November 21 2013 08:48PM
It's a prickle with small sample size, and one that's not questioned as much as it should be. Remember earlier this season when James Reimer was 8-1-1 in his career against the Ottawa Senators, before laying a massive egg on the Air Canada Centre ice? The major narrative of this game propped out on the Fox Sports South broadcast was Jonathan Bernier's previous dominance against Nashville: 8-1-0, a .941 save percentage and two shutouts, including one this season.
Jonathan Bernier wasn't the reason the Maple Leafs lost at home to the Predators tonight, but he wasn't at his best, and the Leafs need their goaltenders to be at their best every night if they expect to win the way they've been out-shot this season. Bernier has 11 games of .919 or better in his 13 starts this season, Reimer has had 6 in his 8—that counts the Carolina game as a Bernier start. That wasn't the case against Nashville, and… hey. A lot had to go right for the Predators tonight as well.
Craig Smith, who has scored on 7.1% of the 311 shots he's taken in career, scored two goals on four. Matt Cullen, who is at the tail-end of a long, distinguished career as a checking centreman, recorded his first four-point since December 15 of 2002. It was one of "those" nights all around, and Toronto wound up on the wrong side of a 4-2 scoreline.
November 21 2013 10:58AM
I guess the big news of the day is that the Maple Leafs sent down Carter Ashton, opening up a roster spot for the eventual return of Tyler Bozak. It's a paper transaction that doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot, but one more excuse for me to quibble with the way the bottom six have been put together and deployed so far this season. Carter Ashton, in my view, has been the best non-scoring winger the Leafs have had. His speed and forechecking ability has really cut down on other teams' ability to exit the zone cleanly, and the turnover and giveaway problems that the Leafs have had all season in their own end seem magically apparent on the other side with Ashton on the ice.
That said… he's the one who is waiver-ineligible, and you can't expose a guy like Frazer McLaren to waivers, since guys like Frazer McLaren are never on waivers, and teams are just chomping at the bit to get those types of players.
The other big piece of news is that Jonathan Bernier, who shut out Nashville earlier this season, will be the starting goalie, and if you have a problem with the way the goalies are being used this season, even if the starts are favouring one guy in the tandem, you're really missing the forest for the trees. Toronto's 2nd in the league in save percentage both overall and at 5-on-5, behind only Boston. There's no reason to complain there. Nashville is in town tonight.
November 19 2013 08:42PM
After a few dormant games, the Toronto Maple Leafs offence finally came alive—games against the New York Islanders are usually good for that. Phil Kessel, sitting out yesterday's practice with the flu, and noticed wearing tape on his lower hand, scored two goals for Toronto, because Phil Kessel is a wonderful human that plays wonderful hockey, and has now scored at least one goal with four different centremen so far this season.
It wasn't the cleanest game the Leafs have played this season, with both teams making some sloppy plays in the neutral and offensive zones, but ultimately Toronto made good on the relatively few scoring chances they had, taking the lead 22 seconds into the game and never relinquishing it, despite a nervous moment in the third, the Maple Leafs convincingly won 5-2.
November 19 2013 12:29PM
The New York Islanders came into a season with heightened expectations after a strong second half last season that saw them claim their first playoff berth since 2007. They made a few roster changes, adding Cal Clutterbuck, Peter Regin, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard to round out a strong top nine that includes John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey. Early on in the season, they traded unrestricted free agent-to-be Matt Moulson in exchange for unrestricted free agent-to-be Thomas Vanek.
Naturally, all these changes have resulted in an overwhelming amount of success on Long Island, yes?
Well, not exactly.
November 18 2013 11:02AM
David Clarkson hasn't necessarily been under attack, but we can say that people are beginning to question the things Clarkson can do on the ice. I don't necessarily think he's been all that bad in his first few games as a Leaf. He's leading the team in most puck-possession categories, has had a few scoring chances and unfortunately finds himself goal-less in mid-November, something that could have been impossible to forecast back in July when he signed his long contract.
Clarkson now has 10 games under his belt, and he has just three assists in those games. A 10-game goal-less slump doesn't particularly bother me. Players slump, they don't get the bounces, whatever, but what does have me worried is that Clarkson is just shooting at 2.0 shots per game. He's a high-volume, low-percentage shooter who was 43rd in shots per game among forwards between 2010 and the end of the shortened 2013 campaign. So what's happened?