Jake Gardiner dazzled in his best game of the season, David Clarkson FINALLY scored his first goal of the season and Jonathan Bernier was good when he needed to be as the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped the New York Islanders 5 – 2. Trevor Smith, Phil Kessel (2), Mason Raymond and Clarkson all scored for the Leafs, who won their second straight game. Smith (1G, 2A) and Joffrey Lupul (3A) tallied 3 points apiece as the Leafs cruised to a pretty easy victory. Bernier made 35 saves for his eighth victory of the season. Kevin Poulin struggled for the Islanders, making just 19 saves. Casey Cizikas and Frans Nielsen responded for the Isles.
1. Despite their middling record, the Islanders came into Toronto having won their last three matches at the ACC. They also have one of the league’s top forward trios with Jonathan Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo combining for 66 points through the first 21 games. But that didn’t matter all that much because Joffrey Lupul carried the puck cleanly through the neutral zone, sifted through the defense, cut towards the net and found a wide open Trevor Smith out front who scored the game’s opening goal just 22 seconds into the game. Lupul assisted on the goal, Smith’s fourth of the year, breaking a mini slump (2 pts in last 9gp prior to tonight). Hockey’s Handsomest Line™ (Lupul, Smith and Clarkson) was creating chances every shift they took tonight, combining for 7 points.
2. Jake Gardiner was electric in the first period. He turned a defensive zone fourth line shift into two offensive chances. Firstly by adroitly clearing the zone and getting the puck to Frazer McLaren and into the Islanders zone. Later in the same shift, Cody Franson pounced on a turnover and left a soft touch pass for Gardiner. With the Isles forwards switching their vectors onto him, Gardiner floated a surprise pass to Franson. Despite somewhat bobbling the back and forth, Franson had enough time and space to recover and get a crisp, low shot off. Later in the frame he also played a 3 on 1 textbook perfectly, neutering what should have been a good chance by the Isles. He saw 9 minutes through the first 20, 22 through the game, and had a shift in the second period where he was just a one-man breakout machine (fun fact, that was my nickname in high school).
3. For Gardiner’s heroics, his erstwhile (that means former, before you get on me in the comments) defense partner Paul Ranger had another rough game, especially at the blue lines. The Islanders were allowed to keep the puck in the Leafs end for nearly a minute due to Ranger’s inability to get it to the line AND out. With the Leafs applying pressure and the Kessel line on, Ranger turned the puck over at the blue line on a seemingly innocuous play, allowing for a chance the other way. That’s usually the recipe for a good old fashioned benching, so of course he went on to play 17 and a half minutes tonight, even in spite of a foolish roughing penalty towards the middle of the third.
4. Though the Leafs were outshot 11-7 through 20, they appeared to hold the balance of play through the first. The second period started off less favourably for the Buds, getting outshot 4-0 and out played through the first five minutes of play. It wasn’t until a borderline hit by Nikolai Kulemin on Tavares that the Leafs woke up. Though not instantaneous, the ice began to tilt in Toronto’s favour. The Leafs top two lines took to work, hemming the Isles in their zone for sustained periods of time, leading to the inevitable….
5. After James van Riemsdyk got hacked down in the Isles’ zone, the Maple Leafs took the game’s first power play mid-way through the second period. With a PP that’s been scoring nearly a goal per game and the Leafs surging, Phil Kessel took a pass from Lupul, button hooked, took a couple steps down to the circle, and took just a beautiful wrister that sailed passed Poulin’s blocker. The goal was Kessel’s 11th of the season and just his second in 8 games; with Lupul and Phaneuf picking up the assists. He’d later pick up his second goal of the game and 12th of the season off a 2-1 rush with van Riemsdyk to close out the third.
6. This is why you don’t make fun of people’s names.
Poor Casey Cizikas. First for being named Casey. But also for being a Mediterranean topping that pairs well with lamb.
Casey Cizikas, who isn’t a tasty thing that goes with donair, scores an absolute beauty on a breakaway with 11 seconds left in the 2nd, outracing Jake Gardiner (Not a typo) and slipping the puck through Bernier’s wickets. The Leafs held a 2-1 lead through 40, and I’m still sorry about the whole thing guys.
