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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton / USA TODAY Sports

POSTGAME: Leafs make the Panthers an endangered hockey club

The Leafs hosted the Panthers tonight, with Florida’s playoff hopes dwindling by the day. The Leafs’ hopes on the other hand, have been consistently rising.

If you ask Patrick O’Sullivan (you shouldn’t), the Leafs have the goaltending advantage as both teams play their backups, Florida’s being James Reimer, and McElhinney being one of the most statistically awful goaltenders to get starts in the last 3 years. His numbers this year though have been incredible and the Leafs hope that he continues the outlier season to hold the ship afloat while Andersen recovers.

Kasperi Kapanen makes his debut this season for the Maple Leafs. Leafs fans should be excited at his arrival, and many will be keeping a close eye on him tonight.

1st period

The first ten minutes of the 1st period seemed to fly by, as neither team had really created any dangerous chances. The Leafs did certainly seem the better team, but not much of fruition yet.

Then suddenly, on a great forecheck by Zach Hyman, he gets the puck out in front and Auston Matthews picks it up smoothly and beats James Reimer high. The goal breaks Wendel Clark’s record of 34 goals by a rookie, giving Matthews his 35th of his rookie campaign.

The game now resembles Florida’s computer boys – all 1’s and 0’s. Badum tss.

Not long after, Leo Komarov takes a great pass from Connor Brown, and one timers a shot past Reimer. This earns Komarov a milestone of his own, with his 100th NHL point.

At this point with just 5 minutes left in the period, the Leafs have only allowed 6 shot attempts by the Panthers, and none that were subjectively high danger. A good period both offensively and defensively thus far.

With a minute remaining, the Leafs draw a penalty, giving them an opportunity to increase their dominance over the Panthers. Unfortunately the best chance from this period would come shorthanded to Colton Sceviour, who would not score on a 1-on-1 high slot shot. The period ends with the Leafs leading 2-0.

2nd period

Right at the start of the period, Michael Matheson takes a questionable delay of game penalty by shooting the puck over the glass, giving the Leafs a 45 seconds 5-0n-3 advantage.

The Leafs would be unable to capitalize on either powerplay, despite some good set-up plays with the extra player(s).

After the Panthers finally started to create some good chances, they took another penalty – this time Thomas Vanek for hooking. But the Leafs would not be able to generate much.

The Panthers really started to take control here, taking advantage of a lacklustre looking Leafs club in the early second. A cross-crease pass ends up on the stick of Reilly Smith and Curtis McElhinney denies him with a great stick save.

With 5 minutes left in the period, a great pass from the point from Yandle finds Reilly Smith’s stick for a quick backhand chip beats McElhinney to get the Panthers on the board.

A weird play closes out the period with the refs calling a high-sticking penalty on Roman Polak. The call was incorrect as it was a puck that hit the face of the Panthers player. The refs reconvened, presumably after seeing a replay on the jumbotron, and reversed the call. Interesting ethics call. Does it break the rules? I’m really not sure.

I’m going to take this moment to see if the editor actually reads these: Hi Jeff. Hi Ryan

The period ends with the Leafs up 2-1.

3rd period

Alex Petrovic made a strong hit on Mitch Marner, a clean hit, but strong. It removed Marner’s helmet in the process, and the Leafs took exception. On Matt Martin’s next shift, he starts a fight with Petrovic for revenge. He draws an extra 2 minute penalty for roughing, so the Panthers go to the powerplay. Dumb move by the veteran Martin.

However, on the penalty kill, Zach Hyman makes a good read and capitalizes on a shorthanded 2-on-1 break with Leo Komarov to give the Leafs a 2 goal lead again.

The middle of the 3rd was largely uneventful, but late in the 3rd is when things picked up again. Florida pulled their goalie and on a great tip by Bjugstad that hit the post, Jaromir Jagr buries past Curtis McElhinney. 3-2 now for the Leafs.

They pulled again, and looked very dangerous, but did not get the 3rd goal to tie the game.

The Leafs win the game 3-2.

