Friday, May 22, 2015
Authors Posts by Alec Brownscombe

Alec Brownscombe

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 6: Tyler Bozak #42 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against Jamie McGinn #11 of the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on November 6, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

We shouldn’t have to spill ink on the head-scratching decision that was the Morgan Rielly scratch, but it ended up clearly affecting the game in a negative way, so here we are. In Arizona, Rielly did get caught on a bad pinch and coughed up the puck at his own blueline, one partially leading to a goal against (assist to JvR’s giveaway behind the net), but he also directed six shots on goal in that game and had recently been playing well.

Alas, Carlyle’s decision was quickly exposed as a poor one in this game. Stuart Percy struggled jumping into the lineup cold against one of the league’s faster group of forwards, getting stuck on the ice for a few long own-zone spells and turning the puck over a few times – one especially costly for the 3-2 goal. And of course, the loss of Jake Gardiner exacerbated the situation two fold and it was suddenly apparent the Leafs were lacking mobility on the backend with a group of Phaneuf, Franson, Polak, Percy and Robidas left standing. In the OT period, especially in the 3 on 3 situations, the Leafs were without Gardiner and Rielly, leaving Franson and Phaneuf as less than ideal options with all the open ice.

As for the game in general, the Leafs looked unprepared to start the game for the second time in a row on this road trip. A fast start by the Avalanche was met by a deer in headlights response from the Leafs as they were a second late on a couple of plays in the first shift and went down 1-0 before fans had cracked their first beer.

The Leafs were outshot attempted 36-25 in the first and it was easy to see why. The Avs love to carry the zone with speed and have a couple of players highly proficient at it; the Leafs were putting up little resistance through the middle of the ice and it was forcing their D to back off. The Avs were coming through them far too easily in the first.

The beauty of having difference-makers like Phil Kessel on your team is that it takes mere seconds for him to turn a bad opening road period into a wash through 20 minutes. After a good play by Kadri to get a takeaway and turn the play up ice, it was a vintage rocket of a Kessel pass that Panik whiffed on with an empty net waiting, before Kessel batted in a bounce off the endboards out of midair in an impressive split-second reaction.

Considering the bad first shift and early injuries to Winnik and Gardiner and the dumb scratch, a point isn’t too bad of a result. The Leafs fought back to even the possession battle by game’s end in what was an entertaining game of two skating teams not playing especially sound defensive hockey.

The best news of the night is that Daniel Winnik feels “fine” after a scary incident in the first minute and Jake Gardiner’s knee injury is being described as a bone bruise.


Tyler Bozak – Playing some great hockey on this road trip. Could tell he was playing with a little extra jump on account of returning to Denver. Had some tireless shifts where he recovered a few pucks and made some nice plays. Would like to see more of those moments from Bozak where he’s making sure to always be moving his feet / has the bit between his teeth to go make the puck his. Must be said he’s looking just fine away from Kessel so far, although it is worth noting 4 of 5 goals and 6 of 12 points have come on the powerplay. Bore down on his chance in front and continues to say “what regression?” with his 16% shooting percentage. 67% on the dot and 6SOG tonight, topped off with the always-reliable shootout goal.

Stuart Percy – Obviously a game to forget. Ray Ferraro seemed to speak too soon, complimenting him for an early breakout pass because his night quickly unfurled after that. Made a total mess of a basic pass reception and was stripped on the boards, leading to Duchene’s goal in the third. Pawed a puck down for Tanguay to walk in on Bernier alone in the second period. Struggled with the speed of the Avs forwards at times; he’s not slow but not fast either – maybe best described as efficient – and his game relies on smooth puck handling and smart decision making, both of which let him down tonight. Important to note he hadn’t played in a while and he ended up playing more minutes than Carlyle would’ve liked given the way his game was going due to the injury to Gardiner.

Roman Polak – Strong play at the blueline to keep the puck in with two strong whacks before Kadri drew the penalty in front; that led to the Tyler Bozak goal. Didn’t identify Tanguay sneaking off the bench for the 2-2 goal, but it was a crafty veteran play. The pairing with Percy was a struggle overall; scary moments when Polak and Percy were stuck out against the likes of MacKinnon and Landeskog. Partially due to the Gardiner injury, he played a whopping 28 minutes against all forms of competition, which is much more than should be asked of him, so we’ll commend the effort overall.

Nazem Kadri - Ray Ferraro highlighted a couple of good defensive plays by Kadri in the first, which was deserved. Nearly had a self-made goal after stripping an Avalanche player of the puck and walking in on Berra. Made the flip play for a Kessel breakaway half way through the 2nd… unfortunate to come out without a point on the night. Surely the dam breaks and the points start pouring in at some point as he’s playing too well to be at 5 points, including just one assist, through 13 games.

Richard Panik – Mixed night, clearly a little out of his depth out of necessity, moving up due to the Winnik injury. A big goal to earn the team a point, but he was noticeably fighting it for periods, too, and obviously can’t play the game at Kessel’s pace or skill level (not a knock on him, we didn’t need to see it to know). He’s faster than was advertised but seems to be lacking balance and coordination at points. Not yet sold he’s an everyday NHLer, but scoring big goals when moved up the lineup never hurts.

Matt Frattin – Did get a shift or two with good linemates due to the line shuffling, but not much was doing. Zero shots in 9 minutes of action. I don’t think Carlyle is ever going to have much time of day for Frattin if he doesn’t see him go out and get on the body from the get go.

Phil Kessel – This was his kind of game and he had his electrifying moments. Good job sticking with the play rather than exiting the ice in disgust after he served up a goal to Panik that went to waste. Up to 7 goals and 18 points in 13 games. The Phil.

