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Game #63 Review: Toronto Maple Leafs 4 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 0 – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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Just what the doctor ordered.

Your game in ten:

1.  The Toronto Maple Leafs desperately needed to start this game with some urgency. They did just that. All four lines competed well, and while they didn’t generate too many high-danger chances, they looked like an entirely different team compared to Tuesday night. Denis Malgin was flying out there with Tavares and Nylander, and the reunited Engvall-Kerfoot-Kapanen line looked just as quick.

This period looked like two good teams facing off, and while the Leafs didn’t come out of the opening 20 minutes with a lead, it was tough to be disappointed with their play. Scoring the first goal of this game seemed awfully important. The Leafs faced their first test of adversity when Malgin was called for a foot-on-foot tripping penalty with just over two minutes to play.

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The Penguins power play looked incredibly dangerous but, thankfully, Frederik Andersen was up for the challenge. Patric Hornqvist wreaked havoc in-front while both Crosby and Malkin were putting on a show. Kasperi Kapanen may have saved a goal by tying up Crosby’s stick in the slot, and Andersen needed to make some big stops, but the Leafs managed to find a way to keep the game scoreless going into the intermission. After the blowout on Tuesday, killing Malgin’s penalty sure felt like a big moment in this game.

2.  Once again, the Leafs started the period with plenty of urgency. Toronto was clearly outplaying Pittsburgh heading into the first commercial break and the team was finally generating more medium-to-high danger scoring chances. Tavares, Matthews, and Marner all had fairly decent chances while Crosby was playing entire shifts in his own zone. While the game was still scoreless, Toronto’s strong play had Mike Sullivan changing up his forward lines.

Toronto’s hard work finally paid off when play resumed, as Tavares won an offensive-zone face and Muzzin blasted a point shot in the back of the net just a few seconds later. They didn’t let their foot off of the gas pedal, either, as more offensive zone time led a Marcus Pettersson holding penalty on Tyson Barrie just over a minute later. The power play had a big chance to expand Toronto’s momentum, and just seven seconds in, Brandon Tanev shot the puck over the glass to give the Leafs an extended 5-on-3 opportunity. 2-0 Leafs. 

Three minutes after the 2-0 goal, Kerfoot sprung Kapanen on a breakaway with a gorgeous stretch pass and the Finnish speedster took full advantage. As an encore, Kapanen soon stood up for Sandin against Hornqvist, then dropped the gloves when Jared McCann challenged him to a fight. While the fight won’t get many hits on YouTube, it spoke to the intensity that the Leafs were playing with. Up 3-0 after two, it was a nearly perfect 40 minutes for the team in blue.

3.  Two weeks ago, the Leafs played outstanding in the opening 40 minutes against Florida, only to look like an entirely different team in the third. The Leafs needed to show that they could keep their attention to detail for an entire game. Zach Hyman helped to take the pressure off by extending the lead to four just four minutes into the frame. After Matthews won an offensive-zone faceoff, Hyman went to his office in front of the net and outworked Justin Schultz, leading to his 19th goal of the season.

Three of Toronto’s four goals tonight immediately followed an offensive-zone face-off win. By holding the Penguins to just two shots in the third, the Leafs proved that they could keep their focus and determination for an entire 60 minutes.

4.  I hated Sheldon Keefe’s forward lines on Tuesday night. John Tavares was busy with one of the league’s toughest matchups, and the Leafs couldn’t have possibly expected much of any secondary scoring with Frederik Gauthier on one line and Clifford and Timashov on another. Playing two fourth lines is never a great idea, and other than when the Matthews line was on the ice, it felt like the Leafs were bound to be outplayed.

Keefe changed up the lineup tonight, going back to the Engvall-Kerfoot-Kapanen line that I’ve been calling for. Kerfoot looked much more comfortable back at center, which is where I prefer him, as he doesn’t quite have the speed to be overly dangerous on the rush or forecheck and he’s far more of a playmaker than a shooter. Engvall’s speed and long reach generated an early takeaway.  This line looked like a defensively-responsible unit that would be a pain in the ass to play against.

The fourth line won plenty of battles, and Malgin had the jump in his step that you’d expect from a player who went from playing eight minutes per night to playing on a line with Tavares and Nylander. Malgin’s screen in-front contributed to Toronto’s first goal, and I didn’t notice a huge drop-off on that line with him on the right-side instead of Kerfoot. The Leafs desperately needed more out of their bottom-six and boy did this lineup look much better tonight.

5.  Sheldon Keefe went back to Frederik Andersen after a 5-2 loss, even though half of the fan base was calling for Jack Campbell. I thought this was a no-brainer, and Andersen’s play tonight sure backed that up. Andersen was hung out to dry on Tuesday — partly due to poor defense, and partly due to Sidney Crosby being Sidney Crosby. Yes, the last goal was on him, but the game was pretty much over at that point.

I love Jack Campbell and I’m thrilled that he’s started off his Leafs career with a few wins. However, let’s not forget that he had a .900 save percentage prior to the trade to the Leafs, while Frederik Andersen has been the backbone of this team for the previous three seasons. Everyone and their grandmother knows what Andersen is capable of, and if I’m betting on a goalie, I’m betting on him.

