Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS
The Toronto Maple Leafs honoured history in a big way today, paying homage to 100 years of history while retiring the numbers of everybody who was merely “in the rafters” beforehand. But with the past comes the present, and the present delivered a loud and clear message to the league that had been opened by Auston Matthews on Friday.
The Leafs are here, they’re eager, and the days of the basement are extremely numbered. Toronto made that evident tonight in a 4-1 victory.
The Leafs struck first and did so extremely early. A point shot from Matt Hunwick didn’t quite make its way through traffic, and Connor Brown feasted on the opportunity in the slot, dropping to one knee to snap the loose puck past Anton Khudobin to put Toronto up 1-0 very early.
Ten minutes later, it was Mitch Marner’s turn. A breakout pass from Nikita Zaitsev sent the puck over to the 19-year-old, who corraled it with ease and fired a wrister that turned into his first career NHL goal, in front of the fans he grew up dreaming of being in front of. A little over a minute and a half later, James van Riemsdyk showed that his new #25 had just as much mojo attached to it as his defunct 21, roofing a backhand that really sent Toronto off to the races.
The period didn’t end perfectly, though. Former Leaf John-Michael Liles set up David “Friend of William Nylander” Pastrnak on Bruins powerplay, breaking what was already looking like a much-improved night for Frederik Andersen. But he bounced right back from that shortly after, meeting every shot with ease while waiting for the next Leafs goal.
Enter Milan Michalek. While the second was silent from both sides, the Czech forward redirected a Morgan Rielly shot in front of Khudobins territory to re-extend Toronto’s lead to 4-1.
In the third period. Against the Bruins. This time, though, they held on, ending the game without any swing.
Why The Leafs Won
Pressure, pressure, pressure. Toronto got their feet moving early, they kept them moving often, and most importantly, they moved the puck to the front of the net a bunch. It was super obvious, of course, with the Brown and Michalek goals, but the Leafs seem to be all-in on having a net presence wreak some havoc and when you have a blue line like Boston’s tonight that’s a mixture of inexperienced and a little rusty without much in between, it’s killer.
Kadri on Backes: “You can’t back down. That’s part of our identity is not backing down from anyone as a Toronto Maple Leaf.”
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 16, 2016
I don’t need to add much here. Naz did, though; on top of the above, he was Toronto’s third best possession player with a 58% ratio of even-strength shot attempts in the team’s favour while on the ice. He also had a shot on goal and three hits.
See You Next Time
Let’s do this again soon, eh? Comprehensive Leafs wins are the easiest work. Toronto’s next game will be on Wednesday night at the MTS Centre. Matthews vs. Laine, if you need a narrative. We’ll see you then!