Back on March 24 2009, Curtis Joseph came in to the game with 57 seconds at the end of regulation after starter Martin Gerber got tossed. Joseph, then in a 2-2 game, made 9 saves, most of the highlight-reel variety, and Toronto would wind up winning in a shootout 3-2. Joseph was named the first star.
Jonathan Bernier may have replicated that one on Saturday night. After James Reimer uncharacteristically got pulled (in 38 starts last season, he was pulled just three times, including the game he was taken out for injury) after allowing four goals and two in quick succession, Bernier came in, stopping 15 pucks, plus two more in the shootout, and ultimately leading the Leafs to a 5-4 comeback win against the Ottawa Senators in the first Battle of Ontario game of the season.
It was a wild, wild game at the Air Canada Centre for the home opener. Mason Raymond got the Leafs on the board first after converting an excellent pass from David Bolland. The Senators would strike quickly on two occasions, the first coming midway through the period when Kyle Turris’ line danced around Cody Franson and Morgan Rielly, paired together for the first time in their careers. Turris converted a pass from Jared Cowen. On Franson and Rielly’s next shift, again Turris made a move around Rielly and after a few Leafs missed their checks, Cory Conacher banged one home from in tight.
Nazem Kadri scored on the powerplay on a great pass from Raymond to make the score to tie it before the first period was out. Despite the four goals on 25 shots, both goalies actually looked pretty good. Both teams brought it on offence with forwards on either side preferring to skate the puck straight at defenders. There was little attempt to chip-and-chase.
In the second, midway through, Cowen, and then Jason Spezza, struck quickly against Reimer, and he was pulled. Joffrey Lupul scored a powerplay goal just before the period was out, and the game was tied in the third period on a great play by James van Riemsdyk set up by Phil Kessel in the defensive zone:
From there, we got a couple of great saves from Jonathan Bernier, including this dandy off of Spezza, as the Leafs failed three straight times to clear the zone with control starting at the 11-minute mark of the third. Bernier’s sequence most likely saved the Leafs a point:
In the overtime, David Bolland was hauled down and drew a brief 4-on-3, which the Leafs failed to convert and sent the game to a shootout. Mason Raymond scored on a patented spin-o-rama (he’s done it before in Vancouver) and Tyler Bozak snuck one through Craig Anderson’s pads.
WHY THE LEAFS WON
I mentioned it after the opener, and the Maple Leafs may have the guns at special teams to cover for their deficiency at even strength. The Leafs generated six powerplays to Ottawa’s one, and despite getting outshot 35-33 at 5-on-5, Toronto out-shot the Senators 9-1 in man-advantage situations and 5-4 at 4-on-4.
So that’s very promising. Raymond brought it, with six controlled zone entries in the second period alone (a good player will usually generate four or five in a single game). Raymond is playing out of his mind right now and has been an excellent play-driver for the Leafs, out-performing perhaps everybody’s expectations early on. It is a long season, but his three points were only the tip of the iceberg tonight. He got it done in all three zones and drew one of the Leafs powerplays to boot.
Reimer’s bad performance was evened out by Bernier’s wizardry later in the game. I think Bernier earned the next start, but Reimer’s been known to recover from those. He’s still an excellent goaltender.
After a tough early going and a minus-3 for him and Cody Franson, Morgan Rielly really picked up the play in the second half of the game, showing off some confidence through the neutral zone and creating some offensive opportunities. He had an excellent chance in overtime from the high slot that was blocked by Clarke MacArthur. He was credited with three attempted shots, all of them blocked, but after the rough start really picked his game up and gave Randy Carlyle an option considering Paul Ranger’s struggles.
- Joffrey Lupul recorded seven shots on goal. He last recorded seven shots back on December 5, 2011 against the New York Rangers. He scored a goal in that game as well. Back on December 11, 2007, Lupul recorded 12 shots in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, recording a hat-trick in that one.
- Phil Kessel recorded six controlled zone entries in the third period and overtime. It was easily his best game on the season. He took 11 attempts at net. Four were on target, three were blocked and five were missed.
- Spencer Abbott and Jamie Devane played 5:16 and 6:52 of mistake-free hockey. Abbott actually got a couple of shots on goal.
- It was brought up several times that James Reimer was 8-1-1 against the Senators in his career. That’s the danger of small samples. It can lead to incorrect conclusions. Reimer is still an excellent goaltender, and even excellent goaltenders have off nights.
- With about 3 minutes to go in the third period, Jim Hughson declared that both teams were playing for points. That’s about when the defence completely fell apart. No team attempted to dump the puck in for the final 2:55 of regulation, with two odd-man rushes being generated (one for each team) in that span.