Utter annihilation of the Habs in the final home game of the regular season.
Not a bad note to finish the 41-game home slate on. In terms of firing up the home crowd, it was a good primer for the playoff home opener next week.
Your game in 10:
1. Through 20 minutes, the shots were 18-1 in favour of the Leafs, the scoring chances were 16-1, the expected goals were 2.02-0.08 (96%), and they drew three power plays while dominating the puck, taking advantage of two of those man-advantage opportunities. In terms of controlling the run of play, a period of NHL hockey doesn’t get much more lopsided than that.
It was never a competitive contest tonight, and the Leafs showed the killer instinct that hasn’t always been visible against the bottom feeders. When David Kampf is attempting the Michigan in the first period, the night’s either totally off the rails or going so well that the team is positively giddy. Thankfully, it was the latter tonight.
On that note, Kampf also partly pulled off a between-the-legs move in a one-on-one rush against a Bruins defenseman the other night in Boston. He also stared at Sheldon Keefe on the bench wanting the opportunity when the Leafs drew the penalty shot vs. Detroit. He seems to be feeling it with the puck lately. It’s only led to one point in his last eight games, but good for him nonetheless.
2. One of the more interesting wrinkles with tonight’s lineup was shifting Ryan O’Reilly into the bumper spot on the top power-play unit, with William Nylander shifted to PP2.
It’s worth noting that the Blues’ power play was one of the best in the league last season and converted on 30% of their power-play opportunities during their 12 playoff games last spring, with O’Reilly alone scoring four goals on the man advantage in the playoffs (after tallying nine there in the regular season).
We’ve seen many postseason opponents figure out the Leafs‘ power play over the duration of a playoff series. As the cross-seam passes and looks off the half walls dry up, it’s not always been able to adjust, simplify, and score the dirtier goals when it’s really needed them.
With John Tavares and ROR down the middle — two veterans who are really heavy on their sticks and are skilled finishers / tippers of the puck in tight to the net — there is the option available to simplify things by funneling pucks toward the blue paint with the idea that they can win those battles in front and force a few over the line.
3. The first power-play goal from the Leafs to make it 1-0 was a bit of a joke with how easy it was. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner just basically skated straight down the slot off the entry with the Montreal D backing off.
The third one was exactly what we were describing above in terms of greasing one over the line. Ryan O’Reilly was down on the ice basically on top of the goalie, and John Tavares located the loose puck and swatted it in.
CAP STRIKES TWICE! pic.twitter.com/MP8vEMssDT
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 9, 2023
The second one — which made it 2-0 Leafs in the first period — was nearly tipped in by O’Reilly initially before he recovered a puck and Marner picked out Tavares at the top of the blue paint.
The Habs’ PK coverage was laughable tonight, but there could definitely be something here. It’s worth looking at further against a more competitive team.
Overall, I liked the simple but effective approach that led to the four power-play goals tonight, including Michael Bunting’s 7-1 goal where Matthews just shot one in for a tip. There have been a couple of pretty seam plays leading to goals on the PP, but a lot of it has just come through these kinds of plays lately.
4. Somewhat quietly, John Tavares is up to 18 power-play goals this season with his two PPGs tonight. For further context on how good this is, only 10 NHLers have hit 20 power-play goals in a season in the last 10 years. This is far and away a career-high — his next-best was 13 in 2014-15. He’s sixth in the league tied with David Pastrnak, and one off of Tage Thompson’s total.
He’s really bearing down on his chances in front, especially lately with seven power-play goals in just the last 16 games. It’s a big part of what’s elevated the power play into second in the league/best in the East at 26.1%.
5. Besides avoiding injury, the hope in the final regular season home game against a bad Habs team decimated by injuries is that the Leafs could get some of their slumping players feeling good again offensively with the regular season winding down. The Leafs’ overall game has been in a good place of late, but they hadn’t blown a team out in a while. It was mission accomplished and then some tonight.
Ryan O’Reilly entered the game without a point in his last six and walked away with three assists.
Mitch Marner entered the game in his first three-game pointless “slump” of the year and walked away with three points, including his 29th and 30th goals of the year. He also helped create Auston Matthews‘ gorgeous 6-1 goal with the area pass that didn’t receive official credit for the assist.
