Firewagon Hockey: Leafs hang on for 3-2 win over Panthers

Photo via Abelimages/NHLInteractive

All that matters after the conclusion of this game is that the Toronto Maple Leafs are six points clear of the ninth place team in the Eastern Conference, have a decided advantage in the all important “wins” and “regulation or overtime wins” tiebreaker, and at the very least are poised to flirt with important games in mid-April, even if every game down the stretch is doomed to be a nail biter filled with mistakes, errors, lapses, goofs and blunders.

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Every time Dion Phaneuf gives fans on a breakout pass resulting in a breakaway. Every time Nazem Kadri’s drop pass finds a player jersey. All those small events, that have been passed off as “well, that’s just those Leafs” for the last eight seasons are elevated in importance. This is what it feels like, Leafs fans. This is what it’s like to cheer for a team that really has a shot, if you’ve forgotten the feeling. A late-game scoring chance against and your heart sinks a little deeper, and somehow, it doesn’t stop beating like a leaky faucet after the puck has been covered and the game has been stopped.

Toronto won a Tuesday night game against an inferior Southeast Division opponent to pick up two points in the thick of a playoff race. They looked bad while doing it, but three quarters of the way through the season, who cares anymore?

-The Leafs came out very flat but jump started themselves midway through the second period. Down 1-0 to the Panthers, Colton Orr came off the bench and pounded in the face of Florida tough guy Drew Sarcastapuncher. Defeated, Sarcastapuncher went to the Florida dressing room, his face bloodied, and that whole incident rallied the Toronto bench. The Leafs got a goal from Dion Phaneuf soon after, and got 5 of the next 6 scoring chances, and controlled the play for the rest of the game.

-Except that didn’t actually happen. Well, the Leafs did control the play between 1:31 of the second period and the :22 second mark of the third period, they did get a goal from Phaneuf, a string of consecutive scoring chances and inspired play from three lines. They didn’t seem to need noted facepuncher Colton Orr to do it. In fact, Florida didn’t dress a tough guy, which meant Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren were essentially useless. Those two played a combined 7:32 and no shifts in the third period.

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-With that out of the way, let’s discuss things that mattered:

-As bad as the Leafs looked in the first period, getting out-shot 16-7 and spending a hefty amount of ice-time recoiling in front of Ben Scrivens, scoring chance numbers were more generous to the Leafs. The Panthers’ fourth line got a few scoring chances but generally the play was kept outside the perimeter. Of course, that’s no guarantee that keeping shots to the outside or from non-dangerous areas means you won’t prevent goals against if you keep giving up shots. I’d estimate about a quarter of goals come on shots that aren’t considered scoring chances, and that happened to the Leafs in the first. Florida kept hammering and hammering 

-No zone entry data for Toronto, so I can’t back this up with data, but what it looked like Florida was doing to trap up the Leafs’ offence was to keep their defencemen well back in the neutral zone and force the Leafs to carry the puck rather than generate speed off the puck with the stretch pass. Eventually, chip-and-chase took over, but until the Leafs adjusted to the trap, this was a terribly boring hockey game. Was pleasantly surprised to see how effective the Toronto forecheck was tonight—even if the Panthers are battered and beaten, all of their good defencemen except for Mike Weaver were in the lineup. Ryan Hamilton, Mikhail Grabovski, even Joffrey Lupul, were able to dislodge pucks using the body and just forcing pucks behind the net.

-The problem with giving up possession that way is that you give up possession a lot, so when you don’t recover the puck, the other team gets a chance to set up an organized rush the other way, and Florida had no problems gaining the Toronto line tonight. This is indicated by the shot clock discrepancies. Even if the puck possession held by the Panthers didn’t lead to a big scoring chance advantage, it did cause some nervous moments late in the period after Toronto went up 3-2. The Panthers fired 76 shot attempts at the Toronto net, while the Leafs responded with just 54 against Jakob Markstrom.

-Ben Scrivens was good. Neither Florida goal counted as a scoring chance, and neither bank was on him, the first going off Mark Fraser and the second going off Mike Kostka. Shawn Matthias hit a post and missed the net on a Grade-A third period chance, but the Panthers directed 12 scoring chances on Scrivens, all of which were turned away. He’s looking a lot better too. No dropped rebounds or glaring puck-handling errors, as he’s getting more used to the NHL pace of play.

-The big story here was perhaps Joffrey Lupul rejoining Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel and scoring two goals. As good as that line was after being put together, I thought Kessel had one of his best all-around games of the season, particularly from a defensive and playmaking aspect. Kessel set up two chances in the first period, and five chances overall in the game. Two went to defencemen, and that’s encouraging to me since Kessel seems like the only Leafs player who can really see the whole ice. He can’t pass and skate at the same time, but he’s the best player on the team at either individual talent. When he comes in with speed over the line and stops, the defender almost always goes too far, creating a huge gap and as long as there’s someone to join Kessel in the zone, he’ll be in a dangerous area.

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-Just going through the data, the 42-81-21 line were on the ice for four scoring chances for the Leafs and one against, while the 42-81-19 line were on the ice for four chances “for” but also four “against”. Put together for the first time since Lupul’s long injury, the second half of this game was a real indication of the firewagon brand of hockey Randy Carlyle totally doesn’t like to play. It’s dangerous, but it’s damn fun to watch.