Dion Phaneuf – Bad note to start the game with the half-hearted battle behind the net in the build up to the opening Avalanche goal, but a solid and committed physical game overall. Over 31 minutes of action and came out in the plus column along with 7 hits. Can’t complain tonight, but that won’t stop some from doing it, of course.

Stephane Robidas – Seems to always be good for a few unnerving giveaways and a few crafty veteran plays a game. Still a little behind the pace at times, and Randy didn’t have the luxury of controlling his minutes, but he got by. Going to wait until the 25 game mark to start making judgments with Robidas especially. Admitted he didn’t fight Iginla because Iginla can fight much better than he can. Points for honesty?

Leo Komarov – We’ve talked ad nauseam about the good things this guy brings every night; unless otherwise stated, assume they happened. Also, the first goal has to be coming. Seems to be getting lots of chances around the net lately. I liked the brief look at Kessel, Komarov and Kadri late in the game; they nearly won it with seconds to go.

JvR - Not his most noticeable game, but great pass out front to Bozak on his goal and I did notice him take a nice lunge at someone as the first period was ending. The mean stuff doesn’t come natural to JvR, but it’s nice to see now and again given his size.

Cody Franson – Great D-splitting stretch pass for a breakaway, and good puck movement throughout. Has been playing closer to mistake-free hockey lately. Moving the puck decisively, firmly and accurately, and taking his man out of the play with regularity. Lots to like about his game of late. Saved a goal on a first period penalty kill and added two assists tonight.

Peter Holland - Lots of minutes tonight (19+). Looked good again on the penalty kill, is a quality passer of the puck and was extending plays in the offensive zone. 3 for 16 on the faceoff dot is a sore thumb.

Sam Carrick - Not much to note other than him getting some more PK time after Winnik left the game, and looking in place doing it. He was great at it in the AHL and it will be a big part of his toolbox as he continues down the path of becoming a regular NHLer.

Mike Santorelli - Instrumental in getting the point by gaining the zone and setting up the tying goal with a look off to the point before sliding it to Panik in the slot. Best used as a C on this team, but this was a better game on the wing than in Arizona. Played 19 minutes, which I like seeing as his seasonal average has been a tad low for my tastes at 12:45 TOI/G.

Jonathan Bernier - He seemed to get caught on the fresh ice and slid too far, leading to the first goal (not much help from any of his teammates), and when he’s really on his game he maybe gets back in time to make the save on the third Colorado goal by Matt Duchene. It was a poor shootout showing to put it lightly, getting beat five hole twice, partially kicking in the third goal by Tanguay. He battled well to keep the Leafs from a multi-goal deficit in the first, but it was a mixed bag from Bernier.

Shot Location Chart

Shot location chart.
Shot location chart.


Possession Chart

chart (6)

Maple Leafs Boxscore Stats

D. PhaneufD0001207202-0:450:5331:07:00
C. FransonD022-1032302-0:381:0022:24
S. RobidasD0000213202-0:111:1023:00
R. PanikR1122032213-0:000:0014:35
J. van RiemsdykL011-1270202-0:340:1320:35
P. HollandC000001000019%0:001:4919:25
M. SantorelliC011100201167%0:151:5819:15
D. WinnikC0000000000-0:000:000:14
M. FrattinR0000001100-0:040:009:06
T. BozakC101-106220367%0:340:1320:43
N. KadriC000000010245%0:000:0017:02
R. PolakD0000014311-0:002:3728:12:00
L. KomarovC000-205400250%0:152:0120:24
S. PercyD000-2032302-0:002:1919:45
J. GardinerD0000000100-0:000:312:55
S. CarrickC000001000040%0:002:017:38
D. ClarksonR000-2013000-0:000:0018:12
P. KesselR1121061000-0:340:0018:34
J. Bernier 3-3-228 - 313-30 - 031 - 340.912064:49:00

Maple Leafs Possession Stats

Player  All Situations    Even Strength    
#NamePositionCorsi ForCorsi AgainstCorsiCorsi For%Zone Start%Corsi ForCorsi AgainstCorsiCorsi For%Zone Start%
18RICHARD PANIKR217147533217147533
24PETER HOLLANDC231496242201196550
25MIKE SANTORELLIC201735436201376140
4CODY FRANSOND322485772292095971
12STEPHANE ROBIDASD201465957191365957
46ROMAN POLAKD312655426292275736
42TYLER BOZAKC262065769242045571
81PHIL KESSELC302555573282535370
45JONATHAN BERNIERG737215050686445255
71DAVID CLARKSONR181715167181715167
3DION PHANEUFD4040050683839-14971
21JAMES VAN RIEMSDYKL2626050672426-24869
50STUART PERCYD2124-347291921-24838
43NAZEM KADRIC1922-346451922-34645
47LEO KOMAROVC1923-445421619-34650
39MATT FRATTINR712-53729712-53729
53SAM CARRICKC412-8254048-43350
51JAKE GARDINERD17-612014-3200

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 20: Tyler Bozak #42 of the Toronto Maple Leafs passes the puck against the Phoenix Coyotes during the third period at Arena on January 20, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

Unprepared to start the game.

That was the story of the Leafs’ 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night as they tried to dig themselves out of a 3-0 hole and ultimately couldn’t overcome it.

TORONTO , ON - NOVEMBER 1: James van Riemsdyk #21 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his 100th NHL goal in front of Michal Rozsival #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks during NHL game action November 1, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s a four-point weekend for the Maple Leafs.

Among the fan base, it was ‘blow it up’ last week, ‘playoff bound’ the next.

James ReimerThe Leafs needed their goaltender to be their best player to get this win over one of the league elite in a back to back and that’s exactly what they got. While it could be argued he should’ve come up with a save on one of the first two goals, James Reimer was every superlative in the book in the third period to close this out as the Maple Leafs just hung on for dear life – tonnes of collapsing with a lead late in the third for Toronto, which is all too familiar.

