Jake Gardiner dazzled in his best game of the season, David Clarkson FINALLY scored his first goal of the season and Jonathan Bernier was good when he needed to be as the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped the New York Islanders 5 – 2. Trevor Smith, Phil Kessel (2), Mason Raymond and Clarkson all scored for the Leafs, who won their second straight game.  Smith (1G, 2A) and Joffrey Lupul (3A) tallied 3 points apiece as the Leafs cruised to a pretty easy victory. Bernier made 35 saves for his eighth victory of the season.  Kevin Poulin struggled for the Islanders, making just 19 saves.  Casey Cizikas and Frans Nielsen responded for the Isles.

1.  Despite their middling record, the Islanders came into Toronto having won their last three matches at the ACC.  They also have one of the league’s top forward trios with Jonathan Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo combining for 66 points through the first 21 games.  But that didn’t matter all that much because Joffrey Lupul carried the puck cleanly through the neutral zone, sifted through the defense, cut towards the net and found a wide open Trevor Smith out front who scored the game’s opening goal just 22 seconds into the game.  Lupul assisted on the goal, Smith’s fourth of the year, breaking a mini slump (2 pts in last 9gp prior to tonight).  Hockey’s Handsomest Line™ (Lupul, Smith and Clarkson) was creating chances every shift they took tonight, combining for 7 points.

2. Jake Gardiner was electric in the first period.  He turned a defensive zone fourth line shift into two offensive chances.  Firstly by adroitly clearing the zone and getting the puck to Frazer McLaren and into the Islanders zone.  Later in the same shift, Cody Franson pounced on a turnover and left a soft touch pass for Gardiner.  With the Isles forwards switching their vectors onto him, Gardiner floated a surprise pass to Franson.  Despite somewhat bobbling the back and forth, Franson had enough time and space to recover and get a crisp, low shot off.  Later in the frame he also played a 3 on 1 textbook perfectly, neutering what should have been a good chance by the Isles.  He saw 9 minutes through the first 20, 22 through the game, and had a shift in the second period where he was just a one-man breakout machine (fun fact, that was my nickname in high school).

3. For Gardiner’s heroics, his erstwhile (that means former, before you get on me in the comments) defense partner Paul Ranger had another rough game, especially at the blue lines.  The Islanders were allowed to keep the puck in the Leafs end for nearly a minute due to Ranger’s inability to get it to the line AND out.  With the Leafs applying pressure and the Kessel line on, Ranger turned the puck over at the blue line on a seemingly innocuous play, allowing for a chance the other way.  That’s usually the recipe for a good old fashioned benching, so of course he went on to play 17 and a half minutes tonight, even in spite of a foolish roughing penalty towards the middle of the third.

4. Though the Leafs were outshot 11-7 through 20, they appeared to hold the balance of play through the first.  The second period started off less favourably for the Buds, getting outshot 4-0 and out played through the first five minutes of play.  It wasn’t until a borderline hit by Nikolai Kulemin on Tavares that the Leafs woke up.  Though not instantaneous, the ice began to tilt in Toronto’s favour.  The Leafs top two lines took to work, hemming the Isles in their zone for sustained periods of time, leading to the inevitable….

5.  After James van Riemsdyk got hacked down in the Isles’ zone, the Maple Leafs took the game’s first power play mid-way through the second period.  With a PP that’s been scoring nearly a goal per game and the Leafs surging, Phil Kessel took a pass from Lupul, button hooked, took a couple steps down to the circle, and took just a beautiful wrister that sailed passed Poulin’s blocker. The goal was Kessel’s 11th of the season and just his second in 8 games; with Lupul and Phaneuf picking up the assists.  He’d later pick up his second goal of the game and 12th of the season off a 2-1 rush with van Riemsdyk to close out the third.

6. This is why you don’t make fun of people’s names.

Casey Cizikas, who isn’t a tasty thing that goes with donair, scores an absolute beauty on a breakaway with 11 seconds left in the 2nd, outracing Jake Gardiner (Not a typo) and slipping the puck through Bernier’s wickets.  The Leafs held a 2-1 lead through 40, and I’m still sorry about the whole thing guys.

7. The third period started in a similar fashion to the second, with the Islanders controlling play.  Shortly after Eric Boulton and Colton Orr chucked knuckles, Carl Gunnarsson blocks a shot and gets the puck out to Mason Raymond.  The puck finds its way to a driving McClement in the center lane, who puts a shot on Poulin.  Raymond was Johnny on the spot and buried the rebound to make it 3-1. The goal was Raymond’s 8th of the season, with McClement getting the lone assist.  It was all over but the screaming at that point.

