The Montreal Canadiens badly needed a win last night. The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t, but with their level of talent, they don’t require any sort of desperation to provide a formidable opponent. The Habs managed to overcome a particularly shaky second period and get a win where they frustrated the Leafs for the better part of the other 40 minutes.
What stood out as an important factor in this victory was the physicality brought by both Josh Anderson and Alexander Romanov.
Romanov brought a physical edge on the back end that made the Leafs think twice about everything they were doing when he was on the ice. His shot-attempt share wasn’t amazing on the night, but he was a physically imposing figure, giving very little space for the Leafs forwards to work with.
How about this sequence against one of the best players in the league?
Alexander Romanov absolutely works over Auston Matthews in a board battle pic.twitter.com/SQpUrAUm2Z— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 13, 2021
It’s a bit on the edge, and you could argue that he’s close to taking a cross-checking penalty at the end, but it’s essentially what you have to do against a player the caliber of Auston Matthews. Romanov doesn’t let him breathe — hardly takes a breath himself in pursuit — and keeps one of the best in the game from making a play.
Romanov’s signature play is meeting opposing players at the blue line as they try to gain the zone. He does this clean, without putting himself out of position, and hard. He stood up the much bigger Zach Bogosian at his blue line in the third period, and though the latter stayed on his feet, you could tell he didn’t enjoy the process. That was Romanov’s mark on the game; the Leafs did not enjoy themselves while he was on the ice.
He actually led both teams in terms of zone entry denials. This is perhaps Romanov’s biggest contribution, as he plays a big part in shutting down entries instead of simply reacting to them. And as you may also notice in the above graphic, a certain Josh Anderson had a pretty good night in retrieving pucks at the other end.
He was all over the Leafs whether it was on the forecheck or in back pressure. While he was on the ice, the Canadiens controlled 58.62% of the shot attempts, and a lot of that can be credited to how tenacious he was in pursuit of the puck.
The first thing most will notice about him is of course his speed, but the very next thing is his physical strength. He isn’t the biggest guy on the ice, but pound-for-pound, he might be the strongest in most games.
Josh Anderson grabs the puck and snipes his 15th goal of the year on Jack Campbell! pic.twitter.com/SDn8AHbynB— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 13, 2021
Often when he has this opportunity, he will drop his shoulder and go to the net, which is quite hard to stop. He intelligently chose the shot on this play, but there were other situations where he did the shoulder drop, or turned his back to the defender and managed to move them just by leaning on them.
These situations often led to some extended zone time as the Leafs scrambled to deal with Anderson’s forceful incursion on their net. Last night was him at his best; the human equivalent of a battering ram aimed squarely at the opposing net. A battering ram that just happens to move at speeds foreign to most of his opponents.
Romanov and Anderson are two key players for this team. If they can keep playing like they did last night, this team can properly distance themselves from their recent slump.