Staal’d – Leafs drop 4-1 Monday nighter to Carolina

Photo credit Abelimages via NHLInteractive

Now we’re into uncharted territory.

Phil Kessel had a handful of six-game goal-less stretches in his Maple Leafs career. He’s had seven and eight, even a nine-goal stretch, but this is the first time he’s gone ten. I don’t even know what to write in this space anymore. Early in the game, Alex Semin took away a surefire goal from the mouth. On a third period powerplay, Cam Ward slid across to rob him on an excellent Tyler Bozak set-up. There’s no rhyme or reason to why this continues. Kessel has been getting two or three A-grade opportunities per game, yet nothing’s working. No workmanlike goals, no shots, he’s hitting posts, crossbars, pads…

Carolina won, but it didn’t feel like they should have. It was a different variation of a common Maple Leafs-theme, where a Southeast division team blows out the Leafs in a midweek game at the Air Canada Centre. Except usually in those games they start poorly, and Toronto came out flying in this one, jumping on several Carolina turnovers but converted only once before the Canes settled in. After Matt Frattin scored to make it 1-0 Toronto, the Canes got four goals from four different goal scorers unanswered to win it by a 4-1 final. Analysis below.

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-Toronto was out-scored 4-1 in this game, but they won the scoring chances battle. Not convincingly, but I had them ahead 20-16 overall, 16-11 at even strength and 13-10 in even strength, score close situations.

-It was good to have Clarke MacArthur back, and he had a good game, but it wasn’t enough.

-Much of that came in the first period. The Leafs, but particularly the Nazem Kadri line, were flying early on. They were matched up against Kirk Muller’s third line in the early going and made a mess of several botched neutral zone passes and clearing attempts. By the time the Leafs had scored their first goal, they were up 6-0 in scoring chances and 9-2 in shots. Obviously, Carolina re-grouped from there. There was no “TSN Turning Point” or “Superbowl Blackout” moment, but the Canes responded by having better depth players and a more complete first line.

-Once the Canes slowed down the Leafs attack, they were able to chip away on the powerplay. There’s nothing wrong with the way Mike Kostka played Eric Staal on that first powerplay goal against, particularly since three Leafs got caught high, and if that puck is fired an inch to either side, it re-directs either wide or right into Reimer’s pad. That was an unlucky break. Jordan Staal’s opening goal was a rare defensive lapse from the Mikhail Grabovski line, where both Grabovski and Nik Kulemin were watching John-Michael Liles get beat and left Staal wide open in front.

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-Other than that transgression, I thought the second line matched up pretty well against Jordan Staal’s line. I didn’t think that would be the right matchup because it would leave the Kessel line vulnerable, but Grabovski was on the ice for six good chances for, three against, and Staal was on the ice for three chances for, eight against. It just so happens that two of the three “for” on Staal’s side went for goals, but that’s stuff you can’t predict in a one-game affair.

-Why doesn’t Phil Kessel go to the dirty areas like Matt Frattin? Well, check out this botched zone entry by Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk in the third period:

van Riemsdyk fell over as Bozak saw a defender ahead of him and dropped it backwards out of JvR’s reach. Kessel is the primary puck-carrier on that line, which means he’s the one who has to create the offence. Kessel’s at his best when he uses his speed to force the defence backwards, and he can shoot well from the circles to create chaos in front, but Bozak only went to the net a couple of times, registering a pair of chances (one set up from Kessel). van Riemsdyk had been very involved in the offence until this game.

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-Why does Frattin get to drive the net? Because Nazem Kadri is the primary puck-carrier. On the four even strength chances “for” the Leafs when Kadri was on the ice, he set up two of them and directed a third towards the net. The fourth was Frattin’s goal, where Kadri registered a traditional hockey assist. Kadri has to be involved a lot with that line, but if he cuts to the net, then he’s stuck with Frattin and Leo Komarov sharing the defensive responsibility, and I don’t think they can.

-On the Leafs’ defence, Dion Phaneuf and Mike Kostka were better than they have been. Their minutes were reduced from about 27 minutes to 24. They’re still an incomplete powerplay pairing, but I thought Phaneuf did a good job driving the play forward. Kostka made a couple of mistakes, particularly getting beat by Jeff Skinner on a play that ought to have led to a penalty shot.

-Korbinian Holzer and John-Michael Liles benefit from circumstance in the first period, on the ice for five chances “for” and one “against”, but in the second got caught on the ice a couple of times against Carolina’s top line, and based on the first period match ups, they were supposed to go up against the J. Staal line. On one occasion, they got caught out for the full beginning and end of a Randy Carlyle special, defined as an ill-advised moment to bring on the fourth line.

-That particular shift came early in the second with the score 1-1. Carlyle sent out Jay McClement, Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr to face off Tim Brent, Kevin Westgarth and Tim Wallace in the defensive zone. Not an awful matchup, but Orr quickly threw a hit instead of making a clear and the Hurricanes regained possession, were able to hold the puck in and bring their top line out. Carolina had three chances in that sequence as Liles and Holzer were stuck out on the ice for 2:06.

