Leafs postgame - Playing as black, Leafs battle Wild to draw

Cam Charron
November 13 2013 09:08PM


Yep. One of those nights.

The Maple Leafs couldn't make it a third shootout victory on the season, but did pick up a point against a tough Minnesota Wild team on the road, giving them three of a possible four against a team that could be a contender in the Western Conference this season.

Perhaps if you've been watching Magnus Carlsen against Viswanathan Anand's chess series this month, this game between the Leafs and the Wild would be more at your pace. To those of us used to the fast-paced, chaotic style of game the Leafs have been running this season, this game could have been seen as a disappointment aesthetically.

But if you're a Leafs fan, it's effectively a tie game against a good team on the road. What happens next?

THE RUNDOWN 

Overall, a pretty good road game by Toronto… to a certain extent. The Maple Leafs did a very good job at shutting down skating lanes in the neutral zone. Only the nimble Mikael Granlund was able to consistently enter the zone with the puck, from my observations, and most of the time he was easily forced to the side wall.

Of course, when you play a closed game like this, sacrificing offence for defence, you sacrifice offence. The Leafs didn't generate a single three-on-two or two-on-one rush in this game. Phil Kessel had a partial break late in the second period but it didn't amount to much. While Minnesota wasn't getting a lot of quality looks at Jonathan Bernier, the Leafs weren't getting a lot of quality looks at Josh Harding.

Midway through the second though, Mason Raymond was able to open the scoring for Toronto on the powerplay, on a rebound on a shot that Harding would probably like to have back:

Still, right place, right time. Lots of space for Morgan Rielly to move in and shoot, and Raymond was in the right area.

Fast-forward to the third period… in my preview, I'd mentioned that Toronto would be wise to not take a lot of penalties. Minnesota's been a very dangerous powerplay team this season, generating both a lot of shots, and a lot of goals, when they're in 5-on-4 situations. Still, the Wild generated just seven shots in those eight minutes, and only one real good scoring chance:

I know Dany Heatley has had a rough tenure in Minnesota, but what a save. Bernier flashed a smile after that too.

At the 8:41 mark of the third, however, Nazem Kadri hit Granlund hard into the boards. From the broadcast angle, it looked like Kadri had hit Granlund's head straight into the boards, but other angles proved that it was just a real hard, good, shoulder check to the chest. Unfortunately, Kadri was given a match penalty and expelled from the contest, further limiting the Leafs' centre depth. While it was a pretty bad call, Kadri did get away with only two minutes earlier in the game with an elbow to the head of Niklas Backstrom that knocked Backstrom out of the game. I don't like to comment on the officiating, and referees Dan O'Halloran and rookie official Trent Knorr, working his first ever game, are probably lucky that the Wild generated absolutely nothing on the ensuing five-minute penalty. It could have been a pivotal point in the game.

Still, Minnesota wound up tying the game on a freak play. Phil Kessel couldn't exit the zone, and then the puck wounded up bouncing in off of his foot. Problem with spending a lot of time in your own end: it makes you more susceptible to those stupid bounces.

The Leafs were hemmed in their zone for the final minute of regulation, with Dion Phaneuf and David Clarkson each failing to clear after getting knocked around a little. Luckily, a key shot block from Jay McClement kept the game even and it went to overtime.

The OT period was pretty boring and inconsequential, with a single good scoring chance from Morgan Rielly. We went to the shootout, and Minnesota called tails and won.

WHY THE LEAFS LOST

Shootouts are silly. I prefer tie games. I didn't think either team earned a win or a loss in this game. While the Leafs were incredibly out-played 5-on-5 by all the Corsis and Fenwicks, it's worth noting that Minnesota just had no space to work with. The Leafs made the Wild dump the puck in and work for pucks, and all they could do was shovel weak shots through and hope for rebounds. That's eventually what happened.

The Leafs played a pretty good first, and probably could have got in a more offensive rhythm if they hadn't spent so much time in the penalty box. In the last four games, the Leafs have just a single goal at 5-on-5, which is the bad news. The good news is that they've only given up four in those four games, and three of them came in Vancouver.

BLUE WARRIOR

Jonathan Bernier. No idea how long this elite goaltending lasts, but the Leafs best pick up these points while they can and correct the issues. Next up is Buffalo, so… at least a team the Leafs may be able to out-shoot. The Wild didn't get a lot of quality chances, but Bernier stopped every one he faced, plus didn't allow any weak ones. The one that did go in can't be on him in any way.

NOTES

  • I thought it was a quiet night for the Leafs top line, but the stats say differently. Nine combined shots on goal for Kessel, Lupul and James van Riemsdyk.
     
  • Nazem Kadri was on pace to have a season-high in minutes, but clocked out at 16:33 after his match penalty. I have a feeling that it may be rescinded, but the NHL will probably take a look at the hit that knocked Backstrom out of the game. With the Leafs already without two of the top nine centremen, this isn't a suspension the Leafs can handle right now, but, again… Buffalo.
     