7. The third period started in a similar fashion to the second, with the Islanders controlling play. Shortly after Eric Boulton and Colton Orr chucked knuckles, Carl Gunnarsson blocks a shot and gets the puck out to Mason Raymond. The puck finds its way to a driving McClement in the center lane, who puts a shot on Poulin. Raymond was Johnny on the spot and buried the rebound to make it 3-1. The goal was Raymond’s 8th of the season, with McClement getting the lone assist. It was all over but the screaming at that point.
8. I wanted to use this space to discuss just how great a game Nikolai Kulemin had, but David Clarkson’s goal – and play tonight – warrant mention. The second line was great tonight. Their ability to wear the Isles down in the offensive zone was noticeable, and all three were rewarded handsomely on the score sheet. But for Clarkson, who is suddenly hot with three points in his last three games, his third period tally was the monkey off the back goal he so desperately needed. Much like Phil Kessel last season, it took Clarkson 21 11 games to pot his first, but it sure was a beauty. He played just a shade under 19 minutes tonight, and was hell for the Islanders to play throughout.
The line of Raymond, McClement and Kulemin was also effective while lining up against the Tavares unit for a number of shifts.
9. Special Teams Report: The league’s 11th ranked PK entering tonight (83.5% success rate) went 2/2 and kept the Leafs ahead the Islanders in the waning minutes of the second and mid-way through the third. Carl Gunnarsson, whom I maligned earlier this afternoon, made a huge play to block a couple shots with Bernier scrambling to get back in position. Gunnarsson’s selfless maneuver kept the Leafs two-goal lead intact with just over 10 left to play in the game.
The Leafs power play, ranked 3rd in the league with a 23.1 success rate, went 1/2 and helped put the Leafs out front by a two-goal margin. They never had to look back after that. For the record, the Zebras looked kindly on the Maple Leafs all game. In the first, Frazer McLaren attempted to instigate a fight with an unwilling Matt Martin. That probably should have been a penalty. Kulemin’s thunderous hit on Tavares, while the most hit Kuli’s had since May, was certainly on the edge of legality. The refs, thankfully, kept the whistles away, allowing for a fun, fast paced, even game.
Kessel’s 2nd of the night, the 5-2 goal.
10. The Islanders weren’t exactly expected to be a fearsome competitor facing the East’s third best team. Instead they served as slump busters, getting both Lupul and Kessel back on the score sheet after short droughts. It wasn’t always pretty for the full 60, but at no point did the game truly seem in doubt for the Leafs. There’s still plenty of room to grow, but this was a better, more dominant win than most for the Buds.
The Leafs will be in action on Thursday as they host the Nashville Predators. It’ll be the second and final regular season matchup between the two clubs; Toronto won their previous tilt 4-0.
Leafs/Isles Shot Location Data
Trevor Smith (3) Snap shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (5)
1 - 0 TOR
PPG - Phil Kessel (11) Wrist shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (6), Dion Phaneuf (7)
2 - 0 TOR
Casey Cizikas (3) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE
2 - 1 TOR
Mason Raymond (8) Backhand shot - ASST: Jay McClement (2)
3 - 1 TOR
David Clarkson (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Trevor Smith (2), Joffrey Lupul (7)
4 - 1 TOR
Frans Nielsen (10) Wrist shot - ASST: Josh Bailey (6)
4 - 2 TOR
Phil Kessel (12) Wrist shot - ASST: James van Riemsdyk (7), Trevor Smith (3)
Team Records: Leafs – 3-0-0 vs. Avalanche – 2-0-0 2012-13 Season Series: Two teams haven’t met since October 17, 2011. Key Matchup: Patrick Roy vs. ACC stanchions Fantasy Hockey: There’s a new way to play fantasy hockey that turns the season long grind into quick hitting one night leagues. And the best part is that you can win cash every single day. You draft a team for one night and get paid out as soon as the games end that night. Click here to play.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have avoided arbitration with defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, with the two sides agreeing to terms on a three-year contract. TSN’s Darren Dreger is reporting it’s worth $9.45 million. Salary is listed at : $2.85m, $3.15m & $3.45m.
The 26-year-old Gunnarsson had one goal and 15 points in 37 regular-season games for the Maple Leafs in 2012-13 and added an assist in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games.
