Leafs postgame - James Reimer best goalie in the building tonight

Cam Charron
January 21 2014 10:13PM

 

In our Grade 8 English class, we were taught that there are three types of conflict for a narrative: Man versus Man, Man versus Nature, Man versus Himself. It seems an awful lot like the Leafs are angling for that third type. Oh, they decisively beat the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night, with a late empty net goal by Jay McClement giving the Leafs a 5-2 win, but they didn't make it easy. That's six in a row, which came after a long losing streak where the team looked absolutely dead in the water.

It seems that win or lose, there's always a type of conflict present in the narrative. Despite holding a 4-0 lead, the Leafs needed saves from James Reimer late to hold onto a 4-2 lead and they did. After out-shooting Colorado 20-18 through two periods, on the road, on the second leg of a back-to-back, you may have expected some pushback from the Avalanche and indeed, it was 17-7 in the third, with many of the 17 shots by the Avalanche being high-quality chances, including a breakaway from Matt Duchene, and a bouncing puck in the slot that settled on Nathan MacKinnon's stick.

Nothing in sports is supposed to be easy but beating Semyon Varlamov was. One for Phil Kessel, one for James van Riemsdyk, one for Nazem Kadri, and he was gone.

THE RUNDOWN

The first couple of periods were pretty even, with the Leafs just getting a couple of breaks leading to goals. An attempted stretch pass from Dion Phaneuf to Phil Kessel missed, but the puck rebounded off the back boards and Kessel was able to beat his man Erik Johnson and skate on to it:

That's icing in any other hockey league as soon as it crosses the goal line, but was quite prominent in the Western Conference before hybrid icing came into play. A speedy team could time it right and beat the trap, but this looked more like a broken play. Still, a wide open space for Kessel, and he's just deadly from there (Kessel had two goals on the night and could have had four with the way he was burning Johnson all night).

The second goal came at the end of the period with James van Riemsdyk tipping in a Cody Franson shot for his 20th on the season. JvR becomes the sixth American-born Maple Leaf to score 20 goals in a season, the others being (trivia fans!) Kessel, Jason Blake, Al Iafrate, Ed Olczyk and Tom Fergus.

Third goal earlier in the second spelled the end of the night for Varlamov. It was another deflection, set up after a good bit of forechecking from Joffrey Lupul:

I'm not sure you can really fault Varlamov on either of the goals. One was one of the most dangerous forwards in the game alone in net, and the other two were deflections. Still, three goals in ten shots don't reflect well upon a goalie. Fourth time the Leafs have chased a goalie this season (Antti Raanta on December 12, Marc-Andre Fleury on November 27 and Darcy Kuemper on October 15).

Still, they didn't make it easy on Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Especially as Colorado was pressing late, Phil Kessel got some good chances on him and he had to stay sharp to keep his team in the game. Giguere was beaten quite early in his appearance, however, allowing this rebound on the second shot he faced:

That looked like it should have been it, but Nathan MacKinnon scored on a 2-on-1 thanks to a bad Leafs change towards the end of the period and again early in the third off a bad Jake Gardiner turnover and a wrist shot, and while the Avs kept pressing, Reimer was strong. Colorado pulled the goalie with 2:56 on the clock (the math likes the early goalie pulls, because losing 5-2 is no worse than losing 4-2. You may as well give it a shot) but Jay McClement and Nik Kulemin did a good job at keeping the play in the neutral zone, stopping two entries, and McClement scored into the empty net to give the Leafs a three-goal lead and seal it late, allowing us to wipe the collective sweat off our collective brows.

WHY THE LEAFS WON

It's a little more complicated than "Reimer". If you read the pre-game, you'd have caught onto how the odds were stacked against the Leafs in this game, especially on the second leg of a back-to-back. They tend to do poorly on the road, and against Western teams, when it comes to shots given up and allowed, but Toronto actually held a 2-shot lead through the second period, despite being ahead for most of the game. It took a while for Toronto to collapse into his shell, and it was nice to see that even with the team up 3 and 4-0, they were still fighting hard for pucks in the offensive zone and trying to keep the totals going up.

But then there was Reimer, and though he wasn't named a star in the building, he settled down after a shaky start where he was all over the crease to do all the things a goalie needs to do: stay in position, make self big, hold onto pucks during extended sequences in the zone and give the team a chance. This is a game that maybe Toronto would have won, but would have been a lot more nervous if Reimer didn't stop 35 of 37. A very strong performance from him.

BLUE WARRIOR

The first star was given to Phillip J. Kessel, who took eight shots on net. At least four of them were of very high quality, and his line got the bulk of defensive zone faceoffs and still managed to get 14 shots on goal matched up against an Erik Johnson-Jan Hejda pairing that has been very strong this season.

