Game Recap: Game #52, Maple Leafs 5 at Avalanche 2

Dion Phaneuf
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 21: Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche and Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs collide with force at the Pepsi Center on January 21, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Leafs defeated the Avalanche 5-2. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

These Leafs are rolling.

Their first six game winning streak since 2006 comes thanks to another offensive explosion and a commendable effort in a back-to-back situation at mile-high altitude against a top team in the West. The Leafs chased goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was 11-0-5 in his last 16, with three goals on their first 10 shots.

The Leafs have scored 25 goals over their six game winning streak, as the top line is blazing hot, the Leafs’ offensive production from their defense has gone from famine to feast, their PP continues to be elite, and their goaltending continues to be great.

The first half of the first period was classic Maple Leafs hockey, making mockery out of even strength possession play with great goaltending and counterpunching quick strikes offensively. Outshot 11-2 with two penalties against to start the period, amid long spells of Avalanche possession,  Dion Phaneuf sent a pass 180 feet for Kessel to outrace the Avs D and deposit past Varlamov. That was the 25th goal for Kessel and he was far from done.

The Leafs proceeded to get into a groove, get their feet under them and draw a couple of penalties while taking the period’s final seven shots.  Franson and JvR worked more Leafy PP magic to make it 2-0, on JvR’s 20th of the season and Franson’s 21st assist. JvR’s off the charts hand-eye skills  tipped another one home.

The Leafs were asleep for a few shifts to start the 2nd period, but on their first real foray into  the offensive zone they made it 3-0 after Nazem Kadri tipped in a well-placed Jake Gardiner point shot.  That’s goals in two in a row for Kadri, who has six points in his last four games.

Just two and a half minutes later, Phil Kessel added to his account with his 26th of the season after a beastly net drive by JvR off the half wall produced a loose puck for him to pounce on. This tandem has now produced 46 goals between them in 52 games.

The Leafs were almost cocky about the way they were moving the puck on the PP with 12 minutes to go in the 2nd. They were just tossing tape to tape passes around across the zone like it was nothing while Gardiner and Rielly were on the ice.

The Leafs were having more fun out there at the end of the 2nd,  as the confidence was visible in their legs and puck movement. A gorgeous breakout pass up the middle from Rielly to Bozak saw Bozie throw no-look backhand pass to Kessel, turning the play into a fast developing a 2 on 1 for Kessel and JvR. Kessel, passing up a chance for a hat trick, deferred to JvR, but Giguere was up to the task.

Perhaps the Leafs were a little too loose, as Nathan MacKinnon burned them on a 2 on 1 to make this a 4-1 game late in the 2nd. Between Bozak peeling for a half-assed change and Orr being the other forward, the Leafs had too few forwards on the ice and Phaneuf was caught at the end of a long shift.

Rielly, by the way, was tossing stretch passes around with complete confidence and often amazing accuracy. Seeing him and Gardiner grow together, beside one another on a pairing, into their ridiculous skillsets is a sight to behold.  It is also going to feature some frustrating moments..

Such as when Gardiner tried an outrageous spinorama backhand pass attempt on the breakout a few minutes into the third period, leading to the 4-2 goal. Seemingly recognizing how good the kid pairing had been, Gardiner got sent straight back out after Dave Farrish gave him a friendly reminder about not doing stupid things with the lead in the third period, followed by a pat on the back.

The coaching staff deserves some commendation here for a willingness to live with the thorns that accompany the rose known as this “kid pairing” of Rielly and Gardiner, who didn’t miss a shift after that goal, much like last night in Phoenix after another costly Gardiner giveaway. You take the good with the bad, because the good outweighs the bad, and the potential is even greater. The good part is that the Leafs have gotten the goal support and it didn’t cost them the game, which Gardiner himself mentioned:

Reimer was delivering huge save after huge save to prevent this third period from becoming, in the words of Wayne and Garth, “GAME ON.”

As the second period wore on this seemed to be going the way of a Leaf blowout, but don’t underestimate the importance of Reimer throughout the full 60 minutes. He saved the Leafs at the start of the 1st, start of 2nd, and through all of the 3rd.

