A great win over the League champs can quickly be forgotten if the Leafs don’t take it as a turnaround point amid a poor December. They’re now through the toughest part of their schedule and have to get back to accumulating points with 15 of their next 16 games against Eastern opponents.
The top 4 of this Penguins team’s defence has been decimated (i.e. entirely eliminated) by injuries (Martin, Letang, Orpik, Scuderi), and their fifth D, Derek Engelland, is waiting to be suspended. James Neal is suspended, as well. Evgeni Malkin is out after crashing into the boards leg first against Detroit. For tonight’s game, check out the NHL betting odds.
Despite all the lineup depletion, the Pens enter tonight winners of three straight (five of their last six). The Penguins historically have persevered better than expected when faced with significant injuries, although these are particularly daunting.
Malkin being out should help the Leafs focus their shutdown efforts a little more on #87. McClement, playing alongside Kulemin and D’Amigo, played 10 of his 14 and a half even strength minutes against Jonathan Toews, Parick Sharp and Marian Hossa while starting 80% of his shifts in the defensive zone. That line scored twice and won the possession battle.
For the Leafs, the lineup remains the same because why wouldn’t it?
Although the Leafs went 1-2 last week, it really was one of their better weeks of hockey this season. They handily outplayed LA but just weren’t able to bury, and they laid a beating on the first place Hawks. It’s true that St. Louis completely outclassed them, but two pretty dominant games against two of the top five teams in the league is really impressive. The Leafs have to build on that as a positive.
HBO 24/7 Red Wings / Maple Leafs – Road to the NHL Winter Classic – Full Episode #1
In Episode #1 of HBO 24/7 Red Wings / Maple Leafs – Road to the NHL Winter Classic, hockey fans get an inside look to The Original Six Franchise’s dressing room, coaching staff, players, and hockey operations.
TORONTO , ON - DECEMBER 14: The Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Peter Holland's #24 goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during NHL game action December 14, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
That the Leafs’ offensive outbreak and first regulation win since November 19 (12 games) came against the League’s top team could be pivotal in restoring some confidence in the Leafs’ game. This was a great win, keyed by better lineup decisions by Randy Carlyle, secondary offensive contributions, and some rookie scoring. Two goals for Peter Holland, two for Joffrey Lupul, a goal and assist for Jerry D’Amigo and Nikolai Kulemin, Phil Kessel’s 17th of the season, four assists for Mason Raymond… The Leafs’ first win over Chicago since 2003 was an emphatic one.
What we consider to be “reality” television is far less real than you might think. Events depicted as authentic human drama are often at least partially scripted, with larger narratives and plotlines frequently influenced by hidden teams of experienced writers and producers. Rare is the day that the tribe actually does the speaking.
Gripping and authentic as it may seem, HBO’s 24/7 series is no different. The purported documentary is designed to provide a look behind the scenes at hockey players fighting their way through early-season challenges on the road to the famed Winter Classic. A series of storylines are portrayed around that journey, to ramp up the drama and tone down the mundane doldrums of the NHL lifestyle.
ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 12: TheSt. Louis Blues celebrate a goal during an NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 12, 2013 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Maple Leafs played their best game of the season, but were dealt a taste of their own medicine with a sublime goaltending effort by Martin Jones, ultimately thwarting a plethora of fantastic chances and a game full of uncharacteristic sustained offensive zone time by the Leafs.
The first minute of the game had the makings of yet another one of those games where Toronto was going to spend way too much time in their own zone (“The Leafs have difficulty getting the puck out of their zone™”).
That quickly changed at the 18 minute mark, with the Rielly/Gardiner pairing moving the puck with efficiency and in the proper direction.
The initial fears of the game going the way of L.A. domination were scuttled at around the 16:50 mark; Lupul’s first touch was a scoring chance for Kulemin off the rush and should have been buried but for a fantastic save.
Come the five minute mark of the first, the shots were 5-3 Toronto. LA’s slow defense was having to hurry pucks on the breakout, and Toronto seemed more committed to a fast forecheck. If not physical, they were putting a lot of pressure on the Kings, who were being made to look like, well, the Leafs on any given night this season.
The penalty kill still continues to plague the Leafs game, and sunk them early. Despite taking the play to the slower LA Kings team, this was their chance to set up, control the play and get their 1-0 marker, which as an elite team they proceeded to do.
Despite the score, the shots were 9-4 Toronto late in the first.
One of the habits creeping into the Leafs’ heads more and more: their inability to close out periods and games. Inexplicably, the last minute and a half the Leafs were hemmed in and looked like they would concede another goal.
The Leafs got off to a nice start to the 2nd period.
Toronto’s defence was pinching and activating on the rush regularly, and it was giving the Leafs a chance to show off their speed more than they have this season. The D pinching down the wall was giving the Leafs more zone time than as long as I can remember, as reflected in the shot and shot attempt count (as close to a proxy for possession as we have). The Rielly/Gardiner pairing got regular shifts with the Kessel-Kadri-JVR, and they were fantastic in every area of the ice. They held the zone well, made great tape-to-tape saucer passes, pinched with great timing and, of course, lugged the puck as you would expect; lots of clean zone exits, zone entries, and controlled set ups in the offensive zone.
