Leafs postgame - Leafs sparked by Jon Bernier's performance, drop 5-4 shootout to Red Wings

Cam Charron
December 21 2013 08:55PM

By listening to Glenn Healy all game, I learned a whole lot about how goaltending works. If your team goes down early thanks to some lousy defensive structures, it's okay to blame the goalie and pull him, because that will spark the team! 

All throughout the Hockey Night broadcast of the Toronto and Detroit game, viewers were hit over the head with this bizarre narrative that Randy Carlyle pulling James Reimer after the first period "sparked" the Leafs to a degree. Anybody with a basic understanding of hockey analytics have heard about score effects: a team that is trailing is more likely to generate more shots on net, so despite going into the first break down 3-1, the Leafs weren't out of it, especially against a shallow Detroit team down to its third goalie and dressing three real NHL defencemen.

Toronto came back to make it 4-3, but then gave up the tying goal, generated the better chances in overtime (as they often do when they're allowed to use their speed) but it was all for naught. Daniel Alfredsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored the goals in the shootout and the Red Wings came away with a 5-4 victory.

THE RUNDOWN

While the game ended with teams going punch for punch, the start was fairly tepid. Both teams were fairly conservative in the neutral zone, particularly in their defensive structures. The Leafs were attacking Red Wing skaters at the line and not allowing them to gain many entries with control. By the time the the Leafs scored the first goal of the game, Detroit had attempted to gain the line five times and had succeeded just thrice. 

The first goal came after Danny Cleary was stood up at the line by Cody Franson. The play came back the other way, Peter Holland helped the Leafs recover possession and Franson finished off the play he started by scoring the 7th goal by a Leafs defenceman on the season:

I'm *going* to point to something smart I said on December 2:

Now, I'm going to worry less about the "3" goals put up by the defence because they're, as a whole, shooting 1.6% and that's pretty low. Last year a similar group shot 5.4%, which seems like a much more reasonable percentage.

In the last 11 games, the Leafs have five goals from their defence, including the two from Franson and Phaneuf in this game.

Anyway, enough of that. 

The Leafs fell apart for the remainder of the period. After a commercial break, Randy Carlyle matched his fourth line against the Wings' fourth line, and Pavel Datsyuk hopped over the boards as soon as the Wings gained possession. What followed was a 33 second shift were Datsyuk toyed with the Leafs fourth line and third defensive pairing, resulting in his 14th on the season. 

A few minutes later, Joakim Andersson scored on a wraparound similar to Martin Hanzal's in the Leafs last game, and Reimer didn't particularly look good on it. But bad goals happen, and we can't dwell on them. The one I'm really worried about is the third Wings goal from Tomas Jurco. Gus Katsaros had a great point when he called the Leafs' defensive zone structure like an "accordion" that stretches as the puck goes to the point and contracts as it comes down low. The problem is that when the opposition finds gaps, they really find gaps: 

So, um, that doesn't look very good on Franson.

Dion Phaneuf scored his third on the season midway through the second on a rocket. He very nearly scored a fourth, but he was robbed by Jonas Gustavsson's stick on a wide-open cage. Joffrey Lupul scored on the powerplay moments later, however, roofing one short side from a very tight angle.

But who can deny the best Leafs goal of the night came from David Clarkson? Clarkson had a memorable game. Not necessarily good—him and his linemates got killed in puck possession matched up against Pavel Datsyuk—but he fell over twice in open ice and tried to start a fight with Todd Bertuzzi after Bertuzzi slashed the Leafs' water bottle holder on the net. 

Then he did this:

MANY things are going on on this play, but my favourite aspect is that within a two second span, probably the three least talented Leafs in the top nine, Kulemin, McClement and Clarkson, completely whiff on a point blank scoring chance but it still manages to find the net.

My second favourite aspect is that Clarkson falls over while celebrating a goal that was knocked in to the net by about six different Red Wings. This is by far the best Leafs goal on the season and nothing even comes close, even Phil's goal against New Jersey.