-Cody Franson and Mark Fraser had another strong game against weak competition. They’re not flashy, but the play is in the right end of the ice when they’ve been paired up together for the last few games. They’re an acceptable third pairing, although I think Franson should get some more powerplay time.

-Indubitably Carlyle’s worst decision on the night came early in the third period. The Canes third line had iced the puck against the Kessel unit, who were due for a shift off. Rather than going to the Kadri line, who had dominated Carolina’s third line in the first period with fresh legs, Carlyle went to his modified second line, with Jay McClement in Clarke MacArthur’s spot. That’s Carlyle’s defensive specialty unit, out against a group of tired scorers in their own end. It was 3-1 for the Hurricanes at that point, and a pretty indefensible move by the Leafs’ coach.

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-James Reimer and Cam Ward were both good enough to win. They both played well in the first period that was full of breakdowns. Goaltending didn’t make the difference there. Two bad bounces while shorthanded did.

Scoring chances. 5-on-5 only is counted:

TORONTO Chances For Chances Vs. Differential
Tyler Bozak 4 2 2
James van Riemsdyk 6 3 3
Phil Kessel 3 3 0
Mikhail Grabovski 6 3 3
Clarke MacArthur 6 3 3
Nik Kulemin 6 3 3
Nazem Kadri 4 3 1
Matt Frattin 6 3 3
Leo Komarov 4 3 1
Jay McClement 1 3 -2
Colton Orr 1 2 -1
Frazer McLaren 1 2 -1
Dion Phaneuf 5 4 1
Mike Kostka 6 4 2
John-Michael Liles 6 7 -1
Korbinian Holzer 6 6 0
Cody Franson 4 1 3
Mark Fraser 5 0 5
CAROLINA Chances For Chances Vs. Differential
Eric Staal 5 3 2
Jiri Tlusty 3 2 1
Alex Semin 5 4 1
Jordan Staal 3 8 -5
Patrick Dwyer 3 8 -5
Jeff Skinner 5 8 -3
Jussi Jokinen 2 3 -1
Drayson Bowman 2 3 -1
Chad LaRose 2 3 -1
Tim Brent 1 3 -2
Kevin Westgarth 1 0 1
Tim Wallace 1 1 0
Tim Gleason 4 8 -4
Justin Faulk 4 10 -6
Jamie McBain 3 6 -3
Joni Pitkanen 3 6 -3
Bobby Sanguinetti 4 1 3
Jay Harrison 4 2 2

Team breakdown:

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  1st 2nd 3rd Total
Carolina (even strength) 5 (4) 7 (6) 4 (1) 16 (11)
Toronto (even strength) 9 (9) 4 (4) 7 (3) 20 (16)

Leafs Nation Three Stars:

  1. Eric Staal
  2. Cam Ward
  3. Mikhail Grabovski

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  • 1. Leafs are having trouble generating offense. They are getting secondary scoring (kadri and grabbo line) but they are getting very little primary scoring (kessel) and of course none from the goon lines.

    2. The same two lines (kessel and the goon line) are also terrible at puck possession/defense. Granted kadri gets easy competition but as a rookie that is expected.

    I’m not sure why we excuse the kessel line so easily for their weak defensive play. Granted that line’s job is not to defend but rather to score goals but they are not doing that well. The goon line is just bad at hockey – both defence and offence. That said, I don’t discount Kessel’s effort to score goals or play defensively. Nor do I doubt the goon lines effort in preventing and scoring goals either. But currently their in game results are about equivalent with the big difference is the Kessel line has the potential to play well at least offensively, while the goon line are only expected to punch in faces. That said, both of those line are sucking though to be fair the goon line is actually doing its job of punching in faces so I can’t say I am disappointed by their performance. I can’t say that the Kessel line has been effective to date. The guy sure generates lots of chances but that doesn’t do much if the leafs keep losing and the line doesn’t produce.

    3. Kostka like Schenn, Aulie and Komisarek gets caught by fast skaters. Aulie maybe a little less because he had such a long reach but the Kostka’s shine is starting to wear off. That said, why has Gardiner never worked as a the top line pairing with Phaneuf.

  • Luongo is single-handedly winning the Canucks games while the Leafs continue to lose to the same mediocre teams they need to best in order to get a playoff berth. Way to go Nonis! The Leafs will be golfing early again this year because for a supposedly hockey-savvy city they place a surpisingly low value on having a true number one goaltender.

  • I’m still think Kostka gets a bad rap here. Ok the guy is not a #1D. But where is the mention of how Liles gets beat out on two icings? Liles had more time then Kostka. Liles was on the ice for bad goal by leaving the front of the net to join Holzer in the corner. Here is another data point. Kostka has the most points on the leaf defense.

    Now I’m not really a fan of Kostka but please find a better goat then him to blame all the leaf troubles. Obviously Kessel and Phaneuf are tabboo. But this kind of talk gets as bad as Healyisms on HNIC.