After a few dormant games, the Toronto Maple Leafs offence finally came alive—games against the New York Islanders are usually good for that. Phil Kessel, sitting out yesterday’s practice with the flu, and noticed wearing tape on his lower hand, scored two goals for Toronto, because Phil Kessel is a wonderful human that plays wonderful hockey, and has now scored at least one goal with four different centremen so far this season.
It wasn’t the cleanest game the Leafs have played this season, with both teams making some sloppy plays in the neutral and offensive zones, but ultimately Toronto made good on the relatively few scoring chances they had, taking the lead 22 seconds into the game and never relinquishing it, despite a nervous moment in the third, the Maple Leafs convincingly won 5-2.
The game started with a beautiful pass in a tight space by Joffrey Lupul, who has added a new element to his game this season in becoming a much more active neutral zone player. Lupul recovered the puck in the offensive zone and quickly made his way into the Islanders zone, and was nicely held to the outside by Thomas Hickey, who didn’t think he had allowed Lupul to fire a shot:
Lupul made a great pass to Trevor Smith however, who scored his second. Smith is the best kind of depth player, one that can put up the odd goal. His third on the season (in just 12 games) made it 1-0 early on.
The first half of the second period was marred by some sloppy defence by the Leafs. In one two-minute span, they had allowed three two-on-one opportunities by New York, but the closest they came was a crossbar hit by Casey Cizikas. After a penalty-free game to that point, Andrew MacDonald took a tripping penalty against James van Riemsdyk, and Kessel scored the first of two with a nice little dipsy-doodle to set up a shot:
Hope the Isles equipment manager remembered to pack an extra jock strap for Peter Regin…
A breakdown at the end of the period gave Cizikas another chance off an odd-man rush, but this time he was in alone, and snuck a shot five-hole on Jonathan Bernier with 12 seconds left in the period to pull the Isles to within one.
Start of the third period, Mason Raymond’s dump-in attempt hit Matt Carkner and bounced onto the stick of Jay McClement. Despite being out-numbered at the blue line, the Leafs got a break and the three Islanders players chased after McClement, leaving Mason Raymond all alone in front. Raymond now has eight in 21 games. He had 10 in the previous two seasons.
Then, the second game after a made a bet that Clarkson would go over 13 goals on the season, Clarkson scores exactly how television talking heads suggested he wouldn’t: by not driving the net and looking for the dirty play. Rather, he took a pass cleanly and let go an excellent shot from the circle:
It Was Four One then, and Frans Nielsen made it 4-2 on a similar play from the same area on the ice. Off the ensuing faceoff, Carl Gunnarsson gave the puck up to Kyle Okposo, who cut in and forced Bernier to make his biggest stop of the night, keeping the score 4-2 and our fingernails out of our teeth. Kessel sealed the deal off a two-on-one just moments later for his 12th. It was also his 400th career point.
WHY THE LEAFS WON
Despite the uneven shot-line, you can tell from the graph that the Islanders didn’t generate a very significant puck-possession advantage over the Leafs, particularly in score-close situations. New York had 21 unblocked shot attempts at evens to Toronto’s 16, so while the score-line reads that the Leafs were out-shot 37-24, it was in reality much closer than that when you factor in a lot of the Islanders shots came in garbage time.
The key to Toronto’s game was shutting down John Tavares & Co. Tavares had just two shots on goal, Okposo had two and Brock Nelson had… four, but he was eventually replaced on the big line by Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Still, Tavares only had one shift where he created a couple of opportunities, and the Leafs blueline did a good job forcing the Islanders MVP candidate to make sloppy plays and not give him a lot of space. Gunnarsson struggled a bit with turnovers, but Dion Phaneuf had one of his better games of the season I thought. He played 13.3 minutes against Tavares and the Islanders didn’t get any space in the zone on his side of the ice.
Worth noting Kevin Poulin didn’t have his best outing either. The Islanders have some players, but they really need a goalie to put it all together. After New York went down 2-0, do you think Jack Capuano started thinking “I wish I had Michael Grabner on the bench right about now”? Or, when they were down 3-1 with 11 minutes to go, do you think when Capuano put Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Colin McDonald on the ice for a defensive zone faceoff after a timeout that he thought he should shorten his bench? What about after McDonald took a penalty for throwing the stick?
I got my flu shot today. Phil Kessel had two flu shots. Phlu shots. He had a team-high four shots on goal.
- One thing Eric T. has people doing when they’re tracking entries this season is noting the defenceman on the side of the ice that a controlled entry was made. Usually this isn’t something I point out because I don’t know if there’s any validity to marking it down (but no shame in researching to find out) the Islanders “targeted” Gunnarsson 15 times, and successfully entered the zone 12 times (Gunnarsson also had two giveaways in the defensive zone resulting in Islander possessions). Phaneuf, on the other hand, was targeted 10 times, with just five of those carries being successful.
- Jake Gardiner was high-event and even in Corsi, at +19/-19 on the night. Pretty good considering Toronto led the whole game. He started seven shifts in the defensive zone, and five in the offensive, and mostly saw minutes against Frans Nielsen’s line, which has been pretty good at puck-possession over the last few seasons.
- Hell, Jerred Smithson was even in Corsi on the night, at +5/-5, despite eight defenzive zone starts and two offensive ones. Not the toughest matchups, but he did nearly score in the late going there, just knocking a loose puck wide.
- I thought Paul Ranger had been playing better, but he looked brutal tonight, missing a lot of easy passes in the neutral zone, turning over several pucks and the Leafs worst possession defenceman despite getting a plurality of offensive zone starts.
- The ExtraSkater game page is here. All kinds of interesting nuggets to sift through.