Nothing to be embarrassed about in this one for the Leafs. The Buds played Boston as close as they have in nearly two calendar years. It was also the most boring Leafs/Bruins game in a few years, but we’ll take that every time over losing in spectacular fashion.
1 - With the 4th line out, the Leafs got caught behind the play against the Bruins’ 3rd line of Kelly, Peverley and Borque. Centerman Dave Steckel was particularly behind and wasn’t in a position to support down low. Peverley makes a nice floated pass into space behind Mark Fraser, Cody Franson misses tying up Chris Borque out front, Kelly finds him with a nice cross crease pass and it winds up being the game winner 52 minutes of hockey later.
2 - The Leafs had some difficulty executing clean breakouts in the first with the Bruins’ forecheck and ability to take away time and space. However, the Leafs bend but not break defensive game stood up tonight, with help from their goaltender. The problems were at the other end.
3 - The Leafs were not pushed around tonight, and it wasn’t anything to do, at least tangibly, with Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren being on the bench. They finished their hits early and often, registering 44 hits to the Bruins’ 29. Komarov again led the team with six. Nice to see.
4 - The Leafs were finishing their checks tonight but are visibly less effective at causing disruption turnovers on the forecheck compared to Boston. The Bruins were out to play a much better defensive game after giving up seven to the Sabres and were as close to mistake free as you can get over 60 minutes. For the Leafs’ part, however, there was not enough penetration of the Bruins zone, thanks in part to too many giveaways at the Bruins’ blueline.
5 - A good shift from the Kadri line in the first leads to a called-off goal that should’ve counted for Cody Franson. Nazem Kadri grazed Tuukka Rask, but Chris Kelly appeared to make the majority of the contact with his goaltender, who did a good job selling a dive on a shot he wasn’t ready for. These things do tend to have a way of balancing themselves out, however…. see the goal called off on the Bruins at the 13 minute mark of the 2nd period.
6 - It feels like every game for Franson leaves me more undecided on the guy. We see the good and bad from shift to shift; his decision making and awareness in the offensive zone contrasts day and night with what he shows defensively. He has a knack for getting the puck through and on net from the point, and when he misses it’s usually measured in such a way that it bounces into a dangerous area or to a teammate. Around his own net, he has a blindspot for rear-side attackers.
7 - I somewhat understand Carlyle’s affinity for Kostka at even strength. He’s safe and simple, does a good job limiting attackers to the outside with good angling and stick positioning, and has a reliable first pass. His decision making and skill with the puck is not quick or good enough to be quarterbacking the first unit of the powerplay in the NHL. Pairing him up with Phaneuf, who is a trigger man – not a QB – is a recipe for disaster on the PP. Kostka’s fumble and subsequent penalty on the boards pretty much snuffed out any chance of a late tying goal.
8 - Hard to know what else to say about the powerplay, or where to even begin. By the end, Carlyle had moved Kadri onto the first PP unit and it still sputtered. There’s obviously systems issues at play here, but personnel wise, I’d suggest leaving Phaneuf and Kessel as the mainstays and playing with the rest of the pieces depending on who’s hot (was Frattin, who has been clutch, even on the ice on that late PP?). Step one is no more Kostka.
9 - You guys hear about this controversial Phil Kessel for (picks that turned out to be) Dougie Hamilton and Tyler Seguin trade? The HNIC broadcasters mentioned something about it tonight.
9b - Have you ever seen more replay closeups on nothing plays than there were on anything Kessel did tonight?
9c - I’m just going to ignore this Kessel slump until it’s over. He’s doing the right things, it’s up to the hockey Gods to show some mercy.
10 - James Reimer has to be the brightest light in Leafland through eight games. He’s been consistently good over his five starts and was excellent tonight while stopping 33 of 34 shots. The Leafs being .500 is nothing to do with bad goaltending. While 4-4 is nothing to get excited about, that much is at least refreshing. Having a reliable goaltender in net is huge if the Leafs are going to improve going forwards.