It wasn’t pretty. I’m not even sure what it was, but the Maple Leafs got two points Friday night and New Jersey, Ottawa and the New York Rangers combined for just one. Despite a good second period by the Leafs, I’d be quite content if we destroyed every copy of the game film from Toronto’s 4-3 shootout win against the Sabres and never discussed it again. It will be one of those games, six or seven years from now, we will look back on and say “Toronto won 4-3” and that will be the end of it.
This game deserves no detail, no respect. NHL hockey games play 82 times a year to account for the occasional stinker. On Friday, both Toronto and Buffalo brought it, and not in a good way. On one hand, the Leafs had a furious second period rally, scoring three goals in 8:05 against one of the best goaltenders in the world. On the other hand, the Sabres gave the worst player in the league 12:39 of ice-time and let him play over five minutes against Toronto’s most dangerous line.
Still, a win. Those come by far too rarely for us to bicker about just how they come about.
Did you ever watch Revenge of the Sith? Despite the massive budget, the film starts off extremely slow and the viewer has difficulty connecting with the on-screen action because it’s so obviously fake and computer generated. It picks up a little towards the middle as you see the prequel trilogy’s best character, the emperor, get a more active role in the development of the plot. Then you have that extended, 40-minute long lightsabre slashing sequence between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Then you’re just happy it’s over. The Leafs/Sabres game was the hockey equivalent of that. Toronto was down 2-0 early. Zemgus Girgensons (who is becoming one of my favourite NHLers) made a fine play around Peter Holland and the puck bounced in off of Matt Moulson and Dion Phaneuf. Seconds later, a bad rebound from Leafs starting goalie Jonathan Bernier wound up onto the stick of designated boxing glove John Scott, who scored. That may have been the turning point of the game, because Ted Nolan seemed to decide that Scott would be handling the heavy minutes for the Sabres and began putting him out in every conceivable situation, which was got-dang hilarious and sad simultaneously.
The Leafs struck quickly in the second period after controlling the shot clock thanks to score effects, some powerplay opportunities, and the fact the Leafs should just be a better team than Buffalo while they’re at home. Jake Gardiner scored on a shot from the point (about 20 minutes after TSN expert panellist Keith Jones suggested he’d bench Gardiner because he turned the puck over a couple of times in the first) and then Peter Holland finished off a fun little set-up from Mason Raymond.
I’d say “yes” to this, ladies*:
*or some men.
Phil Kessel scored the go-ahead goal late and on a powerplay to put the Leafs up 3-2 after the second. The were out-Fenwick’d (unblocked shot attempts) 20-12 in the first period, but had a 24-10 advantage in the middle frame. Remember against Detroit when the Hockey Night crew suggested that the Leafs came alive in the second, motivated by the goalie switch? No goalie switch necessary. Score effects and regression to the mean are powerful drugs, misunderstood by many hockey fans.
The Sabres kept pressing in the third, but Morgan Rielly had the best chance late, ringing a puck off the post on a two-on-one. Steve Ott tied the game on the Sabres’ lone powerplay of the game, which was upsetting, but then the Leafs controlled most of the overtime, which was not. James van Riemsdyk and Dion Phaneuf were both stoned twice by Ryan Miller’s right leg. Van Riemsdyk on a wraparound and Phaneuf late in the game with a great look in front. We went to a shootout and Joffrey Lupul got the goal, with Girgensons failing to tuck the puck into an empty net on the deciding attempt.
WHY THE LEAFS TIED
Of the two teams that played in the Air Canada Centre Friday night, the Leafs were the second least bad, and I think that’s all I have to say about that.
But seriously… some of the Sabres’ usage was downright confusing. The amount of minutes Scott kept getting against the Toronto top line had me worrying. This wasn’t even a matchup that Randy Carlyle had to work to get towards, it was one Teddy Nolan was willingly accepting of. In the second, the Leafs were down by two goals and that forced them to play a bit more aggressively in the offensive zone. I don’t have entry numbers tonight, but it would be an interesting contrast between the first two periods. The shift leading up to the Gardiner goal was excellent, and the Leafs kept winning battles and kept the play live in the offensive zone. There was a 29 second gap between the first shot attempt of the shift and the eventual goal, and they got three in the sequence.
I’m no good at Xs and Os. I just watch what happens. The Leafs didn’t take a penalty until very late, and again, the penalty kill failed Jonathan Bernier. Another bad rebound, and probably a game the Leafs should have won without the shootout. Still, there’s nothing wrong with being the second worst team on the ice in any given game, as only two teams get to show up.
I don’t think I’ve given enough love to Cody Franson this season. Despite the down year, he has 20 points, which ties him for 18th among defencemen. Him and Jake Gardiner were the 5-on-5 minute leaders for the Leafs, matching up against Steve Ott and Drew Stafford and out-Corsi-ing them. They also started on the ice for 9 of the team’s 17 defensive zone faceoffs, a team-high.
Also, shout-out to Morgan Rielly. With Rielly on the ice, the Leafs out-attempted Buffalo 19-11. That’s a 63.3% Corsi rate, and that is excellent, and the third time in his career he’s been over 60%, but the first time he did so while playing 13 or more minutes.
Pretty good game from the three Leafs puck-moving defencemen on the night, I thought.
NUMB3RS AND NOTES
The Fenwick graph looks better than it was. Because the game got to be pretty high-event in the end, the Leafs being dominated in the first period gets swallowed up by the larger sample. They maintained a pretty good gap on the Sabres in the third and generated some decent chances on Miller, but those damn late goals.
- For those curious types, John Scott’s Corsi was a surprisingly average -4. He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and 15 against.
- The typically excellent Christian Ehrhoff-Mark Pysyk pairing were absolutely torched by the Leafs first line.
- JvR-Kadri-Kessel were all at 58% in Corsi on the night. Kadri was on the ice for 21 attempts for and 15 against. Jay McClement’s line got wrecked in possession, but Peter Holland’s was not. Despite the poor play on the first goal, he was the Leafs second-highest forward, at 19 attempts for and 12 against. I love his offence and have no idea how to read his possession ability yet.
- It’s really going to upset me when Holland, not Jerred Smithson, is taken out of the lineup to accommodate Tyler Bozak.
Here’s the game page from Extra Skater.
- What the heck am I going to do on a Saturday with no Maple Leafs hockey?