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Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs Top Six Minutes: Habs’ effort better than the result

Mar 9, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN: Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki (14) wins a faceoff against Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares (91) during the first period at the Bell Centre. | Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

First period

  • We’ve heard all about how good the Leafs are. Now let’s see if they can keep Tanner Pearson and Michael Pezzetta off the scoreboard.
  • It’s Mike Matheson who opens the scoring after a great passing play from Slafkovský at the blue line to to Cole Caufield at the opposite site of the rink, back to Matheson, who skates around Ilya Samsonov to put the puck in the net. Now that’s a start.
  • A rare top-line goal that doesn’t have a point from Suzuki, which is a good development.
  • The game is delayed because Alex Newhook got taken into the centre-ice boards and that broke a pane of glass.
  • Surprisingly slow speed on the replacement. NHL arenas usually get those taken care of quickly. It’s a 9:30 delay before the play continues.
  • Which is of these teams is playing for a Stanley Cup this season? Toronto is having a hard time getting out of its own end.
  • They mentioned Joshua Roy during the play and then zoomed in for a close-up so I assumed we were about to hear about his play. But nope, a quick switch to a Connor Dewar segment.
  • This looks like the Joel Edmundson who was playing in Montreal toward the end of his tenure. Having some issues with the Canadiens’ speed and puck movement.
  • Toronto is having some real issues when the defencemen join the rush. They seem to only know how to defend against three forwards.
  • Brad Trelviing, you could have had that sliding defence from David Savard to break up a two-on-one for just a first-round pick and a decent forward prospect.
  • So far Connor Dewar is Toronto’s best player, so that’s good work from the Leafs’ GM.
  • The top line is really showing off its skill tonight, given lots of room to make some slick passes.
  • Newhook gets run into the sideboards again. This time the glass stays intact.
  • A little bit of zone time for Toronto’s top trio, and their skill can erase all the bad work the team has had in the period. But they don’t this time, thanks to Samuel Montembeault’s quick feet.
  • We just saw a highlight pack of Nylander … changing on a penalty kill in a previous game.
  • Nathan says in our Slack channel that Nylander deserved some needless praise after the undue flak he’s taken in Toronto, and I can’t argue with that. He can skate off the ice while killing penalties all he wants.
  • Meanwhile the Leafs are beginning to find their footing as the period nears its end.
  • Now to avoid the bad start to the second period.

Second period

  • They didn’t avoid it. 1-1.
  • Arber Xhekaj has gotten beaten a couple of times by trying to hold puck in at the offensive blue line. Savard’s slide thwarted the first break, but it didn’t in this case.
  • Josh Anderson fires a shot off the goal post. He’s fast and physical in this one, and not just occasional moments.
  • Montreal isn’t getting much zone time, and that’s now a long pattern in the opening half of second periods.
  • The Habs finally get some zone time with the third line on the ice, but Jake Evans goes off for high-sticking as he tries to lift a stick.
  • Joel Armia steals the puck and gets a short-handed chance. With the puck in the corner Morgan Rielly hauls Armia down for some reason, and that’s the end of the power play.
  • It’s power against power at four-on-four. Auston Matthews and Caufield are both turned away.
  • Now that the first half of the period is done, Montreal can play again. They’re evening up the shots with dangerous chances.
  • Evans gets kneed. At least it wasn’t his face. Montreal power play.
  • Roy strips the puck off of Nylander. If the NHL kept takeaway stats properly, he’d be pretty high on the Habs’ list.
  • The checking in this game has become a lot tighter than I expected. I suppose Toronto deserves some credit for that.
  • Montreal was in full control of the play, but Max Domi blew past Jayden Struble and Jordan Harris after a blocked shot and gained enough separation to get a shot off, and into the net.
  • The Habs just go back to holding the possession in the offensive zone.
  • Sportsnet does have a Roy feature after all.
  • It’s the same story we saw on the road trip: an awful start to the second, a great finish. This time the opponent scored against the run of play to take a one-goal edge.

Third period

  • Both Xhekaj and Savard are in the box to start the period, joined by John Tavares in the next booth over.
  • Montreal kills off the penalty.
  • Another good shift in the offensive zone for Anderson and Gallagher.
  • Timothy Liljegren holds onto Newhook behind the net, and that’s a Montreal power play. The Habs continue to be the better team at five-on-five to start the third.
  • The Leafs try really hard to pressure Matheson at the point, and that leaves two players above Newhook when the puck comes to him from Slafkovský. He has lots of space to set for a shot off the post and in.
  • From absolutely nowhere, the Leafs get the lead. Jake McCabe floats a puck to the net, and it hits Montembeault and lands in the crease, where Tavares pounces on it.
  • Montreal hasn’t done much wrong wince the middle of the second period, but find themselves trailing 3-2 in the final minutes.
  • Now they get another power play as their persistent zone time results in a tripping call.
  • Slafkovský hits the post after the power play expires.
  • The Leafs steal another win versus a non-playoff club, getting the 3-2 victory. Montreal continues to play some good hockey however.

EOTP 3 Stars

3) Just needs a little marketing

2) Give me Montreal’s young defence corps any day

1) Habs Go Habs!

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