Games like these are tough to judge (i.e. tough to write about).
There’s the game that saw the Leafs build a 4-0 lead over one of the League’s best teams (particularly on the road) through 27 games. Then, there’s the game that transpired in the final 35 minutes wherein the Leafs were outshot 34-16 and were lucky (two posts in the span of five seconds on the penalty kill with the score at 4-2) not to find themselves in a one-goal game with a healthy amount of time left on the clock.
The Leafs’ first 25 minutes were excellent. The Canucks have been a good four-deep team this season and the Leafs were ‘out-depthing’ them in that part of the game. While line one was mostly nonexistent, the Holland line was pressing and the fourth line won their matchup in the battle of the ‘L4s’ with a series of good shifts before opening the scoring off the stick of Richard Panik.
Vancouver held a 12-10 shot edge in the first, but the Canucks were credited with just two shots in the home plate area/below the top of the circles as Leafs’ defensive zone coverage was pretty tight and they forced shots to the outside. One bad play by Morgan Rielly to send the puck up the boards from behind the net while the Leafs were in the middle of a change led to a point blank stop by Jonathan Bernier on Radim Vrbata in the slot; other than that, it was a pretty clean period.
The Leafs’ good play carried over into the early 2nd as they went for the kill shots. More great work by Holland, Lupul and Clarkson, who scored on consecutive shifts, put the Leafs out to a surprise 4-0 lead inside 25 minutes; a great snipe and an equally nice pass out of the corner from Peter Holland.
What’s so impressive about the Leafs’ offensive prowess, scoring 32 goals in their last seven games, is how much of it is being generated at 5v5 (just 5 of the 32 have come off the man advantage). The Leafs are the second highest scoring team in the NHL without being top 10 on the powerplay (12th) and that’s a big turnaround after the Leafs feasted on the PP and went through extended dry spells offensively at 5v5 last season.
It was a difficult game to parse after the 25 minute mark, when the Leafs took the 4-0 lead and really rested on their laurels/ Jonathan Bernier. Score effects are always going to be a thing in hockey, but this team’s known complacency with a lead was apparent and knowing Bernier was on his ‘A game’ tonight probably fed into it all the more. That’s really no excuse for playing so loose, however, including a lack of discipline which could’ve easily had this game at 4-2 going into the 3rd, or 4-3 with a sizeable chunk of clock left in the third (Panik’s dumb penalty). The Leafs took five minor penalties after they took the 4-0 lead.
Discipline in terms of penalties has not been a larger issue than this game this season, though (eighth lowest PIM/game), and it goes without saying that 4-0 leads inside 25 minutes are very rare feats and present a unique situation for a team psychologically. How a team defends one and two goal leads is a little more meaningful, but we all know the recent history with how this team goes about closing out games and why concern might be justified.
Full marks to Bernier on probably his best game of the season.
Shot Location Chart
A few notes:
- Peter Holland: The Leafs’ best forward tonight, one could argue. He doesn’t have to rip off heads, but applying his size as leverage effectively is a great sign and he did it a couple of times tonight. He bodied Bonino off the puck, breaking the cycle, and hustled up ice and to help finish the play off at the other end (goal was later credited to Gardiner), and made some more good hard plays in both ends in this game. It’s tantalizing to see a skilled C with some size play like that. The shot and set up in the first five minutes of the 2nd were a really nice exhibition of the skill he possesses.
- Booth picked up his first point as a Leaf on the Panik goal and is a big part of why the Leafs’ fourth line is winning their matchups lately. He had one nice shift on the cycle with Santorelli in the 1st period as well; he must be eager to get into the Leafs’ top 9 so he can start producing consistently in a show-me contract year, which is an injury away from happening. It’s good to know the depth is there, and for now he’s been contributing as a piece who is helping drive play for the fourth line.
- If Kessel is battling multiple injuries, when does it become a consideration to take a seat for a few games? For once, that might not be such a scary proposition. The ironman streak is nice and all, but he’s clearly significantly affected, launching just two shots on goal and lacking the explosiveness to his game of late. Of course, knowing Phil, he’ll score a hat trick next game and we’ll forget it’s a thing. It wasn’t JvR who was the issue with the top line tonight, which he has been some nights. The Nucks D was making him fight for his inches in front of the net and he battled hard, while putting six shots on goal and making a fantastic play to bat a clearance down in neutral ice and send Phil in on a breakaway.
- The Sedins-Vrbata line was stifled at 5v5 (Sedin scored on a 4 on 4), and that was largely Franson’s doing. Simply fantastic hockey from #4 of late as he’s helping Dion out with the toughs tremendously.
- Why moving Lupul is something that would have to make too much sense in order to do (as opposed to a ‘sell high’ situation): He can jump in the lineup, play just about anywhere, make his line better and produce as he always has since arriving in Toronto: at a high rate. 4 goals in his last 4 games, 6 goals in 14 so far this season.
- Two minutes for elbowing seems like a fair punishment to me on the Stephane Robidas hit, but Matthias leaving the game doesn’t help his cause as far as potential supplementary discipline is concerned. It’s a standard play for a defenceman to plant the forearm in the chest there and he just seemed to catch him a little high (half on the chin half on the chest) unintentionally; wasn’t like it was a flying chicken-wing elbow to the face. Robidas has been suspended once before, one-game back in October of 2010 for a boarding call, so he has a pretty clean record.
- Remember the days Ryan Miller used to own the Leafs? Me neither.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Vancouver Canucks Boxscore
|NO.||PLAYER||POS||G||A||P||+/-||PIM||S||HITS||FO%||PP TOI||SH TOI||TOI|
|21||J. van Riemsdyk||L||0||0||0||-1||0||6||1||-||3:38||1:22||15:34|
|NO.||PLAYER||SAVES - SHOTS||SV%||PIM||TOI|
|34||J. Reimer||0 - 0||0||0||0:00|
|45||J. Bernier||44 - 46||0.957||0||60:00:00|