I’m tired of the painfully stupid goaltending analysis that I see on Twitter after the Leafs allow their fair share of goals. You can’t look at a one-game sample of save percentage and get a perfectly accurate picture of how a goalie played. The Leafs could have given up three penalty shots against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, and if Andersen let in just one of them, people would complain about his resulting .667 save percentage. Yes, he’s had some struggles this year, but that doesn’t mean you have to resort to the, “I don’t care if there were seven 5-on-0 chances and six tap-ins, I just want saves!” argument over a single game. While we also shouldn’t pretend that every goal against had a 0% chance of being saved, we need to be comfortable with assessing the quality of the scoring chances against rather than just pointing to a one-game sample of save percentage and complaining.

There’s a lot of people who owe Freddy an apology right about now. He certainly wasn’t the only reason they won tonight, but he made key saves on Pittsburgh’s late power-play opportunity in the first, where a goal really would have changed the momentum heading into the intermission.

6.  Nearly two years ago, I wrote an article suggesting that the Leafs should buy-low on Jared McCann. The talented forward made the NHL at 19, had already been traded once, and he wasn’t getting much of an opportunity in Florida. He was just about to turn 22, but it didn’t feel like he was all that young, as he had already been around the league for a few years.

I thought it was fitting that Denis Malgin made his Leafs debut against McCann, as he also made the NHL as a teenager, only to end up playing limited minutes in Florida. While he’s in the middle of his fourth NHL season, he’s a year younger than Pierre Engvall and Adam Brooks. While I’m not quite as high on Malgin as I was on McCann (mainly due to McCann’s ability to go to the net and win puck battles), I like the idea of taking advantage of “prospect fatigue”. Malgin wasn’t a superstar tonight, but he may have helped to convince Keefe to put Kerfoot back on the third line. I’d put him back there on Saturday night.

7.  There isn’t an “A” on Jake Muzzin‘s jersey, but there should be. After the veteran defenseman was vocal about Toronto’s compete level following Tuesday’s loss, he certainly led by example tonight. His opening goal got the Leafs started on the right foot and he made a quick outlet pass prior to Kapanen’s goal. He picked up another secondary assist on Hyman’s third-period goal and was effective in a challenging shutdown role all night.

Another player who stood out tonight was Rasmus Sandin, who looked like a seasoned veteran against one of the NHL’s best teams. His first pass consistently gets the Leafs moving in the right direction and he did not shy away in numerous physical battles with a heavy power forward in Hornqvist. His partner, Tyson Barrie, was sharp tonight as well.

8.  Special teams were a big focus heading into this game, as the Penguins scored three powerplay goals on four attempts on Tuesday night. Keefe mentioned that it was time to fill in special teams on the “bingo card” for the team’s struggles of late, so I was interested to see how the team would respond.

They responded by only taking one penalty, and it was the new addition who was the guilty party. It wasn’t even a stick infraction. It’s not like the refs were missing calls left, right, and center. While the Penguins power play did look terrifying on their one chance, Toronto’s best penalty killer was their goalie, and the Leafs also took full advantage of their 5-on-3 chance to keep their momentum going.

9.  Bob McKenzie mentioned on the broadcast tonight that the Leafs have been receiving calls about Tyson Barrie, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. McKenzie stated that the Leafs aren’t selling but would consider trading Barrie if they could get another good defenseman in return. He also mentioned that they might be able to get a package of picks or prospects for Barrie, then flip those pieces as part of a deal for a player with term.

This type of deal is easier said than done, but it doesn’t look like the Leafs have the cap room to re-sign Barrie and it would tough to see him walk out the door for nothing. If they can get someone like Damon Severson — who could play next to Rielly or Sandin for years to come — I’m certainly interested. Barrie needs to be given sheltered minutes and with two rookies in the picture right now, I think Keefe wanted a more defensive-defenceman in the lineup in Marincin to help matchup against Malkin. At the very least, I’m glad that the Leafs are looking into being creative while focusing on players with term.

10.  This was the signature win of the Leafs season. Before the game, I identified the seven teams in the league that I consider to be the easiest matchups: Detroit, Ottawa, New Jersey, Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Minnesota. I looked up the Leafs record against those teams and found that they were 13-0.

It goes without saying that every team has a worse record against contenders, but it feels like the Leafs had taken this to an extreme this year. I also identified the seven teams in the league that I consider to be the toughest matchups: Tampa Bay, Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, St.Louis, Dallas, and Colorado. The Leafs were 4-9-1 against these teams heading into tonight — and many of the wins they didn’t deserve. They were outshot 37-27 in their win against Colorado and the Avalanche didn’t have Landeskog and Rantanen that night. They beat Boston in overtime after being outshot 46-29 and won against St.Louis when Binnington had an off night.

You can certainly nitpick this exercise — and maybe I was too kind to Chicago (who they are 0-2 against) — but you’ll still be in tough to find many signature wins from the Leafs schedule. The 8-7 win against Carolina comes to mind, but they were horrible for half of that game and blew a huge lead. After having their competitiveness, maturity, and intensity questioned on Tuesday night, the Leafs responded by dominating an elite hockey team and playing a full 60 minutes. That’s a signature win in my books.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts


Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempt Locations

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Pittsburgh Penguins


Game Highlights: Leafs 4 vs. Penguins 0

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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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