Opportunities Arise, but Toronto Only Able to Take Just Two Points from Sunshine State
Maple Leafs 2 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 4
I hate to say it, but this loss can be chalked up to poor goaltending. Since James Reimer went down with a sprained MCL, Ben Scrivens had stood tall and became the "iron curtain" for the Leafs. Whatever happened to his game and confidence tonight was just not good. Scrivens was never settled in from the very start.
Perhaps Randy Carlyle should have given Jussi Rynnas a start in goal, giving Scrivens some rest before a division game against Buffalo on Thursday. Still, I am not going to second guess his judgment. He went with the hot hand, which was a red-hot Scrivens coming off back to back shutouts.
Personally, I was hoping for Rynnas to get the start, and perhaps get a victory and earn four of four points from this Florida trip. Then, Toronto would have three goalies ready to go on any given night. Unfortunately, we won't know that as of now. Still, I am not that upset about that decision to go with Scrivens.
I am more disappointed in the fact that the Maple Leafs could not find a way to climb back into this one and earn at least one point. However, those hopes were quickly dashed after Alex Killorn's simple wrist shot from near the blue line somehow squeaked past Scrivens for the 3-1 Lightning lead. Like I said after the loss to Carolina a week ago, the Leafs need to find a way to earn at least a single point when losing from time to time. In most of Toronto's seven losses, the team was in no position to send those games into overtime periods and earn a point. When the Leafs lose, they flat out look bad.
In Tampa, I thought the Leafs played fairly well, and pretty much shut down the likes of Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. The Leafs also had more chances to score than the Lightning did, but once again this game was decided by a weak performance by Ben Scrivens.
Phil Kessel's shot that may have glanced in off of van Riemsdyk made it a 4-2 game with some time left on the clock, but Lindback and company did their best to settle things down to earn two points that should have been split somehow based on how well both teams played, especially in their own end.
James van Riemsdyk's poor play in his own zone led to Lecavalier's opening goal, but then the Russian line of Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski finally chipped in on a goal after the Leafs took advantage of a funny bounce off a Jay McClement clearing attempt.
After some hard work in the defensive zone, McClement's clearing puck hit a stanchion, bounced back to a Toronto defenseman, who flipped it up to the blue line where it was picked up by Kulemin who fired a hard low shot that Anders Lindback could not handle. Grabovski jumped on the rebound and lifted it up over the sprawling tall Swedish goaltender.
The game would get away from the Maple Leafs after a soft play by Dion Phaneuf behind his own net, coughing up the puck to Cory Conacher who found a wide open Steven Stamkos alone in front of Scrivens. Stamkos seemed to have fanned on the shot, but the puck managed to trickle through the pads of Scrivens. It was a soft play all around by the Leafs, including all 6 foot 3 of Korbinian Holzer hitting the deck after a little bump from behind.
The killer came early in the third, when Tampa rookie Alex Killorn turned and threw a harmless wrist shot towards the Toronto net from the blue line as his teammates were heading for a change. The puck skipped in front of Scrivens as he was well positioned for the stop. Somehow the puck squeezed through him and barely made it past the goal line.
The Bolts iced the game for good on their third power play chance in the third period, as a wrist shot from the point off the stick of Matt Carle found the back of the net. It was a straight shot that Scrivens never saw thanks to being screened by his own defenseman, Holzer.
Maple Leafs 3 @ Florida Panthers 0
Toronto got the two-night Florida trip off to a good start, with a convincing road victory over a struggling Panthers club. I am not sure as to what was going on in South Florida...Miami Heat game perhaps or a big concert? There were numerous open seats, and the only cheers from the crowd came after the Leafs scored and then as the final buzzer sounded. Pretty sad showing for Panthers fans, if there are any.
Now, back to the game...
Early on, I felt that the Panthers were controlling most of the play, getting a bunch of good looks at Ben Scrivens. However, most of the 37 shots Scrivens turned aside were from further out in which he was able to see well.