How bad was the domination by Chicago in this game? The end probably sways the perception. Shots were 21-20 going into the third; Peter Holland’s early goal ensured score effects took over, but 26 shots against in 20 minutes isn’t really an acceptable result regardless of game situation, let alone with a precarious one-goal lead.

This was a fantastic hockey game from the viewing perspective – early on in the 2nd period it seemed to bust wide open into a full-on track meet; two good skating teams whose top skill lines were just going at it.

The Leafs weren’t winning their matchups in terms of possession so much as they were more opportunistic and got top notch goaltending. The one line that had some success in the possession battle, for the first 40 at least, was a trio of Mike Santorelli, Peter Holland and Leo Komarov who were going up against the fourth line of Chicago comprised of Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith.

Not giving up an even strength goal to the Blackhawks is an achievement, but it’s worth noting that the Hawks entered the game 23rd in 5v5 scoring and 21st in GF/G, so it’s been a struggle of theirs in the early going (but is unlikely to last).


In Toronto’s last five games they’ve outscored the opposition 15-3 at even strength. Wow. – Draglikepull ?@draglikepull  8:57 PM – 1 Nov 2014

“Carlyle on Reimer’s performance: In reality, he was number 1 star, simple as that.”

What happens if the powerplay wakes up?

Between Bernier and Reimer having a good week and the 5v5 offensive production, things are looking a little better in Leafland right now. It’s still early to be making conclusions in either direction.

Pretty great to hear the ACC crowd come to life in a good way, especially in support of Reimer, as the Leafs closed out this game.


Toronto Maple Leafs vs Chicago Blackhawks Boxscore

D. PhaneufD0001064-1:583:1124:41:00
C. FransonD0001003-2:151:4320:14
S. RobidasD0001214-0:071:2217:28
R. PanikR0000011-0:000:004:12
J. van RiemsdykL1011031100%3:140:5521:24
P. HollandC101203455%2:171:4516:35
M. SantorelliC000001050%0:070:0013:40
D. WinnikC011100333%0:073:2219:51
C. AshtonR0000010-0:000:004:06
T. BozakC000021045%2:351:0320:45
N. KadriC101102173%2:170:1918:00
M. RiellyD0001000-2:020:4817:21
R. PolakD0001042-0:073:0020:55
L. KomarovC0111012-0:072:4016:10
J. GardinerD0001001-3:290:0019:35
S. CarrickC000020150%0:000:004:15
D. ClarksonR0001221-1:380:0015:06
P. KesselR0112010-2:350:0019:39
J. Reimer45 - 470.957060:00:00
J. Bernier0 - 0000:00

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Chicago Blackhawks - Leafs Possession

Player All Situations    Even Strength    
NamePositionCorsi ForCorsi AgainstCorsiCorsi For%Zone Start%Corsi ForCorsi AgainstCorsiCorsi For%Zone Start%
DION PHANEUFD1641-2528331330-173041
CODY FRANSOND1023-133050718-112850
STEPHANE ROBIDASD1219-739461117-63950
RICHARD PANIKR23-1402523-14025
JAMES VAN RIEMSDYKL1734-1733531428-143345
PETER HOLLANDC181625350151145862
MIKE SANTORELLIC1016-63860916-73656
DANIEL WINNIKC1133-2225271025-152933
JAMES REIMERG4487-4334413771-343444
CARTER ASHTONR23-1402523-14025
TYLER BOZAKC1139-282241833-252038
NAZEM KADRIC1722-544501421-74050
MORGAN RIELLYD1831-1337381529-143443
ROMAN POLAKD1845-2729251736-193230
LEO KOMAROVC1128-1728331022-123142
JAKE GARDINERD1417-345571114-34450
SAM CARRICKC23-1402523-14025
DAVID CLARKSONR1318-542441018-83644
PHIL KESSELC1827-940621524-93856


Toronto Maple Leafs vs Chicago Blackhawks Toronto Maple Leafs vs Chicago Blackhawks Corsi

