Ten games above .500 (32-22-6), 70 points on the year, and the first win over Vancouver since November of 2003. That’s the way to enter the Olympic Break.
- The Leafs started this game well, enjoying two consecutive powerplays. Not sure about Raymond on the left half wall on the PP as a left-handed shot. It’s easy to defend against. By having a right shot there, it opens up a cleaner passing lane to the point and allows for a better shot lane at the net (a la Kessel).
- We’ve been saying it since last season and still are this season… The Leafs’ very good powerplay could be that much better if they were to correctly deploy their defence pairings. Phaneuf and Franson have difficulty rushing the puck and handling it in traffic inside the offensive zone. The Gardiner / Rielly pair has silky smooth zone entries and are creative with the puck, but ultimately lack a shot threat. Conversely, Dion/Franson play their correct sides (Dion has difficulty on his proper side 5v5, and always plays RD), but they have Dion out of his element on the left side on the PP. When Dion/Franson play catch or try and set up for a shot, it takes two touches to corral the puck; one to catch the pass and one to setup (again) for the shot. Putting them on their proper sides makes for two 100-mph shots from the point, which is incredibly hard to defend against; by adding Gardiner or Rielly to the PP#1, it would add another passing outlet that can drift in off the point and draw coverage away from the point for a clean shot lane.
- Gardiner has to keep adding strength so he can lean on a forward protecting the puck more effectively. At one point in the first, Booth worked him off the sideboard in the defensive zone. Granted, if anyone saw Booth on the show “NHL Revealed,” the guy is built like a chiseled Greek God and weighs a solid 215 pounds, but Gardiner got manhandled. I know the two get compared far too often, so I hate saying it, but Rielly is already a ways ahead in terms of strength in those one on one battles.
- Weak attempts from the outside by Canucks on their first PP, after a Leafs high sticking penalty. Kesler surging through the middle was the best chance, but Bernier was there with a pad save.
- What a boring first period (and 2nd). The game was paint-drying bland and the crowd was church-mouse quiet. I think the conversations at center ice before the game were less about the game and more about which resorts they were staying at down South during the Break.
- Nonetheless, the Leafs were mostly carrying the play, but came under siege in final two minutes. The Canucks, badly struggling for offense of late, were clearly just shooting from everywhere.
- The Canucks took a 1-0 lead on one such shot, as Kesler fired a weak shot from well above the circle that fooled Bernier. Don Cherry jumped at his chance to rebuke a defenceman (called Gardiner a “dummie”) for reaching in with his stick during a windup. It did take a deflection off Gardiner’s stick, but it was going wide. The reason why Bernier was lost on that shot was because it deflected off Gleason’s midsection right in front. Bernier made contact with the blocker but it deflected down and in.
- A good start to the period, but a poor finish cost the Leafs. They were down one, but there was nothing to be too discouraged about.
The Leafs flatlined at the end of this period:
Leafs stopped playing and let Vancity back in the game (11 straight SOG). Goal ensues (surprise). pic.twitter.com/CEUQ1cpdcE
— Maple Leafs HotStove (@LeafsNews) February 9, 2014
- The Leafs had best chance (off the stick of Kadri) in the first five minutes of the 2nd, but that was saying very little.
- A scary moment for McClement. He lost an edge in the corner and slammed his face off the ice before leaving the ice bleeding. This put the Leafs down to 10 forwards for the rest of the game.
- I was worried the team might be looking forward to the break, whereas Vancouver, losing and hungry, might want it a bit more. Neither team was up to much, but the Leafs were looking OK in a game where neither team was sharp. One bounce was the difference.
- Bodie and Raymond worked a good cycle down low, followed by a jam play from Raymond, for the best chance in some time. A low event period to say the least.
- The first line came on strong on the next shift, with 10 to go. Bozak extended the play with a great effort to stick lift Kassian in the slot as he went to clear the zone. Bozak’s a sneaky player who does that sort of thing well (extends plays). A long spell of possession followed in what was the first line’s best shift of the game to this point.
