Leafs/Bruins: Post-Game

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    For the second time in a week, the Maple Leafs have felt the wrath of the Boston Bruins on home ice, only this time there were distinct differences from Saturday’s 7-2 beat down.

    The Leafs, after sleepwalking through two periods of the hockey game, decided to bring their game in the third and made things interesting with goals by Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to pull them within a goal of the Bruins.  A late, costly penalty by Leafs winger Jason Blake sealed their fate however, as the penalty kill sagged once again, and Mark Recchi scored with under three minutes left to ice the game for the Bruins.

    Recchi would also add an empty netter for the Bruins, who skated off with a 5-2 win.  Defenseman Mark Stuart and Derek Morris also scored for the Bruins, who improved to 10-5-3 on home ice.  The Leafs, meanwhile, fell to 6-7-4 on the road.  They will now play their next three games at home against Washington, Ottawa, and Phoenix.

    –The Leafs took an early penalty, a double minor for high sticking, just 16 seconds into the game (Blake would take another high sticking call late in the game, that one more costly).  And while it could have spelled disaster for the club, especially as the road team, they did a rather effective job of killing the double minor and limiting the Bruins chances.  Usually when a team can kill off a big penalty like that, they can build some momentum and it’s unfortunate that the Leafs tonight couldn’t do the same.  I thought Vesa Toskala got off to another good start tonight by helping the club as he made big saves during the lengthy penalty kill.  While his stats will be hurt by tonight’s game, it’s hard to argue that any of the goals were really Toskala’s fault, as the Leafs let the Bruins push them around for the better part of the opening 40 minutes of the game.

    –I know I risk sounding like a broken record here, but how about Nikolai Kulemin?  In his second season with the Leafs, Kulemin has carved himself a nice niche within Ron Wilson’s system, and tonight’s game was no exception.  Kulemin has been delivering consistent efforts for the Leafs which consist of hard skating, physical play in all zones on the ice, and using his speed to create turnovers on the back check, and subsequent chances in the other end of the rink.  His goal was a direct result of the style of play he has decided to embrace.  He was moving his feet, trying to get himself open, and was willing to go to dirty areas of the rink and the front of the net, paying the price to get the opportunity at a rebound.  Another solid night for Kulemin, who has really found his way.

    –I thought the defense played pretty sloppy tonight for the most part of the first two periods of the game.  It’s a fine line, and while you have to respect the speed and skill of the opposition, the Leafs were showing far too much respect to a lot of the Bruins on the ice tonight, constantly backing off, the result of which was open lanes and chances for the Bruins.  And while a lot of the responsibility relies with the six defenders, defense is a team game as a whole, and the Leafs didn’t do a good enough job tonight of being physical and in the Bruins’ face.  The first 40 minutes were rather pedestrian by the Leafs, and that slow start obviously hurt them, as they were unable to crawl out of the hole.

    –Sticking with the defensive side of the game, I realize this may seen hypocritical, because it’s an easy thing for me to say from the comfort of my recliner, but it’s imperative that the team be committed to getting in the shooting lanes and sacrificing the body to block shots.  The Bruins were willing to throw their bodies in front of pucks tonight, and it certainly paid off for them.  It’s a very tough thing to do, but it’s a necessity if you want to succeed in the NHL.  Too many times tonight the Leafs had players (Orr and Komisarek come to mind) who were doing “the flamingo” where they kind of wanted to block the shot, kind of didn’t want to block it, so they went kind of half way, and the result was the puck going off Orr and deflected into the net, and/or the goaltender being screened and not having a fair look at the puck coming on goal.

    –We talked a little bit last night about the powerplay, and the things the Leafs can do to improve it.  We discussed moving Kessel to the point, or even posting him beside the net, like they used to do with Darcy Tucker.  But all of that is for naught if the team doesn’t have the drive and commitment to get some net presence with the man advantage.  If there is nobody in front of the net causing some havoc, then the penalty killing team can simply tighten up their formation and all thats left for the powerplay to do is skate around and get looks at legs and sticks in the shooting lanes.  Above all else, when shots do get through, it’s simply way too easy for goalies, and Tuukka Rask was especially on his game tonight.  There was no way the Leafs were going to beat him with a pretty goal.  They needed some traffic and rebounds, and without a net presence, you don’t have much of a chance to convert.

    –Another area where the team can improve the powerplay, as well as general five-on-five play, is in the face off dot.  Statistically, the Leafs had a good night in the face off circle, but they couldn’t get a key win on the power play, where as the Bruins could and it made all the difference as Boston scored two big power play goals en route to the win.  Losing a face off while on a power play allows the other team to take time off the clock and ice the puck, and by the time you get the puck back into your zone, if you do it successfully, around 15 seconds have been taken off the clock.  Key face offs are real important and the Leafs couldn’t get a draw tonight when they needed it most.

    –Ebenezer Scrooge was haunted by the ghost of Christmas past once.  The Leafs are haunted by the ghost of GM’s past trades.  Unfortunately, I think we may be visited more than once.  Tuukka Rask had another real solid night in net.  The Leafs pushed real hard in the third and got things rolling a little bit, but Rask had an otherwise really good night.  He was pretty fundamentally sound, and seems to have such a calm composure.  I won’t say much here, because it was a previous management team that traded Rask, and what’s done is done, but Rask has certainly arrived and is now pushing to be the number one guy in Boston, all while the Leafs struggle to find consistent goaltending.

    –I thought Mikhail Grabovski did a good job tonight, and his goal early in the third period was the exact tonic the Leafs needed.  Grabovski scored just 18 seconds into the final frame, and his goal was the direct result of hard forechecking, strong skating, and a willingness to go to the net.  Grabovski now has six points in his last five games.

    — The turnaround of Mike Komisarek’s season continued tonight, and he was a player for the Leafs that really stood out for me.  His ice time was just shy of the 20 minute mark, and he finished the night plus 1 with an assist on the second Leafs goal scored by Kulemin.  His play all night was strong as he was able to skate with the opposition all night and bang bodies, making life as miserable as possible for the Bruins forward while he was on the ice.  He also delivered a huge (and somewhat questionable) hit on Blake Wheeler that sent the big winger hard to the ice.  Komisarek has been playing with an edge since returning from injury, and tonight was another positive outing.  His assist tonight was a thinking man’s assist.  While I am not sure he was intending for it to be a pass, Komisarek did a good job of walking the line, bringing the play with him, and then sending the shot/pass against the flow, which allowed Kulemin to grab the rebound.

    –It’s another night where we seen the tale of two teams for Toronto.  The first 40 minutes were very sheepish, as they were pushed around and were quite listless.  However, as the third got underway, they came out skating hard, forechecking and creating turnovers and opportunities, and were able to make a game out of this one.  You have to give the Leafs full marks for the way they responded.  While it would have been nice for them to respond sooner than they did, this was a team that earlier in the year would have folded their tents and gone home after being down 3-0 going into the third.  But they didn’t.  They got back to the basics of Ron Wilson’s game plan, and executed quite well in the third period, when they certainly were very much in the game, and were pressing for the tying goal, a goal that would unfortunately not come.  Another effort, and though it wasn’t enough to get things done, there were certainly some positives to take from the third period moving forward, and I am sure they know what needs to be done Saturday night when they host Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in Toronto.