The win wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, and that’s par for the course against the New Jersey Devils, but this is an important two points for the banged-up Leafs before they head into Boston. The Leafs move to 11-5-0.
1 – The Leafs played a good first overall, but they needed to come away with a goal considering their double minor powerplay which included 50 seconds of 5 on 3 time. On the upside, the Kadri, Clarkson and Raymond line had several positive shifts, with Clarkson nearly scoring (rejected at the goalline by Zidlicky) and putting in good work down low throughout the period. Clarkson seemed to have an extra step against his former team, as one would expect, and he was getting a few more scoring looks beside Kadri and Raymond. Goal #1 will come soon for Clarkson.
2 – During said powerplay time, the Leafs had plenty of good looks, but they were not putting enough rubber at the net, and couldn’t connect on any cross crease passes on the doorstep. There was a predictable pass-first tendency going on throughout much of the game on the part of the Lupul, JvR and Kessel line.
3 – It’s become an increasingly popular narrative for the MSM to jump on, but man did Ray Ferraro and Gord Miller harp on the shot thing in the 2nd period on the TSN broadcast. It’s often appropriate with this team, but I don’t think it was tonight. Ferraro was conflating shots with the Leafs being badly outplayed, which to me was a misrepresentation. The Leafs were not shooting enough despite some good looks, playing way too cute, and their pass-shot selection was favouring the pass heavily.
That said, Bernier had to make some good saves after Leaf breakdowns in the second period. He was really sharp in the second 20, but the Leafs were not notably out possessed. I don’t think either team had the better of the play in the second, or even in the general sense. It was sloppy, as games against New Jersey are wont to be, and the Leafs were refusing to simplify. It seems the Leafs did not take to heart Carlyle’s insistence that his team simplify their game and get back to a meat-and-potatoes effort. Not enough getting pucks on frame and crashing the net.
4 – The Leafs got themselves another powerplay half way through the third and it was really stuttering at first. The top unit couldn’t break the zone and it had many on the forums calling for the second powerplay unit to come over the boards (it was more effective in the first two periods). Enter Phil Kessel. The Thrill picked up the puck outside the offensive blueline, did a big loop, and attacked the zone with speed. He found a seam, split Henrique and Zidlicky, and beat Schneider between the legs. Phil was a little off for the first two periods, but he was the Leaf gamebreaker again tonight, picking up a floundering PP by the bootstraps. That should’ve been the game winner.
5 – Jonathan Bernier is extremely calm and casual in net, and it’s one of his best qualities, but it’s caught him twice now when it comes to blunders handling the puck. He was going to deflect a puck wide of the net with his stick and didn’t have his blade square to the ice, allowing it to deflect off the top of the blade and up and over his shoulder for the tying 1-1 goal late in the third. Just a mind fart. He was steady as can be otherwise.
6 – It was a grindy, messy affair with a lot of clutching and grabbing from the Devils during the first 60. I expect the Leafs to be a good 4 on 4 team with the speed and skill at their disposal, and usually like their odds once the game opens up in OT. The Leafs had the best scoring opportunity – After they got away with leaving a man alone in front, JvR, Dion and Kessel counterattacked on a 3 on 1. Dion, JvR and Kessel worked a beautiful passing play, but Schneider got across brilliantly and Kessel shot the puck back across the net a little rather than straight in.
7 – Win or lose, the shootout sucks. But the Leafs (yes, the Leafs) are now 2-0 in the shootout (0-5 last season), as Bernier made up for his gaff with three stops (hat tip to the post) and JvR replaced Bozak’s automatic conversion on shootout attempts.
8 – Jerred Smithson did his job tonight. He won 8 of 9 faceoffs, many in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill. He crashed and banged, and made some heady plays on the penalty kill. In two key penalty kills with under 10 minutes to go in the third, Smithson cleared three pucks; once by breaking up a play on the boards for his teammate to clear; the second was a soccer kick over the blueline amid a scramble in front; the third was a smart ring around against the flow of traffic that cleared the zone. Smithson wound up playing over 10 minutes, including 7 at evens. More efforts like this will not give Carlyle any hesitation in bumping up his minutes.
9 – JvR was okay at center for his first game. You could tell he wasn’t totally comfortable working from the middle of the ice, and he was 40% on the draw, but there’s no reason not to continue to let JvR try to get his bearings. Commendable effort for his first game at center in the NHL.
10 – Carlyle was rotating Rielly onto the Franson pairing at 5 on 5. Rielly played only 9 minutes (to be expected for the 7D) at evens. I would’ve considered giving him some more of Gardiner’s minutes as the night progressed. The Franson/Gardiner pairing did not have a sterling first reunion. Gardiner was back on his left side and seemed to take it as his greenlight to make something happen. That’s great and he should, but he has to be more mindful of when and when not to pinch. As for Mark Fraser in his return – he had his good and bad moments, but you have to love his crease-clearing presence and sheer fury when an opponent buzzes his goalie.
Maple Leafs vs. Devils - November 8th, 2013.Maple Leafs 2 vs. Devils 1 (SO)
|NO.||PLAYER||POS||G||A||P||+/-||PIM||S||HITS||BKS||GVA||TKA||FO%||PP TOI||SH TOI||TOI|
|21||J. van Riemsdyk||L||0||0||0||0||0||0||5||0||1||0||40%||5:50:00||1:37:00||22:10:00|
|45||J. Bernier (W)||34/35||0.971||0||65:00|