Martin St. Louis tricks Leafs into thinking Lightning are good hockey team

Photo via Scott Audette/NHL Interactive

With three games left in the season, the Leafs not sending out their everyday lineup and ending up with a loss in Tampa Bay might have been a cause for concern. Not on this night. The concern here is that the Toronto Maple Leafs had no answer for a 37-year-old on Tampa Bay’s first line. The final scoreline read 5-2 for the BOLTS, who defeated the LEAFS on home ice.

Of course, the 37-year-old on Tampa Bay’s first line is a bit of a late bloomer. Martin St. Louis had a hat-trick and somebody finally replaced Sidney Crosby as the top scorer in the NHL so far. Crosby has been out for nearly a month, so the only thing certain is that whoever wins the scoring title will have their accomplishment marked with a big asterisk. If St. Louis ends up on the top, I assume that every player below him on the scoring leaderboard will also be marked with a “†”:


1: Martin St. Louis*
2: Sidney Crosby†
3: Steven Stamkos†
4: Phil Kessel†
5: John Tavares†

* – Got a bunch more games than Crosby
† – Yo, younger than 37

As for the game itself, other than St. Louis’ hat-trick, it was a pretty fun back-and-forth affair that got pretty tense in the third period, and more exciting. It’s been a while since the Leafs have rolled four lines that could skate. It was pretty big news in the pre-game that Randy Carlyle was going to take Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren from the lineup and replace them with Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin. A pretty good move if you ask me. Even if they didn’t end up with the “W”, it was apparent that the new-look fourth line was buzzing and looked like a unit that Carlyle could conceivably put together come playoffs.

Of course, after the game Carlyle also told reporters that Orr and McLaren were held out because they were banged up. Hmm… the shell game continues.

The other change the Leafs made was bringing in Mike Kostka to replace John-Michael Liles, which is interesting because that gave Carlyle two pairings that had two defencemen playing opposite sides: both Ryan O’Byrne and Kostka are right shooters, and both Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson are left shooters. For the first several games of the season, Carlyle had no pairing that deviated from the lefty-righty standard, but he transferred Phaneuf to his shooting side and he eventually settled with Gunnarsson.

So tonight, Gunnarsson played on Phaneuf’s left side, and Kostka played on the right side, his natural side, while Ryan O’Byrne went to the left instead of Jake Gardiner for some reason.

But the lineup changes did do something: helped the Leafs out-shoot an opponent for the first time in 11 games, which is nice. It was a pretty even game throughout, with Toronto taking an edge in possession and scoring chances and the Lightning would catch up as the game went on. As the game progressed it was clear that the Leafs just didn’t have an answer for Steven Stamkos. Last time around, Stamkos was on the ice for a single scoring chance for the Lightning, taken with :21 seconds to go. This time, the Leafs had difficulty getting the matchup against him.

Dion Phaneuf played 10.7 minutes against Stamkos and the Leafs allowed four chances in that span. If you think that looks bad, consider that Steven Stamkos got 5.4 minutes against everybody but Phaneuf and the Lightning got four scoring chances during that span. Phaneuf’s been playing around 24 minutes lately but his minutes were curtailed, as Carlyle said they would be, down to 21:08 in this game, and the Leafs generally struggled defensively with him off the ice.

With Phaneuf on the ice at even strength, the Leafs out-shot the Bolts 10-4. With Phaneuf off the ice at even strength, the Leafs were out-shot 16-18. These things aren’t always coincidences.

Meanwhile, what I found interesting on Tampa’s side was their second line centred by Vincent Lecavalier gave up seven scoring chances to the Leafs. That was a matchup against Toronto’s first line that I think the Bolts wanted: Lecavalier took 7 of his 14 draws against Tyler Bozak, and didn’t take more than 2 against any other Leaf. The Leafs first line controlled the first half of the game but didn’t get the bounces that Tampa’s did later on. That first line was involved in three scoring chances in the first period, resulting in two hit posts and a goal. James van Riemsdyk also hit a post with 4:46 to go in the second period.

The Bolts first line, 91-16-26, combined for four scoring chances after that post and scored three goals. One of those was an empty netter, and one was a bank off the boards. Thought it was awful nice of Vinny Lecavalier to make a nice difficult pass to St. Louis right at the end there so he could score the empty netter—I thought St. Louis would have gotten an assist if Lecavalier had scored on his own since St. Louis knocked the puck off of Phaneuf’s stick in the first place.

