Thanks to the Ottawa Senators for being gracious opponents. Some of the highlights amid this six-game winning streak vs. Ottawa: Nazem Kadri’s breaking out party on the national CBC broadcast (Cherry’s kiss on Coaches Corner); the Leafs officially clinching a playoff spot for the first time in nine years; and now, The Phil scoring a hat trick to reach 30 goals for the fifth consecutive (full) season.
It was indeed the Phil Kessel show at the Air Canada Center tonight, as god’s gift to the hockey universe scored his sixth career hat trick (fourth as a Leaf) and added an assist in a 6-3 come-from-behind victory over the Ottawa Senators. As I’ve been yelling about on Twitter and elsewhere, this four-point effort puts Kessel into a tie with Evgeni Malkin for the most points in the NHL since October of 2011. He’s up to 21 points in his last 12 games and sits 2nd in the league in goals with 30.
The goals and points, the ridiculous shot that only slightly eclipses his great vision and passing ability.. there was even more to appreciate about Kessel on this night, including a roughing minor after mixing it up with Eric Gryba and a late-game defensive effort to hustle down and negate a 2 on 1 opportunity for Kyle Turris.
Carlyle put out the Kessel line with a one-goal lead and under two minutes left, sensing he wasn’t done yet. Sure enough, Kessel set up Bozak for the 5-3 clincher and his fourth point of the night. That great pass followed a determined effort from Kessel; the Senators had possession in the middle of their zone before Kessel outmuscled the man and sent the puck down low. This was a masterclass of a showing from one of the league’s very best.
Here’s the period-by-period breakdown and some additional thoughts on the Leafs’ sixth consecutive victory over their provincial and Atlantic Division rivals:
This game started, in the words of Ben Scrivens, inauspiciously. I was thinking back to the Montreal game a week previous and the contrast was stark. Neither team was up to much, but the Leafs were flat and the first period was pretty well devoid of emotion. The Leafs outshot Ottawa 9-7 thanks to three first period powerplays, but cashed in on none of them. There seemed to be more desire on the part of the Ottawa PK units than the Leafs’ PP until the urgency picked up once the Leafs were trailing/tied later in the game. The Leafs were losing short 50/50 races to pucks, and trying to be far too cute in their puck movement on the PPs; one play too many in a couple of instances.
At the end of the first, Chris Neil, who begrudgingly deserves mention for quite the performance tonight, made it 1-0 in what was probably a deserved deficit. Neil can play, but I’m not sure he was deserving of the level of respect that was given to him by Rielly in terms of backing off and losing gap control.
The second period didn’t start any better, beginning with an ineffectual tail end to the Leafs’ third powerplay.
The Leafs conceded the 2-0 goal after a Gardiner pinch gone wrong, stranding Franson on a 2 on 1 against Neil and Colin Greening. Without a doubt, #51 has to learn to sense danger and pick his spots better, because falling back was certainly the right decision there with no forward nearby available to support. We do have to keep in mind he’s 140 games into his learning curve, i.e, not even two full seasons.
For much of the period it felt like a response might not be in the cards, but it’s pretty rare that the Senators keep the Leafs’ top line quiet. 14 minutes into the period, the Leafs recovered the puck after a lost faceoff in the offensive zone. A nice pinch from Gunnarsson kept the puck in before his subtle poke on Karlsson along boards sent the Senators scrambling. JvR and Kessel for another cross crease goal – Kessel’s 28th, with much more to come.
Controversy struck just a minute and a half later. After Kulemin cut off a ring around the end boards and forced the Sens to send the puck back behind the net, Kadri took a healthy run at Cody Ceci from behind. I’m not going to be partial and say that wasn’t a penalty. It was, without a doubt. The snapshot of the contact shows it was more from the side than it first looked, but the turn happened a few steamboats before Kadri trucked into Ceci. Kadri picked up the puck and found Lupul in front to knot the game at 2s.
After another powerplay went the Leafs way (four in a row), the Leafs wound up on the penalty kill after a predictable (frankly, deserved) makeup call. An important first half to the kill preserved the tie into the third period.
The Leafs were outshooting the Senators 25-15 through two periods. I didn’t know whether to praise them or feel uneasy about this fact.
Jay McClement was solid on the PK in this game, and unlike last season that hasn’t always been the case. He broke up a couple of plays with a good stick, and helped turned this game in the Leafs favour by picking off the point at the start of the third period. He went on a partial breakaway and drew the Leafs’ fifth powerplay of the game, which would finally see the Leafs’ league-best powerplay (at home) cash in.
