MONTREAL — If the pre-season is any indication, the Toronto Maple Leafs power play could wreak havoc this season.
Toronto’s star-studded first power-play unit scored two goals as the Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-3 Wednesday to improve to 5-1-0 in pre-season play. John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri and Mitchell Marner all played on the first wave of Toronto’s man advantage.
“It obviously got us back in the game, a couple of big goals,” said Tavares. “We had some good movement, some good opportunities. Obviously we have a lot of skill out there, it’s just making sure everyone is doing their job and we’re executing at a high level.
“I don’t think we go in trying to put fear, we got out to focus on what we have to do and get the results we need. If that puts pressure on other teams, puts them on their heels, well that works better for us.”
Down 1-0 in the first period, Toronto’s dangerous power play went to work with Paul Byron in the box for tripping. After good puck circulation, Matthews found an open Kadri, who kicked the puck from his skate to his stick before beating a screened Carey Price for the top-shelf equalizer at 18:11.
The Leafs scored again with the man advantage to start the second period. This time with Tomas Tatar serving a two-minute high-sticking penalty, Matthews was left alone to the right of Price and beat the Canadiens goaltender with a quick release at 1:14.
Marner got an assist on both power-play goals. He ended the night with a goal and three helpers.
The Leafs finished 2 for 6 with the man advantage.
“I think they’re going to burn a lot of teams,” said Claude Julien of Toronto’s first unit. “But at the same time that doesn’t excuse our showing tonight on their power play. There are certain things we saw tonight that we definitely have to correct.”
Toronto’s penalty kill was also firing on all cylinders against the Canadiens.
With the game tied 2-2, the Leafs scored short-handed goals 20 seconds apart to start the third period.
Marner got the first 16 seconds into the period after bad communication between Price and Jeff Petry led to a loose puck in front of the net — an easy tap-in for Marner.
Kasperi Kapanen added another for the visitors 20 seconds later on a 2-on-1 break with Par Lindholm.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock liked what he saw from his special teams.
“Mitch on the penalty kill was dynamic,” said Babcock. “I liked a lot of the things I saw from the new players, which is positive. Power play, obviously especially when we’re doing it right, is really good. We got skill, now we have to learn how to play right.”
After David Schlemko got one back for Montreal — a shot from distance on the power play at 1:16 of the third — Patrick Marleau sealed the encounter for the visitors with a marker at 14:08 on a beautiful pass from Marner.
The game was a rematch of Monday, when Montreal beat Toronto 5-1 in a contest that featured very few NHL regulars. Forward Artturi Lehkonen and defenceman Xavier Ouellet each scored twice for the Canadiens in that victory.
Tatar opened the scoring four minutes into Wednesday’s game, on the power play, with a wrist shot that beat a screened Frederik Andersen, who made 33 saves on the night.
After Toronto’s two power-play tallies, Gallagher tied things up for the Canadiens at 6:59 of the second period on a clever give-and-go play with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Victor Mete.
Price stopped 20-of-25 shots as Montreal fell to 4-2-0 this pre-season.