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.
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:
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.
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
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.
- 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.