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National Hockey League

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Although the Leafs went 1-2 last week, it really was one of their better weeks of hockey this season. They handily outplayed LA but just weren’t able to bury, and they laid a beating on the first place Hawks. It’s true that St. Louis completely outclassed them, but two pretty dominant games against two of the top five teams in the league is really impressive. The Leafs have to build on that as a positive.

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Brendan Shanahan and the NHL have come down on yet another Maple Leaf; this time for a cheap, blindside hit to St. Louis Blues player, Vladimir Sobotka, by David Clarkson.

Ruling Video

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Phil Kessel vs LA Kings

The Maple Leafs played their best game of the season, but were dealt a taste of their own medicine with a sublime goaltending effort by Martin Jones, ultimately thwarting a plethora of fantastic chances and a game full of uncharacteristic sustained offensive zone time by the Leafs.

1st period

The first minute of the game had the makings of yet another one of those games where Toronto was going to spend way too much time in their own zone (“The Leafs have difficulty getting the puck out of their zone™”).

That quickly changed at the 18 minute mark, with the Rielly/Gardiner pairing moving the puck with efficiency and  in the proper direction.

The initial fears of the game going the way of L.A. domination were scuttled at around the 16:50 mark; Lupul’s first touch was a scoring chance for Kulemin off the rush and should have been buried but for a fantastic save.

Come the five minute mark of the first, the shots were 5-3 Toronto. LA’s slow defense was having to hurry pucks on the breakout, and Toronto seemed more committed to a fast forecheck. If not physical, they were putting a lot of pressure on the Kings, who were being made to look like, well, the Leafs on any given night this season.

The penalty kill still continues to plague the Leafs game, and sunk them early. Despite taking the play to the slower LA Kings team, this was their chance to set up, control the play and get their 1-0 marker, which as an elite team they proceeded to do.

Despite the score, the shots were 9-4 Toronto late in the first.

One of the habits creeping into the Leafs’ heads more and more: their inability to close out periods and games. Inexplicably, the last minute and a half the Leafs were hemmed in and looked like they would concede another goal.

2nd period

The Leafs got off to a nice start to the 2nd period.

Toronto’s defence was pinching and activating on the rush regularly, and it was giving the Leafs a chance to show off their speed more than they have this season. The D pinching down the wall was giving the Leafs more zone time than as long as I can remember, as reflected in the shot and shot attempt count (as close to a proxy for possession as we have). The Rielly/Gardiner pairing got regular shifts with the Kessel-Kadri-JVR, and they were fantastic in every area of the ice. They held the zone well, made great tape-to-tape saucer passes, pinched with great timing and, of course, lugged the puck as you would expect; lots of clean zone exits,  zone entries, and controlled set ups in the offensive zone.

With Phaneuf  injured, it’s forced Carlyle to do things he never tries, which is having Gardiner/Rielly on PP#1 and  Gardiner/Franson on PP#2. The puck carrying duties went  to Gardiner on the breakout and the Leafs achieved easy zone entries by not having, without fail, Phaneuf and Franson on the same PP unit. The dynamic duo are able to pinch with efficiency and still have the skating ability to get back into position on time.

As the 2nd period was winding down, it was apparent that this was the longest stretch of good hockey  Toronto has sustained this season.

The Leafs finally evened the game on a 5 on 3 powerplay. It was Gardiner/Franson again, with Leafs  getting a flurry of great chances. More great play from the Leafs in front of the net drew a penalty. On the ensuing 5 on 3, Frason scored on a beautiful switch with Kessel on the powerplay. Franson and Gardiner finally called the audible and switched sides (which Carlyle seems to coach them not to do),  opening up two one-time point shots.

The Kings were previously a perfect 8 for 8 on 5 on 3s, but that changed tonight. The small victories, right?

That was a hell of a 2nd period for Toronto.

3rd period

The Leafs were exposing the LA Kings lack of speed; worth noting the Kings were in the 2nd leg of a back-to-back on the road.

A note I made before the game: I was hoping that the addition of Lupul would open up the lines a bit for Toronto and allow Lupul to avoid some coverage, and for the Leafs to roll two lines properly. He looked like the Lupul of old and had a number of great chances tonight; he was hard on the puck and drove the net with reckless abandon. It makes the Leafs a tougher team to play against.

The pinching was a bonus for the Leafs tonight, but it has also cost them with the go-ahead goal by Jeff Carter. A pinch from Ranger resulted in a 2 on 1. Fraser was in a tough spot; he can play it like a 2-on-1 and take the pass away, which he does for the most part, or take the shooter with Ranger closing in on the pass option. He correctly elected for the latter and Carter got off a sneaky hard shot through Bernier’s legs to make it 2-1 Kings. That’s a game breaker goal that Bernier has to save and he didn’t. This was a decidedly average performance from Bernier;  he needed to be better tonight. You wonder if starting Reimer against a team that doesn’t have the book on the goalie (like LA did) might have been the better decision.

Once again evident in the period, Gardiner and Rielly were dynamic tonight. Where they usually are a high-risk/reward combination, they were all reward tonight and moved the puck up the ice with skill and speed, making plays that are both exciting and effective. They beat LA’s heavy forecheck, as puck-moving defenseman are wont to do, when they play the game at a high speed.

There was a surefire holding penalty on the JVR rush missed by the refs late in this period. It was a free-hand hold, which is usually a call on every.single.play in every.single.nhl.game. While my tinfoil hat is currently at the dry cleaners, the calls against the Leafs this year are, quite frankly, staggering. I’ve never seen officiating as poor in the NHL in my decades of watching hockey. Perhaps coming out of the 2005 lockout when new rules were implemented, but that’s not saying much.

