Tonight, the Leafs were in sunny Florida to take on the team on their heels, the Florida Panthers. This game was a huge test for Toronto against an opponent just 2 points back with a game in hand in the battle for third spot in the Atlantic Divison heading into tonight.
The Leafs held on to win a close game 5-3, and below are some thoughts on just how this important contest went tonight for the Maple Leafs.
Bad, Bad Goaltending
It seems like this goes into every postgame lately, but Frederik Andersen has just not been himself this season. This really soft goal from a bad angle highlighted a terrible performance tonight in a huge game from the netminder.
Thankfully, Toronto wasn’t the only team in this game that suffered from a poor showing in net. This powerplay goal for the Leafs simply shouldn’t be able to get through a goalie getting paid as much as Sergei Bobrovksy is.
Both teams allowed 3 goals on 9 shots in the first period and the game is even, so neither goalie had cost their team the game at that point.
The best player of the game, without a doubt. He was everywhere tonight. This was his 1st period goal to make the game 1-1, ensuring Florida doesn’t run away with it:
He also had this great pass to Matthews to make it 3-3 before the end of the 1st period, ensuring that the Panthers don’t get to keep the lead into the 2nd period (we’ll show that later).
Lastly, in the 2nd period, he participated in a suffocating penalty kill against Florida where Toronto didn’t allow a single shot on goal, the highlight moment being this shorthanded break with Marner that they couldn’t finish:
2nd Period Turnaround
While the Leafs didn’t change the score over the course of the second period, they certainly changed the narrative. Their speed was a complete mismatch for Florida. Their passing from D to F to get easy breakouts were clicking like I haven’t seen from Toronto in a while.
They turned the shot count around like a cliff, as shown in this graphic below:
This was easily one of the most exciting periods I’ve seen Toronto play. They absolutely dominated Florida. It’s unfortunate that no goals came of their incredible performance, but obviously this period was a turnaround point for Toronto.
Auston “Anze Kopitar” Matthews
This game was easily one of the most two-dimensional games Auston Matthews has ever played. His ability to close down on the top Panthers forwards in the defensive zone was a key contributing factor to the fact that those players were completely ineffective. He used his size and puck skill to maintain pressure in the offensive zone as well, ensuring that the Barkov line was going to defend him until they couldn’t do so any more.
He also added the 3-3 tying goal assisted by Zach Hyman, who was also having a great game.
The physicality he showed tonight seemed to be a new element to his game, which may have caught the Panthers by surprise.
Regardless, his line with Hyman and Marner absolutely owned the ice when they were out there, and helped significantly in this contest.
With this win, the Leafs opened up a 4 point gap on Florida, still with one extra game played, but heavily increasing their chances of holding onto that playoff spot when the season finishes. According to MoneyPuck.com, the Leafs now have a 78% chance of making the playoffs.
The Leafs did what they needed to do tonight to knock the Florida Panthers off their tail for a chance to make the playoffs. Other than some early goaltending woes, this was an all out solid performance from Toronto.
The next game they play is on Saturday when they host the Vancouver Canucks in Toronto, 7 pm Eastern time. Go Leafs GO!