Jonathan Bernier, who'd played very well, coughed up a rebound to Tomas Tatar, who had a very easy tap in to tie the game. Bernier also gave up a rebound to Drew Miller in the dying moments, but poke checked the puck away and the Leafs made it to overtime. Both teams took 3 unblocked shots apiece in the extra frame, but the Leafs got the two good scoring chances with missed nets from Morgan Rielly and Carl Gunnarsson. Toronto lost in the shootout but who cares. They tied against Detroit.

WHY THE LEAFS TIED

Regression to the mean after a craptacular start.

Credit where it's due: Toronto's been playing some pretty good hockey since the Los Angeles game, when Morgan Rielly came back into the lineup. They've been taking much fewer penalties, and have been out-shot by a much smaller margin. Still, they're a team that needs flawless goaltending to get a regulation win on any given night, and they didn't get that from James Reimer.

I'm not a Reimer hater. I don't think any team should require flawless goaltending to win games, and the best can pick up a win for their goalie every now and then. The Leafs took just the one penalty this game, which is excellent, but were still out corsi'd 67-30 at 5-on-5 despite trailing by the wider margin in the second. With the score close, the Wings out corsi'd Toronto 51-19.

One step forward, one step back tonight. The Leafs got some good offensive opportunities from their defence and their second line, but were probably lucky to escape with the one point in this one.

BLUE WARRIOR

Gotta give it to Clarkson. I'm not sure how effective his post-whistle yapping can be, and he tries so hard between the whistles that he falls down every second shift, but hockey is entertainment, damnit, and I can't deny that Clarkson's goal was the most entertaining moment of the season. He got three shots on net and did play 14 tough minutes against Pavel Datsyuk all night and held him scoreless during that time.

I figure this is my best chance to give Clarkson my meaningless Blue Warrior award.

NUMB3RS AND NOTES

The Fenwick chart is not pretty at all.

It was 7-6 for Detroit in unblocked shots by the first Leafs goal, which is a discrepancy that can't be noticed. But by the end of the first, it was 23-10 for the Wings, and by the end of the second, it was 37-24.

Some notes…

  • Shot attempts broken down by centremen tonight: Kadri +13/-21. Jay McClement +5/-13. Peter Holland +12/-25 and Jerred Smithson +0/-8. Neither line had a very good game, all getting pretty comfortably worked territorially by their matchups.
     
  • That's one of the reasons I think that Carlyle should stray from such hard matching. Dion Phaneuf had one of his better games on the year, but he still had a Corsi of minus-7 (+7/-14) matched up against the Wings' top line.
     
  • Not a whole lot to parse through. The Red Wings fourth line centre Riley Sheahan had 9.4 5-on-5 minutes, per ExtraSkater. The entire Leafs fourth line combined for just 10.7. Toronto need to find some players that can play back there.
     
  • For the curious types, here's the ExtraSkater game page. Anything I missed? Bernier's clutch shorthanded save on Pavel Datsyuk? Mention it in the comments.
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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 leafer2013
December 21 2013, 09:37PM
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My vote for blue warrior tonight was Phaneuf who I often am critical of but he comes through for the team when they are trailing like tonight.

The more I watch this team the more I find they lack talented two way players like a Parise or Bergeron on the forwards or similarly on the d -core. Instead we have too much cap space and roster spots devoted to 1 dimensional players (be them scorers, grinders, puck movers or facepunchers etc). And not enough money and players who are skilled two way forwards like Kulemin who can skate, hit, grind, forecheck, play defence and chip in some offence.

I'm getting really negative on this team, what a terrible mix of talent that does just not work. I'm certain part of this is the lack of bolland and Bozak but even then this team is doomed to mediocrity.

