JvR is a good hockey player: Leafs defeat Sabres 3-1

Cam Charron
February 21 2013 08:58PM


Photo: Abelimages via NHLInteractive

Another strong defensive outing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, although they had to rely on their goaltender for a couple of big saves in the first period. After the first 20, however, the game slowed to the crawl that Randy Carlyle prefers to play.

You could tell by mid-game that Ron Rolston didn't have any secret formula to turning the Buffalo Sabres into anything more than a mediocre one-line team with a good goaltender. If the Sabres were generating offence, it was purely out of the offensive instincts of Thomas Vanek. If the Sabres were stuck in their own end, it was very likely that Tyler Ennis or Steve Ott were kicking around on the ice. If the puck was around the Sabres net, it was Ryan Miller, not any defenceman, ensuring it wouldn't get in.

Over the last four days, the Maple Leafs have been fortunate enough to play three teams in the league that are worse than them. I'd say they looked good and got through this stretch of the schedule with relative ease, and would have swept the games if it hadn't been for a couple of weak ones by Ben Scrivens. He was sharp against Buffalo, though, although he didn't have to be in a 3-1 win that was a lot less close than the score indicated.

-One thing I've noticed is that the Leafs are quite prone to giving up a scoring chance in the first minute or so. Didn't happen tonight, but Buffalo spent :30 seconds at the start of the game in the offensive zone, and the Leafs had to block a couple of shots because of it.

-Toronto won the scoring chance battle 18-10 overall and 11-7 at 5-on-5. I thought the Sabres were the better team in the early going but Toronto had some good puck possession in the second period and benefit from the bulk of the power plays, and also Buffalo's weak specialty teams units. It was a very complete final 40 by the Leafs.

-The Sabres' special team's are a special kind of awful. Toronto actually out-chanced Buffalo 2-1 while shorthanded—including that looping play by James van Riemsdyk in the second period that resulted in Ryan Miller having to make a tight save. van Riemsdyk looked like Peter Forsberg on that play and even though he scored two goals, those were just tap-ins. That shorthanded play really showed where the Leafs have a speed advantage over Buffalo.

-Toronto on the PK? 4:13 from Jay McClement. It was pointed out on the broadcast that McClement has spent more time shorthanded than any other player. Nik Kulemin had 2:48 and while he's been absolutely anonymous offensively this season, he looked pretty good in his own end and took away an excellent Cody Hodgson chance in the first period.

-James van Riemsdyk had two goals, both set up by other Toronto players, and he had another one robbed by Miller on the 5-on-3. Phil Kessel and Cody Franson set him up three times, so he had a bit of assistance on those ones. He did create two plays for himself so he took five shot attempts that were recorded as scoring chances: he led the team with six shots on goal as well and had four attempts blocked.

-It took a period for the Grabovski line to adjust to their matchup. Buffalo is a one-line team, but it is a very good line, and Thomas Vanek is a very good hockey player. All four of their 5-on-5 chances came in the first period, and the Leafs' checking line beat them 2-0 after that. There are some limitations to Grabovski's game. One of them appears to be face-offs; he was 7-of-19 tonight and somehow managed to go 5-for-13 against Cody Hodgson, who has huge deficiencies in that area of his game.

-But Tyler Bozak was struggling in that department as well: he was 5-of-14 in the defensive zone and 12-of-27 on the night. Not a good night in the circle for Toronto except for Nazem Kadri, although he played a bunch against Kevin Porter, the Sabres' checking centreman called up for the game. I'm discouraged by how often the Leafs' first line starts in the defensive end, but encouraged by how well, with van Riemsdyk, they've been able to move the puck forward off of it.

-Six chances for the Leafs' second line tonight. I'm going to dub the Kadri line the "second line" because traditionally the third line is a checking line. Leo Komarov actually shot the puck on two of those, and a third shorthanded. This was his strongest game of the year, he created things offensively, hit like a truck, and nobody seemed to notice that Colton Orr was out of the lineup...

-Every Leafs defenceman was a "plus" or "even" in scoring chances differential tonight. Nobody was getting supremely killed out there. A reason why Mark Fraser and Cody Franson do so well is that they often play while Nazem Kadri is on the ice, so they generally get to play against third line competition. They aren't nearly as good as their +/- totals suggest, but they're much better than I think anybody, including Randy Carlyle, could have expected coming into the season.

-Dion Phaneuf scored his 100th goal of his career. He becomes the 80th defenceman to score 100, which I guess is somewhat cool. More importantly tonight he saw a lot of minutes against Thomas Vanek and kept him off the scoresheet, a pretty difficult task for many defenders this season.

-Here are the Leafs' individual scoring chance differential statistics from tonight. Note that Porter, who was the Rochester American that concussed Jake Gardiner earlier this season, took a lot of abuse. There were no good Sabres' pairings, and Rolston mixed 'em up a bunch, with scattered results.

