NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23: Benoit Pouliot #67 of the New York Rangers checks David Clarkson #71 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Madison Square Garden on December 23, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
It’s not time to sound the alarm, but the sense of urgency is heightened across Toronto.
The Leafs are still firmly in a playoff spot and, other than Detroit (who has three games in hand on the Leafs, but are also missing Zetterberg and, for the moment, Datsyuk), the 4+ point gap the Leafs have on everyone else is a much tougher hill to climb than it looks because of the “three point era” in the NHL. It’s extremely tough to make up ground at this stage of the season in this day and age.
Photo: Getty Images
Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs vs New York Islanders
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ first blowout loss of the season came at home to the Columbus Blue Jackets back on November 25, a game much like Saturday night’s in that the team was plainly outworked from puck drop. After getting booed off the ice, the Maple Leafs were probably happy to take to the road for the three games afterward. Booed after each period en route to a 7-1 loss to the Rangers and apologizing after the game on Saturday, the Leafs won’t get the same reprieve tonight. With a tenuous hold on the final wildcard spot, the Leafs will need to bounce back on home ice against a team they should be able to beat in the New York Islanders.
Photo: Getty Images
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.
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
|0:22:00||TOR||Trevor Smith (3) Snap shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (5)||1 - 0 TOR
|11:19:00||TOR|| PPG - Phil Kessel (11) Wrist shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (6), Dion Phaneuf (7)||2 - 0 TOR
|19:48:00||NYI||Casey Cizikas (3) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE||2 - 1 TOR
|3:39:00||TOR||Mason Raymond (8) Backhand shot - ASST: Jay McClement (2)||3 - 1 TOR
|12:52:00||TOR||David Clarkson (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Trevor Smith (2), Joffrey Lupul (7)||4 - 1 TOR
|15:14:00||NYI||Frans Nielsen (10) Wrist shot - ASST: Josh Bailey (6)||4 - 2 TOR
|17:17:00||TOR||Phil 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.
|21||J. van Riemsdyk||L||0||1||1||1||0||2||0||0||2||1||25%||2:36:00||1:13:00||16:54:00
|45||J. Bernier||35 - 37||0.946||0||60:00:00||
The Toronto Maple Leafs are officially in the playoffs.
I hope that felt as good to read as it did to write.
It has been a long nine years since Jeremy Roenick broke Leafs Nations’ hearts in 2004. The excitement that year was nuts. The Leafs traded for Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch for a bunch of guys nobody knew existed and Toronto was buzzing with Stanley Cup hopes. I remember Leetch’s first game against the Islanders; Leetch had three points and the TV broadcast had this stupid iso-camera on Leetch every time he touched the ice. (Ironic side note: the only player traded in the deal who became relevant in the NHL was drafted with the expended second round pick, a player by the name of Michael Sauer – you know, the guy who had his career ended by Phaneuf).
Toronto gave up five goals for the second consecutive game as John Tavares and the Islanders took tonight’s tilt decisively. The Leafs built a two-goal lead on their first two shots of the game before paying their dues to the tune of five consecutive goals against on account of inattentive and sloppy play.
I hope to have an article up later in the week, but for now I thought I’d share some notes.
Tickets: Are you watching or going to tonight’s Leafs game? RSVP here and be entered to win $200 in free tickets.
We’re at the half way point and the Leafs are in great shape at 15-9-0, sitting in fifth in the East with 30 points. .500 hockey from here on in, while not the best way to enter the playoffs, gets the Leafs back to the post-season.
The Leafs recent form, on paper, has also been dandy, with three wins on the trot. On one hand you’re happy with those final results, with the team finding different ways to win whether coming from behind or holding on for dear life, on the other you’re concerned with the significant portions of game in which the Leafs have been outplayed, outpossessed and outchanced.
In the final part of his 12 Burning Questions series, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at the Maple Leafs chances of getting back to postseason hockey this year.
May 4th, 2004.
Both teams, tired and weary from what had already been a long, arduous road, a journey that had left both teams battered and bruised. Â The teams went back and forth, showing tremendous heart and determination, showing what it takes to win hockey games at this time of year.
Up the ice they went, rewarded with a good scoring chance, but stopped by a goaltender who was up to the task. Â Then down the ice the other way, another good chance, this time for the other team. Â The goalie in this net, equally up to the task of making the save and preserving life, for at least another moment.
Quickly, and in a whirlwind of emotion, it was over.
In part ten of his 12 burning questions series, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at the importance of a good early start, and if the Leafs can avoid another disastrous start.