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#2 spogorzelec
December 21 2013, 09:40PM
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UNBELIVEABLE, THIS TEAM SUCKS, IT REALLY DOES.... THAT IS THE MOST STUPID THINK I'VE HEARD TO PULL A PERFECTLY HEALTHY GOALIE OUT AND THROW ANOTHER IN....I DON'T BLAME REIMER FOR THE EVIL EYE TO CARLYE, I WOULD HAVE HIT HIM WITH MY STICK...HAHAHA WHAT'S SAD IS THE GOALIE YOU ALL SEEM TO LOVE FOR SOME STUPID REASON LET YOU ALL DOWM AGAIN IN SHOOT OUT FOR THE 3RD SHOOT OUT LOSS, MAYBE CARLYE SHOULD HAVE PULLED #45 OUT TO NURSE HIS INFLATED EGO AND OUT THE REAL GOALIE BACK IN FOR THE SHOOT OUT AND THAN AT LEAST YOU WOULD HAVE STOOD A CHANCE.....AFTER ALL AGAIN IT SHOWS YOU FIRST HAND WHO IS THE BETTER GOALIE ON THIS TEAM ITS THE ONE WHO CAN BEAT THE OTHER TEAM ONE ON ONE AND WIN IT FOR THE TEAM... rEIMER DIDN'T LOOSE THE GAME #45 DID...THEY WERE UP ONE HGOAL IT WAS HIS JOB TO KEEP IT THAT WAY...

LEAVE REIMER ALONE I'M SO SICK OF ALL THE CRAP REGARDING HIM...I WISH HE WOULD JUST ONE FORGET HIMSELF AND TELL YOU ALL TO GO TO H**L....

THIS TEAM IS A LOOSER AND DON'T DESERVE REIMER....

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#4 STAN
December 22 2013, 12:04AM
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There was one play in the third period that was a microcosm of why Phaneuf, even though had a decent game, isn't anywhere near what he used to be. He made a nice carry out his own zone with some speed, crossed his own blue line and some clear ice. I think it was Kulemin flying down the right wing and looking over for a pass. He might have had a clear breakaway, or at least a great scoring chance. Instead, Phaneuf tossed a hard pass off the left boards near the other blue line and missed a stationary Leaf. A STATIONARY LEAF.

That planted forward at the opponent's blue line play is ridiculous. All three forwards should be moving, laterally, weaving, watching NOT to go offside. If the pass is missed, at least the players are moving and can turn with speed and get back.

But, as I say, despite that missed opportunity Phaneuf had a decent night.

I thought Holland was the unsung hero, a major factor in two of their goals.

I can't fathom why Cam thinks Clarkson's goal was the best of the season. I'm not even sure it was his. Wasn't Kulemin the last Leaf to touch it?

I watched St. Louis destroy Edmonton i the second game and it was a work of art. Ken Hitchcock is a great coach and has these guys playing sound, smart fundamental hockey.

Talk about one dimensional players - Edmonton is teaming with them; Hall, RNH, Yakupov and even Eberle. None of them has a clue about defence. Dallas Eakins might be a pretty good coach, but until Craig MacTavish MBA makes some brilliant trades, he's hooped.

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#5 GoWingsGo
December 22 2013, 02:16AM
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'...so despite going into the first break down 3-1, the Leafs weren't out of it, especially against a shallow Detroit team down to its third goalie and dressing three real NHL defencemen.'

I'm pretty certain that Gustavsson is the number two goalie.

Also, what do you mean by three 'real' NHL defencemen? Only Jakub Kindl was missing. It was the forwards who were depleted, missing the likes of Zetterberg, Franzen, Nyquist etc.

On the topic of pulling Reimer, I believe it does have an affect on the players. If they know that they've made mistakes and the cause of this is the goalie being pulled (who in some cases is totally blameless for the goals) won't they then go out and play harder trying to right things? Basically, it's a coaches way of making the players feel guilty.

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#6 Jordan
December 22 2013, 08:37PM
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@GoWingsGo

'...so despite going into the first break down 3-1, the Leafs weren't out of it, especially against a shallow Detroit team down to its third goalie and dressing three real NHL defencemen"

I missed that quote the first time I read the article. Quite a silly quote among many by Cam here.

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