Three Games, Three Cities, Four Nights; Could have been worse...
Maple Leafs 4 @ Philadelphia Flyers 2
After suffering a bad loss in Ottawa on Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs headed to Philadelphia to take on another 'Jekyll and Hyde' type of team in the Flyers.
Philly continues to struggle in their own zone keeping teams from scoring and their goaltending issues with Ilya Bryzgalov and Brian Boucher are at a forefront.
Phil Kessel was able to sneak one through Bryzgalov from a bad angle and later in the second period, Nikolai Kulemin finally tallied his second goal of the short season, as the Leafs caught the Flyers in a bad line change.
Still, this game was won on effective penalty killing, an area of Toronto's game that has been resurgent thus far under Randy Carlyle compared to teams under Ron Wilson's tutelage. The team has done a masterful job on the penalty kill this season, which has helped contribute to a team overall plus nine rating in goal differential.
Yet, it seemed to me that the officials were very quick to blow the whistles against Toronto players when they seemed to land some good, sound hockey hits on the Flyers. Dion Phaneuf's shoulder to shoulder crush on Scott Hartnell in the slot was a terrific defensive play, yet was called for interference. I still get the feeling that these officials are just guessing out there on the ice, more so than ever before.
Also, credit Ben Scrivens who came back with a strong performance after Saturday's debacle. Scrivens was forced to come up with some tight saves in the final seconds. Even though the Flyers had several back to back power play chances and had gained some momentum, the Leafs defensive edge on Monday held the offensive minded Flyers to just 25 shots and helped preserve a solid road victory heading into Wednesdays game against Montreal.
Maple Leafs 2, Canadiens 5
I guess I should have counted on the Habs playing a strong game in Toronto after getting blasted against the Leafs on home ice just a couple weeks ago. I had questioned the fact of Montreal being a top Eastern team in the standings, but they actually showed why they are capable of that feat on Wednesday. Montreal controlled much of the game and totally shut down the likes of Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and their public enemy #1 Mikhail Grabovski.
Still, the Maple Leafs put themselves in position to at least grab one point in a game they were never really in.
But it was not to be as Toronto completely self-destructed in the third period as the Canadiens were back in full control of the game.
After Bozak was completely fooled by the linesman on a draw in the Toronto end, the Habs won the puck, and threw a shot towards the goal where young Brendan Gallagher beat Carl Gunnarsson to the front of the crease for a deflection past Scrivens for the go-ahead tally. After that, the game went straight to the seventh layer of hell for Toronto.
A couple things that I did not like in this game, and what is happening more recently, is the number of Leaf centers being thrown out of the face off circle. What in the name of God are they doing wrong, and what the heck is wrong with these linesmen? I sometimes get the feeling that those goofballs in stripes are there for everyone to watch him drop the puck and receive applause for a successful drop. Just drop the puck for Pete's sake and let the guys play! This is getting ridiculous!
What happened to Bozak should have been ruled an unfair drop. I have seen it happen several times where the linesman drops the puck, but immediately blows the play dead for a new face off. Why in the world was that not blown as an unfair draw?
Seriously, the Maple Leafs were never a threat to the Habs in the offensive zone, which is unusual for a team like Toronto who always seems to be on the attack, or trying to at least. Price turned aside 21 shots, most of which fairly simple and was truly beaten once on a nice passing play in which Clarke MacArthur was able to finish off the play. Subsequently, it was the only time Price was tested by the Leafs the entire night.
Maple Leafs 5 @ NY Islanders 4
I was happy that Mike Brown did not play tonight. What he did Wednesday night against Montreal was uncalled for. Randy Carlyle can argue until he is blue in the face, but there was no reason for Brown to shove Josh Gorges from behind. I would rather see Brown drop the gloves with Travis Moen or some other heavyweight, which seems to be part of Toronto's recipe for victories this season. Drop the gloves, score a quick goal, Reimer/Scrivens makes some saves and voila, a victory!
Brown received a five minute major for his play, including a game misconduct. His teammates did a solid job frustrating the Habs on the five minute power play, and seemed as if they were going to overcome Brown's bad decision making. But, the Canadiens were able to score in the final half minute of the man advantage on a fluke bounce off the stick of Scrivens but back in behind him glancing off the leg of Max Pacioretty.
Despite the solid penalty killing on Brown's selfish penalty, the Leafs played a fairly soft game Wednesday without much fight or energy and played a similar soft game against the Islanders. The softness contributed to four goals against, including botching up a two goal lead late, but Toronto seemed to have restored some of its energy back into the formula.
Nazem Kadri led the charge offensively. #43 continues to impress everyone in Toronto and in the NHL, as the 22 year old London, Ontario native notched his first career hat trick on some pretty nifty plays. The third goal was by far the most magnificent play of the evening.
On a further note, has there ever been another Arabic player in the NHL to score a hat trick, let alone two goals in the same game? I guess I will need to check that one up later myself...
However, despite the offensive explosion from Kadri and company, the Leafs found a way to squander a comfortable 4-2 lead in the third period. Good teams, playoff teams do not blow two goal leads to teams like the New York Islanders. Period!
I guess I can blame some of it on James Reimer, who looked as rusty as a 1957 Chevy. Reimer was very shaky from the start, which is to be expected I guess after a few weeks recovering from a knee injury. He almost coughed the puck up behind the net late in the third, and was beaten by Michael Grabner in the overtime period, but was saved by iron.
My goodness, how dangerous is Michael Grabner? The guy can fly and has a shot that is almost better than Kessel's. By that, I mean they can really drill some iron!
If this game had gone to a shootout, I would not have had too much faith on Reimer compared to Nabokov, but who knows with Toronto's skill up front. Perhaps an Islander would have missed the net by a mile like Grabner did in the first period on a penalty shot. What if he had converted on that shot? Perhaps if he only had gotten the puck on goal...?
Still, the Maple Leafs needed two points tonight. They fought off another disappointing finish and capitalized quickly in overtime on a giveaway in the Islanders zone. Dion Phaneuf picked up the puck and walked in alone from the right circle and fired a shot between the pads of Evgeni Nabokov to give the Leafs a huge win and also saving Reimer's butt at the other end of the ice.
Perhaps the Blue and White were a bit exhausted in the third period tonight on the Island, which caused the game to almost get away from them entirely, but they managed to get the job done. Had they lost in regulation, it would be a tough time off to prepare for Monday's tilt against the Devils.
Personally, I would have liked to see Jussi Rynnas get a chance to start tonight, and have Reimer on the bench to back him up and give Scrivens a complete night off in the press box. That way, Rynnas gets a chance to show what he can do and Reimer gets a feel for the game again watching in full gear next to the ice. After the game, win or lose, Rynnas gets sent back to the Marlies for the weekend to play more games and help boost his confidence, and Reimer is ready to go on Monday.
Still, Thursdays game was huge for the Leafs. It was not pretty, but a win is a win. The Leafs will enjoy some time off and earn some rest until next week, which is shaping up to be a make or break week for the team with four games against four strong opponents.
Monday, March 4 vs. New Jersey
Wednesday, March 6 vs. Ottawa
Thursday, March 7 @ Boston
Saturday, March 9 vs. Pittsburgh
If they can somehow get through next week in decent shape...?