Phil Kessel scored twice as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the New York Rangers 4 – 3 on Monday night. The game was never really in doubt, with the Rangers never able to take a lead, though they hung around with two goals in the third to briefly tie it. Kessel added an assist for his third three-point game of the season, while James van Riemsdyk and Ryan O’Byrne also scored for the Leafs. James Reimer made 31 saves for the victory.
1. The Toronto Maple Leafs are 22- 13 – 4, and are looking more and more like a threat in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs used size and speed to wreak havoc against a desperate Rangers team. The Leafs ability to provide support and options to the puck carrier allowed them to spend large portions of the game in the Rangers zone, and tire them out with an effective and dauntless cycle, and directly led to the first and second Leaf goals. On the strength of that puck support, the Leafs now have a four point cushion on fifth place in the conference. Not too shabby.
2. The Leafs took the lead 11 minutes into the game against the flow of play as James van Riemsdyk buries his 16th of the season and second in three games. John Michael Liles retrieved the rebound from a Phil Kessel shot in the left wing corner, spun around and fed a backhand centering pass to van Riemsdyk who was parked at the far post. It took three tries, but eventually van Riemsdyk batted the puck passed a sprawled out Henrik Lundqvist.
3. It’s good that the Leafs’ brass likes Joe Colborne and wants to give him a shot in the NHL. It’s bad that that he’s been slotted on the fourth line, tonight with Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr. The trio was hemmed in the Leafs zone on the three shifts they took together in the first period. Ideally, Colborne would have more success playing in a scoring role with skill players, playing more than the six minutes a night. I can see Carlyle’s logic, crafting a line that weighs more than 700 pounds can be useful if you want to lean on the opposition. But through 20 minutes, the giant-sized fourth line was a giant-sized problem.
4. The Leafs carried a lead into the second period on the strength of a solid forecheck and good possession play. It continued through most of the second period, where the Leafs contained the Rangers in their zone with a minute-long cycle on three separate occasions. The Leafs seem to have a terrific combination of strength and skill among the forward ranks, and it allowed them to have their way against a resilient Rangers team.
5. Ryan O’Byrne made his debut for the Leafs tonight, and performed almost as advertised. His second period goal to give the Leafs the 2 – 0 lead was just the fifth in his 300-game career. But he must be a Leaf now, as Nazem Kadri has already helped him toward a new career high in goal scoring.
As for his style of play, O’Byrne is a big, depth defenseman that will hit and play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and is fleeter of foot than Twitter suggested at the trade deadline. He spent the night on a line with Liles, with whom he played in Colorado, and pairing appeared to play better together than the sum of its parts. Perhaps the most notable item about the pairing is that the insertion of O’Byrne seemed to allow Liles the freedom to play as a rover, joining the Leafs rush. The addition of Liles to the rush helped the Leafs get a goal in the first and led to a great chance in the second period.
6. Rick Nash reduced the Leafs lead to 2 – 1 shortly after O’Byrne’s goal, going hard to the net and sliding the puck through James Reimer’s wickets. On the next play, the Leafs turned the puck over in their zone and gave the Rangers a point-blank chance uncontested below the hash marks. Were it not for the doughty net-minding of James S. (as in saviour) Reimer, it could have been a very different 2 – 2 hockey game.
7. The Leafs were on their heels for most of the remainder of the second period, until Ryan Callahan stuck his knee out to inhibit Dion Phaneuf’s entry into the Rangers zone. On the ensuing power play, Phaneuf returned to the ice to spot an open Kessel in his usual haunt at the side boards. Kessel took two steps down, and then fired his 11th of the season past a completely screened (JvR) Lundqvist. It was Kessel’s first goal in 10 games, and made it 3 – 1 for the Buds with less than a minute left in the second.
8. The Rangers must have been yelled at something fierce by John Tortorella, because they returned for the third period with a newfound zeal. After Nazem Kadri missed a prime chance on an open net, Rick Nash buried his second of the evening off the counter attack.
With 11 minutes left to play in the period and as a disjointed Leaf power play elapsed, Derek Stepan snipes a shot up over James Reimer’s shoulder to make it 3 – 3, and it’s a whole new hockey game…
9. Just kidding, 38 seconds later Phil Kessel scores his second of the night on a tremendous second effort after forcing a turnover from the Rangers D. After he recovered an errant clearing pass, Kessel got the puck to van Riemsdyk and then snuck down to behind the Rangers defenders. Van Riemsdyk found Bozak, who slid the puck to a wide open Kessel, who deked, shot and then potted his own rebound to give the Leafs a 4 – 3 lead.
10. The Rangers hadn’t allowed more than two goals against with Lundqvist in net in their past 10 games, but this victory for the Leafs wasn’t a resounding success. They surrendered the lead on three separate occasions, again displaying an inability to close out teams. The Leafs were outshot, 34 – 28, and again allowed they two goals in the third period. By the same token, it was the Leafs league-leading 17th win of the season while being outshot, so there must be some method to Carlyle’s madness. The buds will be back at it on Wednesday when they head to New York, with a chance to go up 8 points on the seventh place Rangers.