It was the John Tavares show with a 4-goal outburst leading the Maple Leafs to a 7-5 victory over the Florida Panthers at the Scotiabank Arena Monday.
The star center that signed as a free agent for $77 million over 7-years, July 1, continues to be full value for every dime. Never one to take a shift off, never mind a game, it’s his impressive play away from the puck that pure scorers rarely possess.
The career high 45-goals and counting are the most since Dave Andreychuk had 50 in 1993-94 and highest ever potted by a first year Leaf. If that isn’t enough, it’s the first 4-goal game since Auston Matthews and first to record two tricks in the same season since Phil Kessel.
The Panthers playing like a team whose season is finished are still a threat to score at any given chance but woeful play on the defensive side is the reason they’ll be sitting out the second season in a few weeks. Coach Bob Boughner saw enough after rookie net-minder Sam Montenbeault looked a little over whelmed after falling behind 2-0 early in the first and looking for a calming influence turned the cage over too Roberto Luongo.
It didn’t help.
Toronto, with not a lot of puck-luck the previous month, were due for a breakout game and last night was a welcome relief.
Zach Hyman, the tireless pursuer of loose pucks, who has taken full advantage of playing with two dynamic offensive stars like Tavares and Mitch Marner had a goal his 20th, a career high, along with two helpers. Marner chipped in with a pair of assists to increase his team leading points total to 89.
Frederik Andersen still looks a little off and will need to sharpen up if Toronto has any chance of moving past the opening round of the playoffs.
Help is on the way for the D that is prone to slip into panic mode when the puck ends up on one of their sticks (particularly Nikita Zaitsev) with Travis Dermott set to return from a shoulder injury and Calle Rosen (who should have been on team all year) expected to get a promotion early next week.
Kasperi Kapanen, somewhat tentative last few outings after returning from a concussion, had the jump expected and needed from him which is another good sign.
The magic number is five to secure a spot in the extended season; if they can cut down on the miscues in their own end (a monumental task at this point) they should be able to lock that down in the next few games with couple non-playoff clubs.
A decent effort by the home side with obviously some scoring that has gone missing from the potent offense but it remains to be seen whether they can do it consistently from here on in.