Game #72 Review: Toronto Maple Leafs 5 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets 2

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 22: Leo Komarov #47 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first period goal with teammate Connor Brown #12 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 22, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs took over third place in the Atlantic Division with a statement win in Columbus on Wednesday night.

Your game in ten:

1. All season the Leafs beat up on non-playoff opponents, lost to good teams, and couldn’t close out games. Well, they just collected five of six points against the Blackhawks, Bruins and Blue Jackets and held onto one-goal leads by building on them late in the third. Happy learned how to putt.

2. What a hit by Connor Carrick on Josh Anderson 10 minutes into the first period, one that led to a successful power play and changed the direction of the game. Carrick has a number of qualities that remind me of a younger Stephane Robidas:

  • righthanded
  • under six feet tall
  • not a gifted skater but mobile, smart and efficient in the way he goes about his business
  • willing to stand in and take a hit to make a play (there were a couple of instances of that tonight, with the Blue Jackets coming after him for his earlier hit)
  • pinches at the right times
  • able to move the puck
  • doesn’t hesitate defending his crease or engaging in post-whistle scrums
  • a good student of the game

He’s got a ways to go, but it’d be quite the boon for the Leafs if Carrick can continue to take steps and carve out that kind of career for himself.

3. Special teams were obviously as big of a story as anything in this game, with the Leafs scoring a power play goal early and getting a massive five-minute-actually-seven-minute penalty kill in the third, giving up just one shot in the process.

I won’t rehash the point from the last review about the magic of the Leafs power play, but this is a telling snapshot.

Jack Johnson has to come out and respect Nylander’s very good shot, while the benefit of being on his strong side allows Nylander to protect the puck and pick one of a number of available options – Leo Komarov at the net front for a redirect/jam play, Brown on a short pass for a one-timer in the slot, or Matthews at the back door if he can find the lane.

Out of the corner of his eye, Nylander picks out Matthews, who times it well; Matthews is adept at trimming off (or increasing) his speed or changing direction slightly in order to create an avenue. Luckily, Matthews didn’t get too far into his celebration before realizing the initial effort didn’t go in and required a cleanup.

4.  I was going to point out this shift by the Matthews line if Babcock didn’t:

“I thought, the shift after they got the second goal, Matthews’ line came on and we dominated in the offensive zone and kind of got our feet underneath us again.”

This was a big push back sequence with the tide seemingly turning in the Blue Jackets’ favour after the 2-2 goal in the second period. It’s a really fun shift to watch. Matthews is a bull in a china shop, Polak makes a number of good pinches followed by strong work down low, Nylander darts in and out making plays, and Polak caps it off by dropping a Blue Jacket outside the blue line and stuffing the puck back in the zone.

5.  It’s difficult to sum up all of the ways in which a good goalie performance changes a game entirely for a team, as well as the narratives we hear afterwards. The spells where the Blue Jackets were putting the Leafs under siege with a heavy forecheck and winning puck battle after puck battle? That’s known as “bending without breaking” when the narrative could just as easily be about the team getting rag dolled, unable to get out of their own end and deservedly conceding a goal. Frederik Andersen was again excellent tonight and has now hit 30 wins in his 60th start of the season – a career high, and he’s just the second goalie in the league to reach 60 starts by the end of Thursday’s games. He’s also now posted a .940 or above in six of his last seven starts.

6.  More Andersen stats: The Leafs have collected points in 44 of Andersen’s 60 starts. That’s second in the NHL behind only Cam Talbot’s 45, and Talbot has started six more games. Put another way, Andersen has collected at least a point in 73.3% of his starts. That’s fifth in the NHL among goalies with more than 30 games played, behind only Murray, Fleury, Bobrovsky and Holtby – i.e., goalies on elite teams.

Andersen’s also faced 31.8 shots per game, which is fourth highest in the league among goalies with more than 40 starts.

The only real complaint that can be levied against Andersen this season is his performance in the shootout, but – without jinxing it — it doesn’t look like it’s going to matter in a couple of weeks…

7. Yes, coaches can have bad games, too. Not sure what the idea was in not sending a player over to the box to serve Roman Polak’s penalty right away if there was any thinking that went into it at all. Perhaps Babcock was thinking that a lot could happen on a five-minute kill, like a Blue Jackets penalty creating a 4-on-4 where Babcock would want a Marner or a Nylander available to him. But that was clearly an inexcusable mistake in the third period of tight, important game and Babcock rightly took responsibility after. Babcock was a miss by Cam Atkinson in front away from wearing the goat horns.

While they had some good shifts in this game, I also thought Babcock got carried away starting his fourth line at the start of the second period. Tortorella answered with the Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky line, and the result spoke for itself; Matt Martin blew a clearance and then was late to react to his defenceman pinching down on David Savard’s 2-1 goal.

That is a choice Babcock’s been making to start periods for several games now (since the Boyle acquisition). He seems to like the tone they set more often than not.

8. It’s fitting that Nazem Kadri’s 30th came by diving onto a rebound just outside the crease. After some early success – with Babcock/Hiller getting his beak wet by finding the right place for him on the power play — he’s developed a real nose for the hard areas of the ice, making his issues with beating goaltenders from further out last year all but irrelevant this season. His assist came on the opening goal after strong hustle away from the puck forced the play down the boards, where he was in position to hop on a bad turnover by Zach Werenski before putting it on a tee for Leo Komarov at the backdoor.

Kadri putting up 30 (and counting) in a similarly tough role to what he played last season is the sort of outcome no one would’ve predicted prior to the season. It’s why we watch the games.

A list of players Kadri is currently ahead of in goal scoring: Alex Ovechkin, Joe Pavelski, John Tavares, Connor McDavid, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn.

9. The Brown, Komarov and Kadri line was the Leafs’ best from start to finish, finishing in the high 50s in possession (the only Leaf forwards to break even) and chipping in the opening goal as well as the insurance marker. This was again Komarov’s kind of game with the stakes high and the physicality ratcheted up, while Brown was unlucky not to score a couple with the chances he had in tight. Brown was also excellent on the forecheck on that marathon penalty kill; he has good anticipatory skills without the puck and can quickly cover ground laterally, which hurried the Blue Jackets into some plays they didn’t want to make and chewed up clock.

There were good efforts across the board on that PK, but a special credit to Matt Hunwick also for playing four of the five shorthanded minutes, including a good stick to clear the rebound on the Blue Jackets’ lone shot on goal.

10. Lots to note on a night when Kadri hit 30 and William Nylander hit 20 goals with a letter-perfect snipe while also tying the franchise record for points streak by a rookie (nine games). A few more things worth pointing out:

Tyler Bozak, with his nice assist on Nylander’s goal, is one away from breaking the elusive 50-point barrier. Bozak’s hit 49 twice, 48 once, and 47 once.

With 33 goals, Auston Matthews is one away from tying Wendel Clark’s Leafs rookie goal scoring record.

Nikita Zaitsev’s two-point game puts him at 32 this season; while reaching 39 points is a stretch at this point (he’d need seven in the final ten games), that we’d even be talking about a franchise rookie record by a defenceman this season was not something on anyone’s radar:

Game Flow

Shot Attempts Heat Map

Game in Six

Post-Game: Babcock, Rielly, Boyle, Matthews, Nylander, Kadri