The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators in the alley and on the ice in the first period and survived a late push on the way to a 5 – 4 win on Wednesday night. The Leafs took a lead early, and chose not to look back, with goals coming from Tyler Bozak, Jay McClement, James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri. James Reimer made 39 saves, while Kessel recorded two assists for his first three point night of the year.
1. The Leafs are 15 – 9 – 0 at the halfway point of the season, despite almost clutching defeat from the jaws of victory late in the game. Two quick goals followed two quick fights, and the Leafs held the lead all night. . They played another disciplined game, taking only 1 penalty, and found a way to capitalize on their chances, scoring five goals on 28 shots. As has been the case this season, when all else failed the goalie didn’t, as the Leafs solidified their place in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
2. 26 seconds into the game, Frazer McLaren drops the gloves with Sens forward Dave Dziurzynski. Dziurzynski, a recent call up from Binghampton, was punching well above his weight class, as McLaren filled in Dziurzynski’s face like an application. After taking a quick flurry accented by a hard right to the nose, Dziurzynski crumpled to the ice. He lay twitching face first on the ice for a tense minute and had to be helped off the ice thereafter. It was later reported that he suffered a concussion, and he didn’t return to the game. Team loyalties and opinions on fighting aside, no one wants to see a body shake so vulnerably like that.
3. James van Riemsdyk threads a cute pass to Phil Kessel, whose centering pass bounces off of Peter Regin. Tyler Bozak, goalless in his last eight games, pounces on the chaotic rebound and bats it past Senators goalie Ben Bishop to make it 1 – 0 for the Leafs. It was Bozak’s 6th of the season, and only his fourth point in his last 11 games. 56 seconds later, Jay McClement scores his second in as many games off a good play by Nikolai Kulemin to make it 2 – 0 for the Leafs with 12:40 left to play in the first period.
4. Patrick Wiercioch takes a penalty on Clarke MacArthur with 2:01 remaining in the first period, leading to a power play that saw two separate Sens plays get behind the defense and create scoring chances. On the first chance, James Reimer had to make a great save on Kyle Turris; on the second, Mike Kostka kept back checking and forced his man off the puck. The power play hasn’t been good at home all season (and has scored on only 4 of their last 27 chances), and it looked disjointed tonight. Kessel’s rocket in the third period made up for it, but one shot made what was otherwise an awful night on special teams look good.
5. Less than two minutes into the second, van Riemsdyk taps in a feed at the side of the net from a sprawling Phil Kessel to make it 3 – 0 for the Leafs. It was van Riemsdyk’s team-leading 13th of the season, but the play started 200 feet down the ice. Kessel kept with his assignment on the back check on an Ottawa rush, lifted his stick, allowing the Leafs to counter up the ice. It was hands down Kessel’s best shift of the season. He added a power play goal in the third period (his sixth of the season, and second in as many games), and finished with 2 assists in a masterful performance.
6. Nazem Kadri continues his strong campaign, scoring the game winner (his 5th goal in 3 games) for his team-leading 24th point of the season. He’s been a revelation this season, and his ability to react to the play has been terrific all season. He could still use an upgrade in wingers, and managed a modest 15:11 minutes of ice time tonight.
7. The Leafs displayed rare resilience tonight, highlighted by how their play improved during the second period. Mika Zibanejad scored on a delayed penalty shortly after van Riemsdyk gave the Leafs a three goal lead. The following two shifts, the Leafs engaged their third and fourth lines to create some energy and swing the momentum. They came back even better in third, with Kadri and Kessel scoring two quick goals after Zack Smith made it 3-2. It’s nice to see that push back, but the Leafs still need to close out teams a lot better.
8. James Reimer had his second consecutive good performance in net, and his third consecutive win, since returning from a knee injury last week. He made 39 saves for his ninth win of the season, though he gave us quite the scare. Midway through the second period, Leaf-killer and Upper Canada College grad (how awful is that?) Colin Greening collided with the Morweena, MB native. Reimer seemed to do his best possum impersonation, lying motionless on the ice for 10 seconds. He finished the game strongly and stole the show when he needed to, despite giving up four goals.
9. Fresh off signing a new two-year pact, Korbinian Holzer had a bad showing tonight. He was absolutely victimized on Zack Smith and Colin Greening’s goals in the third period, and was chasing the puck carrier all night. His signing was a depth one, and his NHL career is only 19 games old, but you never want to have a bad game after putting ink to paper. Especially when your errors allow a heated rival back into the game. I still like Holzer, but that was an ugly performance.
10. The game was never in doubt until it was, and yet a lot closer than the score through the first fifty minutes indicated. The Senators couldn’t buy a save, but gave one hell of a fight, often hemming the Leafs forwards in their own zone and found ways to get back into the game. The Leafs have been guilty of letting their foot off their opponents’ jugulars (see literally every game against either the Rangers or Islanders this season, and their last game against the Sens). The Leafs are now 2 – 1 for the season against their provincial rival, and will run with two points to Boston, where they’ll take on the Bruins tomorrow night.