PAPS WITH A LASER!!! 🎯 pic.twitter.com/Yrn7NE4ozk
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 9, 2023
William Nylander entered with one point in his last seven. Nylander’s goal — O’Reilly recovered the puck along the wall and threw it in front for a friendly deflection off of #88’s skate — was nothing special, but he definitely deserved more than the one in the game, hitting two posts (one was a rip off the crossbar on the power play while running the second unit), and he put a career-high 10 shots on goal. It was the most Nylander has been on and around the puck in quite some time.
6. The only (minor) negative in tonight’s game was the injury scare with Ilya Samsonov, who stretched to make a save to his left and seemed to be wincing afterward. He shook it off and stayed in the game, making a couple of really athletic saves shortly afterward in which he showed no signs of being worse for wear.
There was a good line by Jeff Ralph on the radio tonight: “Even if it’s just his feelings that are hurt, take him out of the game!”
We can only trust the Leafs’ training and medical staff was all over this one with their due diligence, which based on Sheldon Keefe’s recounting of the number of check-ins that were done with Samsonov at TV timeouts and at the intermission, you have to think they were. The organization has shown nothing but an abundance of caution when managing injuries lately.
7. There actually was one more negative development tonight halfway through the third period. If a chat was had between Kyle Dubas and the league after the Detroit game, it appears to have gotten the team absolutely nowhere with the officials, as Michael Bunting was again assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third period for an embellishment. After a cross-check by the Habs started a scrum, the Leafs somehow came out of it down a man.
At times, I’ve felt like Bunting is making bad investments by flopping at unnecessary points in games; the reality is you have to pick your spots, or else NHL officials are a sensitive and egomaniacal enough bunch to make life really hard on you. But this actually seemed like it might’ve been a fairly firm cross-check that Bunting didn’t anticipate coming so late after the whistle.
The reputation is proceeding Bunting at this point (to state the obvious), and we’ll see how the officials handle it in the playoffs against a Tampa team that plays on or over the line as much as any club in the league. This wasn’t a promising sign.
8. He’s in no one’s playoff lineup when the team is healthy, but it’s been nice to have Wayne Simmonds around down the stretch with so little to play for in the standings. He brings a fire that helps bring others into the fight a little more on games without much to get up for. He drew a couple of penalties (the first one led to Tavares’ 2-0 goal), dropped the gloves, and stepped in for teammates in scrums.
Mark Giordano — someone who is in everyone’s playoff lineup — also really stands out for his competitive intensity in games like this where it would be easy to make business decisions to avoid hits or pull up on blocked shots, especially at his age and especially in a game that was firmly in hand for the Leafs. He’s the ultimate competitor who has only one speed.
9. The other benefit of blowing this game out is that it allowed the Leafs to not only get the W while resting key players on the blue line (Brodie, Rielly) but also keep all 18 skaters below 20 minutes of ice time. Luke Schenn nearly hit 19 minutes (highest since the trade) and Erik Gustafsson, in his first game in a while, played nearly 20.
Gustafsson’s confidence with the puck, particularly leading breakouts (including one solo rush at one point) and facilitating on the power play, was impressive, particularly after so much time off. His track record of production in the league is pretty impressive, and he’s now racked up 42 points in 70 games off the blue line this season with his three assists tonight.
Theoretically, it’s another contingency plan on the power play that could help the Leafs if it runs cold and/or if Rielly is for some reason unavailable.
10. If putting an amateur goalie in the net is insulting to the opposition, what do you call the Habs starting Sam Montembeault?
“They’ll get what they deserve in a few weeks,” … Habs Chris Wideman on #Leafs bringing in ATO Jett Alexander
— Kevin McGran (@kevin_mcgran) April 9, 2023
Turns out it doesn’t take a secret Uber dashcam to catch Chris Wideman saying something stupid. He’ll speak it straight into a microphone!
For what it’s worth, the rest of the Habs’ players (and head coach Martin St. Louis) dismissed the Leafs’ decision to put EBUG Jett Alexander in the net for a nice moment at the end of the game as something they weren’t at all concerned about on the other side.
Things you just absolutely love to see 💙 pic.twitter.com/o1uWEgqCAr
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 9, 2023