Leafs Postgame – Leafs Are Now Best Team In NHL (Right?)

I’m not one for trivial things like “win-loss records” or “standings”. I’m a simple man who believes that if you beat the best team in hockey, you become the best team in hockey. Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Anaheim Ducks, who are the best team in hockey, so the Toronto Maple Leafs are now the best team in hockey. It’s simple science. 

What’s really strange about this game is that, while the Leafs won by a pretty convincing score of 6-2, they got pretty badly outplayed for large stretches. It’s funny how hockey works sometimes – Toronto certainly has some areas of their game to clean up if they hope to remain the best team in hockey. 

All it takes is one loss and the title is gone. Truthfully, this title tends to get passed around the league a lot. Like mumps.

The Rundown

The Leafs opened the game by getting pinned in their own end every other shift and giving up a bunch of shots against, which is pretty standard. Despite this, the Leafs were still the first to strike (also pretty standard) when Tyler Bozak was the benefactor of a great cycling sequence between James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel (again, pretty standard). The Leafs would escape the first period with a 1-0 lead.

In the second, Anaheim continued to pour shots on net. Despite outshooting Toronto 31-15 after forty minutes, only Joffrey Lupul and Sami Vatanen would exchange goals.

Carrying a 2-1 lead into the third period, the Leafs would explode with four more goals, including a wrap-around goal from David Booth, a super wicked toe-drag and wrister from Nazem Kadri, and a pair of markers from Phil Kessel. It’d get so bad for the Ducks that they replaced Frederik Andersen in net with Ilya Bryzgalov. That’s pretty bad. 

Toronto would be outshot and largely outplayed, but pull out a win nonetheless. Now sporting a 19-9-3 record and 41 points on the season, the Leafs a point behind both Montreal and Detroit, and only two points behind the Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. They’re also a surprising 8 points clear of Boston, who currently sit outside of the playoff picture.

Blue Warrior

So how do the Leafs get outplayed and still win? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team’s best player tonight was their goaltender.

Jonathan Bernier stopped 40 of 42 shots, continuing a streak of very strong play. He’s now got an impressive 13-6-3 record with a .922 SV% and a 2.53 GAA on the season. 

Kessel, who scored twice and added an assist as Toronto’s top line came alive tonight, also deserves plenty of praise for his game. However, he scored both of his goals in garbage time against a crazy man/goaltender who hadn’t yet seen NHL action this year. Sorry Kessel. Score two more goals next game and we’ll talk.

Check Me Out On Thursdays

The Leafs are back at it on Thursday night, facing off against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. Tune in a 7:00pm on TSN4.

  • For me the blue warrior tonight was Carlyle. He outcoached his old team and Boudreau. And as impressive he actually got Corsi to a positive Corsi and Bozak to put up the second highest corsi by proper usage. So much for firing Carlyle – it is time to

    #Extend Caryle

  • Kanuunankuula

    People say the turn around began as a result of the “score” of the nashville game. I think the turn around was as a result of everyone asking “are u trying to fire your coach?” That woke everyone up.

  • Kanuunankuula

    People say the turn around began as a result of the “score” of the nashville game. I think the turn around was as a result of everyone asking “are u trying to fire your coach?” That woke everyone up.

  • TGT23

    It’s rare that a 6-2 game can be said to have been stolen by a goalie, but this one was. No doubt.

    17! saves in the first period gave the Leafs a chance to get a lead and add to it. Then, when Anaheim made it 2-1, Bernier shuts the door on a handful of great scoring chances late in the 2nd and early in the 3rd.

    And he’s brought his Save Percentage up to .922 which is Top 12. Second straight year Bernier has been among the top goalies in the game. And thank God, because this team desperately needs top level goalie play.

    Oh, and that toe drag from Nazem… Wow… Lately he’s been making the point a lot of us have been making all year. There is NOTHING wrong with him. He’s been fantastic all season, only now he’s finally getting points for his hard work. 5 goals, 8 assists in the 14 games (up to and including the Buffalo loss).

    I love his line with Winnik and Santo. That is a very unexpected top line but I’m not complaining.

  • Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus. It truly is Frank Capra time, Jimmmy Stewart time, It is a wonderful life. My oh my what a wonderful gift for sports fans of the big smoke. The Raptors numero uno in the eastern conference and their brothers the leafs closing in on the top spot. Who would have thunk this??

    Bernier once again strong in the nets. The big line gets involved and you know things are going your way, when Booth scores. Kadri truly playing a 200 foot game as his play continues to improve. The Santorelli, Winnik line with Kadri has been huge for the leafs both offensively and defensively.

    Yes, yes, yes the long, dangerous road trip is about to begin. But there is something different about this year’s edition of the leafs. They are number one in scoring, they have solid goal tending and they have for the first time in years 4 lines which is a huge benefit to the leafs in so many ways.

    Yesiree all smiles these days in the big smoke as Santa has delivered early.

    • TGT23

      Good goaltending is essential for any good team without it Montreal would not be where they are. That 4 lines that can play and score is the secret to me and it will be more important from here on, as is the emergence of the Kadri line as a unit you can count on to shut the opposition down.

