Lower scoring than one might have expected, this game was more entertaining than the scoreline suggests. The Leafs won the special teams battle and the shootout thanks to Mr. Saturday Night, James Reimer, to move to 14-8-1 on the season.
1 – A pretty fun first period to watch; it was a five-on-five, penalty-free track meet as both teams were skating well while playing a loose and structure-free game. Good goaltending at both ends kept it even. For the Leafs, the biggest positive was a really good period from Lupul – Kadri – Clarkson line, which looked as good as we imagined it in the off season. After a few iffy shifts to start the game, this line established some traction for the Leafs with a good cycle, and continued driving play in the right direction all period.
2 – Clarkson’s most obvious asset is his forecheck and ability to protect the puck adeptly, which sustains offensive zone time, but it’s worth pointing out a few small plays by Clarkson on a shift with around 5 minutes to go in the first; in the defensive zone, he chipped a puck through his legs to Lupul up the wall with a man on his back, then he picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and carried the play forward. This is a good possession player.
Here was an example of him in the second period with a good backcheck before turning the puck up ice and hitting the post:
3 – Penalty free hockey no longer in the second. After some defensive zone confusion led to a Raymond hooking penalty, the Leafs were naturally devoting a lot of attention to #8 and got a confidence-building first kill for the recently-struggling units. Another penalty to the Leafs had us holding our breath a few minutes later, this time on Phaneuf for having his leg hugged after dropping Johansson by the Leaf bench. Scott Gordon had Jay McClement sag down off the point to shadow Ovechkin to the side of the net. You’re going to take point shots from John Carlson and Niklas Backstrom before giving Ovechkin room to breathe, I guess. Reimer was eating point shots for breakfast on the second Washington powerplay of the period to preserve the 0-0 scoreline.
4 – The Leafs were pinned in for a spell after killing off the penalty, before Nazem Kadri (of course) drew a penalty to send the Leafs to the man advantage. A high point shot from Jake Gardiner was tipped down by Clarkson to give the Leafs the lead. That’s the 15th time in 24 games the Leafs have opened the scoring, complete with a Clarkson death stare after the goal. Is #71 earning his paystubs lately, or what? Four points in his last five games as well as all of those other consistent efforts he brings in the dirty and small-detail areas of the game.
5 – Scary moment for Mikhail Grabovski at the end of the 2nd period, as he dove to try to retrieve a puck and Clarkson’s skate caught him right in the face. Grabovski returned to the game 20 stitches later in the third period. Tough SOB. In a scary moment for the Leafs, Joel Ward caught David Clarkson with a head clip as Clarkson finished his shot in the offensive zone. Clarkson went to the bench, but came right back on for his next shift.
6 – Another big penalty kill a minute into the third period against the league’s second best powerplay. This time Smithson was draped over Ovechkin as the Leafs let the Capitals hang onto the puck high in the zone and watched the seconds tick by. The PK was intentionally passive, but Scott Gordon’s gameplan worked tonight. Going 3 for 3 against a top notch powerplay like Washington is hopefully the confidence booster the penalty kill needed to get itself back on track going forward.
7 – I wish I could frame Phaneuf’s game and hand it out as a flyer when the Phaneuf signing happens and the outrage floods out from the darkest corners of the fan base. Phaneuf gave little space and no easy minutes to Ovechkin and Backstrom throughout the night. He nearly scored twice, too; he was robbed by Holtby off a cross crease pass in the second period and he hit a post in the third period. For those counting, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Semin, Kane, Toews, Hossa, Perry, Getzlaf, Tavares, Backstrom, Ovechkin have combined for two goals against the Leafs. Gunnarsson was sturdy, too, and played one of his better games of the season, breaking up a lot of plays. The McClement line cut down on Backstrom and Ovechkin’s time and space pretty effectively for the most part.
8 – One of those two goals, unfortunately, came tonight. After a near-goal off a JvR rush, the Capitals airmailed a puck in Ovechkin’s direction that was going to bounce to Phaneuf but had some vicious backspin spin on it, falling perfectly into Ovechkin’s path for Great 8 to snap home. Much like the Minnesota game, the Leafs played a good defensive game for the most part but spent way too much time in their own end with a one-goal lead.
9 – The Leafs’ odds weren’t great going into the shootout against a Capitals team that has won five of them this season. Despite falling 1-0 down after one round, JvR and Lupul scored a couple of beauties and James Reimer turned aside Ovechkin and Backstrom attempts to pull out the win. Reimer is the first of five goalies to stop Backstrom in the shootout this season, and it took a great glove save on a blazing wrister with the game on the line.
10 – Just when the starts seemed to be favouring Jonathan Bernier, James Reimer battles back, as he always does, with a sterling performance. 50 effing shots. Let’s face it, if there’s ever a team that needed an amazing 1A/1B tandem…
Braden Holtby didn’t go untested, either. The Leafs had a number of good looks, especially off the rush. The Leafs weathered loads of shots from the perimeter in this game, but winning with one-goal while facing 50-shots is not exactly an exercise in playing the odds. Thanks go to Reimer.
|10:08:00||TOR||PPG - David Clarkson (2) Tip-in - ASST: Jake Gardiner (5), Nazem Kadri (10)||1 - 0 TOR|
|15:50:00||WSH||Alex Ovechkin (20) Snap shot - ASST: Mike Green (12)||1 - 1 Tie|
|James van Riemsdyk||Scored|
|21||J. van Riemsdyk||L||0||0||0||-1||0||2||3||0||0||1||50%||0:53:00||1:28:00||18:54:00|
|34||J. Reimer (W)||49 - 50||0.98||0||65:00:00|
|45||J. Bernier||0 - 0||0||0||0:00:00|