The league’s worst third period team (not being snarky – they lead the league in 3rd period goals against with 61) was under siege in the final period, with Reimer the only thing between them and a three-goal collapse.  That said, JvR and Kessel both could’ve added to their accounts with point blank chances on the counter attack.

It does seem logical that a team which relies so heavily on quick-strike rush attacks and the PP (the refs tend give out less powerplays when a team is trailing late in a game and trying to tie it up, as we saw when Bodie was blatantly felled in front of the ref), while collapsing in its own zone defensively, would be susceptible when trying to protect a lead late in the game. A team that can dump and chase effectively (the Leafs can’t) can get in and grind down some clock. The Leafs are dangerous on the counterpunch with the lead (as seen on the JvR and Kessel breakaways) as teams get more aggressive, but they cannot seem to burn out the clock without making things more interesting than they need to be.

Nonetheless, the Leafs did enough and Jay McClement deposited an empty netter to secure a 5-2 win. Joffrey Lupul made a risky but successful pass to the middle of the defensive zone to begin the breakout after the Avalanche left D had pinched down the wall. Despite a quiet game overall, that gave Lupul his second assist of the night.

A few notes…

– The Leafs penalty kill was 4 for 4, which moves them up to 11th in PK% on the road.  They’re dead last at home and it’s not even close, with a 70.9% kill rate. Beats me.

– What a battler Reimer is. He’s barely been playing, but he stepped in and was huge in stopping 35 of 37 shots.

– He scared the crap out of us all night, but we’re all going to love Matt Duchene as a member of Team Canada. Those hands and wheels on the big ice… Wow.

– Nine points from the D in the last two games. What could this be a product of? The Leafs are giving the kid pairing of Rielly and Gardiner the green light to go out and create, which is great to see and Carlyle/Farrish deserve props for.  Jake Gardiner has three points in his last two games, while Rielly has three points in his last four.

Cody Franson has been placed with a more defensively reliable, stay-at-home type in Gleason instead of Gardiner,  which is perhaps freeing him up for more offense. He’s taking more shots, with 17 in his last 7 games. Overall, these pairings are providing some stability back there.

– Phil Kessel is now back to a point per game with 52 points in 52 games, placing him seventh in league scoring. His 26 goals put him on a 40-goal pace, and place him fourth in the league in goal scoring. Philthy.

– Just like that, with 6 points in his last 4, Kadri is back on a .66 points pace.

The Leafs are now at the 100-game mark if we combine the lockout-shortened season with the 52 games played so far during this 2013-14 campaign. They’re 53-37-10 over those 100 games while being outshot in 79/100. They’ve scored on 10.6% of their shots over those 100 games, and their goalies have stopped 91.9% of their league-worst 3443 shots against.  Seems like great goaltending, opportunistic scoring and a great PP continue to defy the normal rules of regression.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Shot Data

Carter Ashton003:32000102000
Troy Bodie0011:08110001020
Tyler Bozak0220:421209201120
Cody Franson0123:04020002210
Jake Gardiner0118:03050001400
Tim Gleason0018:29-100003100
Carl Gunnarsson0020:02200001100
Peter Holland0010:45000441110
Nazem Kadri1017:11142461000
Phil Kessel2023:11080000010
Nikolai Kulemin0116:34100001110
Joffrey Lupul0219:37210001000
Jay McClement1011:26010933210
Colton Orr003:52012000000
Dion Phaneuf0125:08222001210
Mason Raymond0114:00002000000
Morgan Rielly0015:23100001000
James van Riemsdyk1120:00040000010
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Shot Location Data
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Shot Location Data

Phil Kessel Speaks:

Game in 6:

  • DJBrianBurke

    Two more points in the bank. Goodnight Colorado and goodnight MLHS where ever you are!

  • Bring the Cup Home

    LOVE the fact reimer came through tonight.  i’m cheering for that guy.  i do love bernier and am totally fine with him as our number 1 but i want to see reims get his due too.  

    gleason is just such a HUGE improvement over fraser/ranger.  HUGE improvement.  

    franson is a power play magician.  too bad he sucks so much at most other times. 

    wonder what our record with clarkson in the lineup is vs. without?  bet our winning % is way higher WITHOUT him the lineup?  coincidence?  i hope so!  cuz that’s weird.  i think if we make the playoffs clarkson’s value will begin to rise.  

    rielly is going to be so so good in a few years.

