The first four game winning streak of the season has quickly erased memories of the lowest point of the Leafs‘ season, a four-game losing streak wherein Toronto was outscored 21-7. A couple of regulation wins over divisional opponents Boston and Montreal needs to be a momentum builder for this team as they attempt to chase down a divisional playoff spot, beginning with a 4-game road swing versus the Coyotes, Avalanche, Stars and Jets.
This was an emotionally-charged rivalry matchup between the Leafs and Habs, with the fires of last season’s line brawl seemingly stoked by the Max Pacrioetty goal celebration in the last meeting between these teams. Not that there needs to be an excuse to get fired up for a Leafs/Habs meeting on a Saturday night.
- The Leafs seemed to be playing with more of the right kind of “controlled emotion” to start the game. The pace was furious to start. Three good hits from Kadri, JvR and Dion set the tone on the Leafs‘ side. It was pretty obvious Nazem Kadri was going to make some magic happen tonight based on the starting note. It didn’t take long, as Kadri skinned Alex Emelin with an outside-inside move and sent a cross crease pass to Franson, who had joined the rush.
- On the Habs’ side, JVR had rattled PK Subban early, and he went on shift long spaz while scrambling around his zone, one that involved a couple of instances of interference, a little rouging on JvR, what appeared to be a dive, and eventually a hold to take away a goal as the Leafs generated a flurry of chances. Somehow nothing was called. That has to be a point on the opposition coach’s whiteboard re: PK Subban, who can be easily pushed to the point where allows emotions to get the better of him while often providing that extra motivation ammunition Don Cherry was talking about in the intermission.
- Tim Gleason looked great to start this game. He broke up a play in the neutral zone and went on a short rush, wiring a hard shot on Price. He sent a good breakout pass springing Kessel a few minutes later. Notice on that Franson tally Gleason broke up the Habs rush just inside the Leaf blueline, enabling the neutral zone transition up ice for Kadri. He played a season-high 21:30 tonight.
- After a JvR/Kessel 2 on 1 that developed in about three seconds end to end after a defensive zone faceoff, Dion missed the net, clearing the zone, and Gunnarsson flubbed a routine pass before extending the free arm after the giveaway. The penalty call appeared to be soft, but those are always the easy ones to pick out for the refs. The Leafs couldn’t recover the puck and eventually a wild double bounce evened the game. Good start negated.
- You can’t dislike the first period overall. The Leafs dictated the pace at five on five and took a skating and physical game to the Habs, but got burnt on the lone powerplay against after a face palm play by Gunnarsson.
- Another healthy dosage of McClement/Kulemin at 4 on 4 after Troy Bodie’s brief, pointless skirmish yielded two roughing calls. This coach has some great 4 on 4 combinations available to him and the Leafs are a better team at 4 on 4 than 5 on 5. This conservative approach befuddles me as Carlyle should be looking at this as an opportunity to generate offense.
- The Leafs were outshot 7-1 to start, as they were reactive in the first half of the period and Cody Franson took a penalty. The refs picked his push on Gallagher out of the pile of extracurriculars going on in this game. There was zero consistency on the refereeing front, but there wasn’t much to like about this first 10 minutes.
- Amid a pretty poor 2nd period, a makeshift line of Raymond, Holland and Kessel grabbed a relatively undeserved lead, as far as the second period went. Raymond tied up the stick of the Habs defenceman just enough to cause a turnover, before throwing a pass out front that took a slight bounce; Kessel hopped on the loose puck to bury his 23rd on the season and 300th point as a Leaf.
- The third assist on this goal goes to Peter Holland. The importance of driving the net was on full display there as Holland took two Habs with him, availing Kessel to swoop in and jump on the loose puck in front. On the next shift, Holland made an aggressive drive on the interior of the Habs D. That’s the type of stuff Carlyle is looking for.
- You know that crash and bang, north-south play Carlyle described in the pregame presser about Bodie’s play? And how the CBC broadcast crew saw fit to run a bit laughing at Carlyle’s use of “cliches” (like he was supposed to use a literary analogy to describe Bodie as a player? Seemed like reasonable use of hockey terminology to me). Well, the penalty Bodie drew near the end of the 2nd was what he was talking about. Simpson then proceeded to say some of the same things Carlyle mentioned when describing the play. Can’t make this stuff up, folks.
- PP unit two was relentless in this game, with Kadri often stirring the drink. He pulled off a diagonal slap pass through a mess of sticks from the top of the left circle that was square on Raymond’s tape to the right of the net. Raymond buried his 13th of the season and second point of the game.
- Side note: Kulemin, Lupul and Kadri is something that’s always made sense to me, with Lupul back on his preferred left side. It’s a good complement of players. The line wasn’t as good so much as Kadri was great individually, but I’d still like to see this stay in tact while Clarkson’s out. Kulemin made a couple of small detail plays (as he often does) to chip pucks out on the 1st goal (Franson from Kadri) and the empty netter (Lupul).
- The Leafs could not close out this period safely and maintain the two goal lead going into the third. They were in possession of the puck with just a few seconds left and Franson and JvR weren’t on the same page on a pass breaking out from the middle of the Leaf zone. The glaring turnover by Franson was costly after a point shot took a bounce off a skate, fooling Bernier (who fell backwards), and Brian Gionta scored with just 12 seconds on the clock. That one hurts.
- It’s just a disease with this team under Carlyle: Sitting on leads, over and over. The Leafs opened up with ten of the first 12 shots and then got doubled up for a good portion of the game. After a lost defensive zone draw by Bozak, so came the tying goal. This was a deflection off a nothing wrister and the third flukey goal the Habs had scored, starkly contrasting the Leafs’ high-octane skilled goals.
- Finally, with the game now tied, came a pushback when no longer in “fail to protect the lead” mode. The top line was buzzing with 8-9 minutes to go, and put the Leafs ahead for good with 5:30 to go. After the puck pinballed around on the right board in the neutral zone, Bozak won a puck race and fed JvR a letter perfect pass for yet another 2 on 1 goal by this line. 23rd point in 26 games for Bozak on JvR’s 19th of the season.
JVR, battling hard all game, dedicated the goal to Subban:
- Note that Kadri did not simply dump the puck in just before that goal, opting for a pass back and retention of possession. Having the lead seems to come with a strict chip out, chip in instruction. Either that or this team needs a sports psychology lecture on the importance of “continuing to do what works.”
- Getting rewarded for a masterclass performance, Kadri was in Nasty Naz mode on the final shift, just hammering the hell out of Plekanec throughout the last minute. Dion Phaneuf made a key pokecheck and Lupul hustled down an empty netter awarded after being felled by a hook.
After the week he just had, with his name batted around the rumour mill and the questions coming his way about potential trades, this game speaks volumes about what Nazem Kadri is all about.
Only modestly outshot and high on the hit count, this was a throwback to some of the games we liked from this team last season. Finally, the Leafs can feel good about themselves again, but the nasty blown leads habit remains a significant concern. Hopefully this is the beginning of a push for a divisional playoff spot.
|James van Riemsdyk||1||0||18:56||0||6||0||0||0||1||0||1||2|
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens: Game in 6