TARANNA Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Tyler Bozak 2 2 0
James van Riemsdyk 2 3 -1
Phil Kessel 2 2 0
Nazem Kadri 6 1 5
Clarke MacArthur 6 0 6
Leo Komarov 6 1 5
Mikhail Grabovski 2 4 -2
Jay McClement 2 4 -2
Nik Kulemin 2 4 -2
David Steckel 1 0 1
Mike Brown 1 0 1
Frazer McLaren 1 0 1
Dion Phaneuf 4 4 0
Korbinian Holzer 4 4 0
Carl Gunnarsson 3 3 0
Mike Kostka 3 2 1
Cody Franson 4 1 3
Mark Fraser 4 0 4
BOO-FALLO Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Cody Hodgson 4 3 1
Thomas Vanek 4 3 1
Jason Pominville 4 3 1
Tyler Ennis 2 2 0
Drew Stafford 2 3 -1
Marcus Foligno 3 4 -1
Steve Ott 1 4 -3
Kevin Porter 1 6 -5
Nathan Gerbe 0 3 -3
Jochen Hecht 0 0 0
John Scott 0 1 -1
Patrick Kaleta 0 1 -1
Christian Ehrhoff 4 3 1
Alexander Sulzer 4 4 0
Robyn Regehr 1 1 0
Tyler Myers 2 3 -1
Mike Weber 1 5 -4
T.J. Brennan 2 6 -4

And team totals:

  1st 2nd 3rd Total
Buffalo (EV) 6 (6) 1 (0) 3 (1) 10 (7)
Toronto (EV) 5 (5) 5 (2) 8 (4) 18 (11)

LeafsNation Three Stars:

  1. James van Riemsdyk
  2. Phil Kessel
  3. Leo Komarov
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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 leafnerd
February 21 2013, 09:12PM
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How much do we pay Kessel for not scoring but being an phenomenal assist machine?

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#2 Steve Dangle
February 21 2013, 11:11PM
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leafnerd wrote:

How much do we pay Kessel for not scoring but being an phenomenal assist machine?

*looks at Joe Thornton half-ironically*

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#4 i_miss_mogilny
February 22 2013, 03:20AM
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Boom. JVR 50 goal scorer! Is a .169 shooting percentage sustainable? I'm ridiculously happy.

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#5 David Johnson
February 22 2013, 08:02AM
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leafnerd wrote:

How much do we pay Kessel for not scoring but being an phenomenal assist machine?

Imagine if we had an assist-machine center so Kessel could go back to being the goal-machine he really should be.

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#7 Polz
February 22 2013, 08:46AM
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Not sure how JVR only gts two scoring chances for. Overall a really levelheaded view of the game, and i agree with everything else, but JVR scored 2 on clear scoring chances, he was robbed by Miller once and had a really great short handed rush.

maybe i am missing something, but his game was better than a -1 chance differential implies

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#8 Not Norm Ullman
February 22 2013, 09:08AM
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Cam.... did you see any video of the Gardiner concussion? Was just wondering.

Also, worth noting that ppl are being a bit too severe on Bozak, I'd say. The Leaf PK now ranks 15th (ahead of the Canucks, LA, NJ, etc.) and is being led by McClement & Bozak, who are killing 91% & 94% of chances.

But note Bozak - just 1 GA in 33 mins of PK time. That's pretty darned good.

Dude also has 2nd most face-off wins in NHL (56.9%) and committed just 1 minor penalty this year. So... ppl can say he can;t play D, and doesn't drive O, but with top-level skills on the PK, in FO's, and few stupid penalties (often a sign of being behind the play or out of position), I'd say he's doing something right.

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#9 Cory
February 22 2013, 09:23AM
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@Not Norm Ullman. Please read this article by Hockey Analysis on Bozak: http://bit.ly/X0YSfc

I'd love to replace him with an elite passing center.

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#10 Not Norm Ullman
February 22 2013, 10:59AM
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@Cory

Yep, I already had.

I'd just say the anti-Bozak schtick is getting a bit overstated. Which, in Leafland, we do a lot. As in, lotta ppl been hating this year on Bozak, the 3 "AHL" defencemen, Komarov and Scrivens. And it all gets overstated. Same last year, where we had people talking about Frattin as an over-aged plug.... Franson as a mouthy guy with no NHL future who should stay in Sweden... and Gardiner as a useless defenceman. Nowadays, the storylines have changed a bit.

In short, sometimes, especially with younger guys or those newish to the league, it's worth cutting a bit of slack.

In this case, Bozak came basically free. He also came really fast out of the NCAA. So he had tonnes to learn. He's learned some of it. Witness his PK and PP play, as well as FO's. As for the rest, what I think is fair to say is that he isn't elite in terms of playmaking, or shooting, or hitting, or speed, or digging, or tight coverage. That may be fine, but only IF he can push those skills up another 10%. And who knows.... maybe he can.

If he can't, we need a serious #1 C to contend. And I'd be fine if we traded for one, at this point. That is, he may well have reached the point where we judge he isn't rising any further or developing his skills much more.

But when people diss him, they should remember - he has still, under two coaches and GMs, beat out Tim Connolly and Grabovski for the #1 C spot. (Along with Kadri, Lombardi, McClement, Colborne, Steckel, Brent, Ziggy and others.) So maybe, just maybe, the coaches think there's still more there that he can develop. I donno.

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#11 gogreen1010
February 22 2013, 03:37PM
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i've ALWAYS thought Phil Kessel's passing is underrated. everyone talks about his shot, but no one ever talks about his passing!

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#13 Topshelf
February 22 2013, 08:09PM
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@gogreen1010

I've talked to friends about his passing skill for years. When he plays with talent he looks to pass much more. You could see the difference when the Leafs brought in Lupul. He immediately starting looking to pass more than when he was with Crabb and Bozak.

Unfortunately while on the Leafs he's spent a lot of time playing with inferior offensive talent.

Phil Kessel is an elite offensive player.

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