Going into their game against the Pens, the Leafs had a bunch of moral victories and one actual victory so far this season. With it being their first game against Phil Kessel since The Trade, another simple moral victory would be a tough pill to swallow.
Unfortunately, the game was very similar to every game other than the one against Columbus. The Leafs played really well, keeping Crosby and Phil off the scoresheet. But despite outplaying the Penguins a good portion of the night, the Leafs ultimately lost 2-1.
It didn’t take long for the game to look like a Penguins blowout win, after Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maata scored 40 seconds apart six minutes into the game. It was another worrisome start for Jonathan Bernier, who allowed those two goals within the first four shots of the game. These early goals are becoming a trend for Bernier and are total team killers, especially Malkin’s goal where he was way out of position.
After Maata’s goal, Mike Babcock called a timeout, settled the team down and told them to get back to work. And that’s what they did. From then on, they owned the puck, resulting in a Leo Komarov tip on a Jake Gardiner rocket 13 minutes into the first. It was Leo’s third goal in two nights, showing some of his offensive prowess that was evident in his time in the KHL and prior to his injury last year.
Scoring-wise, that was it. The game would end 2-1, but both goalies were very good. It’s a confidence builder for Bernier and the Leafs that he was able to settle down and play a great game after allowing two early ones. His glove save on Patric Hornqvist might end up being his best save of the year.
Despite his possession numbers 5v5 leaving a lot to be desired (in fact, the Leafs lost the corsi battle 55 to 52 tonight, a rarity so far in the Babcock era), Daniel Winnik was a standout tonight. He made a number of strong plays down low, initiated the cycle, and created some chances on the PK with Nick Spaling. Games like tonight’s remind you why the Leafs were so eager to bring him back after trading him.
SEE YOU NEXT TIME
The Leafs get another solid break before facing the Sabres in Buffalo on Wednesday. It’ll be the first time we get to see Jack Eichel, who is the face of a new-look Sabres offense that includes Sam Reinhart, Ryan O’Reilly, and Evander Kane. It should be a fun one.