First off, more important than the outcome of the game, the good news is that Paul Ranger is expected to check out of the hospital tonight after receiving a vicious hit from behind at the end of the first period. We’ll await word on the nature on the injury and hope for the best in the meantime.
As for the game, it was a maddeningly frustrating 60-minutes of hockey. There was the constant sense of fear and dread whenever the puck entered the Leaf end of the rink, beginning with a bad goal on Reimer 59 seconds into the game. There was some disturbingly poor defensive play from the Leafs (although Tampa’s wasn’t much better at points). There was some good mixed in, especially from the Leafs defence in the offensive context, but there was the sense that no amount of goals would be enough to surmount the Leafs’ defensive issues on this night, and Reimer looked far from up to making a collection of big saves.
The refs blew a call late in the game that changed the direction, to boot. The Leafs dominated the first half of the third period, had drawn within one with 11 minutes to go, and Jay McClement took a high sticking penalty. On the ensuing PK, Gleason was knocked over at the blueline and the Lightning scored on a cross crease shortly thereafter. That should be a short 4 on 4 followed by a powerplay to the Leafs, which, given their dominance of the 3rd to that point, may well have meant at least one salvaged point. (As Gus points out, Raymond could’ve done a better job reacting to that situation, but there’s no denying what was the main cause behind this goal).
James Reimer could not have fashioned a worse start after the controversy surrounding him and Carlyle coming off the last game. The 1-0 goal was a total stinker. Reimer had some traffic to contend with, but he was simply way too deep in his net.
It’s difficult to stick him alone with any of the other four. JvR didn’t take the lane away on the opening PK goal against (hopped over his stick), but how does Steven Stamkos get left wide open in front of the net two times more? It’s one thing to get beat by one of the purest snipers in the game, it’s another to hand him a couple of chances on the doorstep for easy conversions.
At a time when the Leafs should be tightening up their game down the stretch, they’ve never looked worse defensively. Tonight’s game was riddled with ‘puck-focused’ scrambling. The inference by Martin Biron on one of the intermission panels was that it’s a product of a lack of trust in Reimer. It’s a theory, although one that’s certainly tough to prove. It’s hard to imagine the opening goal did much for the psyche. At the same time, it’s just a case of basic execution when Phaneuf fails to pick up arguably the most dangerous goal scorer in the League in front of his net.
What Remier hasn’t been bringing that Bernier has most nights is that calming influence amid an often chaotic Leafs defensive zone structure. Bernier’s ability to kill a play after the team starts scrambling and the ability for his defenders to predict where he’s directing pucks are things that help out a defence group that is often easily strewn out. The Leafs need great goaltending, and Bernier’s been great. Reimer hasn’t been at fault, but there’s a big difference between the two. The Leafs’ margin for error in net given their defensive play is very thin, and losing Bernier is right up there with Kessel in terms of importance to this team
The bright spot was four more points from the defence as the the blueliners drove the offensive production tonight. Gunnarsson made a nice play to join the rush and find Kessel in front for the 1-1 tally. Gleason’s slap pass onto Kulemin’s stick was a smart little play for the Leafs 2-1 goal, and Gardiner’s 4-3 goal was an awesome individual effort. Witnessing Rielly and Gardiner’s ability to take over a game and apply relentless pressure when pressing late in the game has been one upside to the recent losing.
It has more or less gone from “thinking about home ice/second in the Division” to “hoping not to relinquish a wildcard spot” in three games. The next biggest game of the season comes this Saturday against Montreal. The heat is on and the Leafs are starting to wilt.
- Joffrey Lupul’s play alone could’ve been the source of a stomach ulcer for any fan watching him closely. The blown one-arm clearance on Stamkos’ third goal, the trip on Brewer negating an important (he had no chance at getting the puck) powerplay opportunity at the start of the 2nd, a number of times he opted for a fancy play in tight, or tried to pick corners rather than putting pucks low and hard at Bishop with traffic in front….
- The overdue Peter Holland should’ve tied this game with nine to go. Great effort by Bodie to scrum the puck along the wall (Holland, Bodie and Raymond was the line), followed by what looked like a sure-goal for Holland to the side of the net. Bishop did a “backwards fall” save that somehow kept it out. Man.
- 12 goals against in the last 4 for the Leafs. Toronto out shot the Lightning in periods 1 and 3 and 39-30 overall. Just a case of committing the more egregious defensive mistakes, with some bad luck, a bad goaltending goal and a refereeing hiccup mixed in there, too.
- The second line scores its goals with Clarkson and Kulemin on Kadri’s wings as Carlyle was frustrated with a turnover by Lupul early in the game.
- Brutal call on Clarkson in the first period. It was a nothing play and you hate to see games of this important partially decided that way.
- Probably going to be mixed reactions re: Clarkson’s thing with B.J. Crombeen. Some might not mind that Clarkson committed himself to being a pest full time if he’s not contributing anything positive to the game otherwise. Clinging onto someone who is refusing to fight and taking a holding penalty doesn’t seem too wise, though. (Pretty good punch he landed in that ensuing melee). You kind of feel bad for Clarkson in this situation, because you can tell he’s sensing the urgency and desperation of the moment, in big games like this down the stretch, but he’s really struggling to impact the game in a meaningful way.
The pressure is building and it will begin to reach a fever pitch at the ACC with Montreal in town on Saturday. I’d be excited if I weren’t so nervous. If Washington wins their game in hand, they’re two points back of ousting the Leafs from a playoff position.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning.csv
|James Reimer (11-11-1)||L||30||25||0.833||58:18:00|
|James van Riemsdyk||0||0||22:39||1||5||2||0||1||1||0||0||0|
|Ben Bishop (33-11-6)||W||39||36||0.923||60:00:00|