It was the story of Jose Theodore â€“ who looked soooooo 2002 last night â€“ as the Florida Panthers whipped the Toronto Maple Leafs 5 â€“ 1.Â This is the second Leaf loss in a row, and the second game in a row that the Leafs lost by more than a field goal.Â The Leafs (skaters, anyway) played better than their result, shutting out a powerplay that came into last nightâ€™s game with a 23.5% success rate and outshooting the Cats 39 â€“ 28.
However, as Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven, â€œdeserveâ€™s got nothing to do with itâ€ and while the Leafs had a clear advantage in puck possession and offensive chances, their inadequate goaltending tandem didnâ€™t just hurt the team, it sunk them.
The first period saw the Leafs â€“ as per usual â€“ get outplayed, though there were some positives.Â While kept off the score sheet, Phil Kessel looked dangerous every time he had the puck in the Florida zone.Â Early in the first, the Leafs took to the man advantage, and while it didnâ€™t result in a goal, the quick cycling of the Leafs power play unit looked decisive and dangerous.Â Also promising was the Leafs display with Grabovski in the penalty box at the close of the period.Â Coming into the night with the fifthÂ best powerplay in the league, the Panthers spent more time trying to reclaim the puck or attack the zone (mirroring the Leafs typically stagnant special teams play).
Gustavsson was strong on 13 of the 14 shots he faced, yet over committed on the play which led to Jack Skilleâ€™s firstÂ goal of the season. Â After starting the period well â€“ registering two shots, a hit and having a couple other chances â€“ Luke Schenn was victimized on a bad giveaway and eventually finished a dismal -3. Gustavssonâ€™s gross overreaction (and impeded further by Nik Kulemin sitting on him) was his first real slip of the night, and not the only one for the hard luck â€˜tender.
Heading into the second with a one goal deficit, the Leafs came out hard, and at one point had a 12 â€“ 5 lead in shots in the period.Â More impressively, the club summoned enough might to kill off a second penalty, this time with JM Liles in the box.Â As the period progressed, the narrative of the game shifted towards the netminders.Â And then Jonas went for a strollâ€¦
With the puck fired in from outside the blue line, Gustavsson left his net to intercept the puck and break up the dump play.Â Poorly timed or poorly executed, Gustavsson missed the rolling puck behind the net and was again forced to scramble back to face the shooter.Â Marco Sturmâ€™s harmless looking shot fluttered over a sprawling Monster to make it 2 â€“ 0 Florida. Just 19 seconds after that, Tomas Kopecky wristed a shot two feet off the ice, which found a large gap between Gustavssonâ€™s left leg pad and glove and made it 3 â€“ 0.Â With barely three minutes remaining in an otherwise terrific period, Jonas was pulled in favour of Ben Scrivens.
At the other end of the rink, Jose Theodore put on a clinic, stopping 18 shots, including a couple glorious tries by Nikolai Kulemin.Â His calm, reliable play allowed for the sloppy defense of the Panthers to remain unpunished all night.
The third frame started out just as poorly as the second ended, with Sean Bergenheim picking up his second goal of the season, potting a fat rebound into an almost empty net less than three minutes into the period.Â You had better believe Ben Scrivens â€“ who thought he had the puck â€“ wanted that one back.
Less than a minute after that, Phil Kessel scored his league-leading eleventhÂ goal of the season.Â While the goal is a hollow highlight (the game was never in doubt thereafter), it was positive to see Kessel return to his goal scoring ways after a four game goal drought.Â There were concerns growing that after his red-hot October, Phil was due for one of his infamous multi-decade (it certainly feels that long in hockeyâ€™s Mecca) scoring slumps.
Regardless of the goal, and the increased pressure that the Leafs displayed thereafter, theyâ€™d dug a hole too deep, and were staring down a brick wall whenever they crossed into the Florida zone.Â Kulemin was robbed on two separate occasions by Theodore.Â Shawn Matthiasâ€™ goal with just over three minutes to play capped off a terrible night for both Leaf netminders.
Goaltending continues to be the question mark.Â While I rarely put much stock into the listener opinions on the Fan590, the increasing demographic requesting Burke trade for a goalie has some merit.Â Not the ones talking about dangling Schenn for a goalie, but the overall message is valid.Â Ben Scrivens’ single game heroics aside, the Leafs havenâ€™t had a sniff of reliable goaltending since October 22nd.Â Jonas Gustavsson â€“ in spite of making some really terrific saves in his past eight performances â€“ seems to be incapable of giving up fewer than three goals per 60 minutes.Â While the Leafs’ at times spotty defensive coverage gives up its fair share of quality chances, it shouldnâ€™t really come as a surprise to learn that the Leafs top the league in blocked shots, are in the middle of the pack in shots allowed per game, yet still manage to have one of the worst goals against totals in the league.
I keep wanting to write that Nikolai Kulemin is finally returning to form, and I guess Iâ€™ll keep wanting to write it.Â Through 15 games, the rugged winger has done everything but shoot, much to the chagrin of Ron Wilson and with minimal success.Â His six shots from the night bring his total for the season to 24, but came into the night at 1.3 shots per game. Â Iâ€™ve said from the beginning that Kuleminâ€™s high shooting percentage was an aberration, and that heâ€™d need to pour on even more shots if he hopes to recreate last seasonâ€™s success. Â It’s tired, it’s clichÃ©, but it’s universally true: good things happen when you shoot.Â Especially if Vesa Toskala is 200 feet away.
It’s hard to criticize a team with a 9 â€“ 5 â€“ 1 record, especially in light of the rash of injuries to integral parts of the club.Â And while it is easy to say â€œReimer woulda had three of those,â€ the reality is that heâ€™s out and the Leafs need someone to stop some shots.Â The combined 12 goals against in the past two games belies the overall strength of the team and isolated from the rest of the teamâ€™s play thus far thereâ€™s not much cause for concern.Â But heading into tilts against beatable teams in Ottawa and St Louis, youâ€™ve got to wonder how much longer the Leafs can keep pace in the East without big league goaltending.
Wilson’s post game presser:
On to the Links!