January 14 2014 08:42PM
The Isotopes win a road game in regulation! The Isotopes win a road game in regulation! The Isotopes win a road game in regulation!
The Toronto Maple Leafs had two opponents Tuesday night: the Boston Bruins, and a very stubborn clock that just couldn't tick down fast enough in the final seconds. Despite being down twice in the first period, the Leafs came back and stuck to their gameplan—they got goals on the powerplay, saddled onto Jonathan Bernier's back and held on as he giddy-upped across the finish line.
Toronto won 4-3. Bernier put together his second consecutive strong start, the game was entertaining, nerve-racking and physical, and Tyler Bozak stayed hotter than a cute girl mowing down suicide wings. Recap below.
I took notes and everything, expecting to highlight flaws in Toronto's defensive zone coverage but it's pretty difficult to do because Boston moved the puck so poorly and didn't often find those soft areas of the ice. Still, Toronto gave up a goal just under four minutes in after Dion Phaneuf had no support along the far wall, creating an easy turnover and a Brad Marchand goal (HIM?!?).
Toronto quickly got that back on a great decision by Randy Carlyle to ice his first line as Boston's fourth unit was caught on the ice after an icing call. Carlyle all year has been stubborn about matching up 4th lines on 4th lines, but spotted the chance to get Phil Kessel on the ice and avoid the long reach and overall dominance of Zdeno Chara:
(I watched the Boston broadcast, and for those of you not understanding why, it's because I loaded up that clip and got to listen to Greg Millen explain that it's really Dennis Seidenberg who is the thorn in Kessel's side, not Chara.)
Anyway, the Bruins got one right back after Carl Gunnarsson and Bozak couldn't complete a pass on a breakout, leading to a breakdown in coverage, a missed net by Chara, no puck recover by the Leafs and a wraparound goal by Patrice Bergeron, who has been a Leaf-killer recently.
Toronto would get a powerplay before the period was out and scored within 50 seconds after some excellent puck movement. I love the sequence, warping the Bruins' box into a position it isn't supposed to be in (I couldn't write that without it sounding gross) and Bozak, to his credit, murdered the empty net:
That's 3 creating speed, to 21, to 4, to 81, to 42, to 21, to 42, with the last five passes coming in a six-second span. The second Leafs powerplay goal, in the second, was familiar, a long pass from Kessel across the offensive zone right onto the tape of Jake Gardiner who got a great look, but was a shot Tuukka Rask probably should have stopped. Toronto took a 3-2 lead going into the third despite being out-shot (yadda yadda we've heard this before).
Start of the third, James van Riemsdyk got the Leafs a 4-2 lead with another shot from a good area, but again, one that Rask usuall gets to. The Leafs benefit from an off-night from Rask. After Daniel Paille made it 4-3, the Leafs were able to hang on killing off a late powerplay, getting the worst of the scoring chances on their own late powerplay, and a wild final game sequence with a couple of big missed shots and a block by Tim Gleason on a Torey Krug rip.
WHY THE LEAFS WON
The powerplay was great. They scored two goals, but also generated eight shots in 8:09 of 5-on-4 time. Generally "one shot a minute" is very good, and they would have had much better numbers if we forgot that the last PP of the game they had didn't even exist (with Matt Bartkowski in the box for hooking, the Bruins out-attempted the Leafs 3-0 and Johnny Boychuk knocked James van Riemsdyk's glove into the stands on a hip check).
To their credit, the Bruins had a pretty good powerplay as well, with 6 shots in 6:00. Three of those shots came on the first one of the game, and you figured after watching that chance-laden PP that Boston might get a powerplay goal back, but Bernier remained strong and the Leafs PK unit tightened up on the next two.
Then there was Bernier. He made the one unbelievable save off David Krejci on one of the Bruins' PP sequences:
(For the record, the NHL play-by-play, which is normally pretty good with shots and missed shots, recorded this as a miss by Krejci, but it was Bernier's best stop on the night)
Bernier probably should have got the second Bruins goal, but his positioning was very sound all night and stopped 38 of 41, with most of those shots looking harmless because Bernier was where he was supposed to be. Perhaps the Bruins could have picked corners better, but they didn't. The NESN broadcast had the chances at 19-13 for Boston midway through the third and that matched my eyes: Boston had the better opportunities and better looks from the right areas, but it came down to finishing. Also helping the Leafs out was a couple of good defensive plays off of two-on-ones, with Cody Franson deflecting away one cross-ice pass and Phil Kessel rushing back for an excellent backcheck on Iginla in the second frame.
Gleason took a couple of hard shot blocks, but was otherwise alright. He led the Leafs in Corsi with a 44.8% rate and went down hard right at the end, throwing his upper body* in front of that Krug shot. He was on a pairing with Cody Franson that looked pretty good for most of the night, matching up against the Krejci line that had lots of zone time, but didn't manage to score.
* - stood there. Whatever.
NUMB3RS AND NOTES
Fenwick graphs are always fun. Yeah, that'll happen when you're a lousy possession team and you have a lead on a good possession team. For those new to this, the lines indicate the progression of unblocked shot totals throughout the game. Boston finished with a 57-30 advantage, and 44-18 at 5-on-5. Here's the Game Page at ExtraSkater, and here are some observations:
- The Leafs at least kept their own shot totals reasonable thanks to the strong powerplay, and getting more PP opportunities than the opposition. It was just like the start of the season, letting the other team make the silly mistakes.
- James van Riemsdyk took eight shots on net and drew a penalty to go along with the one he took. Fairly productive game, as long as you forget that defence is also part of the game. That sort of goes for the rest of the first line: while Bozak led all Leafs forwards being on the ice for 10 shot attempts for at 5-on-5, he was also on the ice for 25 against.
- Phaneuf-Gunnarrson got crushed in possession, but it didn't wind up really costing the team. The Marchand-Bergeron-Smith line got eight shots on goal.
- It was the big names that drove the offence for the Leafs, but I thought Mason Raymond was good, despite the numbers. He drew a penalty and didn't shy away from taking hits to make plays. He had just 11.4 minutes, which I guess is an occupational hazard of playing alongside Nazem Kadri.
- If you have a chance, check out Peter Holland's zone exit with 46 seconds to go in the second period. I'll throw up a Youtube video at some point tomorrow (don't have time tonight, so remind me tomorrow) but it was onions. Trust me.
- Leafs move back into a Wild Card spot with the win, a point ahead of the Detroit but the idle Red Wings have two games in hand. The Flyers beat the Sabres and the Capitals got a pity point against the Sharks, so the Wings are the only team the Leafs surpass.