With Phaneuf injured, it’s forced Carlyle to do things he never tries, which is having Gardiner/Rielly on PP#1 and Gardiner/Franson on PP#2. The puck carrying duties went to Gardiner on the breakout and the Leafs achieved easy zone entries by not having, without fail, Phaneuf and Franson on the same PP unit. The dynamic duo are able to pinch with efficiency and still have the skating ability to get back into position on time.
As the 2nd period was winding down, it was apparent that this was the longest stretch of good hockey Toronto has sustained this season.
The Leafs finally evened the game on a 5 on 3 powerplay. It was Gardiner/Franson again, with Leafs getting a flurry of great chances. More great play from the Leafs in front of the net drew a penalty. On the ensuing 5 on 3, Frason scored on a beautiful switch with Kessel on the powerplay. Franson and Gardiner finally called the audible and switched sides (which Carlyle seems to coach them not to do), opening up two one-time point shots.
The Kings were previously a perfect 8 for 8 on 5 on 3s, but that changed tonight. The small victories, right?
That was a hell of a 2nd period for Toronto.
The Leafs were exposing the LA Kings lack of speed; worth noting the Kings were in the 2nd leg of a back-to-back on the road.
A note I made before the game: I was hoping that the addition of Lupul would open up the lines a bit for Toronto and allow Lupul to avoid some coverage, and for the Leafs to roll two lines properly. He looked like the Lupul of old and had a number of great chances tonight; he was hard on the puck and drove the net with reckless abandon. It makes the Leafs a tougher team to play against.
The pinching was a bonus for the Leafs tonight, but it has also cost them with the go-ahead goal by Jeff Carter. A pinch from Ranger resulted in a 2 on 1. Fraser was in a tough spot; he can play it like a 2-on-1 and take the pass away, which he does for the most part, or take the shooter with Ranger closing in on the pass option. He correctly elected for the latter and Carter got off a sneaky hard shot through Bernier’s legs to make it 2-1 Kings. That’s a game breaker goal that Bernier has to save and he didn’t. This was a decidedly average performance from Bernier; he needed to be better tonight. You wonder if starting Reimer against a team that doesn’t have the book on the goalie (like LA did) might have been the better decision.
Once again evident in the period, Gardiner and Rielly were dynamic tonight. Where they usually are a high-risk/reward combination, they were all reward tonight and moved the puck up the ice with skill and speed, making plays that are both exciting and effective. They beat LA’s heavy forecheck, as puck-moving defenseman are wont to do, when they play the game at a high speed.
There was a surefire holding penalty on the JVR rush missed by the refs late in this period. It was a free-hand hold, which is usually a call on every.single.play in every.single.nhl.game. While my tinfoil hat is currently at the dry cleaners, the calls against the Leafs this year are, quite frankly, staggering. I’ve never seen officiating as poor in the NHL in my decades of watching hockey. Perhaps coming out of the 2005 lockout when new rules were implemented, but that’s not saying much.
JVR blew by Regehr, but Regehr impeded JvR’s progress with the loose arm. That’s called holding.
Shortly thereafter, Kadri got cross checked and absolutely filled in from behind by Voynov without the puck.
Alas, Kyle Clifford came back the other way and scored. Insert dagger here. Game over.
Deep breaths, everyone. No Dion Phaneuf and the 20-7-4 Los Angeles Kings are coming into town.
The Kings are a heavy forechecking team and are going to seal the boards on the Leafs all night. The key to beating a good forecheck is going to be quick puck movement, effective use of the D to D pass, and available forward support on the breakout. Without that, this Kings team will hem the Leafs in with sustained zone time, bring fresh legs into the cycle, and grind them down all night. Blowout win over the Canadiens last night aside, the Kings haven’t been an explosive offensive team (18th in goals for, bottom 10 before last night), but give up so little in the way of shots and goals (fewest in the league with 62) because they win the possession battle night after night.
Randy Carlyle would be wise to play to a strength and put to use all of the mobility and puck moving available to him on defence.
The Kings are in the second half of the back to back and will play goaltending Martin Jones again tonight coming off of his shutout at the Bell Centre. The Professor has been snubbed of a crack at his former team. In Darryl Sutter’s defence, Jones is 3-0 with a .62 goals against average in his first three starts in the NHL.
Jonathan Bernier will play against his former team and may have to steal one for the victory.
Joffrey Lupul will make his return on a good looking third line tonight.
