Post Game Mashup: Phil Thrills as Leafs hold on

Post Game Mashup: Phil Thrills as Leafs hold on

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Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images

Their opening two games of the 2011-12 season would indicate the Ottawa Senators, if nothing else, have a knack for playing dead and lulling the opponent into a false sense of security. Thankfully, they still didn’t win on either occasion.

A scary final ten minutes saw Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza combine to cut a 5-1 Leafs lead down to within one. Phil Kessel then took the game by the horns, completing his first hat trick as a Maple Leaf to let us breathe easy again, if only for a moment before Stephane Da Costa rose from the dead and gave us a final scare. Forget how they got there, the Leafs picked up the win and now take a 2-0 record into their oddly scheduled week off.

Join me for the post game mashup after the jump.

The Good

Sergei Gonchar is now a pretty awful player. His -1 was a kind reflection of how poor his defensive play was last night. The $5.5 million man was chiefly at fault on two of Phil Kessel‘s goals; on Kessel’s second, he makes a mess with the puck, Kessel shoulders him off it and he then exercises his No Movement Clause and gets handily beat to the net. On Kessel’s game-winning third tally, Gonchar gets caught flat footed at the red line and Phil leaves him in his dust. His defence partner was then forced to play the middle of the ice on a 2 on 1 and Kessel’s hand was so hot last night, all he needed was the opening. That release must ruin goaltenders’ sleep.

We all know what Kessel is capable of with the puck in the offensive zone. Picking up where he left off towards the end of last season, his greater forechecking endeavour and improved support play on the defensive side of the puck is what earned him the shift late in a one-goal game. Physical or defensive play may never be his strong suits, but anybody that pigeon holed him as a one-dimensional permietre scorer is now learning not to so quickly dismiss a developing 23-year-old with Phil’s capabilities.

Besides it being totally clutch, it’s worth noting that Kessel was at the tail end of his shift, with Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul already off the ice, when he found the burst of pace to take the puck up ice and snap home the eventual game winner. Factor in it was late in the third period of a game in which he led the team’s forwards in icetime and it really speaks to the condition Kessel must have himself in at the moment.

Joffrey Lupul really should’ve had more. In the end, a solid game from Lupul with powerplay tip for a goal following a nice find on Kessel’s first.

Dion Phaneuf for the second game in a row (and really since fully recovering from his injury last season) played the type of game that earned him his name in this league. He started off with an assist on a smart play on the offensive blueline. Forced on his back foot at the point by the Sens penalty killer (Spezza), the Captain dumped the puck into the opposite corner for two Leafs to retrieve. His nice play under pressure drew Spezza up high and Mikhail Grabovski slipped into the slot unmarked to score off a nice feed from Kulemin. Later he (cleanly) brick walled Stephane Da Costa and wisely kept his gloves on afterwards, drawing a retaliatory penalty while keeping himself out of the box. The big hits look to be back (remember he threw a similarly big one in the preseason opener against the Sens), and the offence seems to be back – that’s now 28 points in his last 35 games played.

Mike Komisarek played another clean defensive game outside of his four minutes of penalties that contributed to the near-collapse. The whole team was on its heels at that point, however. He seems to have taken it upon himself to firmly police Reimer’s crease before and after whistles. I like that.

The penalty kill sagged as the team shifted onto its heels in the third, but was subjected to a 5-on-3 after getting off to a 6-0 start thanks to the work rate of Dave Steckel, Mike Brown, Matthew Lombardi and Philippe Dupuis. The group blocked eight shots while (mainly) Steckel won 73% of shorthanded draws. Start with the puck even roughly that often, show the willingness to lay the body on the line as often as this group did and the good times will keep on rolling.

The powerplay came out with only a 15 percent success rate but it cashed in twice. The Leafs are already on their way to being one of the top penalty drawing teams in the league (as they were the last two seasons). That it contributed is a good thing but it could be a bigger difference maker given the PP opportunities the Leafs generate with their speed (or in this case, via Neil’s stupidity).

The Bad

He wasn’t necessarily bad, but Jake Gardiner was out there for two goals against and played only a shade over 12 minutes last night. Gardiner impressed when he was being put through the paces with all situation minutes in his preseason tests. Since he’s begun his bottom pairing role in the regular season, however, you’ve got to start wondering if he’s better off playing double the minutes on the farm until he’s fully groomed to take over Liles’ role. After all, he’s only played 10 games total in the A.

A few defensive miscues from Schenn in this one, but he did absorb contact to start the play up ice on what proved to be Kessel’s game winner.

The Ugly

It doesn’t really need saying. The Leafs thought they had this one in the bag, and a Colton Orr goal would usually indicate just that. Give them credit, the Sens weren’t willing to slip quietly into the night, but the Leafs got away from all the things that earned them the 5-0 lead in the first place – pushing the pace and forcing errors out of a mistake prone team – and it nearly cost them (Thank You Kessel). It sounded like Reimer might have been late to warn his team when Alfredsson returned to the ice from the penalty box and kicked off the comeback, but there’s really no use analyzing it.

As Wilson tweeted after the game, we can be happy to have the lesson taught without it costing the team the win.

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Game Highlights:

Ron Wilson post game press conference:

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]