Player Notes

Player notes courtesy of Anthony Petrielli

  • Phil Kessel- Led the team with 62% zone starts overall, but was second with 56% at even strength. The Leafs didn’t shelter Kessel’s line matching (was out against Kane quite a bit), but they did protect where he started on the ice. Had a few strong entries leading to scoring opportunities, including the opening goal of the game. Was able to set up in the offensive zone and pass it around with Nazem Kadri making 5v5 play at times look like a power play. Despite all that and playing nearly 20 minutes on the night, he only had 1 SOG. 
  • Nazem Kadri- Like Kessel, Kadri also had high OZ starts relative to his team (50%). Finished off a great passing play to open the scoring. Got into it with Kane at the end of the second after getting slashed in the back of the leg. Crushed at the faceoff dot winning 73%. Has to make sure he doesn’t get too cute playing with Kessel because he passed on a few shooting opportunities to try low percentage passes through multiple bodies.
  • Daniel Winnik- Showed some quick hands to take the puck on his backhand and pass it on his forehand to Kadri for a tap in on the opening goal. Played 20 minutes on the night, including a team high 3:22 on the PK, which was a sore point on the night as the Hawks worked it around with ease and scored twice. Carlyle leaned on him at the end of the game and he helped get it done, but it was far from pretty. As with the Komarov note, he needs to work on his PK rotations up top to close gaps and lanes on the PK.
  • JVR- Led all Leafs forwards in ice time with 21:24 and only Gardiner played on the PP more than him. Happily accepted his gift from Oduya and buried against Crawford in the slot. For some temporary relief late in the third he was able to get the puck up ice, get a SOG, and OZ draw in the process which was a big deal at the time because the Leafs were getting dominated. Leafs lean on him for PP zone entries and he delivered tonight helping set it up cleanly more than a few times.
  • Tyler Bozak- Has continued to create despite playing without Kessel, but will have to start shooting. Had multiple 2v1s where his pass was stopped which is easy to criticize in hindsight, but eventually you have to start putting pucks on net. Had one SOG in the game, but also just missed the far corner on a backhand in the slot. Was out at the end of the game and lost the draw to Toews (was 45% on the game). Played over 21 minutes on the night and a lot of it was against Toews.
  • David Clarkson- Only played 15 minutes tonight despite the rest of his line playing over 21 minutes each. Took a really dumb penalty in the offensive zone late in the game which was unnecessary. Did have a few shots on goal and was able to work the cycle. Made a nice chip off the boards in the D-zone to spring Bozak on a 2v1 with JVR to open the game.
  • Leo Komarov- Made two big plays in the game to help get the win– Crushed a Blackhawks D-man and then centered the puck to Holland for the game winning goal, and later blocked a shot with seconds left on the clock to seal the game. Struggled on the PK with Winnik in their rotations up top and to properly pressure the points which allowed for a lot of shots up top. Late in the game Carlyle really leaned on him to seal the game as he was out for the entire final minute.
  • Peter Holland- Season high 16:35 of ice time including power play, penalty kill and a promotion to 3C time. Had a scoring chance off a rebound in the second but held on for it a second too long, but in the third he learned and quickly released a one timer that ended up being the GWG. Was 55% at the dot and had the highest even strength OZ starts on the team as they relatively tried to shelter him.
  • Mike Santorelli- Had the second highest OZ starts on the team to Phil. Played under 14 minutes, but was noticeable on the cycle and eating the puck down low behind the Hawks goal line. Doesn’t appear Carlyle trusts him defensively as much as Tortorella did last year yet, but Santorelli was out there protecting the lead with a few minutes left.
  • Carter Ashton- Won a few battles in the corner and tried getting a cycle going. He shows flashes out there but as is the norm, did not get much ice time. The fourth line had 25% OZ starts across the board, which was the lowest on the team.
  • Sam Carrick- Drew a penalty on his first shift, planted Brad Richards on his second shift, then shortly after took a hooking penalty. Later in the game he drove the net hard and went through Oduya in the process. Showed some hustle and spark but like the rest of the fourth line played under 5 minutes so there’s only so much you can say.
  • Richard Panik- Failed to find the puck and bury it when Carrick drove the net, but it’s tough to get in the game when you’re sitting for the majority of it. Did throw a puzzling no look backhand pass up the middle in his own zone that a Blackhawk defender picked off, which is an effective way to insure you wont see much ice time.
  • Dion Phaneuf- This was a pretty vintage Dion Phaneuf game. He played over 25 minutes, led the team with 6 SOG, and threw some crunching hits including one that will make many Leafs fans happy on Kris Versteeg. Playing PK 2 actually helps him in a game like this because he played at least a minute less than he would have otherwise, which would have pushed his time on ice close to 27 on the night. Only Polak had lower OZ starts, which make his 6 SOG all the more impressive. He’s stopped trying to hammer the puck and really focuses on getting the puck on net.
  • Cody Franson- Unlike his partner, he actually didn’t have a SOG. On more than a few occasions he was pressured and shot the puck intentionally wide so you can’t blame him when he’s making the right read and not shooting into shin pads. Also unlike his partners, his OZ starts were among the highest on the team at even strength, which was probably in part because Phaneuf played a ton down the stretch and not all the time with Franson. Had a nice slap pass to Bozak in the slot on the PP in the first that almost turned into a goal.
  • Roman Polak- The Leafs saddled him with the lowest zone starts on the team other than the fourth line, and he played nearly 21 minutes doing a lot of the heavy lifting on the night. He actually had 4 SOG which was second on the team. After a Kane pass he buried him on the boards, and he sacrificed his body more than a few times around the net blocking passes and getting guys out of the crease.
  • Morgan Rielly- Finished the weekend without a SOG (this includes the CBJ game). Led a few solid breakouts with strong outlets, sucking forecheckers in and using the net and his speed to turn the corner on guys. Played a little over 17 minutes and had some secondary PP time. Partnered with Polak, he had some of the lowest OZ starts on the team but this at least allows him to use his speed and passing to begin the rush.
  • Stephane Robidas- Had the lowest TOI of any D-man on the team tonight and one of the highest OZ starts on the team as they’ve been trying to ease him in the line-up. Despite that, he was counted on down the stretch for some minutes and tough play around the net. Made a really nice read on Kane in the second after Kane won a race to a loose puck behind the line and tried a no look center pass that Robidas blocked by sliding. His one SOG was a cannon in the slot.
  • Jake Gardiner- Getting power play one time with Franson and doing a good job leading breakouts with his speed. His 3:29 on the PP led the team, however he did not have a SOG on the night. Tonight Gardiner’s decision making was just a second behind the play, taking an extra stride to hit wingers on the breakout instead of passing it immediately or skating himself into a corner on the rush.

David Clarkson
Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

Tough back-to-back weekend on the docket for the Maple Leafs: First, a visit with a (albeit banged-up) Blue Jackets team that’s had their number followed by a member of the league’s elite in the Chicago Blackhawks, who will be rested and waiting in Toronto for the Leafs to arrive back from Columbus tomorrow. How Carlyle handles the minute allocation this weekend amid the recent line changes is going to be an aspect worth monitoring.