  • Bring the Cup Home

    JVR for luke schenn straight up?  i can’t believe that robbery.  

    luke schenn has played 47 games this year, averaging 16:28 of icetime.  3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points.  a -6 on the year.   hell, morgan rielly has played a minute more per game than luke this year.  

    but JVR…..what were the flyers thinking?  he is insane.

  • wiski

    Great shot of gunnar

  • DeclanK

    Maple Leafs 2nd in Goals for in the East, just behind Pittsburgh.

  • BPsotka

    Bruffins I recommend people to watch it as well. Fantastic.

  • BPsotka

    “You take the good with the bad, because the good outweighs the bad, and the potential is even greater.”
    Hell yeah we do, it does, and it is.

  • BPsotka

    Also the site isn’t letting me comment from my android tablet (KitKat 4.4, using chrome). Real time works for the comments but I am only able to like things- not post anything for myself. Has anybody else had this issue?

  • Great Dane

    DeclanKit is the 156 GA that is a concern. And it is coursed be bad goal tending.

  • DeclanK

    Great Dane DeclanK GA is their biggest weakness. Usually late period (or game) when holding a lead. They need to figure it out. Their goal differential is trending sharply upwards. I believe it was -20 a few short games ago.

  • DeclanK

    From here:
    Phil Kessel: 2 Goals, 8 Shots, and 23:11 TOI 
    James van Riemsdyk: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 4 Shots, 20:00 TOI 
    The Tyler Bozak: 2 Assists, 2 Shots, 20:42 TOI 
    Jonathan Bernier: 35-37, .946 SV% (I think they mean James Reimer)
    Paul Stasnty: 0-0-0, 2 PIM, 2 Shots, -2, 3:24 PPTOI
    Ryan O’Reilly: 0-0-0, 1 Shot, -1 
    Matt Duchene: 0-0-0, 2 PIM, 4 Shots, -1, 2:13 PPTOI 
    Semyon Varlamov: 7-10, .700 SV%

  • Great Dane

    DeclanK Well 61 GA in the third period is not helping.  IMO it is still a function of too many shots against and the Carlyle’s idea of fall back and protect the lead.
    I will state for the records that I still think Carlyle is not the right coach for this team and he should be replaced on later than in the summer.
    The current result is more a consequence of the talent level of the team and the fact that Carlyle is just letting them play. 
    Shots against has not changed, sitting back in the third has not changed so what has Carlyle actually done

  • lieffan

    Thanks Alec, I always get a great synopsis from this site

  • NotSince67

    Just a couple thoughts: 

    #1 If ROR is indeed on the block (and at 6 mil with a back log at centre, he’s kind of the odd man out) wouldn’t Buffalo make sense? Buffalo is thin down the middle, especially if Ott gets dealt, and has cap space. ROR is young and would fit in with Hodgson to form part of the core headed into the rebuild and could insulate Grigorenko so that Grigorenko won;t have to be given minutes by default. Just not sure what Buffalo would pony up to make it happen, and it’d probably have to be more of a hockey trade than a rental deal.

    #2 I ripped Kessel after the Carolina game for his compete level and two way play. In the winning streak it’s drastically improved, both in the D-zone and through the neutral zone on the back check. Having said that, JvR’s two-way play is simply atrocious and his intensity/compete level leaves a lot to be desired, especially for one of the biggest players on the ice. But his commitment simply to defending is nowhere to be seen and would be a helpful addition.

    A third and fourth too I guess. #3 Bodie vs. Clarkson is the key in the argument that talent is one thing, but simple, safe and hard work is more effective between two role players any day. Clarkson should take notes, because although he lacks Bodies size, he should be that much more effective on the forecheck with his speed. Bodie’s simplicity with the puck also could serve to Clarkson to stop trying to force offense and just keep it simple. Maybe he needs to go back and watch some NJ tape.

