January 28 2014 08:37PM
Any other team, and we might suggest that the winner of the Tampa Bay and Toronto game taking place on Tuesday night was lucky—that the winning team benefit from four goal posts and a memorable goaltending performance from their starting goalie. But this is the Toronto Maple Leafs were talking about, and they've managed to pull games out like this since the dawn of 2013.
And it was a good thing, too, that the Leafs were able to capitalize on a late third period chance and eke out the 3-2 victory. The out-of-town scoreboard was not friendly to the Leafs on the night, with several teams behind them in the standings pulling out victories, but unable to gain any ground on the Leafs, who somehow find themselves closer to second place in the division than they do ninth place in the Conference.
I don't understand it, but it's sports. If you want fairness, or expected outcomes, go watch chess or pro wrestling. Recap below.
First thing I'll mention is the shot clock:
If you keep asking me, no, I do not believe that the Maple Leafs are so well-coached or well-positioned that they're dramatically affecting the quality of those shots against. I didn't count the scoring chance numbers for this game, but our friends over at Blue and White Disease have been doing it for most of the year, and generally when I've had a chance to look, the Leafs are behind more often in scoring chances than ahead.
But the goaltending has been outstanding, and Jonathan Bernier held the Maple Leafs in a scoreless first period, stopping two excellent shorthanded chances from Ondrej Palat. Palat may have been the best player on the ice in the first period, but Bernier came up big on a couple of chances. There was another excellent save made off of J.T. Brown, with Bernier getting some help from the goal post shifting over:
Toronto was particularly poor on the powerplay in the first period, which I didn't think was a prudent way to go about things. The way things go in the NHL, if you get three consecutive powerplays, just wait for the opposition to get the next two or three calls their way (they did). I assumed going in that the bulk of the offence would come from strong powerplays against weak penalty killing units, but that wasn't necessarily the case, but a missed opportunity in the first.
However, Toronto's offence came alive in the second, thanks to our young friend Nazem Kadri. At one point, the Leafs were out-shot 9-3 in the second period, with two of their shots being goals from Kadri. The first re-directed in off a defenceman, but the second was a little prettier, with Kadri making Victor Hedman look… well… let's just say an usher was reported to recover Hedman's jock in the third row of the upper deck midway through the period:
Worth noting: that Kadri goal came after a won defensive zone faceoff. Kadri was 7-of-7 on draws in the defensive zone on the night.
Tampa Bay caught up and tied the game 2-2, first on a Morgan Rielly turnover at the conclusion of a Toronto penalty kill, and again on a series of missed clearing attempts from Carl Gunnarsson, Kadri, and Rielly, leading to a pile up of bodies in front of Jonathan Bernier and an easy tap-in for Mark Barbeiro, who has hockey's most glorious hair right now.
Third period, the shots were 13-10 for the Lightning, but it could have been a lot more. It seemed like the teams were exchanging missed opportunities and a failure to put pucks on net from good areas. Tyler Bozak finally dislodged the puck from Radko Gudas' beard, and Phil Kessel had the patience to wait for James van Riemsdyk. The American Olympian made no mistake on the finish, although referee Dean Morton wanted to take a second look:
Probably just to confirm that "yes, that is Tyler Bozak starting a play in the offensive zone".
Play of the game came moments later, with Jonathan Bernier robbing Martin St. Louis point blank. No video yet, but trust me, it was excellent.
WHY THE LEAFS WON
Tampa Bay hit four posts in the second period (the NHL only credits them for three, but in that first highlight I linked, they credited J.T. Brown with a slap shot taken from 175 feet away, so they aren't exactly the most reliable statisticians) and Bernier made some key stops. Ben Bishop wasn't able to get into a rhythm early in the second period, so those tough saves came a little bit tougher when challenged by Kadri on two difficult shots.
But perhaps it's also thanks to Randy Carlyle's deal with the devil early in 2013. Toronto win a disproportionate number of games like this, and have a much better record in one goal games than they do in games decided by two goals or more. Theoretically, this is unsustainable, but they've been doing this for 100 games now to the point where there's no more theory involved. What we're seeing out of Toronto is something annoying for statistically-inclined people like myself, for one, but also dreadfully fun for people like myself who enjoy chaos and disorder.
Could go with Bernier here, but check out Nazem Kadri's stat line: two goals on six shots, 10-6 on faceoffs, eight attempted shots in a little over 18 minutes of ice-time. The only thing he didn't manage to do was draw a penalty.
NUMB3RS AND NOTES
Here's the Fenwick graph, counting up team unblocked shot totals over the course of the game. None too surprising here. Tampa got a good lead early and then pulled away:
Considering how hot the Bolts top line has been, and how many shots Tampa got in this game, I think it's worth giving credit to the way Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson handled the trio of Tyler Johnson, Martin St. Louis and Ondrej Palat. Palat tore it up in the first period, but settled down for the final 40 and Martin St. Louis was pretty quiet until the end. The Leafs were even, 9-9 in shots, with Phaneuf on the ice during the game. That's despite Phaneuf starting 11 shifts in the defensive zone (out of 17 5-on-5 defensive zone shifts for the Leafs total) and just four in the offensive zone.
The TSN team gave Tim Gleason a nod of approval for his game but I wasn't that big of a fan in all honesty. Him and Cody Franson combined for five blocked shots in the game, which is a positive to some people, but that led all Leafs defensive pairings (3-36 had three and 44-51 had none) and they spent more time having to defend despite some pretty easy zone starts and the matchup against the Bolts' second line.
Leafs Corsi leader on the night was Troy Bodie, on the ice for 10 attempts for and 5 against in his 7.6 minutes of ice-time. Please stay, prototypical fourth liner. We're sorry about the summer, where we implied you only got a job with the team because of nepotism.