Analysis by Adam
This will be a piece where I analyze the play of all 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I watch a lot of hockey and closely follow many teams but the Leafs always seem to be the most intriguing win or lose. Anyways, here we go.
Toronto Maple Leafs Game #1
vs Montreal Canadiens 4-3 L (0-1-0)
After a shaky start with a bad goal allowed to Max Pacioretty 5 minutes in, the Leafs seemed to settle down pretty well. Many are saying that the goal was bad defense because there should have been no shot available, but in my opinion Phaneuf was caught flat-footed but recovered and kept Pacioretty to the outside and as long as he couldnt cut to the front of the net Bernier should have stopped that shot. However, Phaneuf and the Leafs defense corps as a whole remains the team scapegoat and therefore take the brunt of the blame.
Lets take a look at the newcomers. Stephane Robidas played a solid 20:03 where he didnt do too much, he made a couple of good reads and pinched to keep the puck in, cleared the front of the net well early on, and blocked a few shots. He basically played the way the Leafs hoped he would when they signed him. Mike Santorelli hovered around the 11 minute mark and was effective. His line of Komarov-Santorelli-Clarkson seemed to have a lot of zone time and by the end of the game had earned Carlyle's trust. Daniel Winnik played 10:39 and besides a dumb penalty where he grabbed the puck out of mid-air and threw it into the Canadiens zone he was relatively quiet, which for him is a good thing. The last real acquisition was Roman Polak. Some how he was named the #2 star of the game, and that baffles me. He played the fewest minutes of any defenseman at 17:34 and did seem to do anything special. Which is his M.O. But the part that bugs me is that on the last goal of the game this big hulking defenseman who was brought in to beat up on opposing forwards could not knock Tomas Plekanec off the puck. Plekanec then shoots the puck, from a bad angle, through the feet of Roman Polak and Alex Galchenyuk, where it magically tips off of rookie defenseman Stuart Percy and past Bernier.
A couple of kids got their first taste of NHL action and both played very well. The aforementioned Percy and “undersized” forward Brandon Kozun. Percy played 20:21 in his first ever NHL game and he was exceptional. Seemed cool and calm in his defensive zone and was very poised when he was handling the puck. As the game went on he really seemed to feel comfortable in the NHL. He was even rewarded with his first point with the primary assist on Tyler Bozak's first of the season. Kozun was just as solid. He didnt play as much as Percy but was just as noticeable when he was on the ice. Playing on the second line with skilled players like Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul definitely helped Kozun in his debut where he was credited with the main assist on Kadri's goal in the first period. Kozun was also given penalty kill time and did well to make smart simple plays to clear the one, but when given the chance wasnt afraid to try and score shorthanded. For an undersized player he was also will to throw his weight around which is nice to see.
If Percy and Kozun continue to play with this poise and ability they will make it hard for the Leafs to send them back to the minors once David Booth and Cody Franson get healthy. Also, with Franson on a one-year deal the emergence of Percy may give the Leafs the ability to deal Franson away and address team needs.
As for the big guns on the Leafs, they were pretty quiet. Phil Kessel was frustrated all game long while trying to generate offense for others. James Van Riemsdyk did well to battle in front and draw a few penalties but the offensive touch just didnt seem to be there last night. Bozak scored and was robbed of a goal on a questionable non-call where he had an open net but Brandon Prust's stick was in the area. (The play was “questionable” because Prusts stick was in around the hands of Bozak and the letter of the law says that is hooking but it didnt seem obstructive enough to say that is why Bozak missed.) Kadri was also credited with a goal, it was a slight deflection off of a Brandon Kozun shot that probably would have beat Price either way. Lupul didnt seem to do anything, a few times he received the puck in traffic and immediately lost it from Canadiens players being so close he didnt have time to make a move.
As for the defense, it was alright. Dion Phaneuf led the way with 23:31 and collected an assist to help the cause. Robidas and Percy were the other two to reach the twenty minute plateau and did well in their ice time. Jake Gardiner was his usual smooth skating self and tried to join the rush but unfortunately on the Canadiens third goal he was knocked off the puck by David Desharnais who was the smallest player in the game. Morgan Reilly was another offensive threat from the blue line and was given credit for a weird goal that bounced off of Lars Eller and between Price's legs. Polak, as I mentioned before, I was not impressed with, he attempted to pinch and break up passes only to be beat and have to hurry back to avoid giving up a breakaway.
Overall, The first period went about as good as the Leafs could hope. Yes, they gave up a bad goal early, but they left the period with a lead and like so many times last season their powerplay bailed them out. However, after the first period shades of last years leafs seemed to appear. Montreal is a relatively small team and the Leafs could not clear the front of the net and for the last forty minutes Bernier had to make a lot of saves looking through traffic. Also, like so many times last year the Leafs were out shot 32-27, if they want to win more games and make the playoffs they will have to do better than that.