    #4: Maybe we’re beginning to see the Kadri v. Holland issue be resolved. Holland, while not bad, has not done what many here felt he would do. Last night (I haven’t check TOI tonight) he played nearly 9 mins, same as MCC at ES, and to be honest, has not looked like a guy who’s ready to tear it up if only he played 2nd line minutes, and I don;t see him being dependable enough in his two-way play to merit that chance at the risk of costing the team. Maybe it’s time to send him to the AHL to learn how to play wing, especially if the intention moving forward is to sign Bolland to an extension. Otherwise the LEafs are risking losing him through waivers at some point or having him serve as a Black Ace.

  • 17Forever

    DeclanK Great Dane The big difference is the 2 blow outs against us and only the one game we destroyed against Chi … Besides that .. a ton of tied games and shoot out wins .. I do agree though we could stand to get scored on less … maybe if we kept our shots down to like  “30” a game !!

  • 17Forever

    Great back to back win !! In Colorado to boot !! Must have some lite breathers on our team !!
    6 in a row … Perfect timing.

  • Great Dane

    17ForeverDeclanK Something like that would help a lot

  • LeafsForLife

    Ty for the recap Alec. Sure is a lot more fun when theyre winning. Its so much fun to the Leafs with swagger again. All those ppl who make their Leafs jokes are real quiet right now.


  • Kouba

    Great to see Leaf players in scoring and save% TOP10.

  • newkb

    Great DaneDeclanK So you haven’t been paying attention.  I am no Carlyle fan, but he has said nothing of the sort….he wants them to keep moving their feet and keep moving the puck forward, and grind it out in the other teams end.  The sitting back is 100% on the players.  Period.

  • Knights2Leafs

    As big a Kadri fan as I am, I’m not sure it’s fair to grade Holland at this point.  Yes, he’s now getting  more minutes on the 3rd line, but if the Leafs are leading, McC cuts into those minutes.  Also, his wingers are Raymond (who didn’t seem to click with Kadri either) and Bodie.  Last year Kadri was playing with better wingers. The two years before that, however, Kadri wasn’t getting quality wingers. Let’s wait and see when Clarkson is back and give it a decent stretch of games.

  • Knights2Leafs


    What else can be said about Phil the Thrill.
    Kadri needs to stop being so inconsistent.  One game he gets 2 points, the next only 1. Smarten up.
    Rielly is developing into an elite dman in front of our eyes.
    Bodie, Bodie, Bodie.  We can make fun of the nepotism but this guy comes to play hard and he doesn’t hurt our team speed. When Clarkson comes back I really want to see a 4th line of Ashton – McClement – Bodie. If merit means anything, both Ashton and Bodie in limited ice time have shown they are a better option than Orr unless we really need a face puncher against a specific team.

  • MaxwellHowe

    How about the conditioning?  I had no impression that Leafs were emphasizing conditioning, but to win your 3rd game in 4 nights.  A mile above sea level.  Against a young fast hockey team, and never once appear to be outskiated.  That is very impressive.

  • JWaterdrager

    CanuckUKinToronto that is an easy schedule. 14 game winning streak before the olympics sounds good to me

  • Knights2Leafs

    Top scorers for the Leafs:
    First 6 are:  Phil, JVR, Kadri, Raymond, Lupul, Bozak
    Next 4 are:  Franson, Dion, Gardiner, Rielly
    I really love the quality of our top players and not even Randy’s systems can hold them back.

  • Burtonboy

    Knights2Leafs Like or dislike Bodie all you want he is what I like as a 4th line tough guy. He can skate and he can play . IMO pure enforcers are a thing of the past and within 3-5 yrs you won’t see many if any  of them left arounfd the league.

  • Knights2Leafs

    Did I mention that Orr, McLaren and Smithson cumulatively have 0 points?

  • Burtonboy

    MaxwellHowe I felt all along and said so on many occasion I felt the Leafs biggest problem was confidence.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Knights2Leafs Thats why they invented the phrase “it goes without saying”

  • Belfour20

    By the way I hope the assholes who wanted RC fired are choking on their words right now. RC knows what he’s doing, this is his first full season and these guys already think they’ve tuned him out….

    Theres 4 members of this team that I count on. 


