For the second consecutive game, the Maple Leafs scored four and held a multi-goal lead only to fall apart and lose in overtime, as Jonathan Bernier’s winless streak extends to eleven.

First Period

This game started badly for the Leafs, beginning with a penalty call on PA Parenteau, who – while skilled — often pivots like he just had a hip replacement and it got him beat on this occasion. The Leafs never really established their shape after losing the draw on the penalty kill – with Grabner a little slow to react to the play, losing sight of the puck after blocking the initial shot from the point — and the Sharks made quick work of their first PP opportunity with some rapid puck movement finished off by a Joe Pavelski one timer.

With the team down 1-0 in goals and 7-1 in shots, and Nick Spaling out hurt, Babcock fired up the line blender, shifting Lupul onto his preferred left wing with Komarov and Kadri and Holland in between Grabner and Matthias (JvR, Bozak, Parenteau still intact). The Leafs briefly fought back and generated three of the next four shots on goal before the Sharks began dictating play again. The Leafs performed a succession of in-and-out dump-ins into the offensive zone and the Sharks were coming back at them in waves as the opening period approached the midpoint.

The Leafs pushed back with one good shift started by Jake Gardiner, who joined the rush and gained the zone, leading to a decent look for Tyler Bozak that was well blocked by Joel Ward.

A borderline interference call on Matt Hunwick, who ran a slight pick for Rielly off a won defensive zone faceoff, led to the second powerplay of the period for the Sharks. San Jose again capitalized in under thirty seconds, as the Leafs forwards got caught trying to fit in a change as the Sharks regrouped in neutral ice. Following an easy zone entry opposite the Leaf bench, Pavelski found Marleau in the slot as Winnik scrambled to close down, and Marleau made no mistake beating Sparks glove side.

Sparks immediately left the game thereafter and headed down the tunnel gingerly favouring his left groin/leg. In came Bernier, as the Leaf goalie carousel continues unabated.

The Leafs gave up a quick 2 on 1 on Bernier’s first shift of the game, but Matt Hunwick recovered in time to take the stick away on what would’ve been a sure goal on Bernier’s first shot of the night. After making an easy save up high on Brent Burns, Bernier settled in nicely for the following dozen shots against.

The Leafs weren’t spending much time in the offensive zone in the back half of the first, but it was again Jake Gardiner joining the rush and gaining the zone that sparked a pushback. The newfangled Holland, Winnik and Grabner line were able to apply some pressure after Gardiner’s zone entry and force a turnover out of Vlasic that Holland hopped on; Holland made no mistake for his fifth of the season.

Despite giving up 20 shots and a couple of goals in the first, the Leafs had life.

Second Period

The Holland line came out with another high-energy shift in the offensive zone to start the second 20, setting the tone for a productive middle frame for the Leafs. They took the first six shots of the period and should’ve tied the game when Tyler Bozak broke in alone on Martin Jones and missed his spot on the open five hole, with Jones getting just enough contact to prevent the puck from squeaking through.

The Leafs got their due reward off the ensuing offensive zone faceoff. A Corrado point shot was blocked before Leo Komarov picked up the loose puck, rounded one, and showed good goal-scoring patience to outwait Martin Jones for his eleventh of the season. It was yeoman’s work again from Leo here as he was more or less responsible for the entire play, having also won the faceoff.

The Leafs continued piling on the pressure on the subsequent shift, with Byron Froese earning a holding call by keeping his feet moving in a battle along the end boards. Nothing ultimately came of the following 5v4, but the powerplay was functioning well – JvR’s jam play came close before Jake Gardiner looked sharp moving the puck at the top of the diamond on the second PP shift.

A second straight powerplay ensued quickly thereafter thanks to a too-many-men call on the Sharks. The PP was again looking promising, with Dion orchestrating a spirited rush down the left side before looping back around to take a hard point shot that generated a juicy rebound, followed by Parenteau testing Jones from the top of the circle. A Joffrey Lupul interference penalty – he looked as though he his best to avoid the contact, really – killed the opportunity.