Might have to check the records, but I think this is the fifth time in the last six games that the Leafs were held to one or fewer scoring chances with Nazem Kadri on the ice. Something is probably bugging him. I’ll get something up on that later tonight (Wednesday) or more likely Thursday morning.

Not sure what else to go over. Rough outing for James Reimer, lit up for 4 goals on 22 even strength shots which is quite uncharacteristic for him. Did think it was pretty funny in the first intermission during The Quiz when Aaron Ward cited “playoff experience” when choosing Carey Price over Reimer. His argument was that he knew Price could win in the playoffs since Price stole the series for the Habs against Ward’s Bruins in 2008. Going into that series of course, Price was an untested playoff goaltender without a minute to his credit.

Ben Scrivens will go in tomorrow, and I’d give him a start on Saturday against Montreal too, just to give Reimer a bit of rest because the Leafs will need to heavily bank on him in the post-season. If this was indeed James’ last regular season start of the season, I wouldn’t worry for him going in. There are a host of goalies with no playoff experience who performed excellently and met every unreasonable expectation. 10 years ago Wednesday, Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 60 saves on 63 shots in a quintuple overtime win over Dallas in the first game of Round 2.

Giguere only had four games of previous playoff experience: all of those games were wins over the Detroit Red Wings in a huge first-round upset. Experience is nice because if you have an experienced playoff goaltender, you very likely cheer for a good team that’s been to the playoffs a lot in recent years. It isn’t a pre-cursor to success and I’d expect the playoff Leafs to play every bit like the regular season Leafs.

And… if you’ve read my analyses of the regular season Leafs, that’s a problem.

Individual scoring chances:

TARANNA Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Tyler Bozak 6 5 1
James van Riemsdyk 4 2 2
Phil Kessel 5 5 0
Nazem Kadri 1 1 0
Joffrey Lupul 2 5 -3
Nik Kulemin 0 2 -2
Mikhail Grabovski 1 3 -2
Jay McClement 1 2 -1
Leo Komarov 1 1 0
Joe Colborne 5 4 1
Clarke MacArthur 7 3 4
Matt Frattin 6 3 3
Dion Phaneuf 3 5 -2
Carl Gunnarsson 3 5 -2
Ryan O’Byrne 5 2 3
Mike Kostka 5 2 3
Cody Franson 5 5 0
Mark Fraser 5 5 0
TAMPA BAY Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Steven Stamkos 8 3 5
Teddy Purcell 6 3 3
Martin St. Louis 8 4 4
Vincent Lecavalier 3 7 -4
Alex Killorn 2 8 -6
Richard Panik 2 8 -6
Tom Pyatt 0 1 -1
Dana Tyrell 1 1 0
Benoit Pouliot 0 2 -2
Nate Thompson 3 1 2
BJ Crombeen 1 0 1
Pierre-Cedric Labrie 2 1 1
Sami Salo 2 4 -2
Victor Hedman 3 5 -2
Eric Brewer 5 4 1
Matt Carle 6 6 0
Keith Aulie 3 3 0
Radko Gudas 5 4 1

Team totals:

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


LeafsNation Three Stars:

  1. Martin St. Louis
  2. Steven Stamkos
  3. Clarke MacArthur

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    • I think it had more to do with Tampa’s top line playing a great game. Without them on the ice the Leafs played a real good game. That is to say, if the Leafs had been able to get the matchup ~they~ wanted, they probably would have won.

      But yeah, there’s some irony, but I’m consistent all year in not paying too much attention to results in a small sample. The Leafs out-played the Lightning through most of the game and it was fun to watch. The result didn’t really matter from the get-go.

  • If St. Louis wins the scoring race (and it looks like he probably will), he must be the oldest person to ever win it, right? Who might be next? Just doing a little quick research and it looks Gordie Howe is the current record-holder, winning his last scoring title at 34. Closest are Phil Esposito at 32 and Gretzky at 33.

  • Even Kadri’s scoring chancers were down. I think Carlyle has been keeping the enforcers off Kadri’s line and the results you point out is the outcome. It won’t be long before the big boys will get more ice time to spur on the leafs.