Sep 26, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle watches play from the bench against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Links:

Here’s a great quote worth highlighting from Billy Beane in this article, and it’s notable because things like the culture and character of the team often become popular focal points in this market when things aren’t going well:

I have always viewed culture and chemistry as a by-product of success. If you put the performances on the field the culture will follow. I have seen very few really good teams who don’t have a good culture, and very few poor teams that have a good culture.

When we are bringing in staff, the character and type of person they are is certainly important. We use ‘soft’ scouting to evaluate a player’s personality as well as ‘hard’ scouting, through our proprietry analytics, to assess their quality. But we always remember this: there’s plenty of good baseball players who weren’t necessarily great team-mates but they were great players on great teams and ultimately that is what you are trying to achieve.

As a guy who runs a small business, I have to make sure I have return on my investment. I don’t have the ability to quantify chemistry or culture. And because I can’t, I’m not going to invest in that alone. I’m going to invest in facts. If you win you will create a good culture – so concentrate on the most important things to winning. If I have a small amount of capital to invest I will invest in trying to win and hopefully the chemistry and culture will follow.”

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Nazem Kadri
Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

With an ugly loss to the Boston Bruins, the Maple Leafs have fallen to 1-4 on home ice, and Randy Carlyle sounds lost for answers again already.

While the Bruins carried the edge in play, this was somewhat of a nothing game for the first 40. A flukey first goal and a bad pinch put the Leafs behind 2-0. It wasn’t out of reach until a disastrous early third period powerplay, which this game seemed to hinge on, yielded a shorthanded goal against. 

Oct 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mike Santorelli (25) celebrates a goal on Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (50) by Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner (not pictured) during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was one of the bigger question marks entering the new Leafs season: Who is going to shut down the opposition’s top lines? So far there has been no viable answer.

Zetterberg and his line ripped the Leafs apart in the back to back over the weekend. Crosby’s line had its way with the Leafs the Saturday before last. Rick Nash was able to pot one before leaving the game to attend the birth of his baby the following Sunday. Six games in, the Leafs sit bottom 10 with a 3.17 goals against per game.

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 18: Henrik Zetterberg #40 of the Detroit Red Wings and Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs battle for the puck during a NHL game on October 18, 2014 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs will have to settle for just one point out of four as the weekend back to back versus Detroit ended with a last-second OT loss at the Joe. And a Jonas Gustavsson shutout (smh).

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TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 21: Phil Kessel #81, James van Riemsdyk #21, Joffrey Lupul #19 Dion Phaneuf #3 and Cody Franson #4 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a second period goal as Jonas Gustavsson #50 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on during NHL game action December 21, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs are going to have to manage the puck more effectively through neutral ice and find an answer for the Gustav Nyquist, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen (who may not play… game time decision after getting injured last night) line or else it could be four points dropped to a division rival in 48 hours.

The Wings’ top line scored all four goals on the Maple Leafs last night, with Justin Abdelkader getting in on the action in the third after taking Franzen’s spot on the top line. Zetterberg walked away with four assists on the night. The Leafs’ lack of a line they can trust in the toughest matchups has reared its ugly head early and often in this new season.

Every team in the League knows Toronto’s top offensive weapons like to trade chances and thrive off the rush; the Wings were successful in maintaining structure in the neutral zone, forcing ample turnovers out of the Leafs and thriving on the transition. The Wings were credited with 12 takeaways to the Leafs’ four in last night’s loss at the ACC.

It was only line three that found any level of success last night thanks to a willingness to get pucks deep and go to work (ironically, their goal was scored off a rush play).

Matt Frattin is expected to step into the place of the injured Brandon Kozun on line four, while Jonathan Bernier takes over the net for his first start since his bad outing versus the Pittsburgh Penguins a week ago today. No other lineup changes are known as of an hour and a half before puck drop.

Projected Lines

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Roman Polak take a seat after his dash-three last night, with Stephane Robidas returning to the lineup. Polak really shouldn’t be on the ice against someone of Henrik Zetterberg’s talent, which speaks to the coaching staff’s current issue with finding trustworthy players who can shut down the opposition’s best, be it up front or on defence.

We’ll know more come game time.

The good news is that the Leafs put four goals past Jonas Gustavsson on 23 shots last season, and five on 21 shots in their final preseason game earlier this month.  Let’s hope he performs like the ‘Monster’ we came to know during his time in Toronto.


Maple Leafs

James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – Daniel Winnik
Leo Komarov – Mike Santorelli – David Clarkson
Richard Panik – Peter Holland – Matt Frattin
Dion Phaneuf – Cody Franson
  Morgan Rielly – Roman Polak
Jake Gardiner – Stephane Robidas
Scratch: Stuart Percy
Jonathan Bernier

Red Wings

Gustav Nyquist – Henrik Zetterberg – Johan Franzen*
Tomas Tatar – Riley Sheahan – Tomas Jurco
Justin Abdelkader – Darren Helm – Andrej Nestrasil
Joakim Andersson – Luke Glendening – Drew Miller
Niklas Kronwall – Brendan Smith
Jonathan Ericsson – Jakub Kindl
Kyle Quincey – Danny DeKeyser
Jonas Gustavsson

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 17: Cody Franson #4 of the Toronto Maple Leafs battles with Gustav Nyquist #14 of the Detroit Red Wings during NHL game action October 17, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Not a good first half of a back to back for the Maple Leafs, to put it lightly.

leafs-wings-quick-stats2Credit where it’s due, this was a well played/coached game by the Red Wings. Mike Babcock’s team effectively clamped down on the neutral zone, causing turnovers and giving the Leafs’ top guns nothing off the rush (line #1 for its part packed up its bags nice and early).

Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf
TORONTO , ON - OCTOBER 14: Phil Kessel #81 and Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Phil Kessel's overtime winning goal against the Colorado Avalanche during game action on October 14, 2014 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the clash of the Corsi outlaws, it was the Maple Leafs on the right side of a 40-24 shot count and a 3-2 final scoreline.