Final Thoughts

Knowing many were concerning themselves with Kapanen, I’ll start with him: I thought he was pretty good in a limited role. The Leafs as a team really showed up tonight, I don’t think I could isolate anyone as having a bad game. The Matthews line underperformed in shot attempts, but scored a goal 5v5 (plus Hyman’s SHG) so you can’t really give them a bad grade.

My three stars for the night:

  1. Komarov (1G, 1 A)
  2. McElhinney (92.3% Sv%)
  3. Smith (1 G, near miss earlier, 75% shot attempts)

A key win for the Leafs tonight to insulate their playoff hopes, meanwhile adding near to the final nail in the coffin of that of the Panthers. The Panthers are nearing extinction. Certainly endangered at this point.

Catch the Leafs again on Thursday as they face the Nashville Predators at 8PM ET in Nashville.

Goodnight, and go Leafs.

  • Oleafs

    Didn’t Hyman get the third goal and therefore score the GWG? Therefore shouldn’t he be the 1st star as he had the GWG and the A on the record breaking Matthews goal?

  • Gary Empey

    It is time everyone got off Hyman’s case and stop suggesting he should be replaced by a more offensive winger. His tenacious fore-checking is a huge part of the chemistry that makes Matthews line’s a success in this the “year of the rookies.” Hyman’s fore-checking completely disrupts the other team’s set breakouts. If Babcock had three more guys exactly like him, you would see a Hyman clone on each of the other three lines. This type of coaching has been Babcock’s signature throughout his successful career. It is one of the reasons the wings were very hard to beat, even though the Wings appeared to have too many mediocre players to be successful. Playing against guys like Hyman is incredibly disheartening and frustrating for the opposition. One only has to look back to the Kessel-Bozak-JVR line to see the result when you put three mostly offensive players on the same line. Yes you do get some tick tack toe, highlight reel goals. You also get far too many goals against.

    • FlareKnight

      When Hyman has gas in the tank, I can see the idea behind that line. Especially early in the year he was all over pucks and digging them out. But as the season went on the tank has started to empty and he’s not as effective. He’s still jumping in, but a lot of the time he just gets knocked over and loses the puck. This game was more of a return to form for him.

      But again almost half his goals are short-handed. He could be on the fourth line and basically have the same production.

      I think it’s fine to keep them going with this. Right now he’s got the energy back to play that role and is doing good work. But I do think that it can be a problem. Especially if going forward you move Nylander to the middle and have less pure talent on the other wing to compensate for Hyman not being very skilled.

      We’ll see how things go in the future. I think the line can work and has worked really well at times. But so long as he’s on that line, the criticism will never fade. Because he is an offensive black hole and for all the pucks he digs out, he doesn’t get many assists.

      So long as they win though, I don’t really care.

      • Harte of a Lion

        I think Kapanen can slide onto Matthews right wing when Nylander moves to centre. Nylander is learning to be more physical and developing a mean streak while taking far less crap on the ice. Babcock will need to work on the same things with Kapanen and once he becomes more physical on both sides of the puck, his speed will open up the ice for Matthews while he has the ability to pass and score. Let’s call him a “Nylander light” for the time being.

        • Gary Empey

          It is going to be tricky to find the perfect spot for Kapanen. With his speed, shot, play-making skills and his ability to defend he could probably play on any of the four lines. Kapanen all around game gives Babcock a lot more options to ice the best team possible. When Sosh and Leivo recover from their injuries, do you think it is likely Kapanen returns to the Marlies?

          • Bill-Burford

            I don’t honestly know but it would surprise me if they sent him back down.Let him stay up with the big club so he knows what he has to work on to be a regular on the club next year.He did not look out of place last night and he had to be as nervous as hell.The kid is going to be good.

  • Gary Empey

    Florida last year won the Atlantic Division with 103 points. This year to get even better they decided to go full-blown (it looks good on graph paper) Analytics hockey.

    • Bill-Burford

      I have never been much for graph paper hockey.Remember Howie M with his boards and comments from Vancouver when he was asked what was wrong with the Leafs years ago.He said outright that to be a winner in this league that you had to play with heart.Wendal Clark when he played in Toronto was said to play above his capabilities for years.Stevie Y in Detroit in the playoffs needing help to get back to his feet when checked and knocked off them.Doug Gilmour etc.These players and many others knew what it took and the teams rallied around them.Graphs do not show any of this.Vancouver years ago iced a team when Messier was there that on paper should have won the cup easily but the chemistry just was not there.It takes much more than graphs to make a team a winner.

  • Gary Empey

    Babcock and his -no expense spared coaching staff, have done an incredible job teaching everyone of the Leafs to become better all-around hockey players. No aspect of the game has been ignored. From the opening game in October everyone on this Leaf team has gotten better. From the goalies right through the whole line up. Sheldon Keefe should also be given some credit for the rookies he has trained to become solid NHL players.

  • lukewarmwater

    Gary as usual you summed up the outstanding job that management has done in building this young, entertaining and exciting team that with all these kids is only going to get better.
    What can you say about Awesome Auston. Marc Crawford raved about the kid when he had him last year over in Switzerland. I never thought that graduating in 1967 and having seen the leafs just get their fourth Stanley cup in the 1960’s decade that I would have to wait 50 years for a Moses to arise from the desert, in this case Arizona desert to begin the glorious journey across the river back to the promised land.
    Huge win for the lads tonight and Curtis was solid in the nets. Congratulations to Nylander for winning the rookie of the month award, I mean 12 straight games in which he has gotten a point, who else could it go to. As you astutely pointed out Gary, Nylander was rookie of the month in October but soon found himself on the fourth line as Babs wanted to get him to play more aggressively and a 200 foot game. Thanks to Babs and his assistants the splendid play in March is the result.
    As far as Hayman goes, I agree that he gives a spark to the line as he is perpetual motion. He reminds me of Brian Spinner Spencer and has been a big addition to the club. Just another of the exciting kids we leaf fans are so fortunate to have to cheer on. Keep it going leafs, Go leafs Go.

    • Gary Empey

      Weird indeed. One of the problems tying to pick three stars is the Babcock has all the Leafs playing a real team game. There was no dead weight. Everybody was going full steam ahead on every shift. The importance of this game can not be overstated. A loss here would of put us in the last wildcard spot, with the Islanders, Canes, and Tampa Bay hot on our heels. The last week of the schedule is a killer. Five games in 7 days. Two of them back to backs. (Buffalo, Washington), Tampa, (Pittsburgh, and Columbus). I hope LukeWarmwater is correct and some of the top teams will be resting their stars for the playoffs.

  • MartinPolak

    You can see how much more confident that blue line is with Polak playing.
    And what was up with jeffler on twitter who went cup half empty by pointing out McE has had half of his SV% outing below 900. It was good to see McE show up jeffler with a sparkling .923. #shutupjeffler #McEwasactuallygood

  • I didn’t think Martin fighting that guy was too bad, he was clearly going for the hit and not the puck, and Marner almost ducked out of the way so the guy got him a bit high. Looked to be hunting on that one so Martin did his job. The worse penalty was Nylander retaliating (hard to blame him but dumb penalty) after Demers swung him into the boards roughly and gave him a shot to the back of the head.

    • Gary Empey

      On the Marner hit Jeff mentioned on twitter that is was a good clean hit and that the hit wasn’t even close to the numbers. On the replay the main point of contact was the back of the head. I would say that is close to the numbers. If Marner doesn’t stop and duck at the last second it would have been on the numbers then right into the boards with force. Petrovic’s intent was to take Marner out of the game, maybe out for the season.

  • jimithy

    This is a desperate team. Constantly freaking out when hemmed in doesn’t jive with being professional. At least practice lobbing the puck higher than six feet. Better yet try to skate with the puck, yes with the puck, out of your zone instead of freaking out. Gardiner might be +20 but he puts the team in jeopardy whenever he’s on the ice with his silly stop and start and then backup and then stop and then pass the puck to the other team way of playing. Opponents see this and realize hey they’re a man short when he’s on the ice. I bet he has all of his teeth ’cause he doesn’t check he doesn’t fight and he doesn’t seem to care. Just like Bozak, JVR and Kadri.
    The Leafs secret play of icing the puck when under duress has never been duplicated with the same finesse by other teams possibly because this high level skill takes endless hours of real time practice something other teams have managed to work around. For the good of the game.