Maple Leafs 5, Ottawa Senators 4
This game came down to goaltending, and clearly James Reimer was the better netminder at his end of the ice, turning aside 38 of 43 Senator shots, helping the Leafs hang on to a 5-4 victory over their provincial rivals.
I recent years since the arrival of Reimer, I am sure all Leafs fans out there are very happy to admit that their goaltender on the ice was the difference in a game.
Toronto's big line of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak finally provided some early offense and the Leafs played solid, controlled hockey in their own end for forty minutes contrary to Monday evening.
In the third period, it got a little too close for comfort as the Senators came charging back from rigor mortis and made a game out of what had been Toronto being rather opportunistic against Ben Bishop and the Senators for the most part.
Kessel's goal on the power play after Ottawa made it a 3-2 game proved to be the most devastating goal for Ben Bishop and the Sens. Bishop's positioning must have been a little off since the shot seemed to be straight at him and along the ice. Simply put, it was a puck that needed to be stopped for a team who had just gotten back into the game.
The St. Louis Blues gave up on the 6 foot 7, 26 year-old goalie a year ago, so it's just about time for this big kid to put up or shut up for a team in still searching for an answer in goal with three guys to choose from.
I guess I was a bit surprised to see Bishop get the start over Robin Lehner, the other Senator youngster in waiting, but I guess Ottawa wants to take it step by step with the 21 year old.
After Nazem Kadri blasted home a loose puck off the shoulder of Bishop to make it 5-2, the Leafs once again turned into the team that would have to chase and hold on for dear life, fighting its biggest enemy; the clock.
Dion Phaneuf and Korbinian Holzer were once again paired with each other, and were on the ice for all three of Ottawa's third period goals. Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak could also take the blame for the first two goals against, as both of them were caught watching instead of playing their game and taking their man in front of the crease.
But as in the recent past, Phaneuf and Holzer sometimes play too soft too often when they both need to use their size and start bulldozing smaller forwards out of the way from whoever is in net. I guess the captain for the Leafs got a little outplayed by the opposition's captain in the end.
Still, credit the Senators for not holding their heads down after Bishop allowed Kessel's easy wrister that made it a two-goal game again. Both teams played well enough to win, as each cashed in on its prime scoring chances. The difference, once again, was James Reimer.
Regardless of how the game finished, the Maple Leafs have started out a very tough week with two wins on home ice leading up to Thursday's showdown against the Boston Bruins, who I still think is the team to beat in the East. In both victories thus far, the Maple Leafs have managed to take advantage of some average to below average goaltending. Most likely the man to beat in Boston on Thursday will be Tuukka Rask, who will be a tough man to solve.
For the Maple Leafs to have any chance in Boston, they must be able to match the Bruins' physical style and control the game well enough when they have the puck. Offensively, there is not much to change except keep being opportunistic and capitalize on the limited chances they do get since Boston does not make many mistakes.
I would imagine that Ben Scrivens gets the start in goal in Boston, as Reimer will probably require some rest after a hard-fought victory Wednesday night. It would be a welcomed sight if the backup goalie can stand tall and earn a victory in a very tough building to win in.
Well hey, if Montreal can find a way to win in Beantown, then why not the Leafs?
Maple Leafs' Money: What to do with Tyler Bozak?
Okay, I have heard a lot of talk between intermissions and all over the hockey digital world, if I can call it that, about this kid. Personally, I hate to lose him as he is one of the organization's own and has done everything asked of him.
The problem is the salary cap.
Now, I have very little interest in the money and business side of hockey operations and I do not think it is up to me to voice my opinions on what the organizations should do with "our" or their money, nor do I like to, but here goes for this one time, so enjoy it...
Currently, the Maple Leafs have $5.5 million wrapped up with Grabovski, whom the team signed long-term last year, as well as a most recent long-term commitment of $4.25 million to the oft-injured Joffrey Lupul.
Not to mention the $4.5 million and $3.875 million shelled out to inactive defensemen Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles. These two guys are not even playing for the Maple Leafs, yet are making two of the higher salaries on the team.
The debate recently has been between keeping Bozak and/or Nazem Kadri long-term. Obviously, the organization would never give up a player like Kadri or risk losing him to free agency, especially after his breakout season. But the team also cannot afford to lose a player like Bozak, who can play on all lines and is a valuable face-off man.
My problem with Grabovski, another long-term center for the Leafs is that he gives the puck up way too much, more so in the offensive zone, but is also a defensive liability at times. Perhaps the Leafs management made a minor mistake overvaluing a player like Grabovski and forgetting about Bozak, who is a little more dependable on both sides of the puck. Moreover, they may have not had too much faith in Kadri making a statement for himself either.
Still, Bozak gives the Leafs something different that neither Grabovski nor Kadri can provide at the moment and that's versatility. Bozak can win a huge draw in the defensive zone and help settle things down and can also win a huge draw off a power play and help set up a goal in the process like he did tonight. Grabovski and Kadri are also similar, but just not as dependable as Bozak. In addition to the above, Bozak can also center all three top lines as well as the PP and PK units.
My suggestion, and this is easier said than done, would be to try and trade someone like Liles and/or Komisarek to try and free up some money to have a chance at retaining Bozak. Also, if the Leafs are so inclined to commit to players like Grabovski, Lupul, Kessel, van Reimsdyk and Frattin as its main playmakers, perhaps that makes someone on the Marlies like Joe Colborne, Carter Ashton or Ryan Hamilton a little more enticing to sweeten the pot to free up some more money.
Just some thoughts on that situation. But in the meantime, if it seems like Toronto does not have a very good chance at retaining Bozak, then the team is better off trading the 26 year-old center regardless of the teams' chances of making the playoffs. That, way the organization has a chance to add a bit to the depth of centers or tough, two-way players it has to fit Randy Carlyle's style.
In reality, the loss of Tyler Bozak does not hamper Toronto's chances of making the playoffs, however, I would sure like to have him along for the ride!