty much it. They really were rough periods.

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The free agent market is sizzling, who’s left for the Blue Jays?

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With MLB’s 2022 Winter Meetings in San Diego this week, the number of free agent signings has reached a frenzied pace. As of this writing, 44 free agents have already signed deals worth a combined $1.9 billion so far this offseason, headlined by monster deals for Yankees OF and AL MVP Aaron Judge (nine years, $360 million), new Phillies SS Trea Turner (11 years, $300 million), and new Texas ace Jacob deGrom (five years, $185 million). That figure doesn’t include the reported five-year, $90 million guaranteed deal that Japanese star OF Masataka Yoshida apparently agreed to on Wednesday. The average free agent contract so far has been for 2.4 years and $44 million total value.

The Toronto Blue Jays have so far been unlucky in their free agent pursuits, highlighted by starter Kyle Gibson passing up the same one-year, $10 million offer made by Toronto to sign instead with the Baltimore Orioles. The Jays have also been mentioned in relation to starters Justin Verlander, Andrew Heaney and Jameson Taillon, as well as reliever Kenley Jansen and CF Cody Bellinger, who have all signed with other teams. All of their other AL East peers have been active this week signing and trading for players.

The need for a power-hitting left-handed bat to balance out the Jays lineup has been clearly defined as necessary to improve this club’s postseason chances following the Teoscar Hernández trade last month. A number of LHH OFs have agreed to deals already, including the above mentioned Masataka Yoshida, Joc Pederson, who accepted the San Francisco Giants $19.65 million qualifying offer (QO), and Cody Bellinger, who signed a one year, $17.5 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.

Remaining LHH free agent options in CF include Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Kiermaier. Should the Jays decide to keep George Springer in CF instead of moving him to right to reduce the wear and tear on his body, they could also look at left-handed hitters Joey Gallo or Michael Conforto in RF. Trading Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in a package for starting pitching or a CF like the switch-hitting Bryan Reynolds or Dalton Varsho might make sense if they were were able to sign one of Michael Brantley or Andrew Benintendi for LF, But those trades would both be costly in terms of the likely drain on an already bottom third ranked farm system.

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Further, with the St. Louis Cardinals signing free agent catcher Willson Contreras to a five year, $87.5 million contract, it appears less likely that the Cards might be a trade destination for one of the Blue Jays three catchers. One of Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk or Gabriel Moreno in a deal for switch-hitting OF Dylan Carlson or LHH RF Lars Nootbaar looked good on paper, but now seems less likely.

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Marner and Matthews stay hot, Samsonov earns shutout as Maple Leafs beat Kings

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Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record point streak to 21 games with a second-period goal as the Toronto Maple Leafs earned a 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.

With Toronto in front 3-0, thanks to goals from Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander just 1:06 apart earlier in the second, Marner checked in with a slapshot marker after a Kings turnover inside their blue line.

The Maple Leafs (17-5-6) won for the seventh time in eight outings and handed Los Angeles (14-11-4) its seventh loss in 10 games.

With Canadian pop star Justin Bieber among the 18,567 at Scotiabank Arena, Marner scored his 11th of the season. He has 10 goals and 16 assists in his 21-game point streak.

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Marner’s streak is now tied for 23rd all-time in the NHL with Dave Taylor, Adam Oates and Bobby Hull.

Marner also became the 10th different player in the past 35 years to string together a point streak of 21 or more games and the third active skater, behind Patrick Kane (26 games in 2015-16) and Sidney Crosby (25 games in 2010-11).

Well-rounded team effort leads Maple Leafs to second straight shutout win

Toronto goaltender Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout in a Maple Leafs sweater and the seventh of his career.

The Maple Leafs outshot their opponents 41-29.

Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, who made 36 saves, kept his club in the game for the opening 25 minutes.

The Maple Leafs had outshot the visitors 19-7 when Engvall beat Quick with a wrist shot for a power-play goal 5:10 into the second period.

Twenty-six seconds later, Kampf employed linemate Alex Kerfoot as a decoy to score on a two-on-one rush started by Kerfoot to provide the Maple Leafs with a two-goal advantage.

Nylander checked in with his 15th of the season, and fifth in seven games, on a breakaway goal 40 seconds later. He also set up Auston Matthews for his 14th goal midway through the final period.

Maple Leafs tally three goals in 66 seconds to jump ahead vs. Kings

Kerfoot was good for two assists against the Kings.

Engvall’s night ended early in the third period when he was given a match penalty for intent to injure after he high-sticked Kings defenceman Sean Durzi, a former Toronto draft pick, in the back of the head in the neutral zone.

During the ensuing five-minute power-play, Los Angeles winger Adrian Kempe scored but the goal was rescinded after a video review determined the play was offside.

Maple Leafs’ Engvall receives match penalty for slashing Kings’ Durzi up high

BRODIE’S BACK

Maple Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie returned to the lineup after a 12-game absence because of an oblique injury, playing alongside newcomer Conor Timmins. Toronto went 9-0-3 without Brodie.

 

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Marner and Matthews stay hot, Samsonov earns shutout as Maple Leafs beat Kings

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Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record point streak to 21 games with a second-period goal as the Toronto Maple Leafs earned a 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.

With Toronto in front 3-0, thanks to goals from Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander just 1:06 apart earlier in the second, Marner checked in with a slapshot marker after a Kings turnover inside their blue line.

Gotta See It: Maple Leafs’ Marner scores to extend point streak to 21 games

The Maple Leafs (17-5-6) won for the seventh time in eight outings and handed Los Angeles (14-11-4) its seventh loss in 10 games.

With Canadian pop star Justin Bieber among the 18,567 at Scotiabank Arena, Marner scored his 11th of the season. He has 10 goals and 16 assists in his 21-game point streak.

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Marner’s streak is now tied for 23rd all-time in the NHL with Dave Taylor, Adam Oates and Bobby Hull.

Marner also became the 10th different player in the past 35 years to string together a point streak of 21 or more games and the third active skater, behind Patrick Kane (26 games in 2015-16) and Sidney Crosby (25 games in 2010-11).

Toronto goaltender Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout in a Maple Leafs sweater and the seventh of his career.

The Maple Leafs outshot their opponents 41-29.

Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, who made 36 saves, kept his club in the game for the opening 25 minutes.

The Maple Leafs had outshot the visitors 19-7 when Engvall beat Quick with a wrist shot for a power-play goal 5:10 into the second period.

Twenty-six seconds later, Kampf employed linemate Alex Kerfoot as a decoy to score on a two-on-one rush started by Kerfoot to provide the Maple Leafs with a two-goal advantage.

Nylander checked in with his 15th of the season, and fifth in seven games, on a breakaway goal 40 seconds later. He also set up Auston Matthews for his 14th goal midway through the final period.

Kerfoot was good for two assists against the Kings.

Engvall’s night ended early in the third period when he was given a match penalty for intent to injure after he high-sticked Kings defenceman Sean Durzi, a former Toronto draft pick, in the back of the head in the neutral zone.

During the ensuing five-minute power-play, Los Angeles winger Adrian Kempe scored but the goal was rescinded after a video review determined the play was offside.

BRODIE’S BACK

Maple Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie returned to the lineup after a 12-game absence because of an oblique injury, playing alongside newcomer Conor Timmins. Toronto went 9-0-3 without Brodie.

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