The Leafs lost a hard-fought, 50/50 game in Washington by a score of 3-2. There’s positives to be gleaned, as Toronto was more combative than in recent games, but there’s only such thing as a “good loss” if it begets the end of a losing streak. The issue is the Leafs have so rarely been able to use a good effort as a building block this season. Carlyle’s message will have been to keep heads high after this one as the effort wasn’t in question.
– Always love watching the Ovechkin vs. Phaneuf battle. They play each other hard, and Phaneuf seems to bring his best stuff against Great 8. He kept OV quiet in their shifts against one another; unfortunately, Grabovski and Ovechkin capitalized on the Leafs‘ worst pairing possession-wise tonight (Franson-Gleason were on the ice for #8’s goal).
– Nice to see the 4th line turn the temperature up on the game with a couple of fights in the late second, as Carter Ashton and Colton Orr dropped the gloves in succession with Tom Wilson and John Erskine. Believe it or not, Ashton came out of it with a bloody nose. That was Colton Orr’s first fight since a November 30 bout with George Parros.
– There’s probably a correlation between the above events and Kadri absolutely steam rolling Troy Brouwer behind the net later in the game. Full engagement from Kadri throughout the 60 minutes. Naz and Lupul have shown a real desire to turn things around these past few games, and could’ve tied the game late on a couple of occasions. Their best chance was a backpost empty net opportunity for Lupul off a centering attempt by Kadri moments before Naz buried Brouwer.
– Indeed, the top line got going in this one. Kessel showed a determination throughout at both ends of the rink and directed a ton of rubber at the net. Despite only one registered shot on net before his 2-1 tally, Kessel directed three or four wide and took the shot JvR tipped home on the powerplay in the 2nd. Shoot enough and good things happen; after a good feed from JvR to a streaking Kessel down the right wing, his shot took a deflection off of Alzner’s blade and shot up over Neuvirth’s shoulder to make it 2-1 early in the 3rd.
– If not for a Neuvirth ten beller on Mason Raymond seconds later, by the way, the Leafs go up 3-1 and probably win this game.
– Frnason got beat to another puck after missing (on an admittedly difficult pass from McClement) the puck behind the net on the 2-2 goal. Beat out front from behind the net, a centering pass bounced off McClement and in to make it 2-2. At the end of the 2nd, Gleason bailed Franson out with a good defensive play in a 2 on 1 type of situation on the penalty kill after Franson got caught sleeping outside his own blueline. He seems to be at the center of trouble lately and might be worth considering for a scratch in favour of Paul Ranger. Losing short races to the puck and quite a few of his battles due to the foot speed.
– Franson-Gleason seemed to be underwater possession wise for much of the game, and it looked to be Franson’s doing more than the new guy, who played a pretty solid game. (Stats check: Franson and Gleason were the problem pairing in terms of shot attempts). Not that Gleason was perfect, but I do like his willingness to stand up players at the blueline a little, as it too rarely happens in a system where the Leafs concede the blueline easily and retreat into a shell around their own crease.
Not enough mobility on that pairing.
– Clarkson improved his growing reputation in Toronto with a costly penalty half way through the third period. In his defense, it was a shinpad tap followed by a dive, but that’s the risk involved with reaching in with the stick. As the penalty expired, Clarkson was just arriving fractions of a second too late out of the box to tie up Joel Ward in the slot. Ward was left by Bozak, who opted for a swoop at Johansen rather than blocking off that slot option.
– Bozak also needed to make a harder play on the puck on the opening goal by Alex Ovechkin (with the obligatory Mikhail Grabovski point). A soft out up the boards sent the Leafs scrambling to start that play off.
– The losing goal seemed like one Bernier could’ve stopped, as Ward didn’t make clean contact on the one timer. Maybe it fooled Bernier, who got beat five hole. Bernier was great in periods 1 and 2, but I think the Caps got the bigger saves in the third.
Two more regulation losses in games with playoff implications. Times are dark in Leafland.