The Maple Leafs started their western road trip on the right note, putting away the Oilers 4-0. It was an impeccable road game, and possibly Toronto’s best work over sixty minutes this season. James Reimer tightened his grip on the starter’s role with a shutout and Phil Kessel moved into a tie for second in league scoring with four points.
1. One minute into the game, Raymond chips it up along the boards to Kadri, who almost immediately sends it to Kessel streaking down the middle of the ice. As the Edmonton defender falls to the ice behind him, Kessel calmly dekes Bachman and deposits his first goal of the night. To be fair, since Kadri’s role in this play was rapid deference of the puck to Kessel, we can’t snidely claim that Bozak would have done it differently. Regardless, if the two continue to make plays at this rate, you would think (and hope) that Carlyle will have a tough decision on his hands when Bozak returns.
2. One defender who has not had the greatest start to the season: Jake Gardiner. But Gardiner’s been coming along lately as he is clearly working very hard to cater his offensive inclinations to Randy Carlyle’s wishes. He’s been getting solid minutes – an indication that the coaching staff is liking his efforts in this respect. The two sides of Gardiner’s game were on display very early: he rushed the zone and made a play from behind the net to Lupul early in the first for a high-quality scoring chance. Later in the same period, he made a defensive stop directly in front of his net by tying up the opposition’s stick. Then, he flashed some snarl as he got upset with Nail Yakupov’s run on Reimer. Gardiner’s faults are nothing more than a highly-skilled defender learning the ropes of playing a two-way game from one of the best.
3. It seems some in Leafsland moved on rather quickly to the newest shiny young blueliner in Morgan Rielly, but the fact is that Rielly could experience very similar growing pains in the coming years. He’s continued to look strong and at the moment seems to have more poise with the puck and better decision making than Gardiner. But remember – Gardiner was an all-rookie defender in his first go around with the Leafs. Both of these players are extremely young at a position that typically sees maturity achieved at a later age. Patience and opportunity should be the mantra with these two blue chippers who even saw some time together at even strength in the third.
4. Yes, Mason Raymond is not going to light it up all season along. But there’s a reason that he will continue to be featured alongside Bolland on Carlyle’s shutdown line – he brings an underrated defensive presence. Obviously, his is not the bruising genre of defense. Rather, Raymond’s defense relies on speed, stickwork, and attentive effort, as evidenced by a stick-play he made in the first in front of James Reimer that could very well have stopped a goal.
5. Kessel and JVR sped down the ice early in the second to strike again, with JVR playing the role of scorer this time around. With JVR’s recent improvement in skating, both of these wingers are legitimate speedsters and will continue to devastate other teams for the rest of this season and beyond. Either player has the ability to pass or shoot with the best of them, making them a rare and lethal combination in this league.
6. There was a slight injury scare for Nazem Kadri in the second, alleviated when the feisty center came back to be part of yet another Kessel goal. Kadri hit Kessel in the neutral zone to gain entrance into the zone, retrieved it along the halfboards and then got a shot on net that was tipped off the boards by Phaneuf. The puck came to Kessel at the other side of the net who performed some quick magic with his hands to pot his second of the night, sending Joe Bowen into hysterics. Just another night at the office for one of the league’s very best.
7. Another defender that has been maligned in the early goings? Paul Ranger. Ranger deserves the same type of patience and opportunity that Gardiner and Rielly do – for different reasons. His game has also come along recently, apparent tonight as he took the body of a rushing Oiler late in the second period, retrieved the puck and decisively turned the play back around. We may be seeing the readjustment of Ranger’s game to the NHL level, likely helped along by the implied pressure of recalling John-Michael Liles.
8. David Clarkson is obviously still getting his game legs under him. This hasn’t stopped him from throwing his body with reckless abandon, but has been exemplified in his decision making offensively. He had two chances early in this game to just get puck on net (which is a trademark of his game) but chose other options instead. Then, late in the second, he willed it towards the Oilers crease and the Leafs almost scored as a result. As we’ve said all along – the goals will come for Clarkson, but he’s a welcome presence with a positive impact regardless.
9. Rielly almost got his first NHL goal tonight. Assisted by – who else – Kessel and Van Riemsdyk, it was a solid wrister to the top corner. Unfortunately, later review of the tally indicated that it deflected in off Nazem Kadri. Either way, with the quality of players surrounding him, Rielly will get his chances offensively this year and it will be a treat to watch him develop at the NHL level.
10. James Reimer isn’t making life any easier for Jonathan Bernier. The ball will be back in Bernier’s court tomorrow tonight but short of pitching a shutout and scoring a goal a la Mike Smith, there’s not much Bernier can do to take away the Vancouver start from Optimus Reim. Yes, these two are only making each other better and it will be a boon to the Leafs all season long.
One of the youngest teams in the league took it to another young squad tonight. Both teams have suffered through years without much success, but only one subscribed to a “true” rebuild in the “Pittsburgh or Chicago model” that many pundits decree as the only way to rebuild. The Leafs are an embodiment of the strong argument that there is no “one way” to do something in a sport as multifaceted and at-times unpredictable as hockey. Tomorrow, they’ll get a chance to continue to prove themselves against the Calgary Flames, who are now under the watch of the very man that was the architect of much of their own unconventional rejuvenation: Brian Burke.
Maple Leafs vs. Oilers Boxscore - October 29, 2013Leafs 4 vs. Oilers 0.
|1:08:00||TOR||P. Kessel (8) Wrist shot - ASST: N. Kadri (6), M. Raymond (6)||1 - 0 TOR|
|1:41:00||TOR||J. van Riemsdyk (6) Wrist shot - ASST: P. Kessel (8)||2 - 0 TOR|
|8:42:00||TOR||P. Kessel (9) Wrist shot - ASST: D. Phaneuf (5), N. Kadri (7)||3 - 0 TOR|
|6:14:00||TOR||N. Kadri (5) Deflected shot - ASST: M. Rielly (5), P. Kessel (9)||4 - 0 TOR|
Maple Leafs vs. Oilers Game Sheet - October 29, 2013Maple Leafs 4 vs. Oilers 0.
|NO.||PLAYER||POS||G||A||P||+/-||PIM||S||HITS||BKS||GVA||TKA||FO%||PP TOI||SH TOI||TOI|
|21||J. van Riemsdyk||L||1||0||1||3||0||2||2||0||0||0||-||1:05:00||0:59:00||14:27:00|
|34||J. Reimer (W) 4-0-0||38 - 38||5 - 5||0 - 0||43/43||1||0||59:50:00|