Oh, hey, Toronto are now tied with Montreal (games in hand games in schmand) and perhaps I was a little premature in my dismantling of Randy Carlyle. When things are clicking, the team looks real good and it's at least fun, even if I don't think they can keep winning like this (but I know. They do, and it's enjoyable to watch Kessel and van Riemsdyk troll over opposing defences). Next up is Dallas on Thursday night.

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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 Joe
January 21 2014, 11:03PM
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Kessel and JVR are so much better since Tyler Bozak came back into the line up, the numbers back this up, but some choose to ignore numbers when or call it a coincidence or use small sample as an excuse when it does not back up their agenda.

Bozak 14 points in 12 games since returning from LTIR

Kessel 17 points in 12 games with Bozak as Center

JVR 11 points in 12 games with Bozak

The eye test doesn't iie, the stats do not lie, and haters can go watch Grabovski's 3 points in his last 11 games during his latest slide we are accustomed to in Toronto.

Bozak>Grabovksi

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#2 kesselkadri
January 21 2014, 11:12PM
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@STAN

I'd do Clarkson for Yakupov. The oilers are big on Clarkson and a forward like him fits the team much better then Clarkson

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#3 STAN
January 21 2014, 11:01PM
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So.

Aside from the fact your boss snagged this prized FA for JUST $5.25M per season, if you're Randy Carlyle you likely don't want to ruin a good thing when Mister Ineffective is ready to come back.

Bodie looks FAR more keyed in than Clarkson ever has.

The best thing Nonis could do is admit his mistake and send him off for pick.

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#4 Saud
January 21 2014, 10:56PM
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Leafs are playing well, winning the same way they did last year. Great goaltending, good special teams and timely scoring. However it is still not a sustainable style. For everyone saying that analytics have misread the leafs, how manay games has this team won when their goaltenders SV% is less than 920 which is a few points above league average , not many. So if the goalie has a bad game they lose. Its fun when they do win regardless.

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#5 jaysly
January 22 2014, 01:31AM
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Clarkson for Yakupov. That is interesting. You don't think that once Clarkson gets used to playing in the biggest hockey market on the planet he will settle in and be what he was in New Jersey? My opinion has two points. 1st-- The leafs are not using him the way he was used with the Devils. We wasn't playing on the third line. He was playing with the elite players. 2nd He came to Toronto with all the hype and fanfare and he is a little awestruck by the whole thing. Once he learns to deal with that he will be everything that we expect.

Other than the Gardiner no look pass that lead to the second Av's goal, I thought the leafs played well. Thank God for NHL Gamecenter live because there are not many Leaf games broadcasted down here in South Texas.

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#6 Jordan
January 21 2014, 10:28PM
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Another solid effort by the Leafs. Both goalies had to make big saves, and if you're going to win games in this league every team needs some big saves from their tenders, and Reimer provided this. Interesting fact I saw from Alec Brownscombe. Leafs are now at the hundred game mark between lockout shortened season and this one. They are 53-37-10. Outshot in 79 of 100. Shooting 10.6%. Make of that what you will, but it appears to fly in the face of a lot of the statements made by the more stat focused creatures out there.

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#7 leafer2013
January 21 2014, 10:35PM
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Jordan wrote:

Another solid effort by the Leafs. Both goalies had to make big saves, and if you're going to win games in this league every team needs some big saves from their tenders, and Reimer provided this. Interesting fact I saw from Alec Brownscombe. Leafs are now at the hundred game mark between lockout shortened season and this one. They are 53-37-10. Outshot in 79 of 100. Shooting 10.6%. Make of that what you will, but it appears to fly in the face of a lot of the statements made by the more stat focused creatures out there.

That is a pretty big sample size 110 games to be outshot and still remain in a playoff spot. I'm starting to question the shot differential predictive ability or at least in the case of the leafs.

Something else is going on here that aside from the twitter claims that the team are "lucky"

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#8 jaymie-lee
January 21 2014, 11:03PM
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awesome game tonight i was holding my winter hat in my right hand ready to throw at the tv for Kessel. Reimer was awesome too, despite the announcer stating he is their 'backup goalie'. Excited for Thursdays game against Dallas.

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#9 Arvind
January 22 2014, 05:47AM
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Jordan wrote:

Another solid effort by the Leafs. Both goalies had to make big saves, and if you're going to win games in this league every team needs some big saves from their tenders, and Reimer provided this. Interesting fact I saw from Alec Brownscombe. Leafs are now at the hundred game mark between lockout shortened season and this one. They are 53-37-10. Outshot in 79 of 100. Shooting 10.6%. Make of that what you will, but it appears to fly in the face of a lot of the statements made by the more stat focused creatures out there.

Score effects are the reason the Leafs tend to win when they are outshot.

In general, we're not a great possession team, but when we're winning, we sit back and allow the other team to attack (all teams do this to some extent). So they pad their shot total, even if the game isn't really in doubt. Look at the Phoenix game as an example.

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#10 gogreen1010
January 22 2014, 09:56PM
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still not completely sure who the heck tipped or didn't tip the 3rd goal.

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