Strong work by Michael Grabner to burn some time off the clock in the offensive zone, and later break up an entry attempt in the neutral zone, prevented the Sharks – 2 for 2 on the powerplay at that point — from breaking the Leaf zone during their shortened 40-second powerplay.

Roman Polak then closed down a Joe Thornton breakaway with six minutes to go after firing into shinpads at the other end.

With two and a half minutes left to play in the period, an excellent job by Daniel Winnik to get on his horse and snuff out what was a developing odd-man opportunity for the Sharks also shouldn’t go unnoticed. Nor should a good shot block on a 3 on 2 by Dion Phaneuf – followed by a good stick by Dion to flush out the puck and get the play moving out of the zone – as both set the stage for the Leafs to take the lead.

A hell of a period by James van Riemsdyk, wherein he showed relentless puck pursuit throughout, was rewarded with 45 seconds remaining as he won a battle down low and surprised Martin Jones coming out from behind the net to give the Leafs a 3-2 lead heading into the third – JvR’s tenth of the season.

Third Period

The Leafs looked off to the races two minutes into the final frame as the newly-formed Holland line continued its strong night. After Holland won his battle on the boards, Michael Grabner stuck with the play two or three times over before depositing his second of the season in the top right corner past Martin Jones.

The Leafs had taken 17 of 24 total shots since the start of the second period by the time they gained the two-goal lead.

The game went south in a hurry after that, though, starting with a Matt Hunwick no-look turnover after the Leafs won possession along the defensive end boards. A soft seeing-eye point shot by Vlasic found the back of the net to spoil Bernier’s clean sheet.

A few minutes later, Bernier made his save on a Matt Tierney penalty shot look routine, and celebrated with a fist pump that showed just how much he needed that one. Cautiously, onlookers wondered if it just might finally be his night.

Nazem Kadri’s first chance of the game came with about 13 minutes remaining, and again – as he’s been guilty of often this season – he telegraphed his shot too much from just inside the top of the circles. On his next shift, he followed it up with a look from inside the right circle that found the chest protector of Jones.

Matt Nieto completed the Sharks comeback with eight minutes remaining, as the Leafs were second best on a few battles in the goalmouth – Winnik, Rielly — and a failure to identify the open man in front by Hunwick cost the Leafs their lead.

The Leafs came close to an instant reply with Winnik and Holland on a 2v1 the other way. Winnik outwaited the sprawl of Paul Martin but a brilliant recovery by Martin to swing his stick back around blocked the cross-crease pass attempt. It nearly worked to Winnik’s benefit; Jones had shot across the net anticipating the pass, and the puck nearly trickled in at the near post, somehow staying out even as Roman Polak arrived to try to jam it past the outstretched pad of Jones.

The Leafs took to the powerplay after a over-the-glass delay-of-game penalty, but giveaways by Lupul and Phaneuf prevented any sustained zone time for the first powerplay unit. The second unit, with Gardiner again looking sharp quarterbacking up top, came close on a prime JvR chance in the slot that was turned aside by the glove of Jones.

Jonathan Bernier got away with a juicy rebound off a soft point shot with two and a half minutes to go before making a nice glove save after the Leafs lacked a backpressure presence and Phaneuf backed off of Patrick Marleau in the high slot. The Sharks pushed late and looked the likelier side to come out with a winner.


Babcock led off with Holland and Grabner versus Pavelski and Thornton in a nice reward for their bright performance on the evening. It’s not surprising which of those duos proceeded to control the play, though.

Two shifts later, Kadri couldn’t shed Justin Braun and turned the puck over at the blueline before Nieto, Hertl and Braun pressured for a sustained 30-second spell.

On the next shift, with Komarov and Holland out against Thornton and Pavelski, Komarov needed to play tighter to his man up top as the high man, Brent Burns, put home the winner on an unfortunate deflection off of Peter Holland’s skate.

The Leafs haven’t scored a three on three OT goal yet this season and are 0-3 in games decided after regulation but before the shootout. 


– Couldn’t stop noticing the dogged determination of James van Riemsdyk — moving his feet, getting to pucks, and winning battles for much of the game. That’s night and day from large segments of last season. I guess this is what buy-in looks like.

