The eighth shootout win of the season (an astounding 36% of total Leaf wins) comes in unconvincing but much needed fashion.
There’s a couple of ways you could look at this one depending on how optimistic you want to be. The Leafs had a goal called off unjustly on a phantom goaltending interference call, which may have ensured a regulation win. On the other hand, the Leafs were outshot 38-25 and spent their typical extended spells snowed under.
Devils head coach Pete DeBoer was thrilled with his team’s effort in their third game in four nights, and thought the Leafs were lucky to emerge with the two points. He even used the word “robbed,” which is a bit rich considering the terrible call on the disallowed goal.
With how few and far between the points have been, the Leafs will take it and hope to build on two improved efforts versus the Capitals and Devils, at least over what we saw earlier in the week against Rangers, Islanders and Hurricanes.
A sprightly start for the Leafs first line plus Gleason and Franson, as they held the line well and had two great shot attempts.
The Devils led the shot count 4-1 early, but Toronto enjoyed the better zone time and better possessions in the first few minutes. The first line was dangerous almost every shift in this period. Outside of the big guns, there wasn’t a lot to like about the Leafs. The 4th line with Gardner/Rielly got hemmed in their zone for a while, unable to break out properly.
Come the seven minute mark of the period, Toronto had four turnovers in a row and the ice was starting to tilt in the Devils’ favour.
A minute or so later, another big neutral zone turnover by Kadri saw another extended shift spent in the Leaf end.
The neutral zone trap, as expected, was giving the Leafs fits. The Buds couldn’t generate any rush attack and had to deal with players and sticks in every apparent lane.
The Leafs spent a spell where they just completely stopped skating and were standing still, with their offensive efforts limited to dumping the puck in with little effectiveness.
Finally a positive emerged, as Carter Ashton has a nice little rush with a small toe drag/delay before ripping one at Schneider. Nice to see him follow through by hammering two Devils and Schneider into the net. This poor young guy needs to have a shot in some offensive positions rather than obtusely centering the 4th line.
GOAL – 1-0 Leafs – Phil Kessel flushed out Bryce Salvador and caused a turnover to the right of the slot. The Leafs generated a good cycle before JVR and Kessel whacked at it and Bozak finished. That’s Bozak’s 18th point in 22 games this season.
After another dumb Clarkson penalty (this is not a recording) a ways from his net, the Leafs got the kill. The period ended 13-10 in shots for New Jersey.
43 seconds into the period, Kulemin put a free arm on Jagr — who goes down easily — and got called on a holding penalty.
GOAL – 1-1 – The Leafs’ penalty kill box was out of sorts, and Clowe and Henrique worked the give and go east to west and the tied the game off a shot from the circle.
The Leafs responded with a Lupul/Kadri rush, with Lupul moving it from a scoring area into a non-scoring area for Kadri to take an outside shot with not much chance.
As Jagr and Gardiner fought for the puck, Jagr high sticked Gardiner and sent the Leafs to the PP. Good movement on PP#1, before PP#2 generated some good chances including a missed opportunity by Raymond that could have buried. He made a poor decision, but shortly thereafter beat Schneider only to have Andy Greene save the goal.
GOAL – 2-1 Leafs – Straight back to the powerplay after another high stick by Reid Boucher, Franson took an indirect pass, got a shot through and JVR roofed the rebound to make it 2-1 Toronto. You have to love Franson’s knack for getting shots through on the offensive blueline…
GOAL – 2-2 – But out came “bad Franson” seconds later, as Ryan Clowe read a poor pinch by Cody and left the zone early before receiving a stretch pass and burying the breakaway.
After the goal, Toronto was receiving the game and looking like their shaky selves of recent. NJ generated more zone time following the Clowe goal including two shot attempts, one that nearly beat Bernier.
The third straight high sticking call against the Devils sent the Leafs back to the powerplay. After good movement on the PP, a flurry of shot attempts led to Bozak burying the rebound only for it to be called off on goaltender interference. The replay showed no contact between JvR and Schneider, who sprawled out by his own volition.
After PP#2 brought their good, as usual, puck movement, the inability to generate a point shot and a missed holding call on Morgan Rielly’s stick caused an odd man rush which Kadri took a penalty on. Ensuing PP for NJ produced nothing.
After the Leafs PK held steady, the Leafs went under siege as this game finally returned to five on five before yet another high sticking penalty on the Devils – the fourth of the period – sent the Leafs to the powerplay. Nothing was doing on either PP unit.
Late in the period, the McClement line hemmed in a tired Devils group after an icing with some solid board play. A second icing ensued, and Pete DeBoer opted for a timeout. Savvy move in a tied game with a 1:40 left in the period.
A tightly played game in the 3rd saw the lone powerplay go to New Jersey after a potentially game-costing penalty by Joffrey Lupul. Toronto, who seems to be getting a little bit better on the PK in the last couple of games, kill this one off with ease.
In a somewhat event free 3rd period, the Leafs made a mess of their attempt to close out the period. There was a opening to “WHEEL!!” as Phaneuf encouraged Gunnarsson to do, but #36 instead curled back around the net and the Leafs wound up hemmed in their zone for a minute and a half. Toronto’s forwards were collapsing so low in this spell; they didn’t venture above the tops of the circles and played scared to close out the game. This was a team with no confidence hanging on, for no reason, by the skin of their teeth.
Here we are with more McClement and Kulemin as a forward pair in OT, which would indicate that the Leafs are a) protecting a lead or b) playing for a shootout. There’s no reason to have those two out 4-on-4. At all.
A fairly entertaining OT for the Leafs, who always look like a different team with one less player and usually dominate possession using speed and clever techniques, including curl backs to change lines while maintaining possession – something an elite NHL team likes to do at 5-on-5, but the Leafs insist on dump (and lose possession) and change. The Leafs D were joining the rush, which really made them a handful.
MLHS’er Jay31 points out a recent tweet that confirms the ‘hunch’:
Leafs got 51.9% of shot attempts (167-155) at 4v4 since start of ’12-13. Maybe personnel’s more suited to an open game than Carlyle’s grind?
— Eric T. (@BSH_EricT) January 11, 2014
…and consider that Jake Gardiner was hardly on the team and they added Morgan Rielly to the fray this season.
Nothing was decided in the extra five. Off to the shootout we go.
• JVR converted the lone goal with his patented backhand move.
• Bernier turned away Jagr with an excellent poke check.
• Lupul was up next, and a clone of his Winter Classic move hit the post.
• Another big save from Bernier on Ryane Clowe.
• Bozak missed high on his pull up and shoot move.
• A big save again on Boucher for Bernier, who was perfect in the shootout. He’s starting to shut the door in shootouts after some struggles early in the year. He looks more aggressive, which was what Carlyle yelled from the bench in the Winter Classic (as seen on 24/7).