A physical, high-paced affair with loads of offensive talent on display, this was the best (at least, most entertaining) game of the Leafs’ 2014-15 calendar so far.

The Maple Leafs took this game over from the second period onward, outshooting the Avalanche 31-12. As the game wore on, the Leafs managed to attack in waves with their speed and establish something resembling a consistent forecheck. Worth noting is that the Avalanche were a tired team playing the second leg of a back to back with travel in between.

Building on the improved systems play in the last game of the pre-season, the hope is that the Leafs can morph into a team capable of actually defending and coming out on the right end of close games. It’s far too early to make such declarations, but the neutral zone play was better tonight than at almost any point last season, the breakout looked a little more organized, and lines 2 and 3 seem to be winning the possession battle at even strength.  We’ll stop there for now before we get too far ahead of ourselves.

It’s pretty rare that the Leafs demand less than 25 shots of work out of their goaltenders. It’s a challenge in and of itself for a goalie to stay sharp and provide timely stops while seeing just 12 shots over the final 40 minutes in a tight hockey game, but timely goaltending is exactly what Reimer has been providing through two starts. He’s allowed four goals over two games and none can be even partially pinned on #34. Reimer will get a well-earned chance to keep running with the net.

Just like that, the Maple Leafs are back to .500, with three reasonably well played games to their name outside of the Pittsburgh debacle.

Player Notes

  • Roman Polak – Some key shot blocks on the penalty kill. Beat a few times playing a little too aggressive against players with far superior skillsets. Killed a few cycles with his bear strength on the walls.
  • Joffrey Lupul – The Leafs’ best impact forward since game #1. He’s not just playing physical, but occasionally crushing players. Winning lion’s share of his battles,  creating chances .. Lupul is a real presence out there right now. Have to love his flare for the big goals.
  • Phil Kessel – This game was a good example of why you have to keep going back to the well with elite talents like Phil. Off for most of the game, turning pucks over like crazy – including one shift in the third where he blew three passes in a row – he broke open a breakaway late in the third before winning it on his own in OT. Kessel has not played even close to his best hockey and he’s got two goals and five points in four games.
  • Brandon Kozun – Played a little more than Holland and Panik thanks to the occasional PK shift, and made his impact on the game despite 5:50 of ice by drawing a penalty; kept his feet moving and negated a late Avs PP, putting the Leafs on the man advantage for a minute-thirty.
  • Nazem Kadri – Still the penalty drawing king (drew 2 tonight), and looking a little bit stronger on the puck when he needs to be this season.  Quiet start production wise, but his line looks good and it’ll come. Good night on the faceoff circle, going 69%.
  • David Clarkson – Starting to find a groove.  Getting way more touches on the puck below the hashmarks, which is his bread and butter. He had one moment late in the second period where he sent it back to the point to no one rather than taking the opening and driving the net with the puck.  He’s taking the right steps, though, and is finding his home next to Santorelli and Komarov. Slowly gaining confidence back.
  • Cody Franson – It’s such a frustrating powerplay pair with Dion Phaneuf when the unit isn’t already set up in the offensive zone. The Leafs didn’t even generate a shot on a late third period powerplay with a chance to win the game; on that PP, both Franson and Phaneuf attempted to carry in and gain the zone, and the puck was quickly shot 150 feet down the ice thereafter.
    7 shots on goal from Franson tonight, however. He didn’t see Duchene sneak into the slot on his 2-1 goal, but you also have to tip your cap to Duchene’s shot.
  • Stuart Percy – What more can be said? Barely edged out for the icetime lead by Dion (23:34), including over 5 minutes on the powerplay. With Phaneuf in the box  after roughing it up with Iginla in the 2nd period, he spent nearly the whole PP on the ice and looked like a veteran PPQB. Seems like he has 360 vision sometimes and is generally unaffected by pressure; quite the knack for sucking in forecheckers and releasing a hard pass on the tape to get his team moving up and out of the zone.
  • Richard Panik – Finally had a shift in the third where he got a few touches and worked the cycle briefly. Not really getting the ice time required to show anything, but the combination with Holland and Kozun doesn’t appear to the the answer on line four.
  • Peter Holland – Line four with Panik and Kozun was the catalyst for the first Avs goal, getting pinned in on their first real shift of the game. Will Randy mix in Frattin and/or Ashton and try to revive the fourth line, or continue to use it sparingly, or both? It’s something we’ll be monitoring.
  • Stephane Robidas – Carlyle is trying to ease him back into game action, with around 13 minutes and change in ice the past few games, but if he was younger and didn’t have the benefit of doubt he would certainly have been stapled to the bench after a few terrible shifts in this game. He was really lucky to have not lost this game on his own; he was burned on the first shift for a breakaway, negating it with a hook, and turned a puck over directly onto Duchene’s stick late in the 2nd for another breakaway against.  He missed half of last season and almost all of preseason, so the veteran deserves some time and patience.
  • Leo Komarov – Fantastic game, again. Gives this team swagger. Threw some great hits, including one that was just the right amount of dirty on Jan Hejda, and created a number of chances with his endeavours. Should’ve had a goal to cap it off.
  • Mike Santorelli – Him and Komarov are the team’s worker bees and have not wasted any time at all providing this lineup with a proper checking line. As Anthony pointed out this morning, when does Carlyle bump Santorelli’s icetime up above 11 minutes? Another good game – the third line was the first to wrestle momentum back after a poor start to this game by the Leafs.
  • Daniel Winnik – Consistently effective through four games. Forced the turnover on the Lupul goal, and set him up nicely for another good look shortly thereafter. Knows his role on the line and brings a repeatable, honest effort night in, night out. Just one assist so far, but with a couple of third assists where he was instrumental on a scoring play without touching the puck.
  • Dion Phaneuf – Best game so far this season. A physical presence throughout, he nearly put Jamie McGinn on the IR had McGinn not got his head up at the last second. Didn’t hesitate or back down from Iginla’s challenge to drop the gloves. Picked up another assist on the game winner.
  • Tyler Bozak – His line will always be scary in both ends, but he made a nice read to support Franson’s pinch, intercept a pass, and hit JvR for the fast break 2-on-1 that led to the 1-0 goal. Bozak also grabbed an apple on Kessel’s OT winner, bringing him to 6 points in 4 games; Bozak’s currently the team scoring leader in both goals (3) and points (6).

