It’s amazing what can happen when you make the first save and score the first goal.
Perhaps it wasn’t that simple, but the tone for the 7-3 win in the Mellon Arena was set by the Leafs’ quick start out of the gate. Briefly interrupted by Evgeni Malkin’s lone good play of the night, the Leafs owned this game plain and simple, from start to finish. The Blue and White out-possessed, outworked and outsmarted a Pens team that seemed to underestimate a young group that was fresh off a 8-5 beating at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
The offensive upsurge was keyed by a clicking powerplay that cashed in three of six opportunities. The recipe for success was rather simple: put pucks to the net and crowd the blue-ice. Alexei Ponikarovsky in particular seems to have gotten the art of goalie-screening down to a tee. The re-united top line of Nik Antropov – Matt Stajan – Alexei Ponikarovsky proved dynamic, with Stajan effectively playing the role of the link-up man (3 assists) and Antropov and Ponikarovsky working off of one another around the net as per usual.
Tonight’s victory was sweet revenge in many respects. It was only the Leafs’ second win in six visits to the Mellon Arena. Evgeny Malkin, a habitual Leaf killer, did score a nice goal in the early stages but proceeded to blatantly cough the puck up for two of the Leafs’ goals. The Leafs did a fantastic job of frustrating the Malkin-Crosby duo. This was largely achieved through a by-committee effort, but I thought Ian White and Jonas Frogren in particular did bang-up jobs of getting under the skin of the pair. The Leafs also ran Marc Andre Fleury – who entered the game 5-1-1 against the Leafs – out of his net.
This was very much a exhibition of how an effective team game trumps the efforts of a few highly-skilled individuals.
My game notes:
*It’s certainly gone beyond beginner’s luck. Jeremy Williams has this Mike Bossy-like silent killer quality about him. He’s got a knack for slipping into open space and snapping shots home with his lethally quick release. In addition to the goal, Williams hit the post and forced a couple good saves out of the Pens’ netminders. One of Brian Burke’s first moves will surely be peddling a forward in order to accommodate Williams without having to push a player like Nik Kulemin to the fourth line.
*That being said, Kulemin revivified the fourth line, probably because John Mitchell finally had someone to play with. Neither Kulemin or Mitchell are about to drop the gloves but the line provided energy and offensive pressure. Ron Wilson was able to roll four effective lines without having to worry about committing suicide defensively. This newfound ability to roll four lines played a key role in tonight’s win.
*I didn’t have a problem with Andre Deveaux’s refusal to drop the gloves with Goddard. It was simply smart, not necessarily because he earned a power-play on which the Leafs scored but because he was unwilling to let Goddard try to shift the game’s momentum. At the juncture in the contest there’s no reason for Deveaux to drop the gloves. I’m not sure Brian Burke will see it the same way.
*Jonas Frogren was awesomely nasty tonight. This is the type of search and destroy defenseman I was expecting when the Leafs imported him from Sweden in the summer. When Mike Van Ryn returns from re-aggravated concussion, there is an interesting personnel decision to be made. I’d expect we’ll either see the end of Jaime Sifers’ run with the big club or Ian White’s return to forward.
*This was a good rebound game for Vesa Toskala. He faced a limited number of shots (20) but was there when needed. His up-and-down season continues unabated…
*Alexei Ponikarovsky – 10 goals, Nik Antropov – 13 goals. Enjoy Vancouver, Mats.