Lots to write about following a (near) perfect week for the Toronto Maple Leafs (their AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies) and the Los Angeles Kings...
I was planning on writing up my recap from last night's Chicago Wolves-Toronto Marlies game, but when I returned home, I instantly crashed as my body hit the bed. It had been a very long, tiresome week of teaching and coaching ten basketball games with the junior high kids.
I am also happy to mention that my teams at school won all ten games, six last Saturday, and all four opening conference games to start the season at both the 7th grade and 8th grade levels.
American Hockey League Recap: Carrick, Sparks Lift Marlies to Spirited 3-2 OT Win in Chicago...
Hometown kid, 20 year-old Garrett Sparks got the start in goal for the Marlies last night at All State Arena in Rosemont. Many of his friends from York High School and his family were in attendance to witness a very sharp performance by the Maple Leaf's goaltending prospect. Sparks turned aside 25 Wolves shots, with a couple key stops on late third period Chicago power plays and also a huge, yet confident save in the first period with a Wolves player left all alone in the slot. The wide open forward blasted a slap shot which the youngster calmly and coolly kicked aside with his pads.
Despite leaving that Wolve player all alone midway through the opening twenty minutes, Toronto dominated the Wolves for much of the first forty. The Marlies' size and speed played a major factor early, cycling the puck around effectively in the Wolves end before scoring a late power play goal when Sam Carrick carried the puck from his own end after Jerry D'Amigo had broken up a play at the Toronto blue line. Carrick turned on the jets and was able to send a beautiful feed in front to David Broll who also drove past his man to the net. Beating his man, Broll one-timed the pass past St. Louis Blues' rookie goaltender Jake Allen.
Toronto maintained the pressure for much of the second period, drawing another penalty with the Wolves chasing around in their own zone a bit. This time, Spencer Abbott was able to take a slick pass across and snap a shot past Allen from the right circle.
Chicago would get a goal back to cut the deficit to one, as Cade Fairchild scored on the open back door with a pass from journeyman Keith Aucoin. Sparks did not have much of a chance to stop the shot, but almost got his pad over in time to make the save.
In the third, the Marlies game fell apart a bit, getting docked for several undisciplined plays. 22 year-old defenseman Petter Granberg was sent off for a lazy tripping call following a battle in the corner leading to Chicago's second tally of the night when a shot from the point glanced off of the arm or elbow of Sergey Andronov and past Sparks. Andronov immediately dropped his stick and grabbed his wounded arm in pain as his teammates surrounded him.
Minutes after the Wolves tied the game at two apiece, the Marlies penalty kill would be tested yet again, as Jamie Devane and Andrew MacWilliam were both sent off the ice giving the Wolves a five-on-three advantage for a full minute and a half. Jerry D'Amigo, Korbinian Holzer and 24 year-old Kenny Ryan were the three Marlies tasked with killing off the major advantage about halfway through the third as Chicago had gained all of the momentum. The three youngsters stood their ground, and did not allow much of a scoring chance as D'Amigo slid across the slot blocking a hard shot sending the puck into the screen with just seconds remaining on the two-man advantage. Toronto finished off the rest of the time and was able to get some of the momentum back earning another power play opportunity late in regulation.
Toronto had a close call denied by Allen late with the extra man, but in overtime, an ill-advised boarding call on T.J. Brennan gave the Wolves another opportunity with a four-on-three chance to win the game. The same three killers from earlier were once again called upon to come up with another gutsy kill, then they did just that again. D'Amigo, Holzer and Ryan worked their butts off and helped Sparks maintain the 2-2 deadlock, with Sparks kicking out his pad with full extension to deny a late slap shot from the right circle. With 41 seconds on the man advantage, the Marlies' hard work along the boards drew a penalty. T.J. Brennan quarterbacked the power play for Toronto and fired a couple high hard shots from the point, one in which Allen had to get his blocker up just in the knick of time. As Toronto maintained the pressure in Chicago's zone, 24 year-old winger Kevin McKegg got tried to wrap around in front of Allen, but couldnt get a shot off with a Wolve checker on his tail. McKegg drove around the net again and slipped a pass in front to a wide open Carrick who hammered home the game winning shot in the slot.
Similar to the Maple Leafs, the Marlies power play was outstanding. Their puck movement featuring the likes of Brennan, Abbott, McKegg, D'Amigo and Stuart Percy was impressively sharp and on the tape. All three of Toronto's goals came as a result of the power play which was accurate and deadly and proved too much for the Wolves to handle on Friday night. Plus, the excellent hard work on the penalty kills, including the two-man advantage as the Wolves had taken over the game was also impressive.
Chicago ended up outshooting the Marlies 27-25 but it was Jake Allen who was tested quite a bit more than Sparks throughout the night. Both Brennan and Abbott registered four shots apiece, most of which were difficult saves made by Allen. Broll also stood out for the Marlies with some of his offensive skill being displayed and also his physicality. D'Amigo was sent flying with a kneeing penalty against the Wolves in the second period, both D'Amigo and Broll came onto the scene and defended each other.
Korbinian Holzer, who struggled mightily with the Leafs last season passed the test with flying colors, taking charge of the Marlies penalty kills. But still, the 6 foot 3, 205 pounder has trouble in his own zone along the boards when handling the puck. A slight "bump" or nudge sends him off the puck and the other team quickly regains control of the disk. There is still plenty of work that needs to be done with his game and he must use his size to his advantage. To me, he is just another Carl Gunnarsson and plays a soft game, most evident in his five-on-five play. His penalty killing ability however, was much improved which is a good sign for Toronto. The 26 year-old blue liner also played with a lot of emotion, which at times got the Marlies into some trouble late in the game.
Jamie Devane had an outstanding preseason with the Maple Leafs, but last night for some reason looked disinterested. The big, 23-year old forward seemed to be skating through the motions against the Wolves and did not register a single shot on net while earning a lazy third period penalty with the game tied.
Both Josh Leivo and Jerred Smithson did a solid job at the face off circle, and won some draws so cleanly that the Marlies were able to fire a couple quick shots on target.
Dmitrij Jaskin also played a solid game for the Chicago Wolves. Jaskin had played the night before against the Kings in St. Louis. The young Russian winger made a dazzling play, stickhandling the puck through a pair of Marlie defenseman and was able to get a good shot on goal with Sparks kicking out the pads to deny the chance.
Kadri Leads Maple Leafs to Victory over Hated Rival Montreal...
The Maple Leafs got off to a flying start at the ACC on Saturday night, looking very sharp with the Winter Classic jerseys. They look even better inside with the white stripes being much more visible. I hope the team chooses to use those threads again in the future as the third jerseys, especially with a pair of exciting victories over long time Original Six rivalries Detroit and now Montreal in wearing them.
Nazem Kadri perhaps used some of the trade rumors to fuel his game a bit, as he helped open the scoring early with a beautiful move past Alexei Emelin and fed Cody Franson with a pass who beat Carey Price with the one-timer. Kadri again helped set up the third goal for the Maple Leafs, finding Mason Raymond alone on the far left side circle who sent a wrist shot top shelf of the glove hand of Price giving the Leafs a 3-1 lead. Simply put, Kadri was the best player on the ice just like he had been several times last season in which the 23 year-old took over games and scored highlight reel game-winning goals. Kadri also delivered some punishing checks and had noticeably played his best games since a 4-1 victory at the ACC against Pittsburgh back on October 26th. That being said, it has been a long time since the young center has made a significant impact, yet I hope the Leafs management don't jump the gun and trade away a kid still learning how to play his game in the NHL. It would be a mistake at this point in time.
Toronto seemed to stop skating a bit after Montreal scored the tying goal late in the first period. Carl Gunnarsson flubbed a pass out of his own zone and then held back his man leading to the power play for the Habs. Jay McClement, Tyler Bozak, Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner all were sent to kill the man advantage, but all stood around not moving like a bunch of tall, blue pylons as Brendan Gallagher hammered home a shot in the slot on a loose puck.
Raymond made a nice play as he cruised to the net on the right side, help up and found Phil Kessel in the slot who fired one past Price to give the Leafs the lead back at 2-1. It was Kessel who won a board battle, freeing up the puck to Raymond who drove to the Montreal net.
Then as the second period was winding down, Cody Franson made another bad play. In fact, it was not such a bad play, but more of a stupid play. Franson was in front of Jonathan Bernier protecting the goal and got his stick blade on a weak desperate attempt on goal. Instead of holding onto the puck or calmly skating the puck out of harms way, Franson for some reason weakly throws the puck out into the middle of the high slot, picked up by Montreal's Francis Boullion who throws it back on goal. Bernier got his pad on the shot, but the rebound was knocked back in by Brian Gionta at the side of the cage. The timing of this play made it even more inexcusable, turning a 3-1 game in which Toronto had taken control of into a one shot game with just 11 seconds on the clock. With plays like this, Franson needs to be held accountable. I would sort of expect a young rookie (like Rielly for example) to make these types of plays but it's a five-year veteran who the Leafs are counting on who is making such stupid decisions. In my opinion, Franson should be benched for a game. Still, only at 27 years-old, Franson's offensive game has taken notice this season, but his defensive game has gone to hell. Toronto needs more from the veteran blue liner and I am not talking from an offensive standpoint. His careless defensive effort has been purely unacceptable. Thankfully, tonight's gaffe did not cost his team the win or a single point in the standings.
Of course, the horrible play by Franson would result in another lead thrown down the drain as David Desharnais was able to skillfully deflect a shot from the point, that had changed directions twice before getting to the goal crease. Toronto then, shook off the last two goals scored by Montreal and got the lead back on a goal by James van Riemsdyk who drove to the net and scored off a nifty pass from Bozak. Joffrey Lupul iced the win, credited with an empty net goal as he was dragged down and hooked on his way to the wide open goal.
Another hard fought game ends in success and two more points for the Maple Leafs, who have struggled to win game in regulation. Thursday night's game against the Sabres should have also been a regulation victory but James Reimer did not look as sharp as usual in goal, allowing a couple of very weak tallies. Thus, it came to no surprise that Jonathan Bernier got the call tonight against the Canadiens and played well despite allowing the three goals.
Red Wings "Net" Shootout Victory over Kings...
Well actually, the Kings had a hard earned win and point stolen from them.
For those who did not see the finish of the Kings-Red Wings game tonight, a shot from the point by Niklas Kronwall with Jimmy Howard pulled on the power play with seconds ticking off the clock, had been deflected by a good stick check from Jarret Stoll. The puck went flying all the way up and clearly bounced high up off of the netting and came back down and hit Jonathan Quick in the back of the numbers and into the goal. All of the stupid fans in Detroit must have been just as dumb as the officials, who none of which saw the puck clear the playing area and glance off of the netting. For some insane reason, the play was not reviewed nor did the league office get in touch with the on ice officials to explain what everyone else saw, especially on television. For that "goal" to be counted is completely ridiculous, and the NHL should be ashamed of what happened tonight in Detroit.
Still, the LA Kings are simply not doing enough offensively and thus allowing for such crap like this to end up "beating" them. Jeff Carter had scored what should have been the game winner late on the power play, cashing in off a hard rebound shot from Drew Doughty at the point through traffic. But with all of the chances the Kings got on Howard and not getting them to the net proved to be somewhat costly in the end. Tonight, the Kings at times looked like the team from a year or two before winning the Stanley Cup, relying way too much on Quick to bail them out. Still, the Kings played a solid enough game to earn the victory, and in my book, it was a 2-1 victory. Mike Babcock and the rest of his Red Wings know that they lost this one. This could end up being the most outrageous, insane and unbelievable goal (and screw up) in NHL history! In fact, I am still laughing about it myself...
Thankfully, the Kings have assembled themselves a good seat en route to the playoffs once again, so this one doesn't hurt as much. In fact, doesn't hurt much at all since I know the team played hard and deserved to win.
Next up, a huge rematch against the Eastern power Boston Bruins in a Martin Luther King Day matinee at the Garden in Beantown! I will be looking forward to that...
Also, I wish nothing of the best for goaltender Ben Scrivens. The 27 year-old netminder played very well for both Toronto and Los Angeles, and will now be given chance to become a starting goaltender in the NHL. However, it will not be easy as the Alberta native will be playing behind the Edmonton Oilers, who do not seem to pay much attention to their defensive game. Still, hope Scrivens does well enough to play a lot for a team desperate for goaltending.
Now...a bit more rest for me in the meantime. Ah...