November 09 2013 09:05PM
The second period may have been the best period the Toronto Maple Leafs have played this year. All that time in the zone, all of those delicious scoring chances in front, and it's a shot from the outside that winds up beating Tuukka Rask, the only goal of the night for Toronto.
For the Leafs Saturday night, it was all of their biggest problems rolled into one for most of it, unfortunately. The penalty kill, which has been bleeding goals against, gave up two. The offence dried up. They ran into a hot goaltender, and the Boston Bruins absolutely took it to Toronto physically. It seemed the national broadcaster had an iso-cam during the play on most of the Leafs on the bench. Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Nazem Kadri, Mason Raymond, Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson all looked a little banged up at some point. The good news is everybody seems healthy, and Toronto gets out of a back-to-back with a split. That's the goal going into these things, and the Leafs accomplished just that.
But they did not accomplish to shake off the scary ghosts of last year's playoffs and skate away with a victory. They were in it, and it was a very entertaining game—a very physical game—and the Leafs hung in there blow for blow with the Eastern Conference champions until the very. 3-1 the final after a late empty-net goal.
I'm not sure about the way this one started. The Bruins really took it to Toronto in the first period. They didn't attempt to establish a physical tone in any way, but it took a long time for the Leafs to get going. It took nearly eight minutes of game action before any Maple Leaf player other than Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel or James van Riemsdyk even attempted an entry into the Bruins zone, let alone succeed.
The Fenwick chart at Extra Skater really shows what happened: the Bruins had the quick start, the Leafs briefly pulled even before that monstrous shift that had the Leafs hemmed in their own zone for 2:03 of game-time:
After the first, the Leafs pulled close, with Boston getting the better of Toronto in the third. Goals were definitely earned in this game, and the first goal of the game came on a powerplay for the Bruins as a result of a penalty drawn on that long shift.
The Leafs goal came at the end of an extended sequence in the second during which the Leafs directed 17 unblocked shots at the Bruins net and the Bruins directed just 6 at the Leafs'. The result of that was a goal that Tuukka Rask would love to have back:
Let the dulcet tones of Jack Edwards walk you through it…
Actually a pretty good sequence from Paul Ranger there, who took a direct path to cut Loui Eriksson's path to the net and stick-checked him before playing the puck to a safe area of the ice with a Leaf in support. Under most traditional scoring chance standards, Lupul's goal wouldn't have registered as one.
Unfortunately, a strong second ended with James van Riemsdyk take an unfortunate high-sticking double minor against Johnny Boychuk. The Bruins would score on the second half of it. Both goals were pretty similar, with James Reimer making an initial save and a Bruin gaining possession on the goal-mouth. Zdeno Chara scored that way in the first, and Patrice Bergeron in the third.
Bergeron added an empty net goal. Not a great night for the PK unit, who allowed 7 shots on exactly four minutes of PK time, and two goals.
WHY THE LEAFS LOST
Nikolai Kulemin and Nikolai Kulemin alone. Or Paul Ranger. Or Jay McClement.
I'm looking at that 2-minute, 3-second-long sequence inside the Leafs end. Six shot attempts for the Bruins, five unblocked, and the Leafs were dead tired at the end of it. McClement wound up taking a holding penalty.
So what happened? Well, it began with a dump-in attempt (I didn't mark it down, but it may have been Dougie Hamilton) and the Bruins established possession on the right wing. The shift didn't begin too terribly, with a couple of distant attempts from the point, but McClement ran into Paul Ranger and knocked the stick out of his hands. Kulemin, thinking the stick was broken, gave Ranger his, effectively rendering the Leafs shorthanded by half a man. Hamilton had a couple of nice keeps at the right point and Jarome Iginla threw a big hit to keep the play alive.
Why Kulemin? Well (I have this all on my notes after a quick re-watch during the second intermission) at 7:41, Ranger lost his stick. It Dennis Seidenberg threw a puck into traffic (not recorded as an attempt) and the puck wound up behind the Leafs net. From there, Mark Fraser established control and passed the puck up to the left wing, where a Leaf should have been in support.
Problem was, Kulemin was in front of the net, not clearing the zone but for some reason giving Ranger his stick. I think a few people could watch that sequence over and over and maybe generate a different conclusion, but I think that within twenty seconds of the Bruins entering the zone, the Leafs could have gotten the puck out. As soon as Kulemin didn't have his stick though, the Leafs were down to a tired McClement, a tired Fraser, a tired Ranger, and a Phil Kessel who is notoriously bad on breakouts.
Now, no shift is the "turning point" (Glenn Healy said in the second intermission that the Bruins should have won it there. Well... you can only score once on any sequence, and it was 0-0 at that point. At the very worst, the Leafs would have been down 1-0) but that sequence did lead to a penalty that led to the first Boston goal, and the Leafs were really fighting from behind for most of the game afterwards.
Also, give it up for Tuukka Rask, who stopped 33 of 34 shots, including 10 on the Leafs' powerplay (which was buzzing all night), 7-of-8 from the Leafs' best shooter Lupul, three from Kessel including two pretty good attempts, and every chance the Leafs got in close. The Leafs were in the game because of their goaltending, but they also lost partly because of the goaltending at the other end too.
Lupul was great. He appeared to be the Leafs most active player in the neutral zone on carry-ins, was the most active Leaf offensively with eight shots and was over 60% in Corsi on the night.
- Claude Julien loves his matchups with Zdeno Chara. Phil Kessel played 10.8 of his 17.5 minutes against Zdeno Chara. In those 10.8 minutes? Two unblocked shot attempts by Kessel. In the other 6.7 minutes? Five unblocked shot attempts.
- After the first TV timeout, the Leafs had a faceoff in the offensive zone. Who does Randy Carlyle send out? Jerred Smithson, Troy Bodie and Frazer McLaren. Bleagh.
- The Bruins third line was excellent. Close to a 70% possession rate for Reilly Smith, Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. Primary matchup for Kelly? Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger. Eight offensive zone starts and four in the defensive end. That is called "sheltering". The Bruins use their top two lines against the tougher comps.
- The Leafs 5-on-5 shooting percentage is about 8.7%. Last year it was 10.7%, but the NHL average is closer to 8%. They are about a goal-and-a-half ahead of where they'd be with a league average shooting percentage at 5-on-5. "Shot quality" isn't why they're winning games. It's goaltending.
- Speaking of which, James Reimer stopped 32 of 34, and all 26 at even strength. Despite losing, the Leafs PDO actually goes slightly up...