  • Kanuunankuula

    This team is a scoring machine! Gardiner is getting better, the first line is back (I like how Carlyle gave them an opportunity to work on their defensive game in the third and goo things happened), our Goalies are solid, the captain is a beast punishing guys in the corners, what a beauty goal by Kadri… All is good in the Leafland.

    When is Carlyle going to get some love for getting this team to play to the system, holding leads, for developing young players like Kadri etc.?

  • STAN

    I’ll bring up something completely different.

    Is now not the time to make a few player moves? Trade when you’re on top of your game? Tweak the lineup just enough to make way for the future?

    So who is not just expendable in this current group, but who is not carrying his share of the load?

    It starts with Clarkson. The question is can Shanonis become Masai Ujiri or Alex Anthopolous and pull a rabbit out of a hat like Ujiri’s Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani magic tricks and AA finding a sucker for Vernon Well’s albatross contract.

    I say Edmonton would take a chance on Clarkson’s alleged grit. That is if you believe the story line that the Oilers offered him more than Nonis 18 months ago. Personally I think those rumours were planted by Clarkson’s agent.

    Nonetheless, weeding him out now would do wonders for this season and beyond. Let him go for a third of fourth round pick otr a bag of oucks. The Leafs clearly don’t need him. He’s wasting a roster spot and his teammates know it.

    I would also say Gardiner could be moved and his place assumed by Stuart Percy. The Leafs would not only NOT miss a beat, I say Percy would be an upgrade. Many teams would pay for Gardiner’s speed. I’d take a first round pick or two second rounders for him.

    Third on my list is Tyler Bozak. I know, he’s their third leading scorer right now, but that’s my point. I don’t think it’s sustainable with this group and Peter Holland is a far better long term bet. Get something NOW. His contract is reasonable. Perhaps a package deal with Clarkson to Edmonton. Get Justin Schultz in return.

    Thoughts?

    • TGT23

      Alright, I’m going to give you a bit of a hard time on this because your logic doesn’t track… On most things, but I’ll stay focused on Gardiner.

      You say trading Gardiner wouldn’t hurt the team because Percy could be an upgrade. For that to be true, which I don’t but I’ll pretend I do, you’d also then have to assume Gardiner is the 6th best d-man on the team. You have to assume that because you’ve made the assertion that Gardiner is blocking Percy and not Robidas, Polak, Dion, or Franson.

      Of course, that’s ridiculous when considering his natural talent against Robidas or Polak. So, if Percy is an upgrade over Gardiner, and Gardiner is certainly an upgrade over Robidas and Polak, why not just move one of them out for Percy? Why trade Gardiner? I mean, if we’re worried about the future of the team trading the young d-man and keeping two old ones makes little sense.

      But, hey, your game, your rules, so let’s assume he IS the 6th d-man on the team, for argument sake, and that Percy is in fact an upgrade, later you go on to trade for Justin Schultz… Why?

      Wouldn’t Justin Schultz then have to take Percy’s spot? You can’t stash his $5.5m in the AHL (yeah, 5.5 for Schultz… Ouch, Edmonton). So you’ve eliminated the need for Percy after just making a move to free up space for him…

      This all before coming to the consideration that Justin Schultz himself is a downgrade from Jake Gardiner.

      So, to my point; why would anyone trade Gardiner only to ultimately downgrade with Schultz? And why would you trade three assets to pick up a handful of picks, none of which Edmonton’s #1 pick this year and thus unlikely to help the team in the next 3 years, and end up in the exact same situation (Percy blocked) but now also down a 3rd Line winger and a 2nd Line Center…?

      Your suggestion creates cap space, I grant you, but it doesn’t make the team better this season and it is unlikely it makes the team better going forward, either.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Bozak and Clarkson have no trade clauses. Why would they waive their rights to go to Edmonton?

      For tweaks to work, they have to be plausible.

      And why not be glad you have Bozak because he makes Franson affordable? At least let’s recognize — if you want to ignore the points on the board — the economics.

  • STAN

    @ TGT23

    I never wrote nor implied that Gardiner is “blocking” Percy. I just think Gardiner brings back more (whether a player of picks) than any other Leafs D-man except Rielly. It’s why I also said NOW is the time to move Bozak and Clarkson. As for tradable D-men, nobody will touch Paneuf’s stupid contract (especially the length), Polak and Robidas are holding their own, and Cody Franson is their best D-man.

    Deal from strength. Dangle a guy with lot’s of raw talent, but who has far too many defensive weaknesses. Perhaps the Oilers would part with Leon Draisaitl, who I see as a future number one power centre.

    Also, when Gardiner is on the ice the other team has a field day in the Leafs zone, one of the key reasons the shots against are so high. (The other is the alleged number one line rarely coming back to help out). Percy doesn’t have Gardiner’s wheels, but his hockey sense is off the charts. He’s apt to be in the right place and making the right pass to exit the D-zone.

    The Leafs have bulked up management big time. If they aren’t at least discussing this roster now and going forward, they’re not doing their jobs.

  • STAN

    @ Jeremy Ian

    If management approaches a player, any player, about the possibility of being moved… it becomes clear that player is expendable and no longer is a part of the long term plan.

    Staying the dressing room under those circumstances would create all sorts of animosity, while the player would be ignoring the fact he IS wanted elsewhere. That he has value to another team.

    I say both would waive their NTCs.