To say that November was a rough month would be an understatement. The "bounces" that were going the Leafs’ way for most of the calendar year began to dry up, every offensive centre in the lineup found a way to disappear in some way shape or form, and the Leafs squeaked away with just two regulation wins and eleven points in thirteen games. To remain a playoff team, the Leafs absolutely need to have a strong December. The issue? Their opponents are strong, including tonight’s San Jose Sharks. It was a battle of the best volume shooters against one of the worst shot bleeders, and at times it showed, ultimately leading to a 4-2 win for the Sharks.
Toronto jumped out of the gate and dominated the play. By that, i mean they took the first four shot attempts over about a three minute span, and things quickly took a turn for worse after that. Putting fuel on the fire was a powerplay given up by Fraser McLaren, who roughed up Andrew Desjardins in defence of Jerred Smithson who was.. getting up from a clean check. While the Sharks didn’t score on that powerplay, they built momentum up from there, culminating in a Jason Demers shot bouncing off of Mike Brown and Morgan Rielly to give first blood to San Jose. Just four minutes later, with Jay McClement and Mason Raymond in the box, Joe Thornton finished off a gimme set up from Joe Pavelski for an insurance marker. At the intermission, the shot attempt gap looked like something out of a Harlem Globetrotters event, with the ratio in the range of 4:1.
Toronto rallied against the completed shot count, taking 12 of the first sixteen shots of the period. In the process, Mason Raymond picked up his tenth goal of the year on an odd man rush which he chose to keep as an individual effort, firing a wrist shot past Antti Niemi in the period’s opening minutes. Even better, after James van Riemsdyk failed to score his trademark two foot away between-the-legs effort, Tyler Bozak found Phil Kessel for his 15th of the sesaon. Things were looking up, but with those two powerplay goals leveling the scoring, the Leafs appeared to take a breather, giving up 14 of the next 19 shots, including a Brad Stuart tip-in to give the Sharks the lead back.
The third period was very much a "going through the motions’ period for both teams. Nobody took a penalty, the shots (and attempts were basically equal, and in the closing moments, Logan Couture added an empty net goal to close the game off.
Why The Leafs Lost
It’s incredibly easy to point fingers at the Sharks for being a generally better team, both in ability and systems execution, I would like to raise an eyebrow at the fourth line. While they didn’t particularly play a ton, dressing two enforcers against a team that has quality players across the lineup seems like a bad idea, even if half the Leafs roster didn’t know how to defend themselves. Putting that line out after a TV timeout and letting them go for a long shift? Equally crazy, and ultimately what lead to the Stuart goal. There are times that Randy Carlyle’s thought process boggles my mind, and this was certainly one of them.
I feel like it’s the goaltender every single time I’m the one writing the recap, but James Reimer was fantastic tonight. You can’t fault him for the goals allowed, especially the first two (a deflection off Morgan Rielly, and a cross-crease one timer).
- Tyler Bozak was in and out of the game, presumably do to injury. With Nazem Kadri out of the lineup tonight (personal), this left the Leafs particularly empty down the middle. I’m sure they hope it’s not too bad.
- Speaking of Bozak, I have to give credit where credit is due. He had four even strength primary assists on Phil Kessel goals last year, which lead to the conclusions of no chemistry between the two. He’s already tied that mark. I still think their collaboration is overhyped, but it certainly is more efficient this year.
- David Clarkson is beyond snakebitten, possibly fully consumed by the serpent at this point. Hitting the cross bar from the blue paint in the second period was just icing on the cake.
- The Leafs are now the second team in the league this year to give up 1000 total shots on net
- Phil Kessel’s goal was the 200th of his career, 144 of which have come in blue and white.
- The Leafs play next against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. It’s a home game, on LeafsTV. As always, come here for pre and post-game coverage.
Big thanks to Nick Raimondo (@nrcanada) for the game photo