Toronto bounced back from a defeat in Columbus last night in a big way with a win against the Penguins. The Leafs found their physical game and put forth a strong effort across the board on their way to a 4-1 victory.
1. The Leafs came out with one of their best first periods of the season. The reason? It could be playing up to the level of their opponents, or the absence of a certain defensively-capable, offensively-culpable center. But the jump in their game was in large part due to their renewed physicality.
2. Toronto lost a hitting machine in Komarov – a move that was somewhat offset by the inclusion of Clarkson, Bolland and more time for some of the kids (Ashton, Broll, et al.). Yet with injuries to players such as Kulemin, Fraser and McLaren, the Leafs had been noticeably less physical to start the season. The return of Clarkson and a stretch of poor play has apparently got the rest of the team engaged, something that clearly occured both physically and mentally as they took it to the Penguins for large stretches of the night.
3. With respect to Clarkson, he trotted out his trademark game tonight. He finished checks early and often, was strong along the boards, and did what he could to get pucks to net (prettiness be damned). One of his checks resulted in an injury to Pens blueliner Rob Scuderi that in turn prompted a McLaren-Engelland scrap. A simple display of how agitation and physicality can escalate into a situation that prompts team-wide motivation. This type of play is contagious as the Leafs were relentless with their checking all night long.
4. After Pittsburgh put one away with their first powerplay, Dave Bolland scored yet another big goal by answering with a shorthanded goal on Pittsburgh’s next crack with the man advantage. Bolland has been rejuvenated after an off-season last year with added responsibility on this young Toronto team. Bolland played the role of shutdown center to perfection on Crosby (as Phaneuf did on defence), capping it off with an empty net goal.
5. Surprisingly, with Tyler “but he’s good at faceoffs” Bozak out of the lineup, the Leafs held their own in the faceoff circle against Crosby, Malkin and company. Clearly not much can be said decisively after one game, but perhaps it will show Coach Carlyle that there is potential for life without Bozak cemented onto the first line.
6. If Toronto not imploding defensively without Bozak doesn’t convince Carlyle to give Kadri an extended look on the top line, perhaps #43′s go-ahead goal to open the third will. Kadri finished off a play set up by Kessel with the pizzazz of a player that is actually on the same level skill-wise as his two star wingers. Shortly after, Nazem tried a gutsy bank move that didn’t land but yet again flashed creativity. The potential is there for a lethal first line. Carlyle’s concerns about Kadri’s game against top players on the other team are of course understandable – but for the love of god – throw him out there with JVR and Kessel regularly and let him grow.
7. James Reimer has fought tooth and nail for the crease since landing in Toronto. Nobody should ever write him off because he certainly won’t. Given the tougher of two matchups in this back-to-back set, Reimer came out with the decisively better performance. Per Carlyle, the ball should be firmly back in his court.
8. After Reimer helped the team weather a storm in the second, the Leafs came back out aggressively in the third. Starting with the Kadri goal and continuing with an uptempo forecheck, the team look determined to finish off the conference-leading Pens. The coach and the players have all been vocal about the difference between winning games and playing the type of game they want to. They took a big step in the right direction tonight in returning to the physical, defensively-sound hockey that they displayed for most of last season.
9. Kessel scored again in the dying minutes of the third, giving him five goals and six points in his last three games. With a full year alongside JVR and their developing chemistry, Phil will threaten the 40 goal mark this campaign. A truly special player.
10. Toronto got some good news on the injury front tonight as a CT scan on Lupul came back clear. Lupul, Kulemin and Fraser should all be returning in the near future, finally giving the Leafs a chance to field their full lineup. That they’ve done this well with so many regulars in and out of the nightly roster bodes well for the club going forward.
The Leafs head out on their yearly Western Canadian trip starting Tuesday in Edmonton. In years past, this has been the unraveling point for some of the weaker iterations of this franchise. Considering the current state of all four of the teams involved, that won’t be happening this time around.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Pittsburgh Penguins BoxscoreOctober 26th, 2013 TOR 4 - PIT 1
|6:52||PIT||PPG - K. Letang (1) Snap shot - ASST: E. Malkin (7), P. Martin (3)||1 - 0 PIT|
|16:33||TOR||SHG - D. Bolland (5) Slapshot - ASST: D. Phaneuf (4)||1 - 1 Tie|
|1:26||TOR||N. Kadri (4) Backhand shot - ASST: P. Kessel (7), J. van Riemsdyk (5)||2 - 1 TOR|
|17:05||TOR||PPG - P. Kessel (7) Wrist shot - ASST: J. van Riemsdyk (6), C. Franson (9)||3 - 1 TOR|
|19:18||TOR||EN - D. Bolland (6) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE||4 - 1 TOR|
|James Reimer (3-0-0)||W||38||37||0.974||60:00:00|
|James van Riemsdyk||0||2||20:32||1||5||0||0||0||3||0||1||0|