April 08 2013 09:14PM
via Abelimages and NHL Interactive
Phil Kessel is a wonderful hockey player.
James Reimer is a wonderful goaltender.
Both players played very good games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their win against the New York Rangers. The result of this game gave the Leafs a six-point cushion on the Rangers and an eight-point cushion on 9th place. For the Leafs to fall out now, something spectacular must happen. The Maple Leafs, against all odds, appear to be a playoff team in 2013.
Van Riemsdyk got one. Kessel got two. Ryan O'Byrne, somehow, got one, and the Leafs gave up a 3-1 lead but eventually held on for the victory after a tense final two minutes.
Do they deserve it? Well, yes and no. They'll deserve it in the sense that they'll have won more games than at least seven opponents in the Eastern Conference. The results of the games are what determines the standings and the seedings, even if the standings after 48 games on the ice don't exactly reflect whether the team is bad or good.
Considering Toronto was one of the better teams, goaltender-independent, in the 2010 season, they're owed a season in front of a good goalie and where everything is going in. I've resigned myself to thinking that a cosmic force is working somewhere off in the distance to allow Toronto to once again become relevant in the picture when discussing the top teams in the league. They aren't there yet. The Leafs don't belong at all in the discussion with the Pittsburghs and Bostons and Chicagos and not by a mile. But the more wins they get, the harder it is to work up a convincing argument to not at least discussing them in that second tier of teams.
The results or events of a single game will never sway my opinions, but the results of seven or eight in a row may. I don't think the Maple Leafs are a good team. I think that they're a team that's having success despite a backward philosophy and taking advantage of a short schedule, a poor Conference, and the best individual goaltending season by a Leaf since Curtis Joseph.
Tonight I don't show up to the post-game recap to bury the Leafs, but I come to praise them. After Derek Stepan's 3-3 goal, the Leafs didn't give up a single scoring chance to the New York Rangers despite a tonne of zone time and puck-possession. The Leafs, like the Rangers, like to collapse in front of the net when threatened. Turtling doesn't exactly work early in the game since you can throw enough pucks on goal and eventually one of them will get through, but it worked in this instance.
The Leafs played two dangerous offensive lines. Rick Nash and Brad Richards are now split up and they were both buzzing. Nash wheeled around both Cody Franson and Mark Fraser for two goals, on different sides of the ice. Brad Richards put the puck on Mark Zuccarello's stick twice and had a couple of good looks in the final minute.
However the Leafs actually out-chanced the Rangers all considered. That's factoring in another fantastic game by Toronto's first line that absolutely tore apart New York's top pair of Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi. That pairing spent a tonne of time in their own end tonight, amazingly, since the Rangers controlled the pace of play and the bulk of the shot attempts even if they didn't turn the possessions into chances.
Girardi-Del Zotto were the only negative Corsi players on the Rangers on Monday night. James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and, er, Colton Orr were the only positive Corsi players for the Leafs.
Still, Orr took on entirely too many shifts in this one. The most egregious time Randy "I Have A Theory About Concussions" Carlyle had Orr out there was right after New York's first goal. John Tortorella, who presumably last cared about the fortunes of the Rangers the last time he shaved, put out Richards and Zuccarello—at that point in the game the Rangers' most dangerous pairing. Carlyle countered with Orr, Frazer McLaren, Joe Colborne, Ryan O'Byrne and John-Michael Liles. A few seconds later, James Reimer had to cover a puck after making a stop off of Zuccarello scoring chance.
Dion Phaneuf was the minutes workhorse against the Rangers top player, playing 15.3 minutes against Rick Nash, during which Rick Nash and the Rangers generated a single scoring chance. Rick Nash played 4.7 minutes away from Dion Phaneuf and in that time the Rangers generated two scoring chances.
I thought the John-Michael Liles and Ryan O'Byrne pairing was okay. O'Byrne got the goal, mostly off of a great play by Nazem Kadri, but on defence they weren't real liabilities. They had a tough assignment against Richards, Ryane Clowe and Mats Zuccarello and, despite a high-event night, came out ahead in the end. John-Michael Liles made a great pass to James van Riemsdyk on his first goal and while his contract has a lot of critics, I think his play has been pretty good this season and he definitely belongs in the Leafs top six.
This is the "Randy Carlyle's system keeps shots to the outside moment of the game":
Two of the Leafs best defensive players are on the ice right there and Clowe is able to reach a loose puck from his knees and is nearly score from his stomach, but Reimer gets his stick down. Not pictured immediately before: Ryane Clowe is stopped by Reimer on a shot 30 feet out.
30 feet is pretty close.
Phil Kessel had five shots on seven attempts. Four of those attempts were considered scoring chances. James van Riemsdyk had six shots on goal on seven attempts. Four of those attempts were considered scoring chances. I think JvR is back, and I think that the first line has been carrying the Leafs on offence since Kadri's dominant performance against Ottawa.
Individual scoring chances:
|TARANNA||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|James van Riemsdyk||7||3||4|
|YEW RORK JANGERS||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|Michael Del Zotto||4||8||-4|
|Toronto (EV)||3 (3)||4 (3)||6 (6)||13 (12)|
|NY Rangers (EV)||3 (3)||5 (4)||4 (4)||12 (11)|
LeafsNation Three Stars:
- James Reimer
- Phil Kessel
- Dion Phaneuf