Leafs Postgame: Homecoming Hat Trick

Tyler Bozak may have been born in Regina, but his hockey birth came in Colorado. After a few years of decent to very good numbers in the BCHL, the centre made the jump to the University of Denver, where he went from undrafted player with an outside shot to one of the hottest-pursued college free agents of the modern era. The Leafs may have won the bidding war (sorry, Ottawa), but to this day, the 29-year-old still calls Denver a second home, even visiting from time to time.

This visit, however, was less than friendly, as Bozak picked up a Hat Trick as part of his team’s push to a 7-4 victory.

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Interestingly enough, Bozak’s impact on the score sheet didn’t come until the third period. In fact, the Leafs as a whole needed a bit of time to gain a scoreboard superiority. Just two minutes in, Colorado’s Jack Skille took advantage of a scramble in front of the net to snap Jonathan Bernier’s new-found shutout streak and put Leafs fans into an “oh, it’s going to be one of those nights” type of mood.

But it wasn’t one of those nights. When former Leafs defenceman Francois Beauchemin took a tripping penalty midway through the second period, Toronto took quick advantage, sending in Leo Komarov to take a wicked wrist shot to beat Semyon Varlamov, tying the game. Just a few minutes later, Blake Comeau hooked Joffrey Lupul, who responded by adding his own powerplay goal to give the Leafs the lead.

The next time we’d hear a former Leafs player’s name, it wasn’t for a good reason. John Mitchell tied the game by curling in a pass from Alex Tanguay, leaving the game deadlocked for a solid eleven minutes. History repeated itself, however, as the Leafs continued their powerplay tear with another Komarov goal; in this case, a redirection of a Peter Holland setup. The Leafs looked poised to leave the second on top, but Erik Johnson tied the game with a minute and change remaining.

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The Bozak show began in the third period. Bozak tapped home a hard pass from James van Riemsdyk just a minute in, and six minutes later, doubled up with this unassisted break:

Van Riemsdyk returned to the box score later in the period by getting the last stick tap on a Jake Gardiner point shot which many initially believed was Bozak’s hat-trick tally, but he’d eventually get his opportunity with an empty net in front of him. Needless to say, he made no mistake.

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Skille picked up his second goal of the night shortly afterward, but that’s as close as the Avs would get. Overall, Bozak made the most of his ice time; a solid, but not insane 15:43. The four Leafs centres were actually played pretty evenly throughout, but none made quite the same offensