The Leafs deserved to lose this game 4 or 5 to 1.
Enter James Reimer.
In somewhat of a thrown-to-the-wolves situation, low on game reps and playing in a back to back against a scorching hot Detroit team, Reimer responded to adversity as he often has in his time in Blue and White – admirably.
By the possession numbers, this is the third-worst margin a team has been outplayed by in 419 NHL games so far this season. It’s not like the Leafs were leading early, either. They owned just 26% of possession while trailing or tied for the full 65 minutes, and were outshot 42-19.
It goes without saying there’s no argument to be made that the Leafs played plucky ‘bend but not break’ defense in a tough back-to-back situation on the road. Last night the Leafs were outpossessed by Calgary, but it could be reasonably argued they didn’t give up much as far as odd man opportunities went and played a close-to-even game in scoring chances. Tonight there weren’t enough fingers and toes to count the collection of breakaways, odd man rushes, and grade ‘A’ scoring chances Reimer dealt with.
It’s worth emphasizing that the Red Wings were rested and playing at home, where Mike Babcock can get his matchups and where the Red Wings have dominated opponents all season.
It was easy to see where the Leafs were outclassed in this game – the neutral zone play. The Red Wings’ structure and gap control was night and day compared to the Leafs’ sloppiness between the bluelines with and without the puck. The puck support wasn’t good enough to generate the speed needed to break through neutral ice and neither was the backside pressure without the puck. There were too many easy zone entries leaving Leafs defenceman in unenviable positions; trying to maintain gap integrity against skilled Wings forwards in full stride without support from a backchecking forward.
In stark contrast to their start to last season, this was the Leafs’ first non-regulation-overtime win of the season (to their credit). Some rest and some adjustments are clearly in order before Saturday night’s rematch.
David Booth: Thought he was among the top three Leafs tonight (wasn’t surprised to see him top of the Corsi charts). Was a positive contributor with Kadri and Santorelli as well as Holland and Clarkson; was first to pucks consistently, helped drive play and that really stood out on a night like tonight. Made a few nice plays off the defensive half wall and drew a penalty after winning a battle and keeping his legs moving down low. Had a 2 on 1 with Clarkson that was a waste, but Clarkson sent him an awkwardly-timed pass. Saw an increase to 13:13 in TOI tonight after moving up the lineup. I’d play him with Holland and Clarkson on Saturday.
Mike Santorelli: Almost always part of the solution, another good game from Santo. A fearless net drive at the end of the 1st nearly put the Leafs 1-0 up after 20 despite being thoroughly outplayed. Turned the puck back in the defensive zone for a turnover once early in the 2nd, but other than that was one of few Leafs who took consistent care of the puck. Really nice shootout goal to win it, throwing a series of head and shoulder fakes to open up the fivehole and rip it home.
James Reimer: We all saw the game. 1st, 2nd and 3rd star. Many have theorized that Reimer’s not well suited to spot duty, but this was a huge performance coming in cold, not only preventing a potential blowout, but preserving a point and making a nice stop in the shootout for the two points. To point out nice individual saves would take me all night. You also have to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky on a night as busy as this one. Nyquist and Datsyuk uncharacteristically missed the net on prime chances.
Joffrey Lupul: Not for a lack of effort, but this wasn’t his best outing as he almost seemed to be doing too much at points. Could tell he wanted to spark his flat team and was getting pissed off at lack of possession; took a handful of healthy runs at guys, bordering on head hunting at points, and did get one boarding penalty for his efforts. He also took himself out of position pursuing a hit, contributing to the Wings’ lone goal after losing his positioning on his man coming off the half wall. I kind of liked the general approach at the time, given how badly the team needed a lift. His bigger issue came on the defensive half wall, where he has to do a better job managing the puck safely. As a rightie taking the puck facing the end boards on his off wing, he did the same thing on three separate occasions; spun and fired a blind pass for a giveaway in a dangerous part of the ice. Two of those times it led to spells in the Leaf end with good scoring chances against.
Tyler Bozak: Has to value possession more, but that’s been a problem forever with the top line. Part of it is the trap of playing with Phil and feeling urgency to get him the puck, particularly when streaking looking for the fast break, but he’s been throwing more overly hopeful blind passes than usual the last few games including a particularly bad one at the offensive blueline that turned play back and led to Dion Phaneuf taking a penalty at the other end. He lost nearly every battle in the offensive zone which contributed to the top line’s struggles to sustain anything more than a one-and-done attack. Did bury in the shotoout, as is tradition.
Randy Carlyle: For putting out, on a faceoff with 45 seconds left, Korbinian Holzer and the Leafs’ tumultuous top line and nearly finding away to return stolen points to their rightful owner. Holzer had a nice penalty kill alongside Robidas where he played nearly the full two minutes (two good sticks in front and a good hit on Datsyuk) a few minutes earlier, but he was underwater all night and proceeded to get torched to the inside by Niklas Kronwall for a point blank chance. That’s more on Carlyle’s suspect decision than Holzer individually and it nearly cost the Leafs a point with 9 seconds left.
Honorable mention: The powerplay. Pretty poor 5 on 3 effort in the 2nd; not enough shots and the only good look they generated with their puck movement went for naught when Kessel put the pass into Phaneuf’s feet and he couldn’t one time it. Didn’t cash in on a 4 on 3 in OT, either.
Shot Location Chart
|PLAYER||POS||G||A||P||+/-||PIM||S||HITS||BKS||GVA||TKA||FO%||PP TOI||SH TOI||TOI|
|J. van Riemsdyk||L||0||1||1||1||0||2||2||0||0||1||-||3:18||2:13||23:16|
|PLAYER||EV||PP||SH||SAVES - SHOTS||SV%||PIM||TOI|
|J. Reimer||37 - 38||4-4||0 - 0||41 - 42||0.976||0||65:00:00|