  • Mikko Koivu and the Wild top line was matched up against the Leafs second line with the afore-mentioned Kadri… and slaughtered them in shot attempts. Koivu was +19/-3 in shots attempted for/against (as always, per ExtraSkater.com).
     
  • How distinct was the Wild's territorial advantage? At 5-on-5, there were 24 faceoffs in the Toronto end and just 7 in the Wild end. Jerred Smithson was on the ice for 18 of those 24 draws against.
     
  • The Leafs had two positive Corsi players on the night: Morgan Rielly, who played 7.3 minutes, and Colton Orr, who played 3.3.
     
  • I thought it was a good night for Paul Ranger. He stood up a lot of entries at the line, didn't make any glaring mistakes, drew a penalty and played 18.6 minutes. Still, bleak possession numbers, as we've come to expect with every Leaf.
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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 STAN
November 13 2013, 10:05PM
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When N. Kulemin and J. McClement are your two best forwards, your team is in big, big trouble.

Once again the Leafs treated the puck like it was plutonium; didn't want it bad enough and when they got it, they either banked it out off the boards to nowhere, iced it needlessly, made an incomplete pass or just plain got rid of it.

Kessel was absolutely awful, on several occasions turning away from his defensive coverage like a street-hockey puck hog. Several times when he could have gone in for a check that most other forward would be expected to make and would be benched if they didn't, he just turned away and watched.

And, sure enough he was the goat, double goat, on the tying goal that eventually lead to Minnesota's win. Gave it away and then had it deflect off his skate and in the net.

Bernier deserved better.

I believe the Leafs have now scored two goals in the past 4 games.

Clarkson got some power play time, but was ineffective. His even strength play was passable, but certainly nothing special.

Lupul and JvR kind of disappeared, but Raymond was his usual stellar self, holding on to the puck, looking in vain for a Leaf who wanted the puck and had his stick on the ice ready to take one. At least he was trying to make plays.

Not sure what was with Kadri. Me thinks the league will have him sit for 2 or 3 games for his two hits on the goalie and Granlund.

All in all a frustrating game to watch.

If only Carlyle and his coaching staff were still alive.

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#2 The Craig
November 13 2013, 10:32PM
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And post of the year goes to...

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#3 Back in Black
November 13 2013, 10:35PM
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Did you mean Trent Knorr or Trenton Orr? I'm so confused now...

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#4 STAN
November 13 2013, 11:13PM
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In any other business, the entire executive would be sacked if this were the results of their decision-making.

But, thankfully Randy Carlyle doesn't have to pull his hair out over a Grabovski, MacArthur, Raymond line.

Grabo - 17 pts, PLUS 9 (Washington) MacArthur - 12 pts, PLUS 12 (Ottawa) Raymond - 12 pts. PLUS 1

Instead, he has the comfort of McClement, Kulemin, Clarkson,

McClement - 2 pts, PLUS 1 Kulemin - 2 pts, PLUS 1 Clarkson- 1 pt, MINUS 2

And all the Leafs brain-trust had to do was take Carlyle's word for it that Grabovski was uncoachable and MacArthur was useless. Voila. Pay off Grabo for 8 years to play for Washington and let MacArthur go… for nothing.

It would be a sound business plan…. for Paul Holmgren.

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#5 A Non-idiot
November 14 2013, 01:15AM
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@STAN

[redacted]

No personal attacks in the comments, please --Ed

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#6 Jeremy Ian
November 14 2013, 06:45AM
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@STAN

It was a frustrating, and worrying, game. But I think Cam's appraisal deserves a little more engagement, no? Beating up on the management to the benchwarmers is a bore.

Leaving aside the injuries (which are "exogenous" - you can't do anything about them), what do the Leafs control? (what's "endogenous") The issue that's concerning me more and more is the play in the Leafs' own end. The inability to retrieve control of the puck has gotten worse. What's going on? As a kid, I was always coached that it was the D-man's job to create loose pucks so backcheckers could rescue it. That's probably outdated now. But my impression is that most goals vs the Leafs aren't of the rush. We have great goaltenders to thank for that, and the D seem to be able to handle the rush. It's what happens once the play settles into the Leaf end that's a problem.

What is it? Corner play, communication?

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#7 ShushStanley
November 14 2013, 09:14AM
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@STAN

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No personal attacks in the comments, please --Ed

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#8 Thanksgiving
November 14 2013, 02:30PM
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Cam, do you have a link to zone-entry/exit information from this season? Where is this info being compiled?

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#9 Daigotsu
November 14 2013, 11:39PM
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Well I mean should we be judging players saying they were bad deals and see how well they are doing.... Alexander Steen is a scoring leader Lee Stempniak 9pts in 12 games and many more successful leafs (I think even Kyle Wellwood was doing better in vancouver) Just because the players are doing well on other clubs?

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