Home sport Losing low stakes gives the Maple Leafs a chance to rediscover the power play rhythm Sportsnet.ca

Losing low stakes gives the Maple Leafs a chance to rediscover the power play rhythm Sportsnet.ca

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Apr 9, 2023, 12:35 a.m

TORONTO – Go back in time 11 months. May 14, 2022 was the night the Toronto Maple Leafs saw their final showdown come to an end in a very tight Game 7. There was a sentence Auston Matthews fell back on more than once that night, standing in the guts of Scotiabank Arena trying to get close to the end of the road. :

“It’s a game of thumb.”

Looking at this match, in this seven-game encounter with the cup finalists as a whole, it was clear where the club had failed to win on this crucial ground.

It was a power play, in three different opportunities for man advantage in three crucial moments in an all-or-nothing Game 7, which all ended in goose eggs before Toronto eventually lost by a goal. It was a power play, which continued throughout the series, and the Maple Leafs only scored four goals out of 28 times in that first round series – a series in which all talks continued. I focused on team management and chess. It was by inches, and the chess game ended with a narrow lead that put Toronto back.

Now, a year later, the Maple Leafs find themselves counting down the days and games, before another first-round meeting with the same Tampa Bay Lightning team. However, questions persisted about its effectiveness for humans.

Coming into his final home game of the regular season – primetime against the rival Montreal Canadiens – Sheldon Keefe has scored just two power play goals in his last five games. And just the last game, against the Boston Bruins—who made as legitimate a championship playoff setup as possible this time of year—was a familiar story for Toronto: 0-for-3 on a solid play, short goal late at night.

But on Saturday night, under the lights at Scotiabank Arena, with the first unit given a different look, the Maple Leafs showed they have some strength in the moment. There may still be time to modify this script.

“We put the puck in the net – you can’t beat that,” said Ryan O’Reilly of his team’s domination of power play after the game, after a 7-1 loss to Montreal that saw Toronto hit the man four times. feature.

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O’Reilly’s presence at the club’s top spot was one of two big changes of the night, with the veteran replacing William Nylander at PP1, while defender Erik Gustafsson scored a place for Morgan Reilly, who was rested on Saturday with partner TJ Brodie. .

results? More goals in one night than Toronto have collected in their last five games.

It was good. When it works out and you find ways to bring it in, it feels good. Something, especially in the future, get help any way you can,” O’Reilly said of the band’s new dominance.

Opportunities started early for Toronto in this area.

A minute and a half later, Jake Evans’ call gave the first unit the first turn, and O’Reilly and Gustafsson joined the usual trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares, while Nylander joined Michael Ponting, Alex Kerfoot and Sam Lafferty. and Mark Giordano in the second unit. They came up empty-handed, and it seemed like they’ve been in similar situations lately.

In the club’s last five matches, Toronto’s solid play has lasted four, finishing in the basement of the league for man advantage in that short period. Extending that to 10 matches, six goals from 29 chances still leaves them in the middle of the group, league-wide.

It’s a great streak that feels like a fall from grace to play the Leafs’ strength that looked dangerous for a while this year. Divide the season into 10 parts of the game and it will become more clear. While Toronto Central has been 15th in the league in its last 10 games, it has ranked eighth in the league in its last 10 games before (scoring six goals on 24 occasions) and third in 10 before (scoring eight times) out of 25 chances. . ). Looking further, for two parts of the 10 matches that preceded it, the club similarly finished in the top 10, returning roughly halfway through the season after a slow start. Tough drive.

However, if you’ve only watched Saturday Night, it’s hard to believe the rocky start and final slide of the Canadiens made it so easy for Toronto to get back in shape.

First up was Marner, who took advantage of Toronto’s second chance on a power play and played the catch with Matthews as they loaded the puck into the box, as the No. 16 finished the streak. Tavares then got the Toronto player’s third chance, slotting the Marner board into the net and burying the club’s second goal just before the end of the opening period. They added two more once the rout was already underway, with Tavares sending one in spades on his side’s fourth power play opportunity and Ponting crushing Matthews’ late power play goal for the final goal of the game.

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There is no doubt that tonight’s success has to be factored in given the competitors’ 28th-place finish, but for Cave and co, hopefully it remains something they can build on.

“We were really connected. I think we played a really smart game,” Keefe said of the win, which had absolutely no impact on the club’s next post-season test. “Apart from lifting morale, I think we played a really smart game.” on her. … Just the feel of our band, how they talked to each other, how focused they were on playing like they should, I really liked that today. »

As for how the senior unit’s new recruits contributed to the success of the team’s power play, especially accomplished skater Gustafsson, Keefe said he was impressed with what he saw.

“He’s a very confident guy,” the coach said of the defender. “He’s got a high level of skill, very smart, good feeling. He’s missed a lot so you don’t know how that will affect the guy, especially who’s new to our team. It certainly was important for us that he came here tonight – it turns out he’s got a lot of The strikes, and I think he did a good job, 5v5 and in power play.”

Her captain agreed.

“It’s his composure, his fluidity with the puck, his cunning—his ability to open up lanes and make players bite,” said Tavares, breaking down Gustafsson’s game. “Not only in the power play, but I think even 5 by 5, how we got in [the offensive zone] In the middle of the ice, control some of the entrances this way, saving time and creating space for the players up front.

“Obviously he had a good shot too, so that was a great addition. He wasn’t there at the last minute, but he looked good today.”

There’s no doubting who remains the most important cog in the Maple Leafs’ game-making machine: the man who racked up three points Saturday night, propelling them to a new career high and just two points shy of his first-ever 100-point haul.

“I felt like he could have made it to 105 [points] “The theater night he was doing and the things he was doing there,” Keefe said of Marner’s performance. “I think it was excellent. I thought we had a lot of good nights guys tonight. Obviously, that’s what we hoped for – we wanted to put in a really intense game, a really organized and intelligent game. But you want guys to feel really good about their aggressive production.

For Marner, his team’s vastly improved formula for Saturday’s success was simple.

“Quick puck,” he said, “just to find guys who are open minded.” And when we did, the guys didn’t miss a thing. »

That night, they didn’t. These newspapers provided a golden opportunity to find their own rhythm and did what was expected of them. The question now is whether they can build on the trust they have gained and carry it through the difficult nights ahead against a less generous opposition.

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