A point out of a visit with the league’s best and highest-scoring team (15-4-2 with a +27 goal differential after this win) is something any team in the League will take, no questions asked.

Especially if you spot them a 2-0 lead. The Leafs had yet another poor start, scored on in the first five minutes for the eighth time this season, with Morgan Rielly and Jonathan Bernier losing sight of the puck coming out from behind the net and Blake Comeau depositing his first of three goals on the night 27 seconds in.

The Leafs could’ve put themselves in much better shape to start this game if they were able to capitalize on one of two early powerplays. The Leafs were in an uphill battle after they failed to convert on either and then conceded on their first penalty kill of the game (tough break with the call on David Clarkson).

Now down to 18.5% (18th in the League), the powerplay is slipping so quick that it might be worthy of a more in-depth analysis at some point, but you couldn’t help but notice that the first powerplay unit didn’t seem hungry enough and were outworked by the Pittsburgh penalty killers tonight. If they had to win a battle to keep possession of the puck, it almost seemed like they didn’t bother.

Again, it’s not the only factor, but this much also seems obvious: Taking high-end skill off of the powerplay (Nazem Kadri) is rarely the solution.

The line of Nazem Kadri, Mike Santorelli and Leo Komarov turned this game around for the Leafs with consecutive goals in the second period, followed by another brilliant individual effort shorthanded by Tyler Bozak, as the Leafs outscored the Pens 3-1 between the midpoint of the first and the end of regulation. The Leafs can be reasonably proud of the game they played at even strength, as they got better as the game went along.

It was the sixth time the Leafs have held their opponent to under 30 shots, a marked improvement over the start to last season. That said, they conceded four goals and score effects were likely at play here given the early multi-goal Penguin lead. We can see in the possession chart below that the Leafs only closed the gap once down 2-0.

This was a historic game in one sense: With Booth and Lupul back in the lineup, it was almost certainly the first time in the Randy Carlyle era that the Leafs had only one player below eight minutes in time on ice and none below seven.

Possession Chart

chart (9)

 

Shot Location Chart

leafspensshotlocationchart

Player Notes

Jonathan Bernier – Thought he made some saves tonight he shouldn’t be expected to (including four point blank saves on Crosby or Malkin), and didn’t make a few I’d like him to have. Lost sight of the puck and got twisted around on goal #1 and looked small on goal #3; Franson should take Comeau’s stick away, but if he’s playing the angle better he probably absorbs that puck. Mixed bag of a game in a mixed season so far for Bernier.

 

Stephane Robidas – The Leafs started the 2nd with a brief period in the offensive zone with Kadri’s line before Robidas blew a routine outlet pass on the right side boards and the Leafs got pinned in for over a minute straight. He struggled a bit with the at-times breakneck pace of this game, and took a penalty with five minutes left in the second after losing a foot race and body position. Holzer and Robidas seems like a silly combination; they were a 26% and 29% Corsi For tonight respectively, although they started mostly in the defensive zone. On the plus side, a strong tie up in front by Robidas probably saved a point in the scramble at the end of the game.

Jake Gardiner – Overpassed on the powerplay in the first… had a great look for a shot or a pass in front, hesitated and didn’t really do either. Had a head-shaking moment where he flubbed a clearance (/ attempted chip pass??) right to Crosby in the slot; Bernier bailed him out. He also got stripped by Crosby in the corner in the third leading to a point blank chance; Bernier again bailed him out (obviously, he’s not someone you really want out there against #87). Moved the puck well in spurts.

Nazem Kadri – Three games in a row where he’s landed a big, clean hit, this time burying Ehrhoff. Got run at a few times himself but was too slippery to catch. Always does a great job keeping his feet moving in traffic, which draws call after call, like he did in the first. He helped set up the first Komarov goal with a good one arm pass to Santorelli while getting squeezed out on the boards. Tried his hand at shadow goaltending in the hilarious scramble in the final minute in the Leaf end. He’s playing good hockey and driving play, got himself an assist, and there’s no sensible reason for him not to be on the powerplay. Did have one bad giveaway early in the third where he got too cute as last man back and turned it over to Malkin, of all people.

Peter Holland – Caught being indecisive on the OT goal, sagging off the point, and actually tipped the winning shot by Comeau, which was probably the reason Bernier didn’t catch it.

Phil Kessel – One of those games. Flat footed often, struggling to string passes together, couldn’t generate shots. Fell over multiple times. Just not his night to say the least.

Cody Franson – Should take the stick of Comeau away on his 3-2 goal, but a couple of nicely-read pinches and step ups at the blueline, and a few nice rub outs on the boards. Thought the pairing with Dion had a good night overall.

Trevor Smith – Stood out as not being able to keep up on a few plays with two skilled long-time pros in Booth and Lupul. Would like to see a fringe forward like him, given opportunities on the PK, put his body on the line a little more for a block on the Malkin 2-0 goal off the point shot.

