The Toronto Maple Leafs bounced back from a rough opening period, gaining a point in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Bruins on Monday night.
Boston got out to an early lead in the second half of this home and home with a shorthanded tally by Brad Marchand. This one was clumsily gift wrapped by Reimer and Phaneuf to their favourite Bruins pest. Marchand happily dipped between his two benefactors, stripped Reimer of the puck and dished it out front to Bergeron. Reimer actually made a pretty nice save on the Bergeron shot but then slowly spun like an out-of-position blue-and-white dradle across the crease as Marchand swatted in the bouncing puck for the opening goal of the game.
It didn’t get much better that period. Zac Rinaldo added to the list of “Bruins you’d least like to see score on you” with a rush goal nearing the thirteen minute mark of the frame. Toronto’s starts have been messy in the last few tilts, lacking the attention to detail that is characteristic of Babcock’s system. You have to think the absolutely horrendous scheduling – that has deemed it logical to squeeze a totally unreasonable amount of games into the last ten days (six, to be exact) – may be catching up to them. Thankfully, there’s now an incredibly awkward break until next Saturday’s game against the Capitals. That definitely won’t mess with the team’s rhythm.
I’d like to think Mike Babcock didn’t even actually say anything after that first period. He just played this clip (quoted below) of himself from earlier in the day then stared intensely at his team for the remaining seventeen minutes of intermission.
“How about just playing in the offensive zone? That’d be a heck of a place to start. We haven’t had the puck in two games. Two games in a row the other team has absolutely dominated the first period faceoff circle…we got to be better.”
The Leafs succumbed to the will of their coach’s glare, turning the game around and ramping up their effort across the board. They outworked, outshot and outfaceoffed their opposition for the remainder of the night as the 2015-16 Leafs, to their credit, have refused to go away in most games. This culminated in a strong shift by Kadri, whose relentless annoyance of Zdeno Chara resulted in a delayed penalty call and an extra man on the ice for Toronto. However, the Leafs would never get to the powerplay as Joffrey Lupul whipped a wrister behind Rask for Toronto’s first goal of the night. The Kadri line followed this up shortly thereafter with a strong possession shift. With Kadri and Komarov hovering around the crease, a sharp-angle JVR shot was jammed home by Uncle Leo to tie it up at 2-2.
Unfortunately, the Bruins came right back as a Harrington giveaway in the corner was unceremoniously tucked in beside Reimer’s skate to make it 3-2. In somewhat of a redeeming moment, it appeared that this one was notched by the recently waived/acquired Landon Ferraro. There was a nice father-son moment on air with TSN’s Ray Ferraro beaming “that’s the nicest goal I’ve ever seen.” But they later officially changed the goal to Brad Marchand as the hockey gods reminded you it’s never okay to have warm sentiments about a Bruin scoring.
The wild, Toronto-dominated second period was capped off with the Leafs tying it yet again. This time it was Bozak who cleaned up the rebound off a P.A. Parenteau shot to notch his fourth of the season. Oh yeah, it was also offside, but the Bruins didn’t use their challenge. We’ll take it.
A slightly more even third frame saw the Leafs increase their faceoff percentage for the second consecutive period. Bozak and Kadri in particular excelled in this area and both finished 60% or better on the night. Toronto made it to overtime and was given an opportunity to finish the game on the powerplay as Komarov drew a penalty barging past Selke-winner Patrice Bergeron. But the Leafs were unable to capitalize, held largely to the perimeter and prompting Babcock to state that they’d be working on their 4-on-3 this upcoming week. Toronto came out of this one with their league-high fourth shootout loss yet had a strong overall showing after a shaky start. There’s no doubt that Mike Babcock and the coaching staff will use this extended break to continue fine-tuning the team’s systemic play as they look to build on this recent run of modest success.
Leo Komarov – Really, I could be writing a laudatory blurb about Komarov after pretty much every game. It’s a testament to the utility he brings to this lineup as different facets of his skillset come to light on a regular basis. Babcock’s on the same page in this respect, recently saying:
“He’s been unbelievable. He’s dangerous every night, he plays hard every night. He finishes his checks. He plays on offence, he plays on defence. He just plays.
He’s a good player.”
With his consistent energy, Komarov is the type of veteran player you want in your lineup when you begin to bring in the upcoming wave of ultra-skilled Leafs prospects. He’s the guy you would be happy dropping on a line with a William Nylander or Mitch Marner. He would set the tone for them with respect to work ethic and attention to defensive detail while being able to chip in offensively. He’d also bring his trademark physicality and a facewash or two if anyone tried to take liberties with the youngsters.
Peter Holland – On the topic of looking to the future of the Maple Leafs franchise one has to wonder: where will Peter Holland fit in? Certainly, in the next few years there will be a number of young players looking to move up the ranks and claim a spot with the big club. Management needs to take advantage of this interim period to thoroughly assess a still-young player like Peter Holland. His pedigree certainly suggests top six potential, but his career trajectory thus far leaves him as an uncertainty. Some of the names that are almost certain to be locks in the top six in the near future include Van Riemsdyk, Kadri, Marner and Nylander. Do you envision Holland in this group, likely forced to the wing? Or will he be able to fulfill a role as a third line center that can move up in the lineup if need be? It’s tough to say at this point, even with a recent burst of production that was largely fuelled by special teams success. Regardless, this will be a very important season for Holland’s future with the franchise. It would be great to see him force himself into a larger role under Mike Babcock but it’s not going to be easy.
James Reimer – Reimer wasn’t perfect tonight, but he got past his early blunder and helped his team secure yet another point. He made a particularly beautiful pad save on Jimmy Hayes and will continue to have the confidence of his team and coaching staff. In light of this stretch of spectacular play (statistically the best ten-game stretch of any Leafs goalie with regards to save percentage) it’s worth remembering that it will certainly end. With a save percentage of 0.934 thus far Reimer is due for some regression and will inevitably have a bad game, or two, or quite a few. Realistically, all goalies, even the elite ones, have subpar stretches of play featuring some ugly goals. In the fishbowl of criticism that is Toronto, the tendency is to overreact to these moments and disregard the bigger picture. Reimer has earned some leash as the go-to goalie in this city and hopefully this will be remembered the next time he is “just okay”.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Boston Bruins
|NO.||PLAYER||POS||G||A||P||+/-||PIM||S||HITS||FO%||PP TOI||SH TOI||TOI|
|21||J. van Riemsdyk||L||0||1||1||2||0||6||4||-||7:13||0:00||22:09|
Mike Babcock Post Game
Game in 10