The Maple Leafs gave away a point tonight with their own boneheaded mistakes. That’s pretty much all there was to it, as they gave up the lead on three separate occasions and conceded five goals mostly through a series of avoidable giveaway errors.
Jonathan Bernier wasn’t at his sharpest in his first game back from the Olympic Break, either. You could tell he was a little off from the first shot against. His first save was on a shot from outside the blueline he seemed half asleep on, kicking a huge rebound into the slot that nearly led to a 1-0 NYI lead.
The Leafs opened the scoring on a goal that looked almost too easy from who else but Philly Snipes. Kessel swooped into the slot from his off wing and Tyler Bozak found him after rushing the puck down the right wall. Kessel’s 32nd goal (The Phil laughs at the idea of Olympic hangovers) was dedicated to Curtis Rush.
The Leafs seemed to be in good shape in this first period, conceding just two shots in the first 9 minutes, before a powerplay from hell somehow left them 2-1 down in the span of 48 seconds. With two shorthanded goals off the stick of the same player, Michael Grabner, this was a rare and ugly feat by the Maple Leafs. Grabner feasted on Leafs giveaways with his speed and endeavour throughout the night and the Leafs were fortunate not to concede a hat trick from him alone.
The first goal was Jake Gardiner’s gaffe, as he was simply too soft with his pass with Grabner bearing down on him in front of the Leaf net. 48 seconds later, Bernier came out to play a dump in and made the crazy decision to turn the puck back toward his own net rather than go hard off the boards and out, or at least into the corner. He was worried about Grabner bearing down on him, but turning toward his own net 10 feet out from it was the last thing he should’ve done. Rielly standing two feet away from the goalie didn’t help, but it was apparent he never anticipated Bernier’s decision.
What is it with Nassau Coliseum and bad Leafs goaltender gaffes, eh? Can’t wait until they move to Brooklyn.
As I was saying, Grabner could’ve had a hat trick before this game was half over as the Leafs continued to shoot themselves in the foot. A Gardiner giveaway at the blueline led to a breakway, this time with Bernier making a point-blank save look easy; he took away the top half of the net and showed off his ability to abandon the butterfly, read the shooter and make an athletic save when need be.
The Leafs were on the powerplay for the second time in the second period (fourth time in the game), but it seemed to be a case of “what’s going to go wrong next’ on the powerplay tonight. Phaneuf’s stick shattered, and with Grabner nearly taking a breakway pass for his shorthanded hat trick attempt, Dion negated the break with a smart play using his broken-twig-turned-ringette stick.
The scoreline remained tight at 2-1 up until the 48 minute mark. There was an offensive explosion in the final 12 minutes of the third, and it was who else but the top line leading the way for the Leafs. With 12 minutes to go, Kessel led the rush up ice, JvR collected, drove wide and flipped the puck off the cross bar. Paul Ranger was following up the play and jammed in the rebound.
After the Leafs gave up a grade-A chance that Josh Bailey fired high over the net, the top line completed the third period comeback. JvR caused a turnover with a good stick lift on the boards before finding Bozak in the high slot; Bozak found Phaneuf pinching down for a rocket of a one timer, his sixth goal of the season.
Carl Gunnarsson got beat and took a penalty shortly thereafter. On the penalty kill, which held steady for the first three kills of the game, Phaneuf chased up the boards trying to force the puck out and the Leafs’ PK lost its shape. The puck went D to D and Calvin De Haan found Josh Bailey to the side of the net; Bailey set up Anders Lee cross-crease for his first NHL goal. The Leafs’ PK is still 17 for its last 19, which is not too shabby.
Again the Leafs should’ve ended this game late in the third, only this time it was Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri chipping in after a quiet game from that second line. Lupul led a rush up ice, working a give and go with Kadri and lifting a backhand top corner on the far side for another beautiful quick-strike goal off the rush by the Leafs.
The Leaf giveaways were too much to overcome in this game, however. A failure to get the puck out by David Clarkson started the play off in the build up to the 4-4 tying goal, sending a blind clearance up the boards. Again, this wasn’t Jonathan Bernier’s best game and it cost the Leafs late; a squeaker slipped between his legs after a pass out from the corner, with a late whistle by the ref not helping matters.
In overtime, a turnover in the slot by the Leafs was the fitting conclusion to the game. This one was more misfortune than poor decision making, as a puck rolling on edge was fanned on by JvR and Anders Lee scored the game winner, his second goal in his first ever NHL game.
- The Leafs continue to lead the league in third period goals against, now with 70 through 61 games. Not pretty.
- Positive note: 12 goals from the defence in the last 15 games after Phaneuf’s sixth of the season in the third period.
- Another positive note: as bad as the powerplay was, it’s usually very good and the Leafs manufactured four goals all at even strength. Their even strength offence has been much improved since they turned the season around around 14 games ago; their 114 goals at 5 v 5 put them 10th in the league and they were seriously lagging in this area (near the bottom in the League, if I recall correctly) during their protracted slump.
- On the note of the powerplay, I don’t like the dynamics of the second powerplay unit. It should run through Kadri or Lupul, not Mason Raymond. Kadri is also a lefty but has far better playmaking skills or, alternatively, Lupul is a right-handed shot who could actually step into a few from that half wall position (latter scenario would require Clarkson in front).
- Interestingly, Tyler Bozak, who had nearly the same primary assists per 60 minute rate as Frazer McLaren last season at five on five despite centering one of the league’s most dynamic duos, is leading the team in 1st assists per 60 at five on five with nearly 1.2/60. That’s not just good enough to lead the Leafs; that’s top five in the league among players with significant minutes played and just a notch below the likes of Thornton, Malkin, Getzlaf. Bozak had two primary assists tonight on the Kessel and Phaneuf goals.
- Tyler Bozak was also 68% on the dot tonight, schooling Brock Nelson with 7 out of 8 draws won. Nikolai Kulemin won 63% of his draws, mostly facing Ryan Strome. Nice to beat up on some rookies in the circle, I suppose.
- Paul Ranger made good use of his 12 minutes of ice time. He comes in handy on the penalty kill, where the Leafs can use his strength in front of the net. He prevented a goal with an impressive show of strength, clearing out a Isles attacker before he beat him to a loose puck for a sure goal. He both saved a goal and scored one of his own after following up JvR’s drive to the net in the third period.
- Could be alone here, but still think Kulemin beside Kadri and Lupul is the best option on line two if Bolland returns on Saturday, with Clarkson next to Bolland, which looked good before Bolland went down to injury.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs New York Islanders
NEW YORK STATISTICS
|Calvin de Haan||0||1||23:11||-1||0||0||0||0||2||6||1||0|
|James van Riemsdyk||0||3||23:13||1||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|