JVR – Kadri- Kessel
Raymond – Smith – Clarkson
Lupul – Holland – Kulemin
McLaren/D’Amigo- McClement - Ashton
0:03it’s amazing isn’t it
0:07that’s what pro sports there I was something that happens it makes you
0:12shake your head
0:13I’m by far was our best effort
0:16the last couple months but
0:19no reward Fort and we have to use it as a starting point
0:23but one thing about tonight was that with Aston
0:26we’ve been pleading forward demanding tick collar whatever’s is that
0:31from the defensive side of it we had to work as hard as we have been
0:36on the backcheck versus the four check and
0:40that was very evident tonight there in the room
0:44solve them no other down because we had so many
0:47opportunity so many offenses chances and that’s what happens is you get
0:52and sports it seems like the the mountain seems to get a little bigger
0:57versace’s where it should be getting smaller and
1:01get no complaints with the work ethic for group
1:04we executed from a defensive standpoint we
1:08you know when but gore good break up passes and we attacked
1:12before checked we didn’t samples at
1:16called harder because
1:20the playing the way need to play with them get the war
1:23it’s harder mentally but if we continue to
1:26apply that table work ethic will win our share games:
1:30if we have that type a dog at work ethic if we gonna
1:34effectively with the park covers on with
1:38the way we did tonight back check is hard can create as many of us have
1:43then we’ll win our share games: but
1:46its again it’s is like push that snowball seems
1:50every time you lose it gets bigger concert with the Rangers
1:53a little that decision that decision
1:57with three guys at that and then or
2:0111 11 hockey with 10 minutes left it’s not by spent
2:06but has earned them steaks that happen in the game
2:09you know either as I said it’s its mistakes like that
2:13and the cost you but to the effort was there and win
2:16we have to correct those mistakes is that closer to all you want
2:21team but definitely are
2:24as I stated before you got here the work ethic on the backcheck
2:27in the defensive side over was the best we’ve had in months
2:32him Park movement
2:36years old guys were not
2:39use him pop
2:42yellow well again
2:46the we’ve been pleading begging picking coddling
2:50whatever you want to do that to try to get a starting point and
2:54because it you know it’s been frustrating for everybody
2:57and players and coaching staff as well
3:01we think that there’s more from this group that we can
3:05we can continue to build on it and we need to
3:08feel good about ourselves but it’s not good
3:12when you lose don’t feel good when you lose some Plaza with will be the
3:16I’ll two dudes up
3:19well it was a little bit of a risk but the you can obviously see that they’re
3:24they have skill set and skating ability that the
3:27they can and they will be NHL players
3:30regular players but we’re asking a lot of two young guys specifically the pair
3:35them together but
3:35we just felt that that was the best grouping them we shot Morgan rallies
3:39were tired and
3:40as deserve you know an opportunity in
3:44you make decisions eg again for the next one toward
3:47results but as US
3:51lawyers in Chicago this perk up skins is your doesn’t
3:58on be home keep song
4:01hey are you build on the positive did you try to accentuate are the things we
4:05did well and
4:06correct the mistakes that we made your looking at what happened last night in
4:11plays a role in your diabetes composes
4:14were for I think it I think again desperation has to take place and that
4:20it takes place a different levels you know we’re the benefactor to
4:24about catching it even a second I have a back to back we can ignore that that’s a
4:27fact you know
4:29so we should be fresher we should be you know
4:32we should be jumping on our toes we should be aggressive in
4:35in love in the areas where you can tell they’re a veteran team
4:39that methodically the way they will the park in the way they play their big
4:42strong hockey club that has played well and played together for a long time
4:47you touch up look come back
4:50today difference makes the lineup a
4:53no I didn’t it in with loops its it’s always a
4:57with guarded optimism because if he’s
5:01been able to come back and get hurt come back get her so we’re
5:05you know we’re going with crossed fingers at you can maintain it obviously
5:08gives us another dimension
5:10he had a review 3-4 scored test scores gorgeous
5:14so the searching for
5:18loss much closer to the what we need
5:21and as I stated earlier that the the
5:25work on the of it subsided and we explain to our team I think we’re third
5:29in there in their Eastern Conference in office
5:34were third so we can provide enough of us to have success
5:38it’s the defensive side that are our work ethic and our commitment
5:42has been there right
There isn’t much I can add to the powerplay analysis that wasn’t in the write up by JP Nikota describing the Leafs use of the 1-3-1. They adopted this system in 2012-13 while more teams have incorporated the formation throughout the NHL.
MLHS is pleased to have Daniel Kovalevsky, better known as Pent_House around these parts, contributing some Marlies writings going forward.
A pivotal match against the Montreal Canadien’s AHL affiliate, The Hamilton Bull-Dogs, awaited the Marlies at the Ricoh on Saturday, as these divisional foes met up for their 5th of 12 regular season contests. Along with being the Battle of Ontario in the AHL, this game was important for the Marlies as these teams are divisional rivals in a tightly-grouped North Division, with the 4th place Bulldogs only 2 points behind the 1st place Marlies. The Marlies came into the game with the Western Conference’s highest home ice winning percentage, with 8 wins in 10 home-games (.800%). The Marlies have been playing at the top of their game recently, winning 6 of their last 8 games and, despite having one of the youngest squads in the AHL, have managed to stay atop of the North Division. With the Ricoh being a tough building to play in for road teams, recent hot play for a rested Marlies team, and a tired Bulldogs team, the Marlies came into this game hoping to take full advantage and to create some separation in the standings.