The Maple Leafs rose to the level of competition with a good team effort and beat Randy Carlyle’s (Holland, Lupul and Gardiner’s as well) old team for the second time this season, handing them just their sixth regulation home loss of the season. This was an impressive win by the Buds without a bad effort on the roster to speak of. It has the potential to be a momentum-building win over one of the League’s elite teams, but the fun doesn’t stop here, with a brutally tough turnaround against a rested Sharks team tonight. If you’re the Leafs you’re hoping for two points out of a back-to-back of this difficulty, so the Leafs have put themselves into a position where any points tonight will be a bonus.
The Anaheim Ducks’ Ben Lovejoy spoke about how they fed into the Leafs’ lethal transition and speed game by feeding them turnovers back in October, and they didn’t seem to learn from it tonight. Additionally, the neutral ice was open throughout much of the game, enabling the Leafs to gain speed and/or utilize the stretch pass to great effect, be it an aerial launch or a east-west pass across the neutral zone. Toronto seems to have Anaheim’s number for that reason. This game should infuse the Leafs with some confidence for the stretch run, provided said confidence doesn’t get completely obliterated and they put on a respectable showing in San Jose.
Three goals on their first 15 shots and a 43-save performance from Jonathan Bernier, this was the quintessential Leaf win and yet another middle finger to the regression Gods. The Leafs outshot Anaheim 11-9 in the first, took a 2-0 lead to the dressing room, and were outshot 35-12 the rest of the way. If we isolate the game and set aside our pre-existing 3rd period paranoia, it wasn’t really in doubt. A late-night game that was never at risk of putting the East Coast audience to sleep, this contest also featured three fighting majors (Clarkson x2, Gleason).
Tyler Bozak notched the Leafs’ opening goal of the game, a 4-on-3 powerplay tally and the first PP goal since the Olympic Break. Dion Phaneuf showed great patience coming down off the point, faking the shot to get the Ducks’ defender to hit the ice, and finding Bozak in front, who angled his stick expertly with a nice touch to direct the puck in far side on Andersen. Two primary assists in the past two games for Dion Phaneuf along with nine hits and ten blocked shots. I’ll wait until the Leafs score a 5 on 4 PP goal to declare the slump to be over, but this hopefully will help the team get back on track with the man advantage.
The second goal was Phil Kessel’s 34th of the season, leaving him just three shy of his career-high with 16 games to go. The explosive first three strides and mid-speed acceleration of Kessel was on full display as he jumped on a Ryan Getzlaf turnover inside the Leaf blueline, exploded through the middle of the ice and purposely bounced (not a fortunate bounce, The Phil makes his own luck) the puck off Frederik Andersen and into the net.
The Leafs made it a third in the second period when Paul Ranger followed up an expertly-timed shot block with a rush 180 feet down the ice to finish off a gimme from Kessel on a 2 on 1. Tyler Bozak notched another assist on the play with a great stretch pass to send Kessel away down the right side. Bozak had a hand in all three goals (1g, 2a).
A late goal in the 2nd period after a dominant shift by Corey Perry (he simply wasn’t leaving the ice surface without a goal on that shift; simply have to tip the hat to him) ensured the Leafs’ often-dubious third-period “shutdown” efforts would be put to the test against one of the most lethal offenses in the game. Was it all the money on the board? The Leafs kept a clean sheet in the third period as Bruce Boudreau threw Perry and Getzlaf over the boards for shift after shift to the tune of 24+ minutes of action tonight for the dominant Canadian duo. The Leafs generated about two minutes of sustained offensive zone pressure in the middle of the period; Gardiner and Franson did a good job holding the line while the second line cycled, before the top line followed with some ozone time the next shift. Besides that, though, it was mostly a determined defensive effort in a period spent in the Leaf zone.
The Leafs’ box outs and shot blocks were effective, not just in the third period; there were some meaningful blocks throughout by Paul Ranger, Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, and one by Cody Franson on a second-period penalty kill. Ranger alone laid down three key shot blocks at vital moments, including the one leading up to his goal. Phaneuf registered eight blocked shots on the night. In the final minutes, the Leafs finished their hits and didn’t concede puck battles on the outside so much. Plus the good Bernier saves, of course.
– It was James van Riemsdyk and Jonathan Bernier who got the Leafs on the right track in this one. Bernier needed to weather an early storm, as we might have expected, before two solo efforts from JvR woke the Leafs’ offense; one was a great hustle play to win a puck race and draw a penalty and another was the now-classic JvR outside drive around poor Ben Lovejoy, victimized by his almost-unfair package of size, strength and new-level speed. What a backcheck to stick lift Ryan Getzlaf, too.
– Clarkson had three or four of his best shifts in forever tonight, asserting himself on puck battles in the offensive zone and extending plays on the cycle. I’ll give Clarkson some credit as well for dropping them no questions ask with Bryan Allen, a much bigger combatant, after Jake Gardiner was caught with an Allen hit on his blind side. He won the fight against the 6’5 defenceman, as he did his earlier one in the game versus Lovejoy. Clarkson and Gleason should be able to provide those things for this team given they’re in-part paid for those type of intangible contributions, but Clarkson has mostly stuck to chirping throughout the season. Part of the advantage of signing Clarkson to me, I thought, was his ability to do this type of thing and help assuage Carlyle’s need to dress two-minute enforcers.
– Too many great saves to mention from Jonathan Bernier tonight. A ten-bell glove save off a one-timer in the slot in the first, great saves in tight all night long, and he was a sponge on the shots he should hold onto. 43 saves and a well-earned night off, if Carlyle goes that route.
– If you watched Paul Ranger closely, he wasn’t perfect from a defensive standpoint, but he is competing like hell, leaning his strength and size on players and winning his battles. That goes a long way with Carlyle and it earned him 16 minutes and a shift at the end of tonight’s game. He’s gained confidence with this recent stretch playing as the Leafs’ 7th D. Two goals since he’s returned to the lineup will certainly help.
– The inclusion of a 16-minute 7th D allowed Carlyle to keep Phaneuf down at 20 minutes and change, important in a back to back situation. He wasn’t really the 7th D, as the other chunk of his minutes came from Tim Gleason’s share and he was down to 11:16 on the night. Carlyle also shared the minutes among the 11 forwards enough (their lowest TOI among forwards was Bodie’s 7:15) to keep Bozak and Kessel down around 20 (JvR was at 22 on account of PK time).
– Saw Gleason had an egregious turnover into the slot and was beat wide once or twice in this game, but who doesn’t love the anger in this guy when he competes and protects the net. He’s the definition of no-nonsense. Most defencemen shove or face wash, Gleason’s got no time for that. He dropped Maroon on his hind quarters, noted the subsequent call-on, and beat him in a fight later on.
– Interestingly, the Leafs’ road PK has never plummeted to the same extent as their penalty killing at home. They’re an at-least-OK 80.5% on the road and killed 4 on 4 tonight, including two big kills in the third period. Jonathan Bernier being totally locked in is a big piece of it, but so too were some good clearances and timely shot blocks.
The Leafs are now second in the Atlantic Division, surpassing the Habs (even on games), and on pace for 97-points. Onward and upward.
Tweet of the Game
— TheTorontoTruculent (@TOTruculent) March 11, 2014
|Frederik Andersen (15-4-0)||L||23||20||0.87||57:44:00|
|Jonathan Bernier (25-16-7)||W||44||43||0.977||60:00:00|
|James van Riemsdyk||0||1||22:19||2||1||0||1||0||0||0||2||1|