– Thought this was a really good game from Jake Gardiner – chose the right times to go, made some nice entries, and showed good problem solving in his own end and through neutral ice to get the puck moving north. You could tell he was feeling good by how active he was in getting open and calling for pucks at the point with his one-timer cocked and ready. Thought he looked really sharp quarterbacking the powerplay at the top of the diamond as well.

Frank Corrado played 12 minutes in action last night – still rather modest, but up from his negligible eight minutes the other night. He grabbed himself his first assist – primary, too — as a Leaf on the Komarov goal. That should be a nice little confidence boost for him, but you can see evidence that this is a pretty awkward situation for Corrado on his off (left) side.

Naturally, he looked much better handling and moving the puck on the shifts spent on his right last night. Righthanded defencemen transitioning to the left has to be more difficult than the inverse just on account of the likelihood that they have very little experience doing it – the vast majority of times, teams are begging for righties, starting early on in one’s hockey career. It’s very rare to have a situation like the Leafs’ where there’s so many left D on the roster and yet no space for him on the right, but such is the reality at the present, with Polak playing an expanded role under Babcock and two lefties in Dion and Rielly playing the right.

– It was Roman Polak — not Matt Hunwick — and Morgan Rielly who played against Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Dainus Zubrus the most (13-14 even strength minutes), and they fared much better than Hunwick and Rielly did. 

– You wonder if Mike Babcock has seen enough of Matt Hunwick in a top-matchup role, as he was buried in his three or so even strength minutes against the SJ top line. He was a 15% CF in three and a half even strength minutes against Joe Thornton, for example, and Babcock mostly kept him away from that matchup. He had a big hand in two goals against last night.

– It really did appear the stars were finally aligning for Jonathan Bernier on this night. Sparks left the game injured with the team down 2-0, so he was thrust him into a situation with little time to think – probably for the best at this point – and low expectations as far as a positive result was concerned. Bernier stepped in and made 13 saves while the team scored four unanswered.

The hockey Gods have a sick sense of humour, as it turns out.

– The Leafs lost two men to the injury reserve. Nick Spaling is going to be out for an extended period of time after what looked to be a wrist break on a faceoff draw very early in the game — Joe Pavelski flailed his full bodyweight on top of Spaling as Spaling hit the deck to scrum the puck forward, and Spaling’s arm looked to have folded underneath him awkwardly. Peter Holland shifted into the middle and played a good game there, so that line with Grabner and Winnik likely stays intact for Saturday.

Garret Sparks will also be out long term with a lower body injury, and with James Reimer out of practise for the past week, it serves as a lifeline for Bernier as he is poised to get a string of undeserved starting opportunities. As we talked about in the pregame, there’s still plenty of reason to think he can play his way out of the funk, but it was going to be tougher to do while getting spot duty behind Reimer and/or Sparks. This is a great chance for Bernier to get his game back on track in a hurry if he can build on the positives of last night. They say one sign of coming out of a slump is a loss in which you played pretty well – that would be a fair description of Bernier’s game last night.

Even Strength Shot Attempt Chart

chart (17)

Shot Location Chart

Screenshot 2015-12-18 08.35.51

Mike Babcock Post Game

Leafs Player Stats – Sharks 5 vs. Leafs 4 (OT)

M. Hunwick000-12133-0:000:1018:39
D. Phaneuf00000161-2:560:2321:32
P. Parenteau01112010-3:160:0021:11
N. Spaling0000000050%0:000:000:24
J. Lupul00002330-2:560:0015:31
F. Corrado01110120-0:000:0012:09
J. van Riemsdyk10110711-3:160:0022:26
S. Matthias00000112-0:540:009:48
P. Holland1120031045%1:080:0019:59
D. Winnik02210111-0:000:0415:41
M. Grabner10110211-0:001:0217:28
T. Bozak0111020075%2:560:0021:01
N. Kadri0110036250%1:370:1217:27
M. Rielly00010220-0:320:5623:49
R. Polak00020121-0:000:4622:09
L. Komarov101-10230100%1:370:0716:53
J. Gardiner00000010-1:370:0319:54
B. Froese0000010129%0:000:538:02