January 20 2014 09:50PM
Die-hard Leafs fan and star of the cult comedy classic Wayne's World was not out partying with Alice Cooper in Glendale on Monday night. I don't think that the NHL has let him near a rink since The Love Guru came out, probably for good reason.
On the ice it was more of the same for the Maple Leafs like we saw a season ago—an excellent offence that converted every chance it got, some great goaltending and benefitting from some posts. The Leafs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, added a third to make the score 3-0 and cruised from there for a 4-2 final and a fifth straight victory.
The game started a little sluggish, with Carter Ashton getting the first real good chance of the game on a breakaway, but he failed to convert. That wasn't the theme for the rest of the night, however. Seconds after stick-checking Tim Kennedy off the puck and taking away a scoring chance, Jake Gardiner finished off a broken play:
Again, it was an improvised line from Randy Carlyle. Mason Raymond and Phil Kessel connected on a goal against Montreal with Peter Holland as their centreman, and Monday it was Nazem Kadri picking up an assist on the Gardiner goal.
Seconds later, Phil Kessel scored from his "spot" on the powerplay, his preferred shooting location a few feet behind the dot:
Kessel's release on the shot was fantastic, and Mike Smith didn't really have a chance on the play because James van Riemsdyk played his part perfectly. That's his 24th on the season (and while we talk about Cody Franson's struggles, anybody notice how many points he has this season? His assist on the Kessel powerplay goal was his 20th on the season. While he's had his defensive issues, he's still on the front page of the NHL leaderboard among defensive points, now tied with Mark Streit and Matt Carle, two big-money UFA signings.
Carl Gunnarsson scored his first on the season after some good hustle from Carter Ashton set up a chance in the offensive zone, just 5:10 into the third. At that point, the shots were 16-15 for the Leafs, but that ended quickly.
Toronto didn't have too many more chances the rest of the game, and compensated by giving the Yotes some Grade A opportunities, but the Yotes were fended off all night by the goalpost, ill-timed missed nets, and Jonathan Bernier. His best came on a wide-open net for Mike Ribeiro on a pass from across the ice. I liked the save because he wasn't a desperation attempt, which is what Ribeiro was waiting for—draw Bernier over, and beat him on the far side. Goaltending is tough to judge, but it looks like Bernier got across in good position to make the save.
Riberio would get his powerplay goal in the third, however, re-directing a Keith Yandle pass. Nazem Kadri made it 4-1 a bit later on the powerplay *tugs at collar* and Antoine Vermette scored shorthanded 49 seconds later. However, while the Leafs gave up a lot of zone time and chances in the next four minutes, they did a great job keeping Phoenix out of their end after they'd pulled Mike Smith.
WHY THE LEAFS WON
An element of luck, I guess, but the Leafs deserve full credit for getting the 3-0 lead. No lucky bounces, and they were definitely out-playing Phoenix to that point. Teams tend to get out-shot and marginally out-chanced when they take the lead, so no fault to the Leafs for sitting back like they did because they didn't really give anything tangible up. Phoenix out-shot Toronto 26-13 after the Leafs took a 3-0 lead.
Like I said though, Phoenix didn't make it easy on themselves. Part of the reason they've had any success this year is that pucks have gone in for them, but Lauri Korpikoski hit a post, Oliver Ekman-Larsson hit a post, Radim Vrbata missed an open net and pucks were just bouncing by the crease all night. The Yotes missed the net on 21 attempts (just 7 for the Leafs) and had difficulty finishing. Jonathan Bernier had a great night and stole the game (as the goalies have had to when they win) but it was those posts that did the Coyotes in, particularly early.
Helping matters is that the Leafs drew 4 calls to 2 in the third. They had a minus-1 special teams goal differential in the period, but the 5-on-5 guys gave a lot of chances for Toronto to out-last Phoenix. Credit to Tyler Bozak for embellishing that hold a little bit on that partial breakaway at the end. I don't think embellishing calls needs to have a negative connotation in today's game—it's up to the referees to prevent it, if anything, and Bozak knew he wasn't getting by Zbynek Michalek on that play and fell down when he felt the tug, instead.
Five penalties drawn by the Leafs and none by Nazem Kadri? He's slacking! (And also has five points in his last three games).
I liked Jake Gardiner's game. Three images I really liked from the shift he scored his goal. The first was after giving the puck away, Gardiner fought his way back to disrupt Kennedy:
Kessel made a bad pass which forced Gardiner to recover the puck outside the blue line, meaning he had to wait for the Leafs to get back onside. I think a lot of players, faced with this situation, simply dump the puck back in, making the boring safe play:
Gardiner didn't, though. A couple of players changed and he rushed right back into the zone splitting two Coyotes players. He skated the puck in, got it in deep, and then the Leafs started working the cycle:
Gardiner, unfortunately, had a pretty bad night Corsi-wise, with 6 shot attempts for and 13 against when he was on the ice in score-close situations. Still, that's an anomaly. Typically he's been one of the better Leafs players (Toronto was +10/-8 without him on the ice) but not tonight. Also, sick pass on the Kadri PPG. I'll take those points for my pool any day.
NUMB3RS AND NOTES:
Here's the ExtraSkater page. Not a whole lot to digest. James van Riemsdyk was the only positive Leaf who played any significant minutes. The Bozak line out-shot the Coyotes, but got beat on blocked shots and missed shots.
- Randy rolled the hell out of his top line in all situations. Bozak got a lot of defensive zone faceoffs (8 at 5-on-5, tied for the team lead. 7 for Kessel and just 3 for van Riemsdyk [hmm]). They saw more than 10 minutes against O.E.L. and generated 10 shots on goal between them. Van Riemsdyk, it was pointed out on the Coyotes broadcast, had 29 shots in his previous five games. He had 5 more Monday. That's over 3.5 per game, which is darn near elite.
- You can tell in the chart and the Leafs were keeping up in possession until they got the 3-0 lead. That'll happen. Phoenix got a couple back but not enough.
- Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson were matched mostly against Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan, who were rotating centremen all night. Vrbata was the dangerous of the two, missing a big chance early and getting six shots on Bernier, plus three misses and two blocks, but Gunnarsson was one of the better Leaf players on the night possession-wise. The Leafs out-shot 9-7 with him on the ice (they got out-Corsi'd 12-13 however) and he not only got the goal, but also drew a penalty, one of five Leafs on the night to do so.
Back at it tomorrow for a change of altitude and scenery in Denver. In Sidney Crosby's rookie season, he skated out after being named first star of a game waving a terrible towel to support the Pittsburgh Steelers in Superbowl XL against Seattle. If Nathan MacKinnon pulls the same move this week or next, I will be forever done with the town of Cole Harbour and probably never visit Nova Scotia again.