-Thought it was interesting that Carlyle threw Bozak, Lupul and Kessel over the boards to kill the final :50 seconds of the game. I expect that Carlyle wanted to get Lupul a hat-trick, because there was no indication that line was playing any sense of conservative hockey. I can understand having Bozak, in case there’s an icing and you want to win a faceoff. Dion Phaneuf prevented a zone entry, which killed a few seconds, but Florida did eventually get set up right at the end of play, but didn’t get an attempt away. Great defence, boys!

-Seriously, it was.

-Now that Nazem Kadri is more comfortable against top six competition, Randy Carlyle has backed off hard matchups. There’s still some semblance of a play, i.e.: Mikhail Grabovski played a lot of minutes in the first against Jonathan Huberdeau, but players won’t play 70% of the game against a single line anymore. Huberdeau ended up playing 7 of his 15 minutes at evens against Bozak and 4 against Grabovski. There’s some defensive matchups—Dion Phaneuf played primarily against Marcel Goc, but otherwise the Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson pairings rotated between the other guys on the ice.

-Speaking of firewagon hockey, Mike Kostka is a train wreck in his own end alongside Jake Gardiner, but they sure are useful on the right side of centre. Four shots for Kostka and another by Gardiner in this one, and they were on the ice for six chances for the Leafs. Don’t, uh, look at the “chances against” column from this game or the last for that pairing.

-Phaneuf was rough to start, but after the Leafs took the 3-2 lead, he had seven shifts, and no scoring chances against. Carl Gunnarsson played five shifts (one chance), Cody Franson played five shifts (one chance), Kostka played five shifts (one chance) Mark Fraser played five shifts (one chance) and Gardiner played just four (two chances). When it counted, the defensive game was there for Dion. Could be randomness, but it’s important that he did play effective hockey in those high leverage situations.

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-All night, Greg Millen was pronouncing Jonathan Huberdeau’s name “Hoo-bah-doe”. That’s a step above Sportsnet’s junior hockey guys, who called him “Hoo-bah-doo” throughout his career with the Saint John Sea Dogs. As a French guy though, I don’t see how hard it is to say “ewe-bear-doe” accenting EV-ER-Y syllable. If you feel weird not pronouncing the “H”, then call him “hue-bear-doh”. It is not a tough name to pronounce.

-Leafs need more French guys.

-Individual scoring chance differentials:

  Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Tyler Bozak 8 5 3
James van Riemsdyk 4 6 -2
Phil Kessel 8 9 -1
Nazem Kadri 2 4 -2
Joffrey Lupul 5 6 -1
Nik Kulemin 2 1 1
Mikhail Grabovski 2 3 -1
Matt Frattin 2 2 0
Ryan Hamilton 3 0 3
Jay McClement 0 1 -1
Colton Orr 0 1 -1
Frazer McLaren 0 1 -1
Dion Phaneuf 2 4 -2
Carl Gunnarsson 2 3 -1
Jake Gardiner 6 8 -2
Mike Kostka 6 6 0
Cody Franson 4 3 1
Mark Fraser 4 2 2
  Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Marcel Goc 2 2 0
Tomas Fleischmann 3 4 -1
Tomas Kopecky 2 2 0
Jonathan Huberdeau 5 5 0
Mike Santorelli 4 7 -3
Shawn Matthias 5 7 -2
Drew Shore 2 3 -1
Quinton Howden 2 2 0
Peter Mueller 2 3 -1
Greg Rallo 4 0 4
Scottie Upshall 4 0 4
Jerred Smithson 4 1 3
Dmitry Kulikov 5 3 2
Filip Kuba 2 3 -1
Tyson Strachan 9 4 5
Brian Campbell 8 4 4
Erik Gudbranson 1 5 -4
Colby Robak 1 5 -4

-Team totals:

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  1st 2nd 3rd Total
Toronto (EV) 4 (4) 6 (4) 5 (4) 15 (12)
Florida (EV) 4 (3) 4 (4) 6 (6) 14 (13)


LeafsNation Three Stars

  1. Phil Kessel
  2. Ben Scrivens
  3. Brian Campbell

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  • CheezWhizard

    I don’t know why people have such a hard time understanding the leafs success – it is all coaching. Sure goaltending has been there but Fenwick and PDO doesn’t matter when it comes to leafs because of how well Carlyle coaches.

  • Another nice blog Cam,

    The leafs did look shaky out there, but for the first time in 8 years i do have high hopes for playoff hockey. The Leafs actually have a goaltending duo that can steal games. Reimer and Scrivens, not that you would expect that from 2 inexperienced goaltenders, but they are getting the job done night in and night out. Its a big improvment from past years of Toskala and Raycroft. lol

    The Leafs now have a favourable schedule to close out the season. No more Bruins, only 1 more game against Montreal, no more Penguins (thank god). Most of the schedule is against teams below them which are winable games and games that need to be won. They are in total control of their fate.

    I will tell you this, if the standing stay how they are, i wouldn’t mind seeing a Jets/Leafs first round series :):)