December 19 2013 08:48PM
The Leafs major problems this year: a lack of depth scoring and a bevy of shots against. After the first period, the Leafs were leading 1-0 on a goal from Troy Bodie, and held a high-octane (seriously!) Phoenix team to just five shots through 20 minutes.
James Reimer ripped into his team after the performance against Florida, and rightfully so, and the Maple Leafs came out with a much better effort against Phoenix Thursday night, snapping a two-game losing streak. It probably doesn't matter that the Leafs blew another third period lead. Two points is two points, and perhaps the Barilkosphere will calm down for the next few days.
There's still the matter of the single regulation win in the last 16 games, but after the late tying goal, the Leafs got through a high-event overtime period and wound up winning in a shootout that included the greatest troll move ever pulled by one Mike Smith. 2-1 Maple Leafs win.
No, seriously, Troy Bodie really did score his first as a Leaf late in the first period, at the end of a hard fourth line shift started with a simple dump-and-chase and a physical cycle game:
Forwards on the ice for Toronto: Bodie, Jerry D'Amigo and Peter Holland. It's amazing what can happen when three players that can skate make up the fourth line. Bodie and D'Amigo were both used sparingly, but were effective when they were on the ice, and it's a good thing they were, since Toronto scored its only goal of the game with them on the ice.
The first ended with the Leafs out-shooting Phoenix 8-5, and the Leafs got the only powerplay. Is this real life?
Not too much happened in the second period. The teams traded mostly dump-ins and not establishing much offence. Phoenix began to turn things around, firing 13 shots at James Reimer, but he stopped all of them.
The third period was a little more open as the Coyotes really started to press. I was really impressed with the game of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Martin Hanzal, visually, and you could see the Leafs start to wear down physically along the walls. The Coyotes established possession often on dump-and-chase attempts and kept pressing. The Leafs failed to convert on a wild scramble in front of Mike Smith, and not finishing kept the Coyotes in the game.
Carl Gunnarsson had played a pretty good game up to the point he made a costly giveaway six seconds after, and the Coyotes were again able to establish good possession, and worked the puck around to Hanzal, who scored a rare goal off of a wraparound to tie the game:
Almost immediately after, Mike Smith flat out robbed Phil Kessel on a tic-tac-toe play and the game seemed destined for a shootout.
First shooter, James van Riemsdyk, tucked his shot under Smith's pad and over the line, but Smith worked himself out of the net without revealing the location of the puck under the equipment. Despite no conclusive replay showing the puck across the line, the NHL war-room deferred to common sense and proclaimed the puck in the net, giving the Leafs the shootout lead. Mikkel Boedker tied it on his next shot, but Joffrey Lupul won it with a nice head fake and shot, and Reimer sealed it with a save off of Antoine Vermette.
Here's the video of the Smith incident:
WHY THE LEAFS TIED
I'm old-fashioned. I don't think the shootout has a place in hockey, and I'm more than content with games like this finishing in ties. The Coyotes certainly didn't deserve to lose, but they also didn't do enough to win. The Leafs played well enough to win in the first 40 and well enough to lose in the last 20, so we'll call it even.
It was fun because late in the game, both teams ditched the game plan and traded rushes and scoring chances. The overtime was absolutely clown shoes. Morgan Rielly and Phil Kessel both came dangerously close on individual efforts to winning it in the OT.
Counting zone entries is sometimes a lot of fun and sometimes it's a pain. In the overtime, from 4:09 remaining in the OT to the end, the teams simply traded controlled entries. I'd never seen a sequence like that, but I thought it made the OT a lot of fun. Neither team really had much to lose, in a non-conference game. Reimer made a big stop off a 3-on-1, and John-Michael Liles did well to pick the puck off of a Coyote stick (missed who had it) after Rielly gave the puck away and nearly gave the Phoenix player a breakaway.
Hey, you know what me and Steve said about the Leafs needing to win 7-6? Yeah… forget that.
One thing I like, however, is that Toronto are taking much fewer penalties than they were. I've think they've had a +7 penalty differential in the last week.
This is a tough one. I don't want to go with the goaltender Reimer. He stopped 34 of 35 and 2 of 3 in the shootout, but we've used the goalies already far too often this season in this space. Ditto Phil Kessel, but why not Nazem Kadri? The Leafs first line was a bounce or two away from breaking it wide open tonight. I had Kadri down with five controlled zone entries on the night and he certainly looked the part of a first line centreman. His line combined for 12 shots on goal.
NUMB3RS AND NOTES
I like these game graphs. You can really see which team is controlling the play as it goes along. Toronto had a slim advantage towards the end of the second period until whhooooaaaa. The teams were tied at 21 unblocked shot attempts around the 17-minute mark of the second period, but Phoenix out-shot them 36-15 the rest of the way. Some of that is score effects, but the Leafs need to work on holding leads down. Defencemen don't have a lot of options when making passes out of the zone and end up having to chip the puck out (and conceding it back to the opposition) or making a dangerous pass that can result in a giveaway (which is what happened on the tying goal).
In the end, too many corss and fenwicks against the Leafs in the final 20.