The Leafs are 26-16-5 after taking care of business with a much-needed, convincing win 4-0 over Florida. The Canadiens beat the Jets, so Saturday’s game will not determine fourth place/home ice advantage. Saturday’s game still has a lot at stake, however, as the result will determine if the Leafs play the Habs, Capitals or maybe even the Bruins in round one.
1 – For those who missed the game tonight – Tyler Bozak was given the night off for “maintenance” and Carlyle trotted out the following four forward lines:
2 – The fourth line opened the scoring for the Leafs and looked good throughout the night. On the goal, John Michael Liles timed his pinch well on the boards to keep the play alive before McClement shielded the puck, brought it around the back of the net and found Leo Komarov on the back post for Leo’s fourth of the season. I think this may be the fourth line combination for the playoffs; it’s a line Carlyle can trust, it cycled the puck effectively and finished its checks throughout the night.
3 – The MacArthur-Frattin combination continued to show well after getting on the scoresheet last night against Tampa Bay. On the 2-0 goal, MacArthur led a nice rush from his own blueline, beating one in the neutral zone to gain the zone before dishing to Frattin, who threw it on net and MacArthur cleaned up the rebound. Great to see Frattin and MacArthur involved in the offense with a game left until the playoffs. As for Joe Colborne, he may not quite be ready to make a consistent impact, but that size down the middle is tantalizing and his speed certainly seems to be at an NHL level now.
4 – The newfangled top line got on the board in the second period as you knew it would against the Panthers. It started with a nice shot block layout from Nazem Kadri, who didn’t actually block the shot but forced an awkward pass out of the Panther defender. From there, the Leafs recovered possession and Kadri and Kessel sprung up ice on a 2 on 1. You have to like those odds. Kessel finished a beautifully floated pass from Kadri, 3-0 Leafs.
5 – The Lupul – Kadri – Kessel line connected again shortly after off a Lupul pass from behind the net to make it 4-0. Kadri had the initial chance before Kessel mopped up to take over the team lead in goals with 19. For a while there, we didn’t think Kessel would be the team’s points leader; for 46 games, we thought he might not end up the team’s goals leader… sure enough, Kessel is now our goals and points team leader. Mr. Consistency.
6 – Gotta love Mark Fraser springing to Kadri’s defense and getting the boot (third man in) late in the second. Kadri looked to have started it, but who cares? That’s one of those intangible ingredients you like to see on your team – players standing up for one another, particularly a guy like Fraser coming to the defense of a star player. Somehow, despite Kadri landing a vicious slash on Petrovic and then him and Fraser socking him repeatedly down on the ice, the Leafs emerged with a powerplay out of that one.
7 – It was as easy a 40 minutes James Reimer has faced this season, but he was forced to earn his shutout in the final few minutes of third. With the Leafs down to five defencemen – eventually four when Phaneuf got the boot, also for going at Petrovic – and solidly in “kill-it-out” mode, Reimer was forced to make a good series of saves to preserve his fourth shutout of the season.
8 – Is it likely Carlyle completely reinvents the lineup based on one game against the Florida Panthers? No, not at all. It was a promising glimpse of what could be next season, with Kessel and Kadri united, but it’s unlikely Carlyle will break up the duos – Bozak-Kessel, Kadri-Lupul – that have brought offensive success throughout the season, both for match up and chemistry reasons.
9 – The Leafs had their hitting edge back tonight, throwing 45 after an uncharacteristically-low 18 finished checks against the Lightning last night. They were leading on shots in the important parts of the game, as you would hope (11-5 Leafs after the first). Score effects were mainly responsible for the Panthers gaining the sizeable edge on the shot count by the end.
10 – There’s still playoff positioning to be determined with just a game left to play. Ottawa could still catch the Leafs, meaning a loss could see the Leafs fall to sixth and play the Capitals. The Habs could also catch the Bruins, if the Habs were to win and the Bruins were to lose their final two. Beat the Habs to play the Habs in the playoffs… I like the sounds of that.