Dave Farrish mixed up the PP pairs for this powerplay, with Rielly and Franson together on the point. After gaining the entry via the drop-pass to Kessel, Morgan Rielly held at the line briefly, drawing in a penalty killer, and threw a short backhand saucer pass to Kessel. Bozak’s pick in the slot opened up a pocket, allowing Kessel to step in and rip it home faster than the speed of sound.
The Leafs looked to be taking control of the game before a strong shift by the Greening and Neil line, again, evened the game up. No one knew it at the time, but Neil’s shot in front trickled over the line and was adjudged a goal upon further review. The second line was guilty of some flat footedness there, and Carl Gunnarsson failed to take an opportunity to get the puck out.
The top line was irrepressible, however, and strong anticipation by Bozak saw him pick off a D to D pass from behind the net and feed Kessel in front. Kessel roofed it from in tight, of course. 4-3 Leafs.
There were a number of goals generated through smart and effective forechecking in this game by the top two lines, using their speed to force turnovers.
As mentioned above, Kessel by this point was running roughshod on the Senators and Carlyle kept the first line out with under two minutes to go. Kessel returned the favour to Tyler Bozak on a similar goal to the one previous, with a great pass by Kessel to reach around the defender just before taking a hit.
Nazem Kadri added an empty netter to give him 14 points in his last 9 games.
– This was the tenth time (in 57 games) the Leafs have outshot their opponents, and they’re 6-4 in those games. Dating back to last season, the Leafs are 11-11 when outshooting and 45-26-11 when outshot.
– Who would have thought the Leafs could win a game with a .885 save percentage from their goaltender?
– Another +2 night for Dion Phaneuf, who is now +17 on the season. Plus/minus is plus/minus, but he plays on a team that has allowed more goals than it has scored, and he plays big minutes in the toughest matchup every night. That has to indicate something now that we’re at game 57 of the season. This was a clash of the titans in terms of two very strong top lines in the Kessel line and the Turris/Ryan/MacArthur line. The Kessel line sent the Senators out of the rink with their tails between their legs; the Senators top line, while threatening at points, was kept off the scoresheet. Dion Phaneuf was a big part of that as always, playing his cousin in particular (MacArthur) very physical throughout the night.
– I thought he looked gassed the last couple of weeks, but this was a solid game at both ends: Phaneuf also directed seven shots on goal tonight. Imagine if he could hit the net! (ugh)
– Tyler Bozak has 29 points in 31 games, good for a top 15 spot in the NHL among centers in points per game. Credit where it is due, and while it may not last over a larger sample size, he’s producing like a number one center (a higher end one) over a good run of games. Bozak’s subtle contributions are also notable: A little stick lift or battle win here or there that helps extend a play and leads to good things. Bozak’s a heady player – see his pick in the high slot that allowed Kessel to step into his powerplay goal. Kessel’s hat-trick goal gave Bozak yet another primary assist, which he has way more of this season than in the recent past.
Keep in mind a number of these players are wingers:
– Greg McKegg played under four minutes tonight, as Randy Carlyle rotated Jay McClement onto the line with Raymond and Bodie for most shifts. Also at play was Colton Orr leaving the game after blocking a shot, leaving McLaren on the bench for the rest of the game while McKegg became an extra who got the occasional shift.
– Between Holland and Ashton sitting in game time decisions, compounded with Orr getting hurt (not that he would’ve changed much), this was a two line team with the third/fourth line providing occasional rest. Thankfully the top six woke up in the second half of the game. Hopefully we don’t have to go on much longer with a bottom six like tonight’s; there will eventually be a cooling off period for some of the big guns.
– WOW at some of Morgan Rielly’s rushes up ice tonight. When he goes, he does it with such purpose thanks to amazing wheels and an ability to see the ice so effectively. There were three or four very threatening rush attacks from Rielly in this game. Pretty soon, much like how the crowd starts to buzz when Kessel’s legs start churning for a rush up ice, the crowd will react the same way to Rielly.
– This angle of the Kadri hit should hopefully save him from suspension. Definitely not square on the numbers. Ceci sprung right back up, as well.
Enjoy Super Bowl Sunday, Leafs fans, knowing your Toronto Maple Leafs, 9-1-1 in their last 11, are the hottest team in the National Hockey League.
Leafs/Sens Shot Location Chart
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Ottawa Senators Boxscore
|Jonathan Bernier (20-15-5)||W||26||23||0.885||59:47:00|
|James van Riemsdyk||0||2||20:16||3||3||0||0||0||1||0||2||1|
|Craig Anderson (18-11-7)||L||35||30||0.857||59:49:00|