A seventh-round pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, Gunnarsson has 12 goals and 69 points in 224 games for the Maple Leafs.
But when looking at Carl Gunnarsson’s future with the Toronto Maple Leafs, it isn’t a question of ‘if?’ It’s a question of ‘how much?’ The soon-to-be 27 year old is a restricted free agent this summer (on account of a late birthday) and you’ve got think he’s the third highest priority to re-sign after fellow RFAs Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson.
On the most recent Leaf Report podcast, both James Mirtle and Jonas Siegel agreed that Gunnarsson’s cap hit would likely fall between $2.5 and 2.9 million. Given the number of tough-as-nails minutes he plays, his chemistry with Phaneuf and burgeoning offensive game, I’d reckon his money will be closer to 3.5 million come July 5.
Whatever the cost, I wouldn’t miss the money, as 30-point defensemen and shutdown defensemen are not usually contained within the body of one man, and to have one so cheaply is doubly rare. The Leafs may need to improve their D corps, but Dave Nonis has real keeper in Carl Gunnarsson.
Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews lead a list of 47 players invited to a summer orientation camp for the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team.
The newcomers on the list include young guns like defencemen Alex Pietrangelo and P.K. Subban and forwards Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Claude Giroux and Brad Marchand.
The others are goalie Roberto Luongo, defencemen Dan Boyle, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber, and forwards Patrice Bergeron, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Mike Richards, Eric Staal and Joe Thornton.
The goalies are Luongo, who was the starter in the 2010 gold-medal game, as well as Carey Price, Mike Smith, Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby.
The other defencemen are Karl Alzner, Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Green, Dan Hamhuis, Travis Hamonic, Kristopher Letang, Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf, Marc Staal and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
The other forwards are Jeff Carter, Logan Couture, Matt Duchene, Chris Kunitz, Andrew Ladd, Milan Lucic, James Neal, Patrick Sharp, Jordan Staal and Martin St.Louis.
Wingers Nikolai Kulemin and Leo Komarov were invited to orientation camps for the Russian and Finnish Olympic squads.
USA Hockey had their roster announced Monday afternoon and Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner, wingers Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk were invited.
Mike Kostka: The undrafted 27-year-old rookie defenceman who went from little-known AHL journeyman to, for a while anyway, first pairing defenceman in the spotlight of the hockey universe, soon becoming a lightning rod of criticism amid Randy Carlyle’s perceived poor roster decisions.
In the interest of fairness and context, let’s take this story back to the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Coach Carlyle had to be creative in the early going – if not all season – in trying to assemble a steady top four group of defencemen. Recall that Jake Gardiner was not himself at season’s beginning, still recovering from a concussion suffered with the Marlies. Gards did not play in the season opener and came back to play only two games (17 and 20 minutes respectively) before being sent to the Marlies (until March) to rediscover his game shape, timing and confidence. Gardiner was a defenceman who, given the promise of his rookie season and the seeming ease with which he skated the second most minutes per game on the team the year prior, many of us were banking on to shoulder a heavy workload.
Just a little over 24 hours since the Game 7 letdown, it’s become clear to me I am way too emotionally involved with a damn hockey team; so much so that I start to wonder about myself for being this brutally devastated over a game. But I want to say that Leafs Nation is a special, special thing. I enjoy the fans of this team almost as much as I enjoy the team itself. That’s a weird statement to make, but for those that don’t live here or haven’t experienced playoffs in Toronto, it’s a beautiful, crazy thing. Just as the weather seems to turn a corner, sun dresses are dawned, beers consumed on patios, car stereos are cranked a little louder (mandatory windows down) and Leaf flags start appearing everywhere you look.
The Leafs are back in Toronto down 3-2 in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. One more win and it is back to Boston to determine the winner of what has already been an excellent display of hockey.
I want to take a moment to praise Gardiner. Friday night’s game was the best I have ever seen Gardiner play. I noted a while ago that there were many issues plaguing Gardiner’s game that the coaching staff needed to iron out. From missing assignments to giving up strong body position on the walls, or simply not being physically engaged, it was a really rough stretch for Gardiner.