There really isn’t any other way to put it. Â No matter how you slice it, no matter how you try to spin it, or how you try to put a sugar coating on it, the cold hard fact still shines through.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were not a very good team last year.
Although their stats, and their general play, improved dramatically following the late January trades that saw them overturn nearly half their lineup, the fact remains that the 2009-2010 edition of the Maple Leafs fought inconsistency, as well as young inexperience that had them struggling most of the year.
But it could be argued that never were they worse, than in the first month of the season.
Â As the systemic dismantling of this summerâ€™s Stanley Cup champions continues in earnest, league watchers are crying foul. Where detractors of the current, hard revenue based cap once denounced the communistic, unilateral sharing of league revenue as the prime illustration of illogic in the CBA (alongside the long-long term contract loopholes), Mondayâ€™s exit of Antti Niemi from the Chicago Blackhawks has helped turn the club into the latest martyrâ€™s of the cap.
The Chicago Blackhawks have decided to walk away from Antti Niemi’s arbitration awarded $2.75M contract, and have instead signed veteran free agent Marty Turco to a one-year $1.3M contract. With the Blackhawks decision not to retain him, Niemi is now a free agent goaltender on the market and should attract some immediate attention.
If leaked reports are to be believed the NHLPA is preparing to file a grievance pertaining to the NHLâ€™s rejection of the unprecedented 17 year, $102 million contract filed last week by the New Jersey Devils for Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk. The report suggests that even if the Devils and Kovalchuk can agree on a restructured deal, the NHLPA may still decide to file a grievance in a preventative effort for future contracts.
The latter part is particularly significant for those who have been viewing the leagues rejection of the initial contract as an act of political posturing in the face of the PAâ€™s on-going power struggle and an attempt at drawing a line in the sand.
Why the Maple Leafs should make the playoffs in 2010-11â€
By: Joe Cino
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Maple Leafs in 2009-10 did. A combination of cold streaks, underperforming veterans, bad goaltending and a slew of injuries capped off a basement finish. The roster has been fine tuned, with additions like Giguere, Phaneuf and Versteeg chief among them, but by and large most of the roster is the same as last yearâ€™s iteration. With so many holdovers from the previous year, are the playoffs a realistic goal for the Maple Leafs? I believe that they are, with Corsi ratings, Goals versus Threshold and the realistic impact of the new Leafs taken into account.
Great to see such an active group of readers. Here are a couple of FanPosts for your Friday afternoon reading enjoyment with today’s theme being youth, youth and more youth. Paul LeMay (B. Leaf) takes an in-depth look at the team’s organizational prospect depth while Chuck Johnson compares Nazem Kadri’s chances of making the NHL as a 2nd year player with those of previous high draft picks.
It’s around 2PM eastern time, meaning National Hockey League GM’s are likely getting ready to juggle their BlackBerry’s while getting set to sit down for lunch at a local Los Angeles hot spot. Â With the many fantastic views and atmosphere, it may be the last relaxing moment of the day for these GM’s.
And most wouldn’t have it any other way.
The NHL announced this morning the full order of selections for the 201o NHL Entry Draft. Â While it is widely known that the Toronto Maple Leafs do not have a first or second round pick, they will select six times in this year’s draft. Â Carolina leads the way with 11 selections, the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers are close behind with 10 picks.
The San Jose Sharks and the Dallas Stars hang at the other end of the spectrum, with only four picks at this year’s draft thus far.
Here are the order of selections for the Toronto Maple Leafs:
Round 3: 62nd overall
Round 4: 112
Round 5: 122
Round 5: 144
Round 7: 182
Round 7: 202
Whichever way you cut it, the Leafs endured a torrid season that no statistical tinkering can mend. Regardless, if there is one thing most opposing NHL fans can agree on itâ€™s the increasing need for an overhaul in the leagues pointsâ€™ structure and the farcical awarding of points in the overall standings.
Where once every game had two points at stake, either by means of two for the win or split after an OT tie, the inclusion of an extra point for teams losing in OT or, more prevalently, after the shootout, has spawned an lopsided points structure that favours teams and coaches who adopt an cautious approach toward the end of regulation time that is the polar opposite of what was originally intended.
As you are no doubt well aware, the NHL draft lottery will be held tonight in New York to determine the order of the 14 non-playoff teams heading into the June 25-26 draft in Los Angeles. You can catch coverage of the lottery at 8pm on TSN.
And the winner is … Edmonton. Â Leafs fans, prepare yourselves to endure “Kessel Trade” debates for the better part of the next decade.