What a dirty road win that was. In the second half of back-to-back games against opponents playing in their home openers (courtesy of the schedule makers), the Leafs gutted one out in no small part thanks to an amazing performance from Jonathan Bernier in his regular season debut. Goal scorers for the Leafs were Phil Kessel on his 26th birthday and Dave Bolland with his first and second goals as a Leaf.
1 – A wide open start saw the teams trade chances for the opening few minutes. The Leafs were actually outshooting the Flyers 7-6 at one point, but then came a slew of penalties. The Leafs spent 6 of the final 13 minutes of the period shorthanded. The PK held its own well for the first two kills. The second, in particular, involved a spell that was about 1 minute 45 seconds straight in their own zone, and the units held their shape well. For some reason, the broadcast team was acting terribly surprised that the Leafs were outshot by 6 shots (15-9) in the first period, on the road, in the Flyers’ home opener, while dealing with some suspect calls.
2 – The third PK broke the camel’s back with seven seconds left in the first period. It was the weakest call of the three; JvR was assessed a holding or interference call on the sideboards for running the type of minor pick you see several times a game (usually without a call). On the subsequent PP, a shifty Vincent Lecavalier cut around Mark Fraser before going around the back of the net and finding Brayden Schenn in the slot, who slipped in between four Leafs penalty killers and finished the one timer from the hashmarks. Poor coverage there. No chance for Bernier.
3 – The Leafs followed that up with a horrendous first eight minutes to the 2nd period. The Leafs were getting beat to everything. Their legs never really fully woke up, which likely was a product of trying to get up to regular season speed and intensity in the second half of a back-to-back on the road. Bernier kept the game from getting away.
4 – After a sluggish penalty from Dion, the Captain immediately made up for it with a well timed surge up the middle of the ice half way through the second frame. Much like his goal last night, Dion joined the rush with good timing, this time taking a hard low shot at Mason’s pad rather than going bar down. Kessel arrived to dispatch the rebound above a sprawling Mason for his first goal of many this season. 2 points in 2 games and a guaranteed 64 million for his birthday? Not a bad haul.
5 – Late in the 2nd, Paul Ranger was attempting to back up along the offensive blueline with the puck with his head down, not sensing the impending danger that was Simmonds bearing down on him. Simmonds picked him off, and was on a half-breakaway with Ranger a half step behind. Ranger’s dive that felled Simmonds was well timed, but the call is predicated on getting the puck. I don’t think Simmonds was in the middle of the ice enough or clear and away enough for that to be a penalty shot. 2 minute tripping call for me. Doesn’t matter… Bernier shuts the door on the penalty shot to preserve the 1-1 tie going into the 2nd intermission
6 – On that note, Ranger struggled all game to read the play properly and make the right decision. He was a giveaway machine tonight, many of the egregious variety. I found myself praising him and then cursing his existence from one shift to the next. This is obviously understandable after multiple years out of NHL action, but he needs to be eased in slowly.
7 – Nik Kulemin, our silent hero. First in on the forecheck, as per usual, he separated the man from the puck before Lupul collected the disc and found Bolland out front to make it 2-1 Leafs on a bang-bang play in the third period. Franson started the play off with a good breakout pass up the middle. That goal stood up as the winner.
8 – The trend of playing Phaneuf into the ground doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon. Phaneuf was doing an admirable job given he was clearly gassed after playing 27 minutes last night. He got caught without his feet moving a few times, but was still bodying players off the puck in the dying minutes of this game. Phaneuf continues to do it all.
9 – Partner Carl Gunnarsson struggled tonight. A bad pinch early on led to an odd-man scoring chance against. Also in the first period, in succession, he took a bad angle on the puck and conceded possession to Giroux (leading to a scoring chance), before making a breakout pass into someone’s feet that led to another good Flyer scoring chance. Struggles with his first pass, and fumbles with the puck, persisted throughout. Franson, on the other hand, was the Leafs best defenceman. He moved the puck well, was strong positionally, and was plenty physical in 22+ minutes of action.
Side note: I thought Gardiner took Carlyle’s pregame talk to heart and tried to play within himself tonight. He didn’t stand out as he usually does, but that, in this case, was maybe a good thing.
10 – Kadri was stapled to the bench by Carlyle in third period, seemingly on account of a bad giveaway and poor percentage in the faceoff circe (31%). Those are as may be, but without Kadri crashing the net with reckless abandon, the 1-1 Kessel goal doesn’t happen. Kadri played only 11:53 tonight, although that’s partially because of all of the time the Leafs spent shorthanded. Carlyle bumped Bolland and McClement ahead of him on the bench, which is understandable in a sense. Bolland had a hell of a game between scoring twice and helping close out the win.
Goaltending controversy? The best type of goaltending controversy, perhaps. After playing much of the first 40 on their back foot and having Bernier hold them in it, the Leafs came on stronger in the third and actually killed the game out fairly comfortably in the end. Most importantly, the Leafs are 2-0.
Post Game Note: Mark Fraser reportedly left the arena on crutches tonight. Morgan Rielly, get ready for your NHL debut on Saturday.