- This game was so low-event it felt like the next goal was crucial.
- Much of the final 10 minutes of the period were played in the neutral zone. No one was sustaining zone time; there were countless dump ins, with neither team able to keep the zone for more than a fleeting few moments.
- The only exciting moment of the period was Burrows and Kessel tangling for round 2. Burrows threw a slash, a cross check to the neck area, and grabbed Kessel’s hair… Just a brutally dirty player. He was assessed a deserved extra 2. No Kessel for the PP, though, so Bozak briefly assumed his spot on the half wall. Clarkson took a hooking penalty with a few seconds left and negated the PP.
— Joey Jo Jr. Shabadoo (@Dudgee) February 9, 2014
Kessel would get the last laugh…
- The Leafs got an easy kill to start the third, with a minute to kill off of Clarkson’s penalty.
- The first line was starting to come on strong. Kessel forced a great save out of Luongo after hopping on a broken pass in the slot. That was an over-pass by Kadri just before, as he had a clean look at the net.
- A good spell of possession/shots followed a good forecheck by Clarkson, who caused a turnover behind the Vancouver net.
- Morgan Rielly went a dangerous rush after identifying a chance to go while the Canucks changed. As Anthony noted, when do teams stop changing when he has possession of the puck in his own zone?
- Kulemin, Raymond and Bodie came on strong with two consecutive shifts. After a Gunnarsson drive to the net, Raymond walked out from behind the goal, pivoted, and put one through Luongo. MayRay got one over on his old team, his 16th goal of the season.
- That was more of a pinch down off the blueline, but Gunnarsson has been rushing aggressively last three games, as we saw once in the first. He looks a lot more active. It seems to be a part of the coaching’s staff insistence on the defence, who were generating so few points in the first half of the season, getting more active to create offence.
- Amazing defensive play by Bozak to save Rielly’s behind after he got caught in between rushing the puck and making a pass, turning the puck over at the red line. A great diving play by Bozak took away a clean break for the Canucks. Bozak was dogged in his efforts tonight, with an amazing all-around game. This shift included a diving backcheck, a rush with the puck, a little dangle, and a pass through a defender’s legs.. all in the build up to:
- Kessel’s 31st goal of the season, dedicated to Alex Burrows. A rocket-propelled snapper from the top of the circle while Luongo was blinded by a face full of JvR’s pants, Strombone had zero chance on this one. This Phil Kessel guy is something else. Enjoy him in Sochi, Team USA. Just make sure he comes back healthy.
- A few minutes later, Bozak gained the zone, found Kessel in the slot with a no look pass, and JvR banked the rebound off of Edler’s neck and in. Three goals in under five minutes. That’s the 24th goal for JvR, who is on the hunt for thirty before this season is through.
- A rare instance of candidness from the HNIC crew: “This is a team that can win a game in 5 minutes.” So they did.
- You wouldn’t know Kulemin is a winger playing center. A fastidious defensive player, it’s also good to see him receive more touches on the puck. He had a good look from the slot that forced a good blocker save out of Luongo just after the Leafs took the 3-1 lead.
- Another fast-break 2 on 1 for JvR and Kessel in the final minutes. They nearly added to their account as Kessel made contact with a saucer pass mid air, but it just went wide.
- No issues closing the game out for the Leafs, again, which is great to see. Man, could the Leafs have used Tim Gleason in front of their net late in Game 7.
The Leafs breezed through the 60s and now find themselves in a comfortable playoff position with 70 points. They’ll also receive a free deadline addition in Dave Bolland after this three-week break to rest up. All is well in Leafs Nation.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Vancouver Canucks Boxscore
|Jonathan Bernier (22-16-5)||W||33||32||0.97||59:51|
|James van Riemsdyk||1||0||18:45||1||2||0||0||1||2||0||0||0|
|Roberto Luongo (19-16-6)||L||24||21||0.875||58:04|