March 28 2013 09:26PM
Photo Greg Abel/Getty via NHLInteractive
Wait, let it sink in.
Carolina has been flat the last little while. I didn't think they were as flat as they came out tonight in Toronto, and a Toronto Maple Leafs team that entered the game with John-Michael Liles in place, surprisingly, for Jake Gardiner took a 2-0 lead, lost it, but re-gained a 4-3 lead on a spectacular goal by Joffrey Lupul in the dying minutes.
I don't think the term "statement win" ever applies because sometimes you can give maximum effort and get owned by a couple of bad bounces. That might have been the case if not for a late tying goal by Phaneuf and a late winning goal by Lupul that saved the Leafs hide after five lousy minutes of special teams by the Canes tied the game. More importantly, the Leafs dominated an opponent that's given them a tonne of trouble this season.
The Leafs got two empty netters from Jay "Meat" McClement and Nikolai "Potatoes" Kulemin each got their sixth. Final at the Air Canada Centre was 6-3 when the final buzzer sounded.
-I usually start by mentioning the scoring chance counts because they often given an indication of which team controlled the play in a game, regardless of the score. When I counted up the chances after the game I ended up with a final count of "several" to "considerably fewer".
-But seriously, it was 19-6 for the Leafs, and 15-3 at 5-on-5. Those are some real Leafs vs. Penguins numbers right there.
-What can you say about Phil Kessel in this game? While Lupul had the big late finisher, Kessel's play in the first period was probably the best period of hockey the Leafs have had from a player this season. It's good if a player can get in on a couple of scoring chances, and occasionally a player will be in on three, either setting them up or taking them.
-Anyway, Kessel took four shots that were considered scoring chances and set up two more in the first period. Here he is setting up the Bozak goal:
-The breakaway after he knocked down a puck at the line and cut around Jay Harrison:
-Another rush, taking the puck to the middle of the ice:
-With speed on an excellent stretch pass from James van Riemsdyk:
-Cutting to the middle again. A hilarious still as he lost an edge getting everything into the shot:
-Setting up Tyler Bozak again. Can't see Bozak in the frame:
-And a bonus one from the second period, finding Cody Franson on the powerplay:
-The Leafs first line has been awful for a couple of weeks or so. They are frequently badly beaten on the shot clock, but tonight was an oasis in that desert. Tyler Bozak out-chanced his opposition 8-0. van Riemsdyk won his 6-0. Kessel won his 8-1. Most of their ice-time came against the Jordan Staal line. An absolute beat-down on the part of the first line, and Kessel was the driver.
-Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin were a lot stronger on the puck than I've seen them in the past. Frattin was part of a hilarious sequence towards the end of the first when Mikhail Grabovski kept trying to pass to his wingers, but neither Frattin or Ryan Hamilton took just that split second of time to think before getting rid of the puck. I think that's the difference between the NHL and the AHL. That aside, I was very impressed by Frattin and Grabovski's games tonight. Frattin doesn't fit the profile of a checker in the NHL but he looked good tonight.
-I don't count these things but Lupul skated into the zone with the puck a bunch tonight. Kessel had six shots, but Lupul had four, with another missed, and that first digit was good for second on the team. Three shots from the scoring zone although two of those were on the powerplay. Defensively, he still has some kinks to work out at even strength (he was on the ice for all three Hurricanes 5-on-5 chances) but he's getting it done on offence. In the end it doesn't matter how many you score, in the end what matters is whether you score "more" than your equivalent on the other side. He's been doing that since returning to the lineup, in both spectacular and hilarious fashion.
UPDATE - @ShutdownLine has zone entry data. Lupul carried the puck in the zone five times. Kessel eight times, Frattin nine times. I so do like it when my eyes match the reality.
-Jake Gardiner was held out of the lineup for the return of John-Michael Liles. The Liles-Kostka pairing was +5/-0 in scoring chances for/against tonight. A good hunch by Randy Carlyle, who must have seen something in Liles eyes pre-game, or was maybe able to detect greatness by sense of smell.
-But seriously I've liked Liles' game this season and Kostka's useable on that second pairing in the absence of a more competent right shot. I've been playing a lot of NHL 2010 over the last week and I think I have a pretty good handle over the lefty-righty thing on defence and think it really matters, especially with two offensively-minded guys like Liles and Kost—
-Nah, couldn't finish that thought with a straight face. But I think it may be time to dress the best six defencemen, who I'm quite sure are 3, 36, 24, 51, 53 and 4. I know Fraser has a +15 or whatever on the season, but giving a player a lot of ice-time because he has good stats over half a season is a ridiculous notion. Tonight was the first night that the Fraser-Cody Franson pairing was in the pluses in a long time I can remember scoring chance-wise, and Franson has typically done great off that pairing. Just once, let me see it.
-Not too much to talk about on the Hurricanes tonight. The only ones I thought were any good were Alexander Semin and Tim Gleason. Gleason effectively shut down Nazem Kadri, first time anybody's done it that decisively in a long while, and Semin showed why Carolina wants him to stick around for another five years. He was just a +1/-5 on the night, which isn't particularly good, but he took five shots and played 21 minutes. Despite Toronto getting 37 unblocked shots to Carolina's 29 at evens, Carolina controlled play with Semin on the ice, out-shooting Toronto 15-12. Not a huge differential, but him and Jiri Tlusty were the best on the Canes by that measure, and Semin was simply more involved.
-The FSN Canes broadcast (who called the Leafs' fourth line centre Jay MACK-luh-mint) did point out on the Joffrey Lupul goal that there was all that space in the neutral zone thanks to a lazy change by Riley Nash and Patrick Dwyer, but Joe Corvo got absolutely posterized by Joffrey Lupul on this goal:
-FInally… Leafs win, Canes lose, Rangers lose, Jets lose...
According to Sports Club Stats, if the #Leafs go 3-7-3 the rest of the way, they still have a better than 60% chance of making the playoffs— Daniel Santos (@SantosDan) March 29, 2013
-"Playoffs" is spelled "Playoffs!!1".
-Individual scoring chance differentials:
|TARANNA LEAFS||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|James van Riemsdyk||6||0||6|
|CARRALINNER HURRACANES||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|Toronto (EV)||7 (7)||6 (4)||6 (4)||19 (15)|
|Carolina (EV)||1 (1)||4 (1)||1 (1)||6 (3)|
LeafsNation Three Stars:
- Phil Kessel
- Joffrey Lupul
- Mikhail Grabovski