We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.
It was mostly bad against a mostly bad Minnesota Wild team there for a period, but the Toronto Maple Leafs soon distinguished themselves as the superior of the two sides at Scotiabank Arena Tuesday. Inspired by a tweak to the lineup from Mike Babcock, they scored four times across an 11-minute stretch in the second period, and would cruise to a 4-2 victory over the 1-5 Wild.
They will be back on the ice tomorrow night in Washington.
Until then, two points.
First Point: A tweak at last
Uncompromising with his top three lines and two defensive pairings through training camp and into the first two weeks of the season, Babcock finally acted on the stagnancy seeping into areas of the lineup after a lacklustre first few shifts versus the Wild — and in turn sparked the team’s turnaround.
After about a month of trying and failing to build meaningful chemistry, Babcock did acknowledge that Kasperi Kapanen was far from facilitating the $20 million-plus combination of Mitch Marner and John Tavares by bumping the speedy winger down to the third line in favour of Trevor Moore.
The lift was near-immediate.
With Tavares hammering home his second even-strength goal of the season into the top corner behind Devan Dubnyk to tie the game, it only took a handful of shifts for Moore to have a measurable impact in the new second-line partnership. And while he wasn’t credited with an assist for it, Moore deserved one, as his instincts prompted him to leave the rimmed puck behind for Tavares.
“He just made a great play,” Tavares said.
Toronto ran downhill on the Wild from Tavares’ blast until about there were about five minutes remaining in the period, with the becoming-maligned Marner leading the way offensively. As the Wild drifted into penalty trouble that was in part forced but also self-inflicted, Marner registered three assists in a less-than-six-minute stretch. For all the negative attention he’s been receiving, Marner is now up to nine points in seven games, and scoring at the sort of per-game rate that would align with his near $11-million valuation.
We could quibble with only three of those points coming at even strength, or just appreciate what he can do on the power play.
Moore is the closest thing the Maple Leafs have to a second Zach Hyman, and there won’t be too many Leafs fans rushing to lavish praise on Babcock for making a move that didn’t seem all that complex — even if it was made at the perfect time.
Though it’s not like Babcock was too eager to pat himself on the back, either.
“We just tried it and it seemed to be okay, so we just stayed with it.”
Second Point: Tavares cleans it up
Babcock was less concerned Tuesday morning about the performance from his power-play sets, and instead far more irritated by its inability to arrive there.
With just one goal in the last three games and two over the last 12 power-play tries all together, Babcock pointed to the struggles to achieve possession in the offensive zone as the main reason for the recent special teams mediocrity, suggesting they need to clean up their entries and performance in the face-off dot in order to make best use of all that skill they have in the lineup.
While the zone entries remained a bit of a mess as the first power-play unit fumbled away the first Wild minor of the game, Tavares would essentially remove that element from the equation entirely.
Tavares won three of the four offensive-zone faceoffs taken on the Leafs’ power plays, twice securing the possession that would lead directly to goals.
Undone in similar fashion to the Wild last week versus a Tampa Bay Lightning power play in large part due to a miserable showing in the circle, you wonder if we might soon see Tavares step in for key moments on the opposite side of the special teams equation as well.
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