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Oct 14th

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Shot Location Chart

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Possession Stats

   All Situations     Even Strength    
#NamePositionCorsi ForCorsi AgainstCorsiCorsi For%Zone Start%Corsi ForCorsi AgainstCorsiCorsi For%Zone Start%
3DION PHANEUFD282355559211476067
4CODY FRANSOND3414207173201465956
12STEPHANE ROBIDASD910-14757910-14757
18RICHARD PANIKR13-2252513-22525
19JOFFREY LUPULR30121871832210126978
21JAMES VAN RIEMSDYKL26161062641416-24744
24PETER HOLLANDC12-1332512-13325
25MIKE SANTORELLIC101005011101005011
26DANIEL WINNIKC2218455462211116767
34JAMES REIMERG6950195849484085544
42TYLER BOZAKC2819960531618-24744
43NAZEM KADRIC32122073852310137080
44MORGAN RIELLYD211296473131035767
46ROMAN POLAKD1924-54415191635420
47LEO KOMAROVC1018-8368101005011
50STUART PERCYD2917126340161605027
67BRANDON KOZUNR13-2252513-22525
71DAVID CLARKSONR18108644212846022
81PHIL KESSELC31181363641518-34544
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Possession Stats

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Boxscore

3D. PhaneufD0112215300-4:303:2224:18:00
4C. FransonD0001073302-5:330:2021:23
12S. RobidasD0000212200-0:000:3613:28
18R. PanikR0000000100-0:000:004:44
19J. LupulL1010236000-3:130:0019:21
21J. van RiemsdykL1010051001-5:330:5019:30
24P. HollandC000001100025%0:000:004:31
25M. SantorelliC000002000180%0:000:0011:37
26D. WinnikC0001022100100%0:004:0118:23
42T. BozakC022103100258%5:210:3619:43
43N. KadriC000003001069%3:450:0020:15
44M. RiellyD0001001111-3:030:0018:10
46R. PolakD000-1004300-0:004:1920:21
47L. KomarovC000002400133%0:003:1314:32
50S. PercyD000-1023123-5:061:3523:34
67B. KozunR00000000020%0:001:325:50
71D. ClarksonR0000024100100%3:170:0015:51
81P. KesselR1120060050-6:090:0021:01
34J. Reimer (W)22 - 240.917260:18:00
45J. Bernier0 - 0000:00

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12: Joffrey Lupul #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs is stopped in the first period in the game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 12, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Just what the doctor ordered.

Coming off an embarrassing defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Maple Leafs needed goals from their top offensive players and a better performance in net – they got both in chasing Henrik Lundqvist and skating to an eventual 6-3 victory.

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NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 10: Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers positions himself in front of the net against James Reimer #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on April 10, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

Funny how much two games can change.

The context of James Reimer’s first start of 2014-15 is such that he could make the goaltending battle a battle again if he comes out with a big effort tonight in New York. With an effort from his teammates comparable to last night’s, however, he won’t stand much of a chance.

It’s time for the Maple Leafs’ best players to play like their best players. Two Tyler Bozak goals aside, the top line has been nothing short of horrendous to the point of borderline embarrassment; at one point last night, they were hemmed in their own end by the Penguins’ 4th line.

Three players who started big new contracts on Wednesday – Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner – all have to be way better, to put it simply, and it has to start tonight.

With the atmosphere already getting a little toxic at the ACC last night – showers of boos throughout, a jersey thrown on the ice – getting out on the road is probably not the worst thing in the world for the Leafs at the moment. It’s been close to the worst start imaginable for this team after the way it ended last year. The good news is that it’s early enough that a couple of good games can reverse the tide just as easily.

Expect some combination of Frattin, Ashton and Franson to factor back into the lineup for the Leafs. Daniel Winnik played a good game next to Kadri and Lupul on line two — maybe the Leafs’ only halfway-decent line last night — but Brandon Kozun down on line four with Peter Holland and Richard Panik yielded several shifts in the Leaf end.

It doesn’t seem that pairing off Robidas-Phaneuf and Gardiner-Rielly is really getting the most out of any of those players based on the first two games, so whether Carlyle and Horachek opt to alter the dynamics of their pairings remains to be seen.

And could Carlyle be so bold as to switch up the Leafs’ snowed-under top line? It seems doubtful this early, but they’ve really played a very poor last 15 games or so if we date it back to last season.

With Derek Stepan still out for the Rangers, the good news is that the Maple Leafs are up against one of few teams in the League that look as weak as they do at the center position.

The bad news is that the Rangers (1-1-0) opted to start Cam Talbot in last night’s loss versus the Blue Jackets and will therefore start Henrik Lundqvist versus the Leafs tonight. Rick Nash, meanwhile, is off to a hot start with three goals and four points in two games. The Leafs have had good luck shutting Nash down in recent meetings, keeping him off the scoresheet in four consecutive.