    Keep the faith.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Burtonboy MaxwellHowe Confidence and emotional investment.  I would suggest that last season the Leafs became a beter team after beating the Bruins in late March – and I think the same thing has happened this year.  The Leafs soundly beat the Bruins last week and, all of a sudden, are playing an utterly different game.

  • cyf8

    This asshole still wants Carlyle fired.  If he had deployed a decent lineup for the entire season, the Leafs may have been challenging for first in the east.  He STILL throws Orr in the lineup every possible game when he clearly has better options.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Belfour20 The important thing is that we all learned a lesson about not making rash and thoughtless declarations because within a shirt period of time everything could change and the hunters could become the hunted, or something like that.  wink wink

  • B_Leaf

    James T Reimer was absolutely fantastic last night, and Phil Kessel may have played his best game of the year. What I really liked about both their games was that they were catalysts for the rest of the team. The team fed off Reimer in that they knew he was locked in and a good effort wouldn’t go without a result. With Kessel, one of the things that has often bothered me is that it seems he has needed the rest of the team to play right for him to play his best (sort of), but like down the stretch last year and certainly last night he was the straw that stirred the drink. 

    I think Legwand would be a fantastic add for this team.

  • TuckerForPunishment

    Killer review Alec and some amazing insight.  Those stats regarding the past 100 games are impressive.  I bet if you take out the epic slide that cost Wilson his job (about 25 games) and go back another season and a half a lot of people would be surprised at our record.

  • Knights2Leafs

    Lol – as I’ve said over the last several days, these guys are winning in spite of RC.  We were almost over the cliff before he learned to move Lupul back to the left with Kadri and move Mason to the 3rd.  IMHO Nonis essentially gave him the warning by bring Holland back up and RC was forced to put him on the 3rd line and put McC back on the 4th.  Let’s see how the balance of the year plays out to see if Randy has learned to adapt. He’s still on thin ice in my books.

  • Mind Bomb

    A Victorious Good morning To all !!!!!!

  • reenergized

    Mind Bomb feels good doesn’t it?

  • B_Leaf

    reenergized Mind Bomb 

    Whoooah! (Ric Flair head bob)

  • Mind Bomb

    reenergized Mind Bomb  Hhahah, every time :)

  • TuckerForPunishment

    Burtonboy MaxwellHowe The psychological part of the game is more important than skillset at the NHL level.  All these guys in the league are capable players.  Some have the mindset to ignore the pressure better than others.  That can apply for an entire team as well.

  • Mind Bomb

    cyf8  He still employs raymond, so I am not going to argue lol

  • TuckerForPunishment

    reenergized Mind Bomb OH YEAH  (Macho Man constipation)

  • Knights2Leafs

    cyf8 With the exception of being without both Bolland and Bozak at the same time, can’t say I disagree. I’ve never agreed our players are too soft, Mason included.  In any one game, anyone of the might play softer but when healthy I think our roster stacks up with just about anyone in the league.

  • Mind Bomb

    Knights2Leafs Belfour20 Yep, I believe Nonis explained to RC that mis-usiing talent is a No No :)  I am not sure if Nonis sent Holland down, provoking RC’s hand, would he have adapted

  • Burtonboy

    Knights2Leafs Belfour20 My biggest issue with Carlyle wasn’t systems,it was his line decisions and his bench management. I’m still not 100% convinced the recent decisions are all Carlyle or more a matter of decision by committee. All the coaches and management would have a say in any meeting and while RC gets the final call its a safe bet if the majority in that room feel changes had to be made he really doesn’t have much other choice but go along with it. I’m back on board with RC for now

  • Ryan

    I was listing to tsn radio 1050 on the way to work and they are saying that Jacob Trouba could be the calder trophy winner.
    Pierre Mcguire said this is a crazy class for rookies. Morgan Rielly wasn’t mentioned. Tsn also said that Trouba will be a norris winner in the next 5 years

  • Burtonboy

    MaxwellHowe Burtonboy I had a feeling if they could get past Boston they would go on a run

  • B_Leaf


    Trouba is absolutely outstanding…that doesn’t take anything away from Rielly

  • sniperstar

    Phil’s become a lot more comfortable in front of the cameras it seems. He was cracking jokes that whole interview and it just had a different feel then it used it.