JVR blew by Regehr, but Regehr impeded JvR’s progress with the loose arm. That’s called holding.

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Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 10.54.10 PM

Shortly thereafter, Kadri got cross checked and absolutely filled in from behind by Voynov without the puck.

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 10.54.51 PM

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 10.54.52 PM

Alas, Kyle Clifford came back the other way and scored. Insert dagger here. Game over.

 

Leafs/Kings Shot Location Data

Leafs/Kings Shot Location Data

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Leafs vs Stars

The Leafs look to pick up their first win in five games tonight against the Dallas Stars. The Stars are 10th in the west with a 13-9-4 record, but some of below-average teams in the West would probably be good teams in the East. I caught parts of a couple of Stars games this season and this is a fast team.

Jerry D’Amigo received his first ever call up after four seasons with the Marlies and is expected to play on the Leafs’ 4th line tonight.

It seems Colton Orr is injured, and there is no word yet as to whether or not Frazer McLaren will dress for the Leafs. The Leafs waived Jerred Smithson and recalled D’Amigo though, so it seems Randy Carlyle is starting to get the idea after getting smacked over the head with the dangerous realities of icing a boat anchor fourth line, with a banged-up lineup, against a deep team like the San Jose Sharks.

Many fans have been waiting to see D’Amigo after some beastly playoff performances for the Marlies 2012 and again in 2013. He has been a 30-40 point player in the regular season, but has 21 points in 26 AHL playoff games.

D’Amigo will likely get some penalty killing time given Smithson is now with the Marlies and Tyler Bozak is out tonight. Hopefully D’Amigo has McClement and maybe Ashton as linemates to give him something to work with in terms of a cycle line.

Phil Kessel will play, Joffrey Lupul won’t. Jonathan Bernier starts. Tyler Seguin is in for the Dallas Stars. Stephane Robidas is out for a long time for the Stars.

We’ll know the lines closer to puck drop.

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Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin Shake Hands

The Leafs dropped their first December contest to extend the losing streak to five games, and six of the last seven. San Jose hurled 41 shots on the net and James Reimer was pretty good yet again, but it was another game where a poor first period meant that the Leafs were playing catchup all night.

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Luciano Pavarotti “Nessun Dorma”, Hockey Night in Canada Opening

“Nessun Dorma” by Luciano Pavarotti opens the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, the forever rivals, on Hockey Night In Canada on November 30th, 2013.

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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.

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.

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

Leafs/Isles Shot Location Data

SCORING SUMMARY
 
 
 
1ST PERIOD
0:22:00TORTrevor Smith (3) Snap shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (5)1 - 0 TOR
2ND PERIOD
11:19:00TOR PPG - Phil Kessel (11) Wrist shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (6), Dion Phaneuf (7)2 - 0 TOR
19:48:00NYICasey Cizikas (3) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE2 - 1 TOR
3RD PERIOD
3:39:00TORMason Raymond (8) Backhand shot - ASST: Jay McClement (2)3 - 1 TOR
12:52:00TORDavid Clarkson (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Trevor Smith (2), Joffrey Lupul (7)4 - 1 TOR
15:14:00NYIFrans Nielsen (10) Wrist shot - ASST: Josh Bailey (6)4 - 2 TOR
17:17:00TORPhil Kessel (12) Wrist shot - ASST: James van Riemsdyk (7), Trevor Smith (3)5 - 2 TOR

Islanders at Leafs - November 19

Leafs 5 vs. Isles 2.
NO.
PLAYER
POS
G
A
P
+/-
PIM
S
HITS
BKS
GVA
TKA
FO%
PPTOI
SHTOI
TOI
3D. PhaneufD0112004210-2:52:002:47:0022:16:00
4C. FransonD000-2024120-2:18:001:13:0020:56:00
11J. McClementC011101000159%0:00:002:47:0020:18:00
12M. RaymondL1011030000-0:32:000:00:0015:57:00
15P. RangerD0001202231-0:00:001:20:0017:22:00
19J. LupulR0330202010100%2:36:000:00:0019:28:00
21J. van RiemsdykL011102002125%2:36:001:13:0016:54:00
22J. SmithsonC000000320075%0:00:001:35:008:43:00
23T. SmithC123102121157%0:32:000:00:0016:43:00
24P. HollandC000001310014%0:00:000:00:0012:43:00
28C. OrrR0000504000-0:00:000:00:006:29:00
36C. GunnarssonD0003004131-0:00:000:52:0019:31:00
38F. McLarenL0000501000-0:00:000:00:006:39:00
41N. KuleminL00010332110%0:00:002:25:0017:26:00
44M. RiellyD0001012421-0:16:000:00:0017:45:00
51J. GardinerD000-1030110-0:50:001:48:0022:20:00
71D. ClarksonR10100251100%0:32:000:00:0018:49:00
81P. KesselC2021041000-2:36:000:00:0015:41:00
Goalie
NO.PLAYERSAVESSV%PIMTOI
45J. Bernier35 - 370.946060:00:00

Courtesy of the Toronto Marlies:

“The Marlies posted a record of 1-0-1-0 in two games this past week. On Friday night, Toronto traveled down the QEW for their third meeting of the season against the Hamilton Bulldogs, AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. Despite Josh Leivo scoring his first goal of the season just over five minutes into the game, the Marlies were defeated 2-1 in overtime. Martin St. Pierre tallied both goals for the Bulldogs, while goaltender Drew MacIntyre stopped 35 of 37 shots in the loss.

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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.

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48th Highlanders

The Leafs remain on an 82-0 pace after a thrilling home opener that had everything but a fight. The Leafs found a way to win despite a goalie pull and a 4-2 deficit, as their off-season additions shone bright en route to a 5-4 shootout victory.