Toronto looks for their 1st win on home ice in this series (and in 9 years) and you can expect that they will be a little less tight in the 1st period than they were in their 1st playoff game at the ACC on Monday night. Toronto has been getting progressively better during the series and looks to be the match of Boston if they play their system and don’t gift them goals like did the entire game on Monday.
It’s official. The Leafs will face the Bruins in round one.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for the Habs on Tuesday. As much as the last four games against the Habs have been a mixed bag, the Leafs have been able to play their game and play to their strengths against Montreal. The Leafs have played the Bs much more competitively this season, but the Bruins have still been effective at negating the Leafs speed and skill up front, slowing them down and forcing them to grind for every goal. While the Bruins have backed into the playoffs, their forecheck is still top notch. For a Leafs team that struggles to diffuse a forecheck with efficient breakouts, that’s a scary prospect. The Bruins have experience, the core of a past Stanley Cup winner and play a tough playoff brand of hockey.
The Leafs are all but set to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years, yet there is an inordinate amount of vitriol being directed at Toronto’s head coach Randy Carlyle, for some reason.
Considering pretty well everyone predicted the Leafs not to make the playoffs, it’s pretty funny to see the coach leading a surprising playoff appearance – and a team that’s currently fifth in the East and 7th in the League – get chastised
After looking at potential trade targets in last week’s preamble, it only makes sense to look at the Leafs potential trading chips for the deadline that’s two days away.
Around the trade deadline, eyes always gravitate towards pending UFAs and the Leafs currently have five. It’s safe to say UFA to be – Colton Orr, Mike Kostka and Ryan Hamilton – aren’t going to bring Toronto anything via trade so we can cut them off the list of names to discuss. The other two UFAs to be are Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur.
No, just kidding. He’s pretty awesome. He is an immensely gifted, up-and-coming defenseman, but he does have a little bit of learnin’ to do. In light of his recent scratch, I wanted to take an opportunity to delve more into his role with the Leafs and the relationship of his play against the overall performance of the Leafs defense over the course of the season. To that end, I will be looking strictly at even-strength play rather than specialized roles like the power-play or the penalty-kill.
Now, I’m not about to dig up every rumour out there on the internet and go through it, but I do want to provide some thoughts on the team, the direction of the organization, and what’s out there before the Leafs do (or don’t) make any moves.
With the boats now foolishly burnt and the season 31 games old, the Toronto Maple Leafs sure look like they’re reeling into form. Since starting the season with a record of 15 – 9 – 0, the Leafs have gone 1 – 3 – 3 in the past seven games, collecting only five points in the standings and now sitting precariously in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Through the good graces of the Hockey gods and the incompetence of their direct competition (the Jets, Hurricanes and Rangers all lost in regulation last night), the Leafs are just barely keeping their head above water.
The Tampa Bay Lighting (13-15-1) are in town to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs (15-12-2).
The other day, Randy Carlyle called the Leafs’ inability to initiate clean breakouts and avoid getting hemmed in their own zone “the big mystery with this group.” He’s taken steps toward resolving it with the addition of both John Michael-Liles and Jake Gardiner to the lineup, who will apparently play together on a pairing tonight as the defence takes a shape much closer to what many armchair coaches were penciling together before the season. It will be interesting to see how the pair affect the breakout and overall puck movement off the backend. Gardiner will also look to inject some life into a powerplay that’s 0 for its last 19.
Speaking of interesting quotes from the other day, Dave Nonis was asked if the Leafs were in the midst of a downfall akin to last season, with his team currently on a 0-3-2 skid. Nonis said, “The one difference I would draw – I just went over the last 5 games – I think there was only one game where we weren’t happy with the performance and the effort. Last year, when things were going poorly, were were unhappy with the effort a lot more than that.” So let’s hope that translates into an upturn in results before the Leafs play their way out of the playoff picture.
The Leafs were hurt by an off outing from Ben Scrivens in their last meeting with the Lightning. Facing their first non-playoff opponent in five games, this is also a good time to get their first win in five games. James Reimer gets the start.
Liles and Gardiner form the second pairing, with Kostka remaining in the press box for the third straight game. Phaneuf and Gunnarsson will be tasked with the Stamkos and St. Louis head-to-head. Vinny Lecavalier is out with a broken foot.
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Toronto Maple Leafs Line-up vs Tampa Bay Lighting, March 20th, 2013