God damn! It was a night of many happy returns, as the Toronto Leafs held on for a tough 1 — 0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After clutching defeat from the jaws of victory last night the Leafs returned to the ACC, where they—ve been good this year, and managed to play an effective defensive game. James Reimer recorded his second shut out of the season in his first game since January 17th, overshadowing the welcomed return of John-Michael Liles and Colby Armstrong.
1. The Leafs are 26 — 19 — 6, and managed to take 3 of a possible 4 points from a team that came into the mini-series on a 7 game win streak and sporting the league—s leading scorer. With the win, the Leafs climb to 7th overall in the Eastern Conference with 58. And now they—re healthy and getting goaltending? Bring on the stretch drive!
2. This was a chess match of a game. Back end of a back to back, with back-up goalies to boot. The game, admittedly, started off with tentative play and evolved into a back and forth, chippy-choppy game. The Penguins and Leafs managed only 49 shots, but the teams combined for 79 hits. The refs, for the most part, kept the whistle away and allowed a lot of hack and slash and cycle play. Scoring chances were few and more regularly resulted in twigs breaking than a clean shot. It wasn—t exciting, but it—s a positive sign. The Leafs have lived and died by offense most of the year. With their All Stars cooling off, its nice to see the Leafs grind out a win. No one deserves more credit for three of four points in this back to back than Grabovski, who outplayed the league’s best player at the moment in Evgeni Malkin.
3. Colby Armstrong is back in the line up, and tonight that was good thing. His insertion on the fourth line gave Ron Wilson the ability to roll four lines effectively. In turn, Colby charged out of the gate in his first game back. In the first period, he broke up two attempted breakouts from the Pens zone and generated a tonne of pressure on the cycle. That kind of play has been lacking from the line-up, and its Armstrong—s bread and butter. Slotted with Steckel and Brown on the fourth line, they raised hell along the end and side boards all night. Let—s see if he stays healthy.
4. 0/4 on the power plays tonight, in spite of the newly extended Liles return. Pittsburgh doesn—t allow a lot of chances on the kill; they—re top 5 in the league. Right now it seems like a pick your poison for the Leafs: PK or PP, your choice. It should come as no surprise that a slumping man advantage unit would coincide with Phil Kessel—s 10 game slump, where—s recorded only 3 points.
The Leafs have killed 19 straight penalties. And while it—s never a good thing when your starting goal tender has a shorthanded save percentage well below .800, Reimer was the best player on the penalty kill tonight. On the second kill in particular, Reimer came up big with a few saves in traffic. In general, the Leafs have been challenging shooters by taking away their lanes and space. They—ve remembered how to ice the puck. The PK is working, for now, but I still wonder how this team will fare if they start taking 3+ calls. Their sterling discipline seems unsustainable.
5. I want to touch on the inconsistencies in usage of video replay to overturn a play called on the ice by the referees. It was talked about on the TSN broadcast panel, and it was present in the past two nights. Bozak had a good goal called back, Cooke had a bad one (even up) and Phil Kessel really ought to have received a 4 minute penalty for high sticking Kris Letang. Thankfully, Letang couldn—t catch a break any better than Bozak could last night. Now, while I am not a big fan of the constant changes to the game format, I would like some consistent in how both goals and fouls are measured and recorded. That Lupul didn—t get penalized for interfering with the goalie should suggest that the play count. Yet the on ice ruling stands? The only thing more inconsistent than the usage of video replay to get the right call is Brendan Shannahan—s rubric for suspension lengths.
6. The Leafs are a young team. And that—s a good thing. They—ve shown two things in particular tonight which are worth mentioning. The first is speed. Though the game often resembled war in the trenches, when the Leafs were on the rush, they were overwhelming the defenders with their speed. The Leafs outskated the Penguins two nights in a row.
The second thing is their ability to learn from past mistakes. In the second game of the home and home with the Islanders, the Leafs came out flat, were down 2 — 0 and required massive amounts of puck luck and a heroic one man effort from Mikhail Grabovski to right the ship. Tonight, the team choked Penguins defensively, and didn—t relinquish a lead. They dug in and held on. Good job, boys.
7. Clarke MacArthur finally opens the score in the third period of the game, finishing off a terrific set up by line mate Mikhail Grabovski. After Kulemin dished to Grabovski at the blue line, MacArthur barged his way to the net, accepted a nifty feed, and slipped the puck past a sprawling Brent Johnson for the winner. Much maligned after signing a 2 year, $6.5 Million Dollar deal, MacArthur is starting to heat up with the USSR line, who have tallied 19 points in the past three games. The return of ˜the best second line in the league— should be music to every Leafs fan—s ears.
8. No one should have expected Matt Cooke to fight Mike Brown. Cooke—s completely reinvented his style of play of this year, and is amongst the cleaner guys in the league this season with only 22 PIM (he—s hit 100 the past three years). It—s been almost a year since his last fight. Say what you will about the man that contributed to the end of Marc Savard—s career, but he—s not stupid. He—s shown a more repentant side, and is trying to play hockey. Still though¦I would have loved to see what Brown could do to Cooke—s face.
9. For those of you on the Luke Schenn trade watch, here—s some fodder for you. Luke played exactly 14 minutes, (Dion Phaneuf played almost exactly double that), and only 8 seconds of that was on the penalty kill. He was on the ice for an in zone faceoff, the puck ended up out of play, and Schenn was replaced by Phaneuf (who had just skated a 1 long shift seconds before). Luke cursed like an MLHSer when he saw he was being taken off.
10. It wasn—t pretty, it wasn—t flashy, but it was 2 points. The silencing of the top line offensively is of increasing concern, and it remains to be seen how David Steckel responds to a shot block that left him limping labored in the closing minutes of the third period. That said having managed to take 7 of a possible 8 points in two back-to-back contests, the enduring spirit of Leaf optimism is well rewarded. Its on to Ottawa next. Let the good times roll.