The opportunistic Maple Leafs were able to take an early lead after James van Riemsdyk got control of a loose puck and flipped it up to Phil Kessel, who flied down the left side and laser beamed a wrist shot just under the crossbar beating a shaky Jose Theodore.
In the final moments of the opening period, the Leafs almost took a two-goal lead on a huge scramble in front of Theodore who had no idea what was going on in his own crease. The puck managed to slide through heavy traffic of bodies and off the side of the net. I got the feeling that the missed opportunity would end up costing the Leafs in the end.
Soon after a big save by Scrivens off the opening puck drop in the second period, the Panthers then broke down twice. Toronto finally got a power play advantage, and wasted no time as Nazem Kadri pounced in a loose puck in the slot and hammered it past Theodore for a 2-0 lead.
Minutes later, a great pass from Kadri off another Panthers breakdown in the neutral zone found Clarke MacArthur zipping alone down the slot, who then fired in a shot off the pipe and into the net giving the Leafs a commanding 3-0 lead.
Toronto was then in total control of the game, and did a great job managing the remaining 20 minutes of the third. When Scrivens made a save, blue and white jerseys were all around their goaltender protecting him and clearing any rebounds out of danger. Even considering the shutout win came against a struggling team, it was by far the most impressive road win for the Leafs this season.
Leaving the Sunshine State:
Toronto played both of these games very well. They found a way to get control and were opportunistic which usually translates into good results playing on the road.
I thought the Leafs actually did a better job defensively against the more potent Lightning than the Panthers. Even with the Panthers generating more shots against Scrivens, the five men in front of him all did a solid job in their own zone.
In neither of the two games did the Leafs do a lot of chasing the puck around in their own end. Unfortunately, the Leafs were not rewarded with the maximum four points the trip offered. They should have found a way to get at least three points, but Ben Scrivens simply was not up to the task on Tuesday in Tampa.
As I said in my previous blog leading up to the Panthers game on Monday, these two games showed how much progress this team has made after the collapse late last season. Randy Carlyle and Brian Burke deserve some credit for turning the Leafs into a much tougher opponent, both physically and mentally. Granted the team made a few mistakes in Tampa which ultimately cost them in the end, but Leafs fans should be encouraged with the improvement of the team.
Hopefully Scrivens and the Buds can regroup and be ready to take down the struggling Sabres Thursday evening at the Air Canada Centre. Perhaps Ryan Miller will come down to earth and have somewhat of an off night at the ACC for a change?
Officiating in Florida:
I do not believe that the officiating had much if anything to do with the results of either Florida games, but I got the idea that the referees on the ice were simply guessing out there.
For example, take the "diving" call on Leo Komarov last night in Sunrise. How in the world can they call a dive on him after being sandwiched between two Panther players while trying to go after a loose puck in the neutral zone?
In Tampa, Mikhail Grabovski got hauled down twice from behind in the waning seconds of the game while trying to drive at the net. I could hear loud boos and voices of frustration from the many Leafs fans in the stands. I cannot believe how the officials refused to call either one of the obvious tackles after awarding the Lightning with three separate penalties. While the Leafs took some dumb penalties of their own, several were very soft calls, including one penalty call on Steven Stamkos who simply tapped Jay McClement on the backside with his stick and McClement then over skated the puck. Stamkos had the puck all alone in the slot to his surprise, then was immediately whistled off as he was about to shoot.
I don't get it, but the officiating seems to be getting much worse. Guys are hitting people, knocking guys off the puck and are getting called for penalties. What burns me the most is when a player retreats into his own end, sees an opposing player coming hard after him and the puck, then turns and puts his head down before getting checked into the boards. Those plays have been consistently called boarding, but it's the defending players' own fault for turning and trying to hide from the hit like a scared two-year old.
Still, I get the feeling that many players are so confused now as to what they can and cannot do. It is starting to get a little ridiculous.