Fri. Nov 18th, 2022

TORONTO Perhaps even more than boosting their own stock during back-to-back routs, the Toronto Maple Leafs are crashing the Vancouver Canucks.
Prior to arriving in the East this week, land of the 4 p.m. PT start, the Canucks were riding a four-game win streak. That spike of good fortune now feels like GameStop mirage, abruptly pounded down to earth, first by Tyler Toffolis Canadiens and now even more fiercely by a rested Maple Leafs squad that has learned to hammer the gas.
In thumping Vancouver 5-1 Saturday night and jacking the two-game aggregate score to 12-4, the Leafs (9-2-1) reclaimed top spot in the NHL, padded up a bevy of individual stat lines, and rebooted the #FireBenning hashtag into trending status.
We havent probably played a team thats as fast and skilled as Toronto, said Vancouver coach Travis Green, now tasked with injecting life into a leaky group that has showed no push-back in this city. They are a fast, very skilled team, and youve got to have your skating legs to play against that team.
Saturday, Green tried reuniting the Lotto Line. He switched goalies. He even gave Loui Eriksson his first taste of action since August, back when the Canucks looked like the best squad our country had to offer.
Nothing sparked.
Blink and a four-game win streak gave way to a four-game losing skid.
The Canucks waited nine minutes to even register a shot on net, and the Leafs dominated from puck drop to buzzer, generating 15 high-danger scoring chances at even-strength to Vancouvers five.
Sheldon Keefe has challenged his players to widen the standings gap and pitted his two Manny Malhotraguided power-play units in a friendly internal contest to see who could light the lamp more often.
By the time Toronto had scored another power-play goal (its 15th in 12 games), and Mitch Marner had another three assists (already his seventh multi-point outing in 2021) and Auston Matthews had extended his goal streak to seven games and running, Chris Johnston was talking about the trade potential of healthy scratch Jake Virtanen during Hockey Night in Canadas intermission.
When the 2020 version of the Maple Leafs lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the post-season bubble, Matthews lamented the rosters lack of a killer instinct.
Somewhere between signing Wayne Simmonds and Keefe & Co. drilling home a fresh mandate for urgency, that instinct is being developed.
Toronto is now 5-0-0 when leading after one period. The Leafs have yet to lose a one-goal game in regulation. Theyre breaking out of their own zone with purpose and attacking the net-front with confidence.
Over the past 72 hours, Canucks defenders have been getting walked more often than the pet dog in a pandemic.
Killer instinct? Toronto is sucking the soul out of Vancouver, to the point where were not sure how much credit the Leafs really deserve here because, right now, the Canucks seem incapable of summoning a measuring-stick effort.
We’re a disconnected group right now, and it’s showing, admitted Holtby, post-loss.
Conceded Green: I dont think were a team thats built to chase teams from behind.
Added Brock Boeser: “We know the way we have been playing is unacceptable. We all need to work together and communicate.
Unlike Vancouver, Toronto is being led by its best (and, yes, highest-paid) players.
Each member of the Core Four Matthews, Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares is humming along at a point-per-game pace or better in the goal-happy North.
Matthews, in particular, has juiced up his wow factor, with consecutive two-goal efforts during which his coach believes he couldve scored four or five.
“He’s really hungry,” says Frederik Andersen. “He demands the puck, and he shoots with purpose every time. He has so many different kinds of shots that it’s really tough to prepare or scout him. He picks his spots and has really good vision.”
Keefe says his top centre still has the power to surprise the bench.
That just speaks to his ability and how special he is. That goal tonight, it happened so fast that I don’t think anybody on the ice was really ready for it. Just with how quickly he went around a defender [Jalen Chatfield] to put it in the net, it was impressive, Keefe said. All season I really think he’s been very good for us, but these last two games he’s really had jump.
If anything, Keefe wonders, he may have disrupted Matthews flow against Vancouver by rolling all four lines and keeping his 10-goal man on the bench for some O-zone starts. A luxury only long leads can provide.
He was really feeling it. That’s really good for us, Keefe said, and good for him that he’s having that confidence. He was doing it in all zones for us to start the season, and now he’s starting to get the consistent rewards around the net.
Great for the stat line. And horrible for the Canucks, who still have 60 more minutes of this to endure before they can fly out of town.
Puck drop on Black Monday is scheduled for 4 p.m. PT.
NOTE: Simmonds, who scored twice in Saturdays victory, was struck by a puck in the third period. The winger left the game after getting attention on his hand by a trainer and needed further evaluation. An update on Simmonds condition is expected Monday, when the Leafs return to practice.