Your Toronto Maple Leafs are now the hottest team in the League over the last ten games (8-1-1), and they’re doing it the Leaf way – with hot sticks and a hot goalie while getting repeatedly outshot (in all ten games). The Leafs have scored 35 goals over 9 games since beating Boston 4-3 on January 14. JvR (1g, 1a), Kessel (2a), Lupul (1g, 1a) and Kadri (3a) all mustered multi point nights in tonight’s 6-3 win over the Florida Panthers.
The blow by blow:
- This game started eerily similar to how the Leafs started in their loss to the Panthers in December, with an early opening goal against involving Kadri and a costly pinch. The puck squeaked by a pinching Gardiner on the boards, and it’s true the whole thing would’ve been avoided if he managed to cut that puck off successfully, as he was in a position to do. But one bad pinch was far from the whole story, with two men in a position to support. Kadri identified his man, Bjugstad, on the backcheck, but he got outskated and outmuscled. Morgan Rielly stepped up on the puck carrier on the blueline, relying on Kadri picking up his man. Bjugstad got fed the pass for a breakaway and made it 1-0.
Perhaps it ended up working in their favour in the end, spurring #43 on as he was flying for the rest of this game. Great at both ends.
- Also similar to the first meeting with the Panthers, the Leafs went down 2-0 in the first. Franson had control of the puck inside the blueline and jammed it into a Panther stick for a turnover. Bozak fell as the puck was turned over, while Kessel had left the zone in search of the pass. Brad Boyes walked in on a 2 on 1 with only Gleason back, Bernier guessed on the pass and stumbled, and Boyes buried his obligatory goal vs. the Leafs.
- This period was a microcosm of Franson’s season, as he made it 2-1 with a great point shot shortly thereafter. The Leafs were in between on a change; Kadri ended up out there with JvR and Kulemin. Kadri gained the zone, fired a shot on net, and eventually worked the puck back to the point to Franson. Franson’s lethal short-windup wrister went off the post and in, with Van Riemsdyk garnering the 2nd and 3rd assist for providing the screen.
Big goal there to get the Leafs within reach before the end of the 1st.
- Randy Carlyle started each period in this game with the third line of Raymond, Holland and Bodie. They probably had the best shift (an extended cycle) of the first period, and they made their coach look smart to start the 2nd. Gleason got the play started with a breakout pass up the wall to Bodie, who hit Raymond in stride through neutral ice. Raymond backed off the Panthers D, with Kulikov affording a generous gap, and ripped one from inside the top of the left circle, his 14th of the season.
- Not even a minute later the Leafs made it 3-2 on the PP. Kessel off the half wall, tipped home by JvR in front. Rinse and repeat. Hat tip to Scott Gomez for that powerplay… keep being excellent.
- The Leafs sagged after taking the lead. In bizarro Leafs fashion, they won the period 2-0 and didn’t play a particularly good 18 minutes out of 20. The Leafs were outshot 7-2 to start period but scored on both of their shots. The top pairing and top line had three shifts worth of defensive zone adventures, but Bernier stood tall. Dion Phaneuf in particular just seemed a step behind tonight, and overall has been looking gassed earlier and earlier in games. I’m as big of a Phaneuf proponent as there is out there, but he looks like he needs that Olympic Break.
- Kulemin added the game winner four minutes into the third. After Kulemin gained the zone, Kadri was tenacious on the forecheck to cause a turnover for Lupul to collect. Lupul found Kulemin in the slot for a rocket of a one timer. Often it’s Kulemin in deep having to do the down-low work for his linemates, so it’s nice to see him benefit from some hard work by Kadri down low, burying his eighth of the season.
Sometimes it seems like Kulemin will never score again, but that goal showed off his release and goal scoring instincts, as Kulemin sniffed out the shooting lane and timed it well. He plays around a .5 PPG pace when he’s with these two, dating back to last season. 5 points in his last eight games for Kulemin.
- This Kadri, Kulemin and Lupul trio makes you look back at Lupul being on the right side with Raymond and Kadri and think, “why was that ever a thing?”
- The second powerplay goal of the game sealed it: Mr. One Man Zone Entry, Morgan Rielly, flew up ice and gained the zone, laid it off off to Kadri, who laid it off to Lupul for a vicious one timer into the top bunk. Stop that, Clemmensen. That was for 2007.
Speaking of Rielly, he was moved onto a pairing with Gleason and it looked pretty good. Conceptually I like the idea of Gleason providing the stay at home veteran presence while Rielly goes and takes some chances, but this is just part of one game vs. the Panthers.
- The Leafs stayed pretty aggressive at 4-2 and 5-2. A lack of fear of the opponent, perhaps, and the scent of easy points in the air seemed to have the Leafs pushing for more.
- Among those with late chances was Carter Ashton, who got some PK time and nearly scored on a shorthanded breakaway. This kid can’t seem to buy his first NHL goal.
- The Panthers pulled within two to make it mildly interesting, after a lost draw by McClement led to a goal off a fluttering point shot from Kulikov. McClement overall was excellent on the dot, however, winning 77% of 13 draws, and was 7 for 10 in the defensive zone, many of which were on the PK. This enabled quick clearances on PK, which went a perfect five for five. There isn’t a more anemic PP in the league than the Panthers’, especially with Barkov out, but it’s something.
- The icing on the cake was Kessel burning a tired Nick Bjugstad and threading the needle to Bozak to make it 6-3. It’s telling that Kessel was clearly never going to shoot the puck there, which is something we’ve seen from Kessel time and again. He always plays set up man when a game is secure.
The Phil is now sixth in league scoring.
These Leafs are red hot:
- Phil Kessel: 19 points in his last 11 games.
- James van Riemsdyk: 12 points in 11 games.
- Tyler Bozak: 21 points in 20 games.
- Nazem Kadri: 12 points in his last 8 games.
- Joffrey Lupul: 8 points in 9 games.
- Tim Gleason: 10 blocked shots to the face.
|Jonathan Bernier (19-15-5)||W||38||35||0.921||60:00|
|James van Riemsdyk||1||1||21:46||0||3||2||1||0||0||1||1||0|
|Scott Clemmensen (6-5-1)||L||32||26||0.812||59:55|