Leafs good, but not as good as Bruins in 5-1 loss
Boston’s top line too much for much improved Toronto
TORONTO — John Tavares has as definitive a view on leadership as there is in the NHL, and it’s part of the reason the Maple Leafs have done reasonably well weathering the loss of fellow centre Auston Matthews to injury.
But even with Tavares in the fold, there’s a nagging question remaining with the Leafs at this early juncture of the season and it is this: Is their current blend of talent, speed and playing structure good enough to match up against a team like the Boston Bruins, who are the Leafs’ ultimate measuring stick team at the moment?
After the Leafs started the game well they were ultimately dismantled Saturday night by the Bruins and their sparkling top line.
So the answer to that question, at least right now, is no.
Even with Matthews in the lineup, and the fact the Leafs own as good a centre corps as there is with Tavares, Matthews and Nazem Kadri, the prospect of the
Leafs handling the Bruins now, or in a playoff series, just doesn’t feel strong.
That’s where the true value of what Tavares brings — in terms of his leadership, experience, and talents — is expected to make a difference.
But Tavares himself knows the battle for the Leafs to remain consistent, and for himself to set the example he wants to, will be a daily challenge.
So far, Tavares has lived up to the challenge. The Leafs, minus William Nylander (contract impasse), and missing Matthews for six of their 17 games so far, rank third overall in the NHL.
They have compiled a 4-2-0 record with Matthews sidelined (shoulder injury) — with Tavares scoring his team leading 10th goal Saturday, and 19th point (third on the team).
The Leafs, though, in what was a measuring stick game against Boston Saturday, didn’t measure up. In their first visit to Boston since their Game 7 defeat in the first round of the playoffs last spring, Toronto contained the big line of Patrice Bergeron, between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak — for one period.
That line blew them away after that, racking up nine points, including a Pastrnak hat trick for a 5-1 pasting.
The Leafs, in their post game dressing room, spoke about the Bruins’ big line, and sounded part envious, and partly like they were citing details they can’t let happen again.
“They do so many things right,” Tavares’ linemate Mitch Marner said.
“They work hard every single night. They know where each other is every single night. They’ve been together for four or five years now, so their chemistry is very high. The speed they have on that line is very good, also. Bergeron is a guy that can win draws anywhere. He’s very underrated, I think. People don’t give him enough credit for how good he is.
“The other two really help him out as well as a unit. I think all three of them have a lot of abilities that make each other work really good together; and when you come to play against them, it’s never an easy game. You’ve got to make sure you’re ready.”
Marner’s mention of how underrated Bergeron is, and the fact he doesn’t get enough credit, contrasts the Leafs, who play in hockey’s biggest and most hyped market. The Leafs receive more attention — and more praise — than most world leaders, on a daily average of headlines and stories in the media.
The players, as part of their pre-season meetings, addressed that fact, and placed a level-headed perspective on it (live with it, embrace it even, but don’t let it take the team off its determination to work hard and play proper structure).
Tavares’ value will likely start expanding, now that the Leafs have played 17 games, and have absorbed a lesson in compete level from the Bruins.
For Tavares, there’s no question the team must work harder — more consistently — if it is to handle teams like Boston, and cement itself as a true, elite team in the NHL.
“They’re obviously very creative, very smart hockey players,” Tavares said.
“Opportunistic. Patrice Bergeron is one of the most complete players in the game and doesn’t give you much room the other way. They don’t give you a whole lot offensively as well.”
NOTES: The Leafs will call up a forward from the Marlies on Monday, prior to their Tuesday night game in Los Angeles, and expectations are that it will be Trevor Moore. Moore’s hometown is Thousand Oaks, Ca. just outside of Los Angeles, and the site of where a gunman opened fire in a bar last week, killing 12 people.
Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen, left, checks Boston’s John Moore into the boards in the Bruins’ 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.