Bernier and Maple Leafs End Skid; Shake Off Poor Officiating
At least the losing streak came to an end.
Still, I am very glad to see the Maple Leafs earn two points tonight, they played hard enough and deserved to win the game in regulation. Jonathan Bernier hung tough and helped his team snap the string of bad losses especially when referee Ghislain Hebert and his crew did everything possible to keep the Leafs from getting that second point.
Usually when the officiating is that poor and blatantly one sided, the result goes the other way. All of the missed calls against New Jersey, and the disallowed goal by Hebert after Tyler Bozak skillfully roofed a close in shot over a sprawling Cory Schneider who almost came up with the save, did not seem to deter the Maple Leafs from achieving the night's objective. James van Riemsdyk was no where close to interfering with Schneider and it was Schneider's own defenseman's legs to whom his stick got caught up in. Nevertheless, Schneider almost came up with a huge save, diving to his left to which Bozak had to make an even more difficult shot. Thus, it is still very disappointing that Toronto did not get the regulation victory, which has been ever so elusive since October 30th. Toronto still sits with 14 regulation/overtime wins on the season as a result of the blown call of Hebert.
Coincidentally, this is the same referee that waived off a game winning overtime goal for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. Chris Pronger had been parked in front of Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and waived his glove hand in attempt to distract the goalie's concentration. Now, I am not a big fan of Pronger. In my opinion, he crossed the line many times with his sportsmanship and style of play, and this play does not do him justice, but still Pronger was not even close to contacting the former Flames goaltender and did noting to impede his physical ability to stop the puck. If that kind of distraction impedes you from making a save from way out beyond the circle, then you deserve to get beat. Instead, the Flames went on to win the game via the shootout.
Here is a link to the highlight video of that November 2010 game between the Flames and Flyers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ml1GAPm1CsE
Hebert is wearing referee #49 at the time before switching to #22.
As far as things go, Ghislain Hebert went out of his way to make a name for himself that night in Philadelphia and tried to do the same tonight in Toronto. Both plays should have been good goals and Hebert should be reprimanded for trying to make himself part of the game any more than he is instructed to do. Fans come to see the players play, not to see refs get involved with the outcome or the linesman to keep faking the puck drops at the circles and slowing up the game as they have done much as well. How irritating!
Most important was the effort put forth by the Leafs and Jonathan Bernier in goal, who finally stood tall and made some good stops in regulation, a couple tough saves in overtime and in stopping all three Devils shooters in the shootout. There simply have not been enough night's like tonight in which Bernier has been the difference in earning the victory. His save percentage and goals against average have been fine, but there is still a lot of work to be done to get the former LA King top goaltending prospect (even regarded ahead of Jonathan Quick during those years) to keep playing at a consistent level. That is why I expect him to be a difference maker each night for Toronto, not in a negative way.
In overtime, Phil Kessel made a terrific back check defensive poke check on a centering pass to what would have been an open look for a Devil on the left circle. Kessel can play defense...if he wants to. If #81 can make more of these types of plays on the line with van Riemsdyk and Bozak, then this team should do much better in keeping other teams at bay.
Morgan Rielly is struggling and playing through his struggles quite well. Even though he has tough shifts from time to time, he makes up for them with an excellent follow up shift. I am enjoying watching this kid grow in the NHL, and seems to me that he can handle the ups and downs of his game as well as the rest of his team. I see a future captain or alternate captain down the road for the 19 year-old. His hockey IQ and ability to handle pressure situations reminds me a bit of Drew Doughty. Doughty, like Rielly took his lumps early with a Kings team that started basically from scratch in the late 2000's. It will take some time for Rielly like it did Doughty, but the hockey sense and abilities are definitely there. Keeping Rielly with the team after the period in which teams could send players back to juniors was perhaps the best decision the Maple Leafs organization has made this season.
David Clarkson also had a strong game tonight, but he must do the same each night for this team. Clarkson does not have to be the 25-30 goal scorer the Devils expected from him. Perhaps the 29 year-old winger had that kind of pressure in New Jersey the last several seasons since the Devils certainly are not known as an offensive team. With talented scorers like Kessel, van Riemsdyk, Lupul, Bozak, Kadri, Raymond and several offensive defenseman, all Clarkson needs to do is be a solid, two-way 2nd or 3rd line forward and pay attention to the little details that he did so well in New Jersey. Once he realizes that, him and the rest of the team will perform much better and I could see Clarkson be able to remain a decent secondary goal scorer for the Leafs.
If Toronto can come up with a similar effort at the Boston TD Bank Garden Tuesday night, perhaps this season is not yet about to burst like a balloon as it was about to. A win in the building which was the scene of the crime in April could go a long way for a team still struggling to find its identity. It only took a month or so last year for the Leafs to find their identity in the last short season, and with the rest of January, part of February and all of March, the Maple Leafs have plenty of time to find it and are still very much alive in an Eastern Conference full of teams struggling to win games.
Iggy I hear ya loud and clear...I have been very disappointed in the Leafs since October 30th...The team just refuses to play as a five man unit, work hard in the defensive zone and have seemed to have tuned out Randy Carlyle. However, last night I thought they actually played well and deserved to win that game in regulation. Of course there were some shifts in which the Devils controlled play with considerable ease, but for much of the second half of the second period and most of the third, the Leafs were the better team I thought. Bernier finally played a solid game and gave them a chance to win for a change. Let's hope they get it together in Boston tomorrow. If not, it could get very ugly again and the team will be right back in the dungeons.