Excellent photo via Abelimages and NHL Interactive via Getty
Most of the times I’ve written a game recap this season, I’ve taken to this space to write how, despite the victory, the Leafs played the game with underlying problems. Those don’t go over well.
Nobody, when the team is winning, wants to read about the team not doing enough to win, or not winning the right way, or winning in a way that they shouldn’t keep winning.
Thursday night it was the reverse. The Toronto Maple Leafs played well enough to win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their first two periods, they played the best game defensively I’ve seen all season, limiting the Penguins shots, scoring chances, and preventing every Penguins line that didn’t have Sidney Crosby on it from establishing itself in the offensive zone. Tyler Bozak put the Leafs ahead on a pretty goal set up by a pretty pass from Cody Franson who got the puck on a pretty bit of patience from Phil Kessel. That wasn’t enough. For the second straight game, the Penguins scored three goals in the final 8 minutes, and won the game 3-1.
-As I mentioned, the Leafs controlled the scoring chances in this game. I had them at 12-10 for the Leafs at 5-on-5, and 13-11 total. According to timeonice, the Leafs out-shot the Penguins 25-22 at even strength, were +7 in unblocked shot differential. Most of Pittsburgh’s zone time was restricted to outside attempts. When they did get inside for a shot, which was a rare event, they generally got a good shot away but Ben Scrivens played a calm game and prevented rebounds for much of it. He can’t be blamed for what happened in the end, and had a hand in how it started.
-And it was Sidney Crosby. As much as Joe Bowen was talking about how the Leafs had done against the Crosby line, he played an absolutely exciting, power-on-power matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top line. The Penguins had 8 scoring chances when Crosby was on the ice. He set up three attempts and took two more. Pascal Dupuis had a game high 13 shot attempts on the night.
-It was the same for the Leafs’ top line. The Leafs got six scoring chances with Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and/or Phil Kessel on the ice. Bozak and van Riemsdyk had 4 and 3 shots on goal respectively. Kessel didn’t take a lot of shots, but I have him down setting up an attempt and he also whizzed a puck wide of Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove in the first period. I thought they were a pretty dangerous group even if they didn’t get on the scoresheet, and much of the game’s offence happened when both lines were on the ice. Damn the torpedoes, play hockey and don’t worry about defence. Where we’re going, we don’t need defence.
-I was curious to see how the second and third lines would work out with the switch in centremen, but Mikhail Grabovski, playing a reduced role quality of competition-wise, had an excellent game offensively. Nazem Kadri didn’t get a lot going offensively, although he did have that excellent chance set up by van Riemsdyk in the third that was his best opportunity to score. He also drew two penalties. At last Behind the Net update on March 11, Kadri had drawn 13 penalties, fourth in the league behind Dustin Brown, Claude Giroux and Alex Ovechkin. I’ll post an updated list once we have another update from that site, but that’s one of the best parts of Kadri’s game: he doesn’t shy away from contact, but he goes down quite easily when he is hit. That’s not a problem. Dustin Brown has been gaming the system for years and referees are still letting him get away with it.
-How about that Leo Komarov breakaway late in the game? I don’t think much of Marc-Andre Fleury, but he played a heck of a game against the Leafs, arguably keeping Pittsburgh in the game through the first two periods. Roles reversed this time around, it seems. Komarov was on the ice with Jay McClement and Grabovski for a defensive zone face-off, in a role normally given to Nik Kulemin. He capitalized on a broken stick by Brooks Orpik and got a great shot away. Unfortunately, Fleury did what he had done all game.
-Komarov was on the ice for five chances for the Leafs and zero for Pittsburgh. That’s especially impressive since his line played against the Brandon Sutter-James Neal-Beau Bennett line. With Evgeni Malkin last time around, that line absolutely torched the Leafs. Not so much here, as you can see below, Toronto dominated that matchup.
-You know who didn’t dominate their matchup? Dion Phaneuf and Korbinian Holzer. Phaneuf was +3/-8 in chances on the night, most of the -8s coming against Sidney Crosby (all of them, actually). Crosby, who was on the ice for six Leafs scoring chances, saw four of those come against the Gunnarsson-John-Michael Liles pairing. The Leafs had a possession advantage with their second pairing on the ice.
-Weird, eh? Replace an AHL defenceman with an NHL defenceman and the defence gets better. I thought Liles contributed in lots of areas on the ice. He got involved offensively a couple of times and set up a van Riemsdyk scoring chance in the first period. A very good move replacing Mike Kostka with Liles, even if I was sort of “meh” on it earlier today.
-All that’s left is to replace Korbinian Holzer. The Phaneuf-Holzer pairing is an absolute firedrill. It should be qualified that Phaneuf played 15.6 of his 20.8 even strength minutes against Sidney Crosby, and Holzer played 11.9 of his 15.8 minutes against Crosby. Ugh. Lots of scoring chances against however.
-This goal is a thing of beauty: Great zone entry by Phil Kessel, great patience to wait for Cody Franson, who delivers a great pass to Tyler Bozak, who elevates the puck from a sharp angle. I think this is the best goal the Leafs have scored this season:
-Noticed that Dan Bylsma switched up Dustin Jeffrey and Brandon Sutter late in the game. Probably because their second and third lines were generating nothing. All Crosby line for the Penguins. They’re a different team without Malkin.
-Scoring chances for:
|TARANNA||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|James van Riemsdyk||6||10||-4|
|HOCKEY MECCA||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|Toronto (EV)||5 (4)||4 (4)||4 (4)||13 (12)|
|Pittsburgh (EV)||4 (4)||4 (3)||3 (3)||11 (10)|
LeafsNation Three Stars
- Sidney Crosby
- James van Riemsdyk
- John-Michael Liles