Facing the dangerous Bruins, Leafs know they must 'start on time'
TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs. The Boston Bruins skated at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday morning. The Leafs held a media availability at TD Garden in the afternoon.
After beating the Bruins in overtime on Saturday night, Leafs centre Auston Matthews raised some eyebrows by calling it a "statement game." But the bigger statement game may be tonight as Toronto visits TD Garden for the first time since their Game 7 playoff loss in April. The Leafs are playing the second game of a back-to-back set against a rested Bruins team that hasn't played since the loss in Toronto.
The Leafs allowed 46 shots Saturday while squandering leads of 2-0 and 3-2. The Bruins actually felt pretty good about their effort.
"The second period on we were better with puck possession, on pucks, winning pucks, competing harder," said coach Bruce Cassidy. "I thought in the first we were loose. We had some looks, don't get me wrong, but it was more their style of game than ours."
"I liked our start," recalled Leafs coach Mike Babcock. "I liked how we were able to get on their D. We took too many penalties, got in trouble in the second period, in the end found a way to win the game. We're going to have to be more consistent tonight. We're a better team than we've shown, I believe. We can play harder and longer and we have to do that tonight."
Boston had three power plays on Saturday converting once while the Leafs didn’t get even one man-advantage opportunity. There was some angst in the Toronto dressing room about the calls, but the Bruins believe they earned their chances.
"We got to our game better in the second and third period, that’s preferably how we’d like to play, where we're working inside, getting some second chances in close, drawing penalties by puck possession," Cassidy said. "I think, we tired them out a couple times. I don't know if 'tired them out' is the right word, but wore them down low and were able to get on the power play because of that."
The Leafs were the least penalized team last season, but have been getting whistled at an alarming rate recently while also failing to draw power plays. Babcock offered a stern rebuke to his players on Tuesday night.
Toronto generated only three power plays in their last three games while their opponents had 13 chances. It’s the first time since March 2008 that Toronto had at least 10 fewer power play opportunities than its opponents over a three-game span.
At the start of the season, Cassidy sits down with goalie coach Bob Essensa to determine how to divvy up the schedule between Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. They also get some input from the analytics team.
"We determine how to get Tuukka to about 45 to 52 starts," Cassidy explained, "somewhere in there, probably more than 45 ... let's say 50 just for simplicity's sake."
Ensuring that Halak, who suited up on Saturday in Toronto, stays in a rhythm is a factor.
"We don't want him waiting too long between games, as well, so not only is it about Tuukka, it’s about Jaro," noted Cassidy, "if he’s in double digits between games how well is he playing?"
As for the back-to-back sets, unlike the Leafs who always start Frederik Andersen in the first game, the Bruins are flexible.
"He'll start the front end of some," Cassidy said of Rask, "the back end of others, depending on how the workload's been before that. We're not married to a certain system there. Our team has played pretty well over the years on back-to-backs and we feel we’re going to get a good effort in front of the goalie no matter which one we play.”
The Bruins were 8-3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back set last season.
Halak started on Saturday in Toronto while Rask plays tonight at home. It will be Rask’s 500th game. He's the 28th goaltender to reach that milestone with one team and the first in Bruins history to do it. The former Leafs draft pick also played his first NHL game against Toronto.
During the summer, David Pastrnak raised eyebrows by picking Matthews to win the Hart Trophy.
“Unbelievable shot and skill-set and he can find the soft spot," the Bruins winger explained after Tuesday's morning skate, "and every time he's 100 per cent healthy he's showing that. He's a hell of a player."
Matthews has used his lethal shot to pot eight goals this season, which is one behind Pastrnak and James Neal in the early Rocket Richard race.
Pastrnak insists he didn't get any grief from teammates for pumping the tires of a divisional opponent.
"We can all agree they have some great players and there’s nothing wrong giving him credit when he deserves it," the Czech native said. "It's early in the season, but he's been showing he can score goals and he's been showing that since he got here."
Pastrnak benefits from playing on the wing with perennial Selke Trophy contender (and four-time winner) Patrice Bergeron. Matthews, meanwhile, is still honing his defensive game. He was beaten by Pierre-Luc Dubois on a goal Monday night.
"That’s my fault there on that second one," Matthews said after the game. "I should have had my guy, can't let him get to the net like that."
Pastrnak was asked how he balances offence and defence. How does he keep producing while not sacrificing on the defensive end?
"Spend the whole game in the O-zone, right? That’s the focus," Pastrnak said. "Sometimes when things don’t go well we try to score right away instead of trying to hang onto the puck in the O-zone and that's usually when the opportunities (against) come."
Both Pastrnak and Matthews will be looking to set up shop in the offensive zone tonight. Since 2016, they lead the way in goals scored in the first month of the season. Matthews has 33 while Pastrnak is at 31.
Pastrnak's latest goal came in the third period when he unleashed a wicked one-timer to tie things up. Does he aim for a specific spot on those blasts?
"It depends," he said. "You know, on power play I am, usually you have a little more time. On five-on-five I just try and get it off my stick quick and hit the net."
Pastrnak says Saturday's goal is an example of him emphasizing speed and power over accuracy. He's shown an uncanny ability to beat goalies clean thanks to the chemistry with Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
"As a line, we've been together for so long, that sometimes we don't even have a net front and we want to have a little more of that, but we've been together so long we just know where the other guy is and that's the main thing."
Pastrnak has 40 points in 30 career games against the Leafs (including playoffs).
Projected Leafs lines for tonight's game:
Johnsson - Matthews - Nylander
Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Marner
Moore - Spezza - Kapanen
Timashov - Shore - Gauthier
Muzzin - Barrie
Rielly - Ceci
Marincin - Holl
Lines at Bruins morning skate:
Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak
DeBrusk - Coyle - Ritchie
Bjork - Kuraly - Wagner
Heinen - Lindholm - Backes
Chara - McAvoy
Krug - Carlo
Grzelcyk - Clifton