8. I wanted to use this space to discuss just how great a game Nikolai Kulemin had, but David Clarkson’s goal – and play tonight – warrant mention.  The second line was great tonight.  Their ability to wear the Isles down in the offensive zone was noticeable, and all three were rewarded handsomely on the score sheet.  But for Clarkson, who is suddenly hot with three points in his last three games, his third period tally was the monkey off the back goal he so desperately needed.  Much like Phil Kessel last season, it took Clarkson 21 11 games to pot his first, but it sure was a beauty.  He played just a shade under 19 minutes tonight, and was hell for the Islanders to play throughout.

The line of Raymond, McClement and Kulemin was also effective while lining up against the Tavares unit for a number of shifts.

9. Special Teams Report: The league’s 11th ranked PK entering tonight (83.5% success rate) went 2/2 and kept the Leafs ahead the Islanders in the waning minutes of the second and mid-way through the third.  Carl Gunnarsson, whom I maligned earlier this afternoon, made a huge play to block a couple shots with Bernier scrambling to get back in position.  Gunnarsson’s selfless maneuver kept the Leafs two-goal lead intact with just over 10 left to play in the game.

The Leafs power play, ranked 3rd in the league with a 23.1 success rate, went 1/2 and helped put the Leafs out front by a two-goal margin.  They never had to look back after that.  For the record, the Zebras looked kindly on the Maple Leafs all game.  In the first, Frazer McLaren attempted to instigate a fight with an unwilling Matt Martin.  That probably should have been a penalty.  Kulemin’s thunderous hit on Tavares, while the most hit Kuli’s had since May, was certainly on the edge of legality.  The refs, thankfully, kept the whistles away, allowing for a fun, fast paced, even game.

Kessel's 2nd of the night, the 5-2 goal.
Kessel’s 2nd of the night, the 5-2 goal.

10. The Islanders weren’t exactly expected to be a fearsome competitor facing the East’s third best team.  Instead they served as slump busters, getting both Lupul and Kessel back on the score sheet after short droughts.  It wasn’t always pretty for the full 60, but at no point did the game truly seem in doubt for the Leafs.  There’s still plenty of room to grow, but this was a better, more dominant win than most for the Buds.

The Leafs will be in action on Thursday as they host the Nashville Predators.  It’ll be the second and final regular season matchup between the two clubs; Toronto won their previous tilt 4-0.

Leafs/Isles Shot Location Data
Leafs/Isles Shot Location Data
0:22:00TORTrevor Smith (3) Snap shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (5)1 - 0 TOR
11:19:00TOR PPG - Phil Kessel (11) Wrist shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (6), Dion Phaneuf (7)2 - 0 TOR
19:48:00NYICasey Cizikas (3) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE2 - 1 TOR
3:39:00TORMason Raymond (8) Backhand shot - ASST: Jay McClement (2)3 - 1 TOR
12:52:00TORDavid Clarkson (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Trevor Smith (2), Joffrey Lupul (7)4 - 1 TOR
15:14:00NYIFrans Nielsen (10) Wrist shot - ASST: Josh Bailey (6)4 - 2 TOR
17:17:00TORPhil Kessel (12) Wrist shot - ASST: James van Riemsdyk (7), Trevor Smith (3)5 - 2 TOR

Islanders at Leafs - November 19

Leafs 5 vs. Isles 2.
3D. PhaneufD0112004210-2:52:002:47:0022:16:00
4C. FransonD000-2024120-2:18:001:13:0020:56:00
11J. McClementC011101000159%0:00:002:47:0020:18:00
12M. RaymondL1011030000-0:32:000:00:0015:57:00
15P. RangerD0001202231-0:00:001:20:0017:22:00
19J. LupulR0330202010100%2:36:000:00:0019:28:00
21J. van RiemsdykL011102002125%2:36:001:13:0016:54:00
22J. SmithsonC000000320075%0:00:001:35:008:43:00
23T. SmithC123102121157%0:32:000:00:0016:43:00
24P. HollandC000001310014%0:00:000:00:0012:43:00
28C. OrrR0000504000-0:00:000:00:006:29:00
36C. GunnarssonD0003004131-0:00:000:52:0019:31:00
38F. McLarenL0000501000-0:00:000:00:006:39:00
41N. KuleminL00010332110%0:00:002:25:0017:26:00
44M. RiellyD0001012421-0:16:000:00:0017:45:00
51J. GardinerD000-1030110-0:50:001:48:0022:20:00
71D. ClarksonR10100251100%0:32:000:00:0018:49:00
81P. KesselC2021041000-2:36:000:00:0015:41:00
45J. Bernier35 - 370.946060:00:00
100 %
75 %
Special Teams
90 %
90 %
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Michael Stephens has been writing for Maple Leafs Hotstove since 2010, and has featured in the 2010 and 2012 Maple Leaf Annuals. Former Editiorial Intern at The Hockey News. Undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor. Chat me up about all things hockey on twitter @MLHS_Mike