The Capitals are not a good team at the moment and for a while there the Leafs looked in danger of walking away with nothing in a winnable game. Thankfully, a two-goal third period saves the day and the Leafs move to 4-3-0 with their first home win.
1 - Franson gives the puck away on the sideboards, both Franson and Fraser lose the battle in the corner, the puck goes around back of the net to Mike Ribeiro, who shiftily turns Frattin inside out and finds an open Joel Ward back door. The Leafs are in an early hole.
2 - A quick reply from the Leafs on a double minor powerplay earned by Nazem Kadri. After Bozak finds Kessel in the slot, JvR is johnny on the spot for the rebound. JvR’s net presence over the last four games has been a sight for sore eyes. He appears to be embracing the role, and with his frame, hands and touch in tight, it’s a big asset for this team. Three of his four goals have been rewards for his work in front. This was his most eventful game as a Leaf so far, with two or three other good chances he didn’t manage to convert, including a breakaway.
3 - The Leafs were so bad on a first period 5 on 3 it ended up literally working against them. Static passing, no opening of lanes, a few blocked shots, Phil Kessel takes a penalty… horror show complete. Their 5 on 3 game appears to entirely consist of Kessel and Phaneuf playing catch with the puck up high. There needs to be some more moving of bodies and the puck down low if they’re going to open up lanes.
4 - The force that is JvR out front is the only thing good about the Leafs’ PP lately. With 9 PPs including a 5 on 3 and only one goal to show for it, it is the black mark underneath the surface of a good win. Kostka is nothing more than space filler on first PP unit. I’m not sure what Carlyle’s aversion is to Liles, who offers the ability to walk the line with the puck and offer a new dynamic to the puck movement. Franson has the ability to get shots through on net with a hard, quick release. At this point, I’m not sure what’s holding Carlyle back from giving him Kadri some of Bozak’s minutes on PP1, or the red hot Frattin more of a look.
5 - The penalty parade continues in the second, it’s the Leafs turn in the box and Alex Ovechkin beats Reimer through the wickets. Ovie was afforded quite a bit of room on the right board, but it wasn’t a great shot and Reimer had a clear view (needs to get to work with St. Croix on that five hole). Reimer wasn’t his best but continues to be good enough.
6 - I had been badmouthing Kostka all night, but he did a nice job getting the puck on net for the tying goal in the third. Kulemin makes a nice play in front, reminscent of JvR’s goal against New York, to even it up at 2s. That one was a long time coming for the Leafs and Kulemin.
7 - The Leafs’ game-winning 3-2 goal was probably their nicest of the season from end to end. Right up there with Grabovski’s goal against the Isles, which also involved a nifty touch from Matt Frattin. Frattin makes a nice touch in the netural zone over to Kadri, who chips it by a Capital to gain the zone. Frattin charges through and in one smooth move bats the puck out of the air and drops it to Kadri. Frattin storms the backpost, Kadri finds him with a seeing eye backhand pass, Frattin receives the pass behind his body and dispatches it into the empty net. Beautiful display of skill from two of the Leafs’ bright lights of the young season.
7b - That’s four goals and six points in four games for Frattin since his call up, including two game winners.
8 - Carl Gunnarsson received a deserved bump in ice time to over 20 minutes tonight, and was on the ice in the dying seconds sticking tight to Ovechkin as the pair did circles around the Leaf zone.
9 - Even the net is in on the cruel joke that is Kessel’s inability to break his goose egg. A crossbar and a barely missed empty netter were among a slew of good chances of all kinds for Kessel, who continues to do everything but score. The frustration and pressure will only mount with each passing game with no goals to his name, but surely the law of averages kicks in here soon. If good things come to those who wait, it’ll be against Boston after burning Dougie Hamilton.
10 - The Leafs are back above .500 through seven. You’ve got to like the early play of Frattin, Kadri and JvR. Reimer is doing enough in net, and Phaneuf is handling a ton of minutes thanklessly. A big test awaits the Leafs Saturday.