December 11 2013 08:57PM
I don't know how many times over the last 70 or so games I've looked at an empty page, attempting to make sense of the game I just saw, trying to explain a game that was beyond explaining. The Toronto Maple Leafs have won their fair share of games that they didn't deserve to win, either because of a timely goal, a timely save or just straight-up voodoo. In a game like hockey, were process rarely conflates with results in a real small sample, it can be difficult to be analytical about a single game. Sometimes things were just not meant to be.
But I have never been so shocked about a Leafs loss as this one. Perhaps Game 4 of the series against the Bruins, where the Leafs got everything together for half a game and took it to one of the best teams in the conference offensively, defensively, and physically, only to lose the game on several botched coverages in the OT. This was similar. The Leafs were all over Los Angeles, and it was just one play that led to a two-on-one, with the puck on the stick of a dangerous shooter… and the winning goal was scored. And then another goal was scored, and it was a 3-1 final.
Much like that game, the Leafs out-played the Kings. Sure, the Kings were on the second game of a back-to-back, but they're one of the best puck possession clubs in the NHL, and the Leafs absolutely took it to them, and could not beat that friggin' undrafted goalie at the other end. At least it wasn't Ben Scrivens, because, oh boy, how bad would that have looked?
The Kings opened the scoring on their only powerplay of the game, with a sneaky little wrist shot by Drew Doughty. The penalty kill has been absolutely horrendous for about a month (longer if you count the time that the team was just allowing shots but not goals) but luckily the Leafs were able to limit the damage by taking just the one penalty if you don't count the one at the end. It was Peter Holland with a hold on Slava Voynov, who we will come back to later in this game.
Second period, Willie Mitchell interfered with Nik Kulemin at the end of a very strong shift by the plucky and anonymous Russian (who had his best game on the year). On the powerplay, Doughty was put in the box for a weak little slash on Joffrey Lupul, but we'll take it. That led to the Leafs' only goal of the game, with Phil Kessel getting all four Kings players to commit to the shot before dishing it off to Cody Franson:
Remember when The Hockey News wrote up about how all Phil Kessel did was score goals, and that was also perceived to be a negative because hockey is a warped sport where too much offence makes a player seem selfish? Well, Kessel can also pass, too. Look at the screen shot from the right moment:
He just dished it off to Franson without even looking at him and put it perfectly on Franson's stick. Dat. Pass.
Minutes later, the Kings appeared to score on a two-on-one, but Slava Voynov (remember him?) inexplicably fought Joffrey Lupul while his team was on the rush. It was a pretty clear chance and Doughty scored moments after the whistle clearly blew.
The good news for Voynov is that while he cost his team a goal, he also drew six minutes in penalties! The problem is that four of those were offset, but, hey, that's splitting hairs.
The Kings would get their two-on-one midway through the third. A lot of people wanted to blame Paul Ranger on this play, and a lot of people wanted to blame Jonathan Bernier but it looks like some bad luck. It was a good decision by Ranger to pinch, in my estimation, because he had about four feet of space between him and the forward and could have kept the puck down low and the cycle going, but the puck was hopping and he didn't hit it flush. As for Bernier, well, it looks like a weak goal, but that's Jeff Carter, a player with three 30-goal seasons to his credit (plus 26 goals in the 48-game season) on a two-on-one from a clear area:
Good hitters get embarrassed all the time on knee-buckling change ups, and that happened to Bernier here. Just a tough break all around. Except I'm going to blame Mark Fraser for succeeding in taking away neither the pass nor the shot:
The Kings iced it after several, several great chances by the Leafs on Martin Jones. His best was in the first period on a Phil Kessel breakaway. He's great at moving around the bottom of the net and I'm sure the book is obviously "shoot high" when all the guy has done for two days is make saves with his pads, but sometimes it isn't that simple. It's cool to see a story like Jones every now and then, who has come out of nowhere to allow three goals in his first four NHL games, but you can't deny that there's some veritable element of luck to it.
And hey, just think that sometimes goalies do this in the playoffs, and are never heard from again.
Kyle Clifford scored the clincher from the slot on a busted coverage by… meh, who cares. Game was probably out of reach. Fate kept the Leafs off the scoreboard except on that one 5-on-3.
WHY THE LEAFS LOST
Martin Jones is the real-life equivalent of Sabrina Ladha. If you didn't get THAT joke or the Space Jam joke, we probably can't be friends. If you got BOTH of those jokes, well, we probably can't be friends.
Phil. Frickin'. Kessel.
Three shots on goal, which is surprising, because he was all over the ice. He dominated the neutral zone, had at least two exceptional chances (I can't remember his third shot) and was doing it while visibly hurt. Imagine if Kessel had the charisma of Joffrey Lupul: he'd be the most popular athlete in the country.
NUMB3RS AND NOTES
- The Leafs become just the third team this season to hold the Kings below 45% Corsi in score-close situations (Nashville and Colorado were the others). The Kings' PDO (addition of shooting and save percentages) on the night was 110.4, beaten on (if I'm math'ing correctly) three other occasions. How much more proof do you need that this is a violently unpredictable sport? The Leafs have been known for low Corsi and high PDO, and today the trend completely reversed.
- Leafs did great without Dion Phaneuf, but will be tested tomorrow against St. Louis. I don't think that Phaneuf being out was the reason that the Leafs suddenly morphed into the 2008 Detroit Red Wings: Carl Gunnarsson was the lowest-ranked Corsi player on the Leafs, at just 50%. (19 shot attempts for and 19 against while on the ice)
- That second line of David Clarkson, Mason Raymond and Trevor Smith did the bulk of the tractor-pulling. Granted, they got the bulk of offensive zone starts, but Smith was matched up against Mike Richards' line, and Mike Richards is a pretty good player.
- Justin Williams is a delight. He was second among Kings regulars in Corsi behind just Doughty on the evening, at 51.6% playing mostly against the Leafs' top line, and nearly iced it cutting around Cody Franson as if Franson wasn't even there. What a beautiful hockey player, and I really wish he got more press.
- 39 shots. Only one went in, and the team lost, but it's a start. We all saw it. The Maple Leafs lost a game that they really should have won, and if they keep playing like this, they will win a lot more games than if they kept playing the other way. It's a stunning process and result all around, and it was a joy to watch and… sometimes the pucks just don't bounce your way.