Leafs Lines

Peter Horachek Game Day Interview

Maple Leafs vs. Rangers

Goals Against/Game4.503.50
Shots Against/Game36.524.5
Even Strength CF%41.62%46.91%
Team SV%89.83%83.72
Team SH%5.26%11.36%

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 8: Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens battles against Stephane Robidas #12 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in their NHL season opener at the Air Canada Centre on October 8, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

A good first period featuring first-ever NHL points for Stuart Percy and Brandon Kozun – on Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri goals, respectively – gave way to a disappointing 30 minutes of hockey as the Maple Leafs dropped their opening game of the 2014-15 season.

Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

The Maple Leafs moved to 4-1-1 in preseason with a game that followed an awfully familiar script:

  • The Leafs’ first line was dangerous in both ends.
  • The Leafs gave up way too many shots, including 15 in 13 minutes in the 2nd period, and 38 overall.
  •  Jonathan Bernier was the Leafs’ 1st star.
  • The Leafs won an unconvincing game in a shootout.

We won’t hit the panic button until the results are similar with the full lineup, and system changes aren’t learned and executed perfectly overnight, but the early signs could be more encouraging.

A few other quick notes:

  • David Booth left the game with a bruised foot from a shot block, but again didn’t make much of an impact in his third game of preseason before leaving the game.
  • Brandon Kozun looked pretty good again, and really stood out covering ice on the penalty kill. It doesn’t sound like Booth’s injury is too serious, but Kozun would probably be the left winger to step into his place if need be.
  • Sam Carrick didn’t see much ice, playing under eight minutes this evening. Matt Frattin saw just 12 minutes as well.
  • A good lesson on the importance of blueline depth these past two games: Henrik Tallinder’s chances of making the team went kaput with his shoulder separation and the Leafs may now be without a significant piece on the back end if Cody Franson‘s kneecap injury is serious. Whether it was good idea or not, the Leafs  coaching staff seemed to have some thoughts about a Phaneuf and Franson pairing, so what they’ll do if Franson is out for a significant amount of time we’re not sure.  We’ll await word on the magnitude of the injury.
  • An encouraging sign: Morgan Rielly looked good playing a whopping 27 minutes of icetime this evening. With their already-thin blueline depth possibly taking a hit tonight, the Leafs can nary afford him taking a step sideways, let alone backward, this season; he’s had a good preseason that would suggest that won’t be the case.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Buffalo Sabres Player Stats

C. FransonD011-1031200-4:000:5715:12
P. GranbergD0110011110-0:104:0920:23
D. BoothL0000001102-0:050:4710:05
J. van RiemsdykL101-1250110100%3:511:1721:51
P. HollandC000-101120153%0:053:4616:44
C. OrrR0000702000-0:000:004:03
J. LeivoL0000211002-2:100:0014:35
M. FrattinR0000001100-0:150:0012:24
T. BozakC000002200063%3:510:5921:44
N. KadriC000004100160%2:101:3720:05
M. RiellyD000-1012010-2:523:0527:10:00
S. PercyD0111010010-2:013:5122:02
J. GardinerD000-1211112-3:300:0524:40:00
S. CarrickC000000000047%0:003:167:57
K. HolzerD0000213310-0:152:3720:45
W. NylanderC0000021000-2:120:0017:38
B. KozunR0000021201-0:003:1711:56
P. KesselR112-1040000-4:030:0021:04
A. Bibeau0 - 0000:00
J. Bernier36 - 380.947064:31:00

Game Highlights

Stiff competition is going to be the theme of this Maple Leafs training camp, more so than your typical September anyway.

Up front, beyond the five firm top six forwards the Leafs have on the roster plus David Clarkson, there are going be as many as nine forwards with NHL pedigree plus William Nylander competing for the other six spots.

The Maple Leafs added a few more names to the mix on defence yesterday as well, extending camp tryout agreements to Henrik Tallinder and Brendan Mikelsson.

It seems unlikely the Leafs would sign both given they don’t have many Standard Player Contract slots available. But, with Stephane Robidas unlikely to partake in much of camp, these two add more warm bodies to the mix, and the fact that they’re both vying for contracts should help ramp up the intensity of the competition a little bit on the backend.

Tallinder is a 35-year-old stay-at-home defender whose legs have slowed, and after consecutive 82 game seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11, he’s starting to show the wear and tear of a long career in terms of games lost to injury. It’s unlikely Tallinder comes in as anything more than a 7th guy if he earns a contract, but having his veteran presence around in the 7 spot seems preferable to having a kid rotate in and out of the lineup instead of playing big minutes with the Marlies. All contingent on how he looks in camp, of course.

Brendan Mikkelson, once a Marlie, has mostly been an AHLer since getting drafted by the Ducks in the second round of the 2005 draft, but his .49 points-per-game off the blueline in the AHL last season is nothing to shake a stick at. If we get ahead of ourselves and say he has a good camp and the club wants to hold onto him as quality depth, possibly helping fill the void left by TJ Brennan down with the Marlies, the Leafs could give him the one-way contract he’s looking for at $600,000 or so and send him down. The Lightning gave Mikkelson a one-way deal in 2012-13, but he signed a two-way with Pittsburgh and earned an AHL salary with Wilkes Barre in 2013-14.

The Leafs have plenty of depth battles shaping up front but could use a few more names in the mix on the backend — these two PTOs appear to address that ahead of next week.

Friday Links:

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Brandon Pridham
Brandon Pridham

The Maple Leafs have rounded out their front office by hiring a second assistant GM — Brandon Pridham.

Pridham has been working in the NHL head offices for 15 years, leaving a position as Director of the Central Registry and Central Scouting. Pridham will be the team’s resident capologist and CBA expert as well as negotiate contracts with the team’s pending free agents — the role Claude Loiselle was fired from in late July.