I’d love to say it doesn’t matter how you get the points at this time of season, but forget the constant chatter about the team’s shot totals; the biggest issue — and something that, should it continue, will almost assuredly prevent this team from going anywhere in the playoffs — is its inability to hold onto a lead when the game conditions change in the third period.
It was predictable, really. The Flyers are one of the best third period teams and the Leafs one of the leakiest. Toronto entered the final 20 with a 2-1 lead and wound up winning 4-3 in OT. Their record of 24-1-2 when leading after 40 despite 22 third-period leads forfeited has been saved entirely by their skill as a 4 on 4 team in OT and in the skills competitions. It’s 5 on 5 in OT in the playoffs and there are no shootouts.
There’s two main issues at play here. The first is that the Leafs cannot chew clock when they need to. The Leafs continued to get their one-and-done rush opportunities throughout the third in this game (JvR rush, Bozak-Kessel 2 on 1, etc), but unless they outscore their problems, it’s going to be in trouble. They cannot get pucks in deep, establish the forecheck effectively, and cycle with consistency.
The other issue is how the team reacts to the ramping up of pressure by the other team once the pinching starts. Among other problems, the immediate response by this team is to flick a puck into the neutral zone to nobody but the other team and wait for the play to come right back down their throat. This team is afraid to make skilled plays under pressure late in games. Either it’s a panicky emergency response, or it’s instruction… either way it’s not friggin’ good enough. Have to be able to make better plays under pressure.
Rant over with. What a game, by the way!
- It was a secondary scoring explosion by the Maple Leafs; who would’ve thought they could put up 4 goals with none of Bozak, Kessel or JvR on the scoresheet?
- I thought the Kadri line and the Gardiner-Franson pairing was the Leafs’ best at forward and defence respectively. The Kadri line feasted on transition opportunities.
- A nod to Troy Bodie, too. I wanted Ashton in his place in the lineup, but he was dog-on-a-bone determined tonight and it played a role in the first and third Leaf goals. Guy skates like a maniac.
- Jake Gardiner had an excellent game, and made an excellent couple of plays leading to the opening tally. He kept the puck alive for Bodie with a swooping pinch and shortly thereafter calmly deposited the puck into the net, with a tonne of time at the top of the zone as the collapsed Flyers stumbled over each other.
- I thought the Leafs were running away with this when I saw Steve Mason let in those first two. A lazy backcheck by the Flyers allowed Lupul and Kadri a tonne of space through the middle before Kadri ripped one home, his second goal in the last two. it looked to be going the way of a blowout. To his credit, Mason battled his way back into this one or this was never even a game come the second.
- Something about a Saturday night on home ice gets that little extra out of Nazem Kadri. Determined effort to support and battle down low in the defensive zone and a 65% night on the faceoff dot.
- Jay McClement burned Luke Schenn wide in the second period, initiating a fourth line flurry of chances in which Frazer McLaren nearly scored. JAY MCCLEMENT BURNED LUKE SCHENN. FRAZER MCLAREN NEARLY SCORED. Wild to think back to the days of the “Human Eraser,” eh?
- James van Riemsdyk is like a racer in the skills competition going around cones against that Flyer D. At least 3 times he skinned a Flyer D wide.
- Speaking of McClement, beautiful pass to set up the 3-2 goal for the Leafs after Bodie created the space.
- Mason Raymond is going to hit 20+ goals. The Leafs picked up a 20-goal scorer at training camp for 1 million dollars. Does that nearly make up for financial sinkhole known as the Clarkson contract?
- Glen Healy highlighted the minor Kessel giveaway in the corner, but the first Flyer goal was really more of a credit to a really good five-man attack by Philly. Sometimes the other team just does a good thing.
- With five minutes to go, there was a great example of why puck-moving defencemen are King in this league, or as Ken Holland once put it, the most valuable commodity. The Leafs were under siege and Rielly skated it out of danger expertly before making a nice little backhand pass up the boards at the blueline. The concept that there is no space for both Gardiner or Rielly on this defence is asinine. It’s just that they’re both young, do young things and make mistakes. There’s so much value in these two; let them mature. A refreshingly-low panic threshold on this Rielly kid.
- The powerplay went from the team’s lifeblood to a serious problem rather quick, didn’t it (0 for 20 since the Break)? Four shorthanded goals on two powerplays will do that, I suppose. You can see how it has affected the confidence on the units. They’re checking back on those tight zone entries and seam passes a confident powerplay will orchestrate. It’s really a matter of sticking with it and waiting for a good thing to happen.
- How many times has it been written in this space that the powerplay pairs are bad news despite the good PP results? Franson and Phaneuf were nearly caught again after Phaneuf couldn’t hold the blueline. A very similar thing happened to Gardiner and Rielly except it was hardly noticeable because there’s enough foot speed between the two to recover. Just put one of Rielly or Gardiner with Phaneuf and the other with Franson, already. Doesn’t this seem reasonable in light of recent events?
- Paul Ranger continues to play quietly solid hockey. It was interesting hearing him talk about how this role is a new ask for him. He wasn’t always a bottom-pair guy, of course. He used to play much bigger minutes and consider offensive contributions a big pat of his game; we saw some of that instinct in him earlier in the season, sometimes costing the team. He’s starting to figure out a role wherein he he’s asked mostly to outmuscle opponents down low, block shots, and make a solid first pass. I noticed, in the second period, Ranger blocked a shot and advanced the puck, began to follow the play up ice like he was joining the rush, thought better of it, and retreated. Not that there isn’t a time and place for that, but the Leafs don’t really need that element out of him so much as they do the other things.
- Happy to see Dion Phaneuf make up for a really poor third period in overtime by setting up the winner. (Great pass by Gunnarsson on that play, by the way). He really blew it on that 2-2 goal, falling over and then putting himself on the wrong side of the puck. He did that same thing once more down low in the third. In his defence, prior to the 2-2 goal, Lupul iced the puck and he was gassed while stuck on the ice.
- Joffrey Lupul turning to the glass and celebrating a game winner with the home crowd, arms wide open, late in the season… remind you of anything?
As much as my opening treatise was harsh on the team, this was a big two points before the Leafs head out on a five-game road trip starting with a brutal back to back against Anaheim and San Jose.
15-16 points are needed over the final 17. This road trip will be make or break.
Fenwick at even strength
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Philidelphia Flyers
|Jonathan Bernier (24-16-7)||W||31||28||0.903||62:21:00|
|James van Riemsdyk||0||0||22:02||-1||6||0||1||0||1||2||2||0|
|Steve Mason (26-15-6)||OTL||36||32||0.889||62:21:00|