A back-and-forth, 65 minute affair probably wasn’t the ideal result from the Leafs perspective with puck drop on the second half of this weekend’s back to back coming roughly 19 hours after Marc Andre Fleury’s stop on Mikhail Grabovski ended this one in the shootout.
But indeed it was a coach’s nightmare and a fan’s delight inside the Air Canada Centre tonight as both teams and their goaltenders struggled to keep the red light off, particularly in the final 20 when the two sides struggled to maintain any semblance of defensive structure. It’s hard not to look back at this one and see missed opportunity – the Leafs gave up the lead on four separate occasions – but as far as the standings go, the Blue and White gained a point on Carolina (who lost in regulation to the Habs) and kept pace with Buffalo (who lost to Detroit in a shootout). Should the Leafs win their game in hand tomorrow, they would be three back of Carolina.
Speaking of tomorrow in Atlanta, Ron Wilson faces a tough decision in goal as James Reimer looked a victim of fatigue tonight while backup JS Giguere’s health status may still be less than game ready. Wilson’s indication on Friday was that Reimer would play both; it’s uncertain as of now if tonight’s result changed his decision. As discussed in the last post-game post, Reimer hasn’t played more than 35 games since 2006-07 with Red Deer.
You could tell from puck drop that this wasn’t the same Reimer we all know and love. Justin Goldman saw some visible signs of energy drain early on and Reimer proceeded to hesitate and sit deep in his net throughout. With the way the HNIC commentary team was talking – Healey got on him as early as warm up – you’d swear Reimer was Toskala 2.0 and it was unfortunate Reimer couldn’t shut them up on this night. The Leafs had a great chance to return the favour and bail their young goalie out but the Buds’ blueliners looked equally disoriented. Jordan Staal was handed the keys to the crease on goals one and two, which is the last thing Reimer needed when already off his game. It was less about the screen and more about his poor positioning on goal #1, however.
With no time to reflect, the Leafs have to take the point and move on as they make a quick trip down south for a 5 p.m. puck drop in Atlanta.
Some quick hits:
– The upswing in Kessel’s confidence was really visible tonight. He looked likely to score throughout and it was surprising he didn’t end up on the scoresheet in the goal column (he did pick up a pair of assists). For such a sniper I don’t understand why Phil attempts the deke as often as he does in the shootout. Alex Kovalev displayed how simple it can be if you have that lethal shooting ability, which Kessel certainly does.
– If Joffrey Lupul was a salary dump in the Beauchemin deal, that $4.25 million cap hit on Kessel’s opposite wing has been a real positive force for the Leafs. Besides opening up some opportunity for Phil the Thrill, he’s had a ton of chances of his own and it was only a matter of time before Lupul got his first as a Leaf. The second soon followed and hats could’ve been falling with a little more luck.
-It was fantastic to see a Dion Phaneuf slapper hit the mesh tonight. It’s too bad it came on the heels of his brutal giveaway for a Maxime Talbot breakaway shortie seconds earlier. There seems to always be a “but” with Dion, however it should be acknowledged that Dion clocked a beastly 29 minutes including 7:47 on the powerplay and finished up even.
– With that shootout winner, the Pens have already won the Kovalev deal in my eyes. At least I would’ve traded a conditional 7th for that extra point.