David Clarkson – Took the penalty leading to the Malkin powerplay goal, but it was a brutally soft call. The ref might have been deceived by Clarkson briefly touching Ehrhoff with his free arm, but there was no tangible hold there. Had some nice moments protecting the puck and finding teammates to extend plays. A couple of good hits and mixed it up in front throughout, throwing Letang to the ice at one point.

David Booth – Played nine and a half minutes and showed some good jump in his first game back, gaining the zone a few times with speed, including a nice rush where he went wide and ripped a dangerous shot on Fleury. A good backcheck in the 2nd was one reason the Leafs didn’t go down 3-0. Positive first game of his season.

Leo Komarov – I think Kadri playing with him gets Naz fired up and he plays ‘chippier’ (Leo has that “bring others into the fight” effect). Uncle Leo is just collecting points right now by doing all the right things. Some excellent shifts with Kadri and Santorelli. First multi-goal game as an NHLer brings him up to 16 points in 22 games, which is just gravy in terms of the secondary scoring contribution he’s bringing.

Korbinian Holzer – Leafs would have been done and dusted if he didn’t break up the 2 on 1 as well as he did in the 2nd period, and it led directly to a goal the other way. Some nice shot blocks and hits. Had some iffy spells of own zone time with Robidas, including a mad scramble in the last minute, but hard to be displeased with the effort in his first NHL game since March of 2013 coming against the most dangerous team in the League.

Tyler Bozak – Flat out burned Kris Letang for his goal, and of course Letang is far from slow. As soon as he gets the edge for a break most fans’ hands are already in the air. He’s a crafty player in a lot of ways, and near-automatic on breakaways. Makes finishing look easy by waiting until the goalie makes a move and placing it where he’s not. Cruising along at a point per game at the moment.

Joffrey Lupul – Fairly quiet in his return, but had one nice rush in the third where he gathered speed at his own blueline and did his vintage cut in on the left side. Was a warm-up game, getting 11 minutes of ice, and he should move back up the lineup on Saturday.

Mike Santorelli – Supports the puck really well in all zones and that’s what helped lead to the 2-1 goal that got the Leafs back in the game. Now up to 12 points in 22 games, all at evens or shorthanded, which is nice secondary offense.

Penguins 4 vs. Leafs 3 Game Sheet

PLAYERPOSGAP+/-PIMSHITSBKSGVATKAFO%PP TOISH TOITOI
D. PhaneufD0110222200-3:262:5726:37:00
C. FransonD000-1012300-3:493:0025:39:00
S. RobidasD0001211310-0:001:5317:55
J. LupulL0000012010-1:350:0011:45
D. BoothL0000014000-0:000:009:33
J. van RiemsdykL000-2030200-3:170:0017:04
T. SmithC000000110050%0:000:537:25
P. HollandC000-101100025%1:351:1315:07
M. SantorelliC0221032000-0:050:0015:16
D. WinnikC00010031000%0:004:1114:03
T. BozakC101002031046%4:160:1518:29
N. KadriC011103301043%0:050:0018:47
M. RiellyD000-1212102-2:070:2218:22
L. KomarovC202102601125%0:052:3616:53
J. GardinerD000-1011231-2:300:2019:59
K. HolzerD0002026210-0:002:4217:50
D. ClarksonR000021200033%2:340:0013:57
P. KesselR000-1022020-4:160:0019:23
GOALIEEVPPSHSAVES - SHOTSSV%PIMTOI
J. Bernier18 - 2122 - 260.846062:05:00

Penguins 4 vs. Leafs 3 Possession Stats

Player All Situations    Even Strength    
NamePositionCorsi ForCorsi AgainstCorsiCorsi For%Zone Start%Corsi ForCorsi AgainstCorsiCorsi For%Zone Start%
DAVID CLARKSONR127563578715350
CODY FRANSOND201735450141135650
PETER HOLLANDC13112545711925550
MORGAN RIELLYD161425370131305067
NAZEM KADRIC171525357171525357
JAKE GARDINERD1717050641317-44360
DION PHANEUFD2020050481415-14850
PHIL KESSELC151505050814-63642
MIKE SANTORELLIC1315-246701315-24670
TYLER BOZAKC1214-24650413-92445
LEO KOMAROVC1316-345541314-14864
JONATHAN BERNIERG4453-945493446-124250
DANIEL WINNIKC911-245278715343
JAMES VAN RIEMSDYKL1114-34453613-73245
DAVID BOOTHL79-2444079-24440
JOFFREY LUPULR69-3405049-53140
KORBINIAN HOLZERD820-122922717-102929
STEPHANE ROBIDASD720-132629719-122733
TREVOR SMITHC211-9155029-71850
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Offence
80 %
Defence
75 %
Goaltending
75 %
Special Teams
55 %
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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosts "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covers the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at alec.brownscombe@mapleleafshotstove.com.