Toronto saw a hard fought one-goal lead disappear in the third period against Pittsburgh, as
the Penguins Sidney Crosby staged a second consecutive third period comeback to steal the game in regulation. It’s a tough loss to swallow after a thorough effort across the lineup kept the Penguins scoreless until the final eight minutes of the game.
1. You could see the team knew they needed a bounceback game in this one. They came out fast, determined, and nervous as the first period had a mixture of turnovers and energetic offensive play. Thankfully, the Penguins can be a sloppy bunch defensively, encouraging noticeable puck doggedness in Toronto’s attackers.
2. It’s great to see Liles back in the lineup, although it would have been preferable to see Holzer forced to take a rest in his stead. Liles does not enamor coach Carlyle with his defensive presence, but he always brings an infusion of puck movement and offensive creativity. He also isn’t a slouch defensively by any means, playing a veteran’s game of positioning and stick work. His icetime in the days immediately prior to his first benching was consistently above twenty minutes, making you seriously wonder if his status as a healthy scratch for over ten games was also precautionary asset protection for a trade that never fully materialized.
3. Carlyle tried to jumpstart his two second lines by dropping Kulemin to Kadri’s wing, with Frattin and Komarov flanking Grabovski. Much has been said about the defensive responsibilities of Grabovski et al. But it seems probable that whatever offensive troubles these two lines are having will be alleviated when Joffrey Lupul returns to the lineup and the resulting lineup shakeup trickles downwards.
4. One trio that hasn’t been having trouble lately is the Kessel line. As we’ve seen in his career, a rolling, confident Kessel can pour on the points with ease. Bozak is, as usual, waterskiing on Kessel’s work offensively. JVR/Lupul bring a very important third dimension to that line’s play.
5. Despite the refs best efforts with some sketchy penalty calls in the second, Toronto held strong on their penalty kill. Once their greatest weakness (no exaggeration – it’s been awful), the Maple Leafs have bumped their penalty killing rank up into the top 10 league-wide. The offense was already here from last year, shoring up the penalty kill will go a long way to improving the team defensively, where they really needed it.
6. A large part of that defensive load will continue to fall on Dion Phaneuf. The captain was in Crosby’s face all game long and attacks that role of the top defender with ferocity each night. Hypothetically, with another strong all-around blueliner beside him, the pair would easily be talked about as one of the best in the league a la Seabrook-Keith and Shattenkirk-Pietrangelo. For now, he will have nights like tonight when he ends up a minus three despite effectively containing the league’s best line and player for the vast majority of the game. With one mistake (a lost man on the Dupuis goal), a night’s worth of hard defensive work can be completely negated.
7. Ben Scrivens got a start against a team that Reimer has done well against traditionally, indicative of the chance he has to secure some more clout in the goaltending hierarchy of the club. A solid outing that ended in a loss will put the ball right back in James Reimer’s court.
8. Speaking of Liles and the Kessel line, they combined for an impressive display of puck control at even strength in the Penguins end during the early part of the third period. The precision passing was on display, a sign that the team is rounding into midseason form. The rough edges and sloppiness that were evident in the early days of this lockout-scrambled NHL season is all but gone, promising faster and tougher games ahead.
9. This game was going pretty well until the Leafs got Crosby’d. #87′s impact is a testament both to elite skill and incredible work ethic. Hopefully the best of Toronto’s young talent will take note after encounters like tonight’s.
10. Just like that, Toronto is on a four game losing streak. Ideally, the players and coaching staff would focus on the positives and go about work as usual in the next match. Unfortunately, the media rumblings will certainly take a different tone.
Prepare yourself for some pessimistic prognostication in advance of Saturday’s rematch with the Jets. All good teams have slumps, so a four game skid including two Pittsburgh tilts (one of which went to overtime) and a Boston game is not something that the Leafs should be worried about. However, all good teams also make sure these skids don’t drag on and this team will soon have the chance to prove that they can do so.
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