Who was that team in Blue and White last night?
A team in Leafs jerseys was getting out of its end efficiently. Moving up the ice together as a unit. Using fast legs to forecheck and sustain a cycle.
What explains the Leafs, a poor possession team and brutally outshot for much of the season, suddenly outpossessing and handily outshooting one of the best possession teams in the NHL? The NHL betting wasn’t in their favour.
Check out the NHL shot chart, especially in the prime scoring area:
It could partially be the team getting a kick in the ass and playing desperate without Phaneuf, it could partially be the Kings playing the second leg of a back to back, or, and I like this theory, it could be Carlyle putting together lines that make sense and using them properly, especially on the backend. The Rielly and Gardiner pairing was a treat last night, with Gardiner leading the team with 26 minutes of ice time, and showed clearly why both need to be in the lineup. Holland played more minutes in McClement’s place, on a line with Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul that looked good while butting heads with Anze Kopitar’s unit. Holland was in the 15 minute range despite taking a costly offensive zone penalty, while McClement saw his minutes reduced to 8:11.
Franson and Gunnarsson played a fine game together, as well, in 18 minutes of even-strength work.
Even if the Leafs go 0-2 in this back to back against two of the best teams in the League, but look pretty good doing it, and manage to find a clicking line beyond the first one up front and better pairings on the backend, it will have its successes and bode well going forward.
That said, the points are dropping fast, and the Leafs sure could use a few.
The deflating part about last night is not just that the team finally played the right way and lost; it’s also that the team was in a pretty good position to take some points off both Boston and Los Angeles and got a total of 0, and now they go into St. Louis on the second night of a back to back followed by Chicago on Saturday.
The challenge is much the same as they saw last night, only tougher on paper. This is a heavy cycle team, St. Louis, only one that’s more prolific at scoring (2nd in the league with 3.34 goals/game) and plays stingier defence, allowing just a shade over 25 shots a game (also 2nd in the league).
Behind Alex Steen (Dammit, Cliff!), team leader with 33 points, the Blues have great scoring depth; St. Louis has eight players with more than 15 points this season, which is tied with the Blackhawks for the most in the league, and the Blues have only played 29 games (tied for fewest in the league). A defence built around Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk and Bouwmeester is formidable; the three have combined for an amazing 61 points, and the Blues are getting an average of 2.1 points per game from their top three D. Pretty amazing.