Photo credit:© Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Knee Jerk Reaction: Lockdown Leafs dominate Sharks to complete California sweep
By Nick Richard1 month ago
The Leafs took care of business against the lowly San Jose Sharks on Saturday night, putting together another complete effort to come away with a 4-1 win and complete the sweep on their three-game California road trip.
The California road trip can be a difficult one, and the Leafs have had their ups and downs out west over the years, but Saturday’s dominant effort was a microcosm of the entire trip. They controlled the pace of play from the outset, peppering Sharks netminder Mackenzie Blackwood with quality scoring chances while holding his teammates to just five shots on goal deep into the second period. The Sharks made it look a little closer on the shot clock with a push in the final frame, but the game was never in reach and could have had a more lopsided final score had the Leafs not rung four or five more shots off iron throughout the contest.
The Sharks did manage to put one past Martin Jones in the third, but it was just the second goal the Leafs had allowed on their three-game swing, and it is the only even strength goal they’ve surrendered in their last four games. The Leafs’ offence has powered them to points they may not have deserved on more than one occasion, and now it appears that their defensive game – and goaltending – is rounding into form.
No one is going to bestow too much praise on the Leafs for dominating against teams like Anaheim or San Jose, but we’ve seen the Leafs play down to their opponents far too often, and that wasn’t the case against the Ducks or Sharks. The Leafs completely outclassed two teams that they needed to beat, but what’s more impressive is the way they followed up an impressive effort against a strong Los Angeles Kings team on Tuesday and carried that momentum into Anaheim and San Jose.
Martin Jones wasn’t overly busy for much of this game, but he was solid when called upon and made a couple of big saves on the rare occasions that the Sharks were able to penetrate the Leafs’ defence. That has become a trend for the veteran netminder who has stabilized Toronto’s crease amid Ilya Samsonov’s implosion and an injury to Joseph Woll, and the road trip has produced a blueprint for continued success: take care of the defensive zone, limit high-quality looks for your opponent, and take what is given to you off the rush and in the offensive zone. It sounds simple enough, but it only works when the goaltender is holding up his end of the bargain, and Jones has done that and more since being thrust into the number one job.
It takes contributions from everyone for a team to win in such dominant fashion, but it was once again William Nylander who led the offensive charge in this one. He helped set up Mitch Marner’s opening tally on the power play, put the Leafs up by three midway through the third period, and regained the three-goal lead after Mikael Granlund scored the Sharks’ lone goal late in the final frame. Nylander’s three-point outing brought him to 54 points in just 37 games so far this season – one ahead of Connor McDavid for fifth in league scoring.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe noted the team’s desire to generate momentum and string some wins together when asked about the decision to start Jones in the second half of a back-to-back against Anaheim on Wednesday. Jones and his teammates responded with three straight impressive road wins, and they’ll look to keep it going in the rematch against the Sharks on Tuesday.
Statistics from NHL.com
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