“At least the food was free” – Leafs crush Pens 5-2

That was one hell of a game.

The Toronto Maple Leafs played Pittsburgh tough four times last season, but didn’t string together a performance like this one playing at Hockey’s Mecca. The Leafs came out strong, and despite falling down 1-0 in the first on a bit of a softie past James Reimer, battled back to take the lead twice in the second period, pulling away in the third, eventually finishing off with a 5-2 win. 

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The themes from this game may be discipline and defence, but the Leafs’ big weapon in this one was James Reimer, who faced a piles of shots, many of them scoring chances, in this game. We can get to that below…

-19-14 the scoring chances for Pittsburgh in this one. That’s not entirely due to score effects, in fact, Toronto got three late ones thanks to a late 5-on-3. Even strength alone, the scoring chances were less generous to the Leafs. I have those at 13-7 for Pittsburgh. In score-close, 5-on-5 situations, it was a 9-5 advantage for Pittsburgh. 

-So there’s no doubt in my mind the first star was James Reimer. He wasn’t credited for a save early in the third where Pascal Dupuis’ failed wraparound gave Chris Kunitz a wide-open chance, but he fired it right into James Reimer’s pad. Reimer didn’t make the effort to move his pad over, but a lot of broadcasters misinterpret movement for talent. Oftentimes the goaltender does right just by positioning his body correctly, and Reimer’s long legs put him in good position to make that stop, his core strength keeping him postured up. I’m no goalie coach, but the talent for goaltenders is making the save.

-Sidney Crosby was a bit of a jerk at the end, lipping off to the linesman after an offside call and the ensuing face-off, and I believe being the reason the Penguins were called for a bench minor which gave the Leafs a late 5-on-3. Still, he played a fantastic game, taking a pair of scoring chances, including Pittsburgh’s second goal, and setting up four. 

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-I was curious as to how the Leafs would navigate a potential matchup of Nazem Kadri on Sidney Crosby, but it looked like Dan Bylsma was content enough to let the lines go power-on-power, second-on-second, and third-on-third. Ray Ferraro commented that the match ups Bylsma went with early on were what Randy Carlyle would be happy with if Toronto got last change and I tend to agree. The Leafs were definitely overmatched and it showed late in the second and third periods as the Penguins started juggling their lines and the Leafs failed to keep up.

-Didn’t go through zone start numbers for the third period because my notebook was already a bit of a mess, but I did check to make sure that Nazem Kadri was never sent out for a defensive zone face-off in this one. That was the right call by Carlyle, as he needs to keep his shifts sheltered until he’s adjusted to the pace of the NHL game. Starting in the offensive zone helped him draw the Sutter matchup, since Bylsma wasn’t going to give Crosby a tonne of defensive zone starts.

-Later in the game the Leafs started using Jay McClement, Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin when out against Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Worked a heck of a lot better than in the first period when Carlyle unwittingly sent out his fourth line in the defensive zone. Bylsma matched by pairing Sidney and Evgeni for the first time in the game, and miraculously the Leafs got out unscathed. 

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-In the second period, there was a sequence when that unit, with Colton Orr and Mike Brown, was caught on the ice after an icing penalty. This time, Crosby and Malkin came out with James Neal, who proceeded to tally four scoring chances in the next :15 seconds, Reimer making big stops off of all of them. NHL.com put some of the highlights online:

-Also a factor in that sequence, team defence and forechecking, at least probably according to a lazy reporter: 

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-Like the Jason Pominville winner a couple of nights ago, the Leafs benefit, somehow, from that sequence, with James van Riemsdyk scoring a couple of minutes after the crazy sustained pressure from the Penguins. First of two on the night, on a beautiful pass from Nik Kulemin, who continues to play well.

-I thought earlier today that Dion Phaneuf might have to play 30 minutes for the Leafs to have a chance, and I was wrong. John-Michael Liles, to the eye, had a fairly good game. I’ll have to tally up scoring chance plus-minus numbers to get a good sense of where the added help came from, but the TSN broadcast lauded Phaneuf at the conclusion of the broadcast for good reason. He played with several partners in all situations. Now if the Leafs worked out that powerplay he may be able to get something going offensively. 

-Actually, Phaneuf didn’t play in all situations. Through the first two periods, him and Mike Kostka had started shifts exclusively in the offensive and neutral zones. Carl Gunnarsson and Mike Komisarek of all people had the bulk of the defensive zone starts, usually with the Grabovski line, usually against Malkin’s unit. I’ll have to check scoring chance numbers, but I don’t think Komisarek was lucky enough to be just a minus-four at evens in scoring chances in this one. Somehow, he was a +3 in the actual game, which I’m sure was totally undeserved. 

-The penalty-kill looks good. They’re playing the points tighter and not fronting. Having two guys who can win face-offs also helps. Carlyle has found another use for Tyler Bozak. 

-The powerplay looks bad. They generated seven chances, but five of those were 5-on-3. Again, the single goal at the end of the game from Bozak.

-Didn’t notice too much of Jake Gardiner, which has to be a good thing. He played mostly with John-Michael Liles, primarily in offensive situations and his ice-time was fairly limited in the third period. He was the only defenceman the Leafs dressed who didn’t spend time on the penalty-kill, and I think the Leafs’ performance in that aspect may have been the key to their victory. Well, that and the play of James Reimer.

-Joffrey Lupul was hurt in this one. Broken forearm, apparently. Got hit with a shot from Dion Phaneuf. That stings for him, and for the Leafs, because they aren’t exactly brimming with scoring wingers. I have to think van Riemsdyk or MacArthur will get a tryout on that top line. Not the biggest Lupul fan here, but that’s a bummer for him.

-Again, 19 scoring chances against Toronto tonight. Some reporters and broadcasters will credit defence, but the main reason the Leafs won this one was goaltending.

Leafs individual scoring chance performances:

  Chances Taken Set Up Total
Clarke MacArthur 3 1 4
Phil Kessel 3 1 4
Dion Phaneuf 2   2
James van Riemsdyk 2   2
Nik Kulemin 1 1 2
Mikhail Grabovski 1 1 2
Tyler Bozak 1   1
Mike Kostka 1   1
Nazem Kadri   1 1

Penguins’ individual:

  Chances Taken Set Up Total
Sidney Crosby 2 4 6
James Neal 4 1 5
Evgeni Malkin 2 1 3
Brandon Sutter 2   2
Tyler Kennedy 2   2
Chris Kunitz 1 1 2
Simon Despres 1 1 2
Matt Niskanen 1   1
Paul Martin 1   1
Pascal Dupuis 1   1
Matt Cooke 1   1
Eric Tangradi 1   1
Kris Letang   1 1

Team breakdown:

  1st 2nd 3rd Total
TOR (EV) 2 (2) 7 (3) 5 (2) 14 (7)
PIT (EV) 4 (2) 8 (7) 7 (4) 19 (13)

Three Stars

  1. James Reimer
  2. James van Riemsdyk
  3. Evgeni Malkin

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