The Leafs are doing their best Mighty Ducks impersonation for the HBO cameras, taking three straight games to shootout. Except these shootouts don’t have Goldberg, knucklepucks, Gunnar Stahl, triple dekes, and shouldn’t decide NHL games.
The Leafs had no business getting a point in this game to begin with. This was another game featuring a full period spent snowed under, and another stolen point by a Leaf goaltender.
We’re nearly at the half way point of the season and we’re still all too often talking about points as though a bonus despite poor play. That’s a bummer, but it at least has the Leafs in a playoff position if they can find some consistency and get some bodies back at center in the second half.
The Leafs were outskating the Rangers to start the game and looked intent on opening the scoring. A good cycle shift by McClement, Clarkson and Kulemin led to a high sticking penalty and early Leafs PP.
The top line was looking sprightly early, with a beautiful three way passing play narrowly missing off the stick of Kadri.
Mason Raymond picked off a Ranger D at his own blueline for a partial breakaway, drawing a second powerplay for the Leafs. There was some good puck movement on both of the powerplays, but not enough was directed toward the net.
The Rangers caught the Leafs on the counter attack with Rick Nash bearing down on Bernier, but Jake Gardiner closed down the threat. Gardiner also bailed out Cody Franson with a good stick in the slot a few minutes later.
Raymond went on his second breakaway of the period after a gorgeous backhand saucer pass from Holland from blueline to blueline. Raymond got a-less-than-challenging shot off and fell under pressure from the defenceman on his back.
Phil Kessel generated a couple of half chances streaking off the rush on the right wing
This game got even more wide open between the 10 and 5 minute mark of the period. Pretty entertaining, structure free stuff with a lot of high-skill plays from the Leafs in particular. It looks good when it works.
Holland looked quite effective on a shift to shift basis in this period. He was providing an open support option on the breakout and moving the puck really well.
Imagine if this team were to ever have all five of Bozak, Bolland, Kadri, Holland and McClement healthy? Shift McClement to the wing and compose a D’Amigo – Holland – McClement 4th line that can play 10-11 minutes a night. Knowing Carlyle, this is mere fantasy.
A few minutes into the second frame, Paul Ranger and Morgan Rielly, hilariously, both join the attack at the same time and run into each other behind the net, leaving Nik Kulemin to scramble as the last man back.
I understand Liles struggled on Saturday, but that pairing was showing too much promise for me to give up on it. You lose none of the risk taking element with Ranger, and you do lose the speed and hockey smarts. You maybe gain a little muscle in the battles. Then again, a few minutes later the Rangers hit the post after Ranger got knocked off balance in a 50/50 battle by the half wall.
Kadri found an opening after a wholesale change by the Ranger forwards opened some space through the netural ice; his shot was deflected into the crowd.
The Rangers hit a post on a seeing eye puck from the point which sent the top line scrambling. A rebound a few seconds later was cleared by Kadri with an attacker nearby and an empty net waiting.
From there, the Leafs got completely snowed under from the 14 minute mark onward. After taking just 7 minor penalties in their previous six games, the Leafs took four in the final nine minutes.
The Rangers outshot the Leafs 22-5, with Bernier the only thing keeping this tied. That and JT Miller missing an empty net. This inability to prevent one bad shift from bleeding into the next five to the point where the team eats 15 shots in 10 minutes is difficult to wrap the head around.
Is it fear, mental fragility? A collapsing system that has the Leafs second to pucks? The inability to dig deep and win battles when the momentum builds against them?
This was early on in the process of the Rangers taking over this game, but the Leafs finally getting out of their own end and Raymond making a stupid pass behind everybody for a turnover at the offensive blueline was enraging.
Paul Ranger was the victim of some shitty luck with 5 minutes to go as he broke his stick on his first pass. Colton Orr took a worthwhile penalty to prevent the man from walking straight in on Bernier.
The Leafs finally got some relief thanks to a Rick Nash goaltender interference penalty. The Leafs briefly went to the powerplay until Lupul picked up a boarding call.
What else could go wrong this period? The Leafs mixed in a too-many-men call and spent the final few seconds on a 5 on 3.
Toronto somehow escaped the period still tied. By somehow, I mean Jonathan Bernier and luck.
More big saves by Jonathan Bernier kept the game even as the Leafs killed off the penalty to start the third.
The Leafs first sign of push back came from the Kulemin, McClement and Clarkson line. Kulemin, delayed in getting a shot off, missed a prime chance in front before jamming at a loose puck, hitting the post before it trickled along the goalline and somehow stayed out.
GOAL – So came the goal the Rangers had long deserved. A hard cycle got the Leafs (Raymond, Ranger especially) puck watching with their backs turned to the incoming threat off the bench as JT Miller bombed through the middle lane and picked up a pass from behind the net to put the Rangers up 1-0.
Gardiner and Franson spent a good chunk of a shift going D to D only for their forward outlet to lose the puck and do it all over again.
The Leafs spent another shift having to scramble and regroup on the breakout before finally moving up the ice and getting a big break, as a flip over the glass went for a delay of game penalty.
GOAL – The Leafs didn’t cash in on the actual powerplay, but a few seconds after it ended Clarkson attempted a desperation jam play from behind the net. The ref thankfully let the play go on a little longer before Kadri’s poke edged the puck over the goal line . The call on the ice of a goal was huge on this one as the refs could’ve claimed the intention was to blow the whistle otherwise.
You’ve got to feel great for Clarkson getting in on a couple of big goals the past few games. Both were sheer-force-of-will kind of plays late on in games. That’s what he’s paid for.
Can’t complain when he’s the whole reason they earned a point, but Bernier isn’t so hot at the shootout.
The Leafs are now 5-4 in the shootout.
|21||J. van Riemsdyk||L||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0%||5:35:00||1:40:00||23:39:00|
|45||J. Bernier (L)||42 - 43||0.977||0||64:53:00|