Maple Leafs Game Recap
1/23 Maple Leafs 5 @ Penguins 2
Make that a second straight road win for the Maple Leafs, both spoiling the opening night festivities in Montreal and now in Pittsburgh.
As I wrote in my first Maple Leaf entry the other night against Buffalo, many questions will be answered in this shortened 48-game schedule. Tonight, was one game for example, that would prove to be a huge test for the Blue and White. Not only did Toronto answer the challenge at both ends of the ice, but frustrating the likes of Evgeni Malkin and the great Sidney Crosby in the process.
As expected, James Reimer got his first start of the season between the pipes and looked fairly sharp in the early going. Toronto did a much better job in their own zone tonight, breaking out the puck effectively and under control, thus being able to generate some speed going the other way. Fleury was called upon to make a couple quality stops early as Toronto controlled the action until a bad penalty on a bad decision by the veteran Mike Komisarek.
I have said it many times over the course of the last season or two and I will say it again; Mike Komisarek is simply not good enough, nor quick enough to play at this level anymore. I wonder how long it will take for newly appointed GM Dave Nonis and company figure that out. Komi had been beaten on the short side and ended up decking his man from behind to "earn" two minutes in the box. Of course, the Leafs were not able to save #8's behind, as Malkin quickly shoveled in the puck along the ice from a bad angle between the legs of Reimer catching him completely off guard.
Yet, overall it was not a bad start for the Leafs.
The Leafs' power play in the second period was nothing short of atrocious. Jake Gardiner, back in the lineup for the first time since Dec. 8, looked like a rusty old Chevy trying to quarterback the man advantage. Specifically, the first power play opportunity, when Gardiner gave the puck away three times trying to set things up.
Toronto basically killed off all of their own power play minutes themselves, sending bad passes all over the ice and dumping the puck in the Pittsburgh zone way to often, as the Penguins calmly collected the loose puck and threw it back down the ice.
The Leafs got on the board when Nazem Kadri again trying to make something happen, drove into the slot and got a low shot through a pair of Penguin legs, which Clarke MacArthur was able to redirect past Fleury for his first goal of the season.
Moments after the Leafs got the equalizer, Coach Carlyle threw out his fourth line, excuse me, the "shut down" line, featuring Colton Orr, who dropped the gloves in the first period for real no particular reason. They were anything but "shut down" as Carlyle had envisioned. As a result, Reimer was forced to come up with three point blank stops as the Pens buzzed around the Toronto net.
After the Leafs finally gained control of the puck, they quickly countered the other way. Nikolai Kulemin flew down the right wing, and threw it to the front of the goal where James van Riemsdyk was able to locate the disk briefly, and tapped in a rolling puck for his first marker as a member of the Blue and White.
It was a short-lived lead, as no more than a minute later, Sidney Crosby would make both Mike Kostka and Mikhail Grabovski pay for their miscommunication at the Penguin's blue line. Crosby picked up a loose puck after an errant pass from Grabovski was batted out to center ice. #87 then blew past Dion Phaneuf and fired a low snap shot between the legs of Reimer.
Pittsburgh seemed to gain some momentum after Crosby's goal, but Malkin killed any such momentum, as his errant pass into the middle of the ice was picked off by JVR in the high slot who then blasted a shot top shelf over the shoulder of a stunned Marc-Andre Fleury. It was a mistake that the Penguins usually don't make and in fact they never recovered from it.
Entering the third period, the Leafs faced another big challenge; holding onto a one-goal lead in Pittsburgh and having to try and shut down Malkin and Crosby on a power play to start the period. The Leafs were able to rise to the challenge again, stifling any attempts made by the Penguins. When a player in black and gold had the puck, immediately one or two skaters in white collapsed on them.
The Penguins' first shot of the period did not come until a late power play chance with about five and half minutes left. Pittsburgh trailed at that time 4-2 thanks to an insurance goal from Grabovski, who was left all alone in the slot minutes after the Leafs had killed the early penalty to Mike Kostka.
Reimer was tested only a few more times in the final period, coming up big on a couple chances in tight including a nice pad save on the ever-dangerous James Neal, who was left alone from the inner left circle with just under three minutes left on the ticking clock.
Tyler Bozak's power play goal capped the scoring late in the third, as the Leafs finished up just 1 for 9 on the man advantage, including a pair of five-on-three chances in which the Leafs were only able to generate one quality chance from Phil Kessel. Kessel's rising wrister from in tight was snared by Fleury, keeping the game even at the time.
Tomorrow, the Maple Leafs return to the ACC to take on the New York Islanders, that is if they haven't suspended the entire team for not wanting to play for them. Will Reimer be back in goal, or will Scrivens get another shot at redeeming himself from the bad goal allowed Monday leading to the eventual 2-1 loss to the Sabres?
Closing Quick Notes:
• What was the reason for Colton Orr to drop the gloves early in the opening frame? Kulemin had a chance to run down a loose puck all alone, which could have led to a scoring chance. Orr's bout with Deryk Engelland lasted about as long as his average ice time, and produced nothing at all. With heavy boppers like Leo Komarov and Mike Brown in the lineup, is there really a reason to give him ice time on the fourth line or any line for that matter? I would rather see Matt Frattin or Ryan Hamilton get that ice time.
• Again, picking on Mike Komisarek; I would rather see his ice time go to guys like Mark Fraser or Korbinian Holzer. There is really no reason to keep rewarding him with ice time when he doesn't really deserve it.
• Okay, I am going to say it, both goals allowed by Reimer tonight were "soft", bad or whatever you want to call it (expletives!). Please bear in mind that Reimer answered the call in the third period, making some tough saves on the few chances the Penguins did have. Yet it sits in the back of my mind that the last three goals the Leafs have allowed were soft. Let's hope that improves tomorrow night against the Islanders. And if the Islanders do score, let's hope it was a good goal.
• Looks like the Leafs will be without the services of assistant captain Joffrey Lupul, as a Phaneuf slapshot from the point ended up breaking his forearm on one of Toronto's dismal power plays early in the second period. Upon impact, Lupul, who was camped out in front of the net, flung his stick into the air and immediately headed off the ice and into the Leaf's clubhouse. Next question, who will be summoned from the Marlies to take his place? My vote goes out to Matt Frattin, as he will be needed to pick up some of the slack like he did last season making the team out of training camp.
I apologize for the fact that I will not be blogging a recap of Thursday's Maple Leaf or Kings game. Unfortunately, I will have to remain at the middle school where I teach for parent conferences until late. Even though I am on the clock, I will find a way to stream some of the game on the computers!
I will also take this time to make it known that on days in which both the Maple Leafs and Kings are in action, I will not be recapping either of the two games. I will blog only one game at a time, which allows myself to pay specific attention to the one game at hand and complete my "two cents" on it afterwards. Two games a night are for viewing enjoyment only, especially if both teams win! Perhaps if they suffer bad losses on the same night, I will have something to say...
Cheers until the next puck drop!