The opponent doesn’t seem to matter; no team has an answer for the Leafs’ four-line attack at the moment.

Tonight it was the League’s hottest team and owner of its best overall record rolling into town, and the Leafs lit them up for six goals.

Outplayed on the whole (didn’t ‘feel’ as bad as the shot count, but the shot location chart below doesn’t paint a pretty picture), the Leafs got the better goaltending and were certainly the more opportunistic team; boiled down, that’s been their basic formula when they’ve gotten hot in the past few seasons.

Two goals had a definitive odour to them for Frederik Andersen, who was chased after 4 goal on 20 shots – one a late read on the 2-1 Lupul goal, the other a failure to seal his post on a pretty weak wraparound shot from Booth.

The Leafs conceded a shorthanded goal after Franson got caught being overaggressive on the powerplay, meaning they outscored the Ducks by a whopping 5-1 at even strength in this game.

The most impressive aspect of this win was how the Leafs closed it out, which is something they’re doing better this year. It was the first thing Joffrey Lupul pointed out after the game when he was asked about winning despite being outshot and if there’s a difference in the team from last season.

Evan has been tracking scoring chances by game and has noted a number of times during this streak that, while the Leafs have spent some long spells getting outchanced (concerning), they’re at a minimum going chance for chance late in games and closing out strong with the lead (still haven’t lost a game when scoring 1st or leading after 2).

The Leafs had a concerning 4 on 4 spell where they spent much of it scrambling in their own end with the score 2-1, but they broke the game open afterward with Booth’s goal and Kadri’s highlight reel screamer under a minute later. Clarkson could’ve added a fifth inside a span of four minutes when he broke in alone on Bryzgalov and forced a nice save.

It wasn’t that the Leafs completely shut the game down defensively – they did concede a 2nd goal and gave up a few good chances – but they didn’t stop playing as they did at times last season, stayed aggressive and pressed offensively, playing to their strengths as a team.

From there, Kessel buried his 16 and 17th goals past Bryzgalov to give the scoreline a bit of a deceiving blowout feel and further cement the Leafs’ status as the League’s hottest offensive team through 31 games.

The Leafs now own the third best goal differential in the League at +22 and could take over top spot in the division with some points in their games in hand. Everyone is aware no team can keep up a 10-1-1 pace forever — and at a certain point the handwringing is a bit tiresome — but when it’s been four seasons in a row where the Leafs have collapsed in some shape or form, success will naturally come with a “just wait” qualifier all year long. Try to enjoy it while it lasts, everybody.

Shot Location Chart

leafsducks

Possession Chart

war-on-ice.com
war-on-ice.com

Notes

– It’s been talked about a lot, but obviously the one key difference is balanced scoring as opposed to the team’s fate being tied to the same two or three players running hot and cold. Take tonight for instance: David Booth had been playing good hockey the last nine games, but was without a goal; he got himself on the scoresheet for his first as a Leaf. Joffrey Lupul hadn’t scored in five games and he put an end to that. Kessel had just one even strength goal since November 15, and ended that by ripping one past Bryzgalov. After scoring just 1 goal in his previous 12 games, Kadri now has five in his last eight.

The point being that the Leafs seem to have established enough depth in their scoring options to suggest when one or two go cold, there’s a few others who are going to be there making up for it.

– The Leafs coughed up 40 shots for the eighth time this season and have allowed an average of 37 shots in their past nine games. Kadri, after the game, was talking about how the shots against  would be nice too reduce but aren’t too concerning because “we have Bernier” and “they’re mostly to the outside” (to his credit, on the ice where it counts, his line is the only one consistently tilting the ice in the team’s favour). It’s the exact same conversation we were having at various points last season.

– Carlyle’s message, however, had some notable differences after the game. It felt like a forewarning (“we didn’t seem to have enough energy in our forecheck, we were receiving too much, but we won”) and he certainly wasn’t getting too high amid this streak. He mentioned the team was opportunistic and that he’s concerned their overall game is slipping the past few times out. Whether the message is being received or falling on deaf ears is another matter; it’s a tough sell to his players amid a streak as good at this 10-1-1 run.

– It’s not always worth watching post game press conferences, but Carlyle’s presser last night was worthwhile and he seemed pretty much on point.

Carlyle mentioned sheltering the top line some tonight, and it was apparent he tried to get them out against Rackell’s line (Anaheim’s 3rd) whenever he could while Holland’s line and Kadri’s took on most of the shifts versus Getzlaf and Kesler. Carlyle certainly didn’t sing line 1’s praises after the game; essentially saying they played against Anaheim’s weaker lines so they better have had a decent night. He also praised the Winnik, Santorelli and Kadri for “respecting the puck and not trading chances,” which seemed like a shot at another line in particular.

Given the above quotes and Carlyle’s concern with the team’s game “starting to slip” despite the streak, when Komarov returns you wonder if he puts the money where his mouth is and tries to balance all four lines from the possession/two-way perspective. Rolling with what’s working while sheltering the top line might make sense for a bit in the short term, but playing his best player in Kessel just 15 minutes (like tonight) obviously doesn’t make sense. Ideally, you want a working solution that doesn’t involve being afraid to use Kessel a lot because his line can’t be trusted defensively.

Equipped with last change at home, the sheltering did prove to be a short-term fix in this game though, as  the top line scored twice at even strength and Kessel and Bozak finished up as the Leafs’ most positive even-strength possession players on the night at 52% and 49% CF respectively. They scored their first period goal against 2/3rds of the Ducks’ fourth line + Getzlaf at center; that was just their second even-strength goal during the 10-1-1 streak.

PLAYERPOSGAP+/-PIMSHITSBKSGVATKAFO%PP TOISH TOITOI
D. PhaneufD0000612110-2:422:5620:33
C. FransonD0000003220-2:422:1522:09
S. RobidasD0002005202-0:001:4520:04
R. PanikR0001001000-0:000:007:56
J. LupulL1011020211-1:500:0518:25
D. BoothL1011012011-0:000:376:35
J. van RiemsdykL022123001175%2:570:5118:22
T. SmithC000101120043%0:000:006:46
P. HollandC011124000150%0:000:5316:11
M. SantorelliC000003201150%0:001:4116:40
D. WinnikC0110001000100%0:002:4017:01
T. BozakC112101510357%2:421:0818:27
N. KadriC101001211147%1:370:0517:08
M. RiellyD0002033221-1:370:1421:31
J. GardinerD0001012103-1:370:0018:48
K. HolzerD0111007200-0:000:5017:01
D. ClarksonR00010271000%1:220:0014:35
P. KesselR2131040002100%2:290:0015:48
PLAYEREVPPSHSAVES - SHOTSSV%PIMTOI
J. Bernier (13-6-3)32 - 336-62-340 - 420.952060:00:00
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Offence
95 %
Defence
75 %
Goaltending
90 %
Special Teams
90 %
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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.