After losing five of eight, the Toronto Maple Leafs manufactured a big-time response in Tampa Bay on Thursday night, ending the Lightning’s nine-game winning streak on home ice.
Your game in ten:
1. Another reminder that Jake Gardiner has a big fan in Mike Babcock: After the rough night against Colorado, he started him for the first shift of the game, and while the Leafs didn’t start all that well, Gardiner played a team-leading 7:48 TOI in the first period and finished with just shy of 25 minutes of ice time.
Babcock really sticks by him through thick and thin. He laid out a passionate defense of him after the Boston Game 7 events and again after the Colorado game. Asked about Gardiner’s UFA status, given the chance to say, “Jake’s a valued member of the team, but it’s a business… Whatever happens, happens,” Babcock didn’t mince words about seeing him as a huge part of the team’s present and future makeup. It doesn’t mean Gardinier is staying — Kyle Dubas has been less committal because he has to actually make the cap work, while Babcock just coaches and wants to keep all his good players — but it’s a genuine appreciation from the head coach.
2. There was a lot to like about the game-winning goal by the Leafs.
The whole sequence starts with Tavares tracking back hard to stay above his man and break up a Lightning zone entry.
The initial entry attempt fouls up on the Marner pass, but Rielly does a brilliant job keeping the puck on the legal side of the blue line while his body is in the zone and then regrouping to avoid the offside and retain possession.
With Tampa regrouped with five men behind the puck standing up the line by that point, Ron Hainsey executes a hard-rim that gets through Andrei Vasilevskiy, creating a 1-on-1 puck race at the far side versus a 2-on-4 (Tavares and Marner for the Leafs) retrieval scenario on a chip into the near-side corner.
Johnsson wins a puck race and battle on the forecheck (!!!… imagine that after the last game). He then throws a slick blind drop pass to Tavares, who opens up for the one-timer, and Marner is in the right spot (going to the front of the net) to jump on a deflected shot and bury it into the empty net.
Really good execution all around there with a simple approach of getting pucks in behind the Lightning D and winning a race/battle, as well as a good connection by a trio that seems to click when they play together.
3. Side point: Hainsey’s hard rim was actually icing, although in real time it’s a little closer than it looks below. But it’s definitely icing.
Nice to see the Leafs get some breaks in Tampa after the last time out. The bounce off the mic on the glass for the empty netter — seemingly installed by Red Green? — was also justice after the clear high stick on Tavares by Stamkos (who gets away with a lot in Tampa, it seems… think back to the slewfoots on Rielly).
4. Also a lot to like about the Leafs‘ 1-1 goal, too. Things weren’t looking good at 1-0 Tampa. The Leafs went nearly six minutes without a shot to start the game and were just kind of watching the Lightning play for the most part. Tampa then scored on their first power play, and it seemed like the kind of start that would break a fragile team. The response — both in terms of the performance in the game at large and within the first period after falling behind early — was fantastic.
The other part to like about the goal was just how it came about — second, third and fourth efforts below the goal line by Kadri, Marner, and Kapanen. Marleau found Kapanen, who threw one on net, and Kadri went to where the goals are scored to end his slump.
5. It seemed like throwing three of the most offensively-famished players all on one line together worked a charm. The players that should be the hungriest looked the hungriest on that goal.
Kasperi Kapanen, in particular, was brilliant in this game. On multiple occasions, the Lightning were starting to get on top of the Leafs and establish their rhythm, and Kapanen came over the boards and turned the momentum with an electric rush and/or by winning some battles. There was tons of urgency in his game. The pattern of Kapanen stepping up in big moments against good teams continues. He’s a gamer.
6. While on the note about the new lines, Hyman works well next to Tavares and Marner, but Johnsson’s a lefty on his natural wing and is a grade above with his puck skills. He’s not as heavy as Hyman, but Tavares brings that element down the middle and Marner’s puck pursuit is high end. Nylander and Matthews need Hyman’s skillset more, in my opinion.
7. Thought the empty netter sequence was classic Zach Hyman. True, he got stripped by Nikita Kucherov earlier and it nearly cost the Leafs, but the guy is full-tilt full-time, whistle to whistle. All of Tampa’s players stopped, Tavares stopped, Kapanen hesitated briefly and then picked up off Hyman’s cue and got on his horse. Hyman was straight chugging. Never broke stride.
8. Call out William Nylander for the circling of the net and changing if it’s your thing, but it had nothing to do with the 2-2 Victor Hedman goal. Hyman (not typically the norm from him) let up tracking back. It was clearly his man. This kind of noise was inevitable given he’s not scoring and making $7 million now after a contract holdout. It’s fair game if you want to talk about the lack of production at this stage, but we’re now at the point where everything is under a microscope and bad takes/non-sense narratives are reigning supreme.
9. Frederik Andersen didn’t steal this game based on the run of play, but it was that calibre of goaltending performance nonetheless. Holding onto a ripped Stamkos one-timer after the late icing to get his team a whistle and a change was huge. The composure and confidence he’s playing with between the pipes ripple out through the team in front of him. He was strategically placing his rebounds into corners or into the crowd throughout to kill plays, curtail Lightning possessions, and help the Leafs reset.
Getting Andersen back (and looking great) is a big piece of the Leafs starting a new winning run to offset their recent run of mediocrity. The next piece that needs to come into place — beyond Matthews and Nylander getting off the schneid — is the power play, which looked as bad as it has all season tonight (albeit against a hot PK on Tampa’s side). It’s almost at that point where the Leafs need to switch up the focal point— not a knock on Marner whatsoever, it’s just too predictable and they’re barely shooting — by running it through either Matthews or Tavares for a while.
10. I was personally a little surprised by the post-game shot attempt and scoring chance charts favouring the Leafs so heavily. I watched the whole thing shift by shift and it felt quite a bit more even than it showed, although I thought the Leafs for sure carried a bit of an edge at 5v5 as far as the quality of chances created. Tampa generated a lot of their most dangerous looks on the PP and in the late full-court press, so perhaps it skewed the perception. All of that said, it’s definitely encouraging what the underlying numbers look like after two games on the road in Tampa: At 5v5, shot attempts are 97-81, shots on goal are 57-35, scoring chances are 53-39, and high-danger chances are 24-8, all in favour of the Leafs.
Crisis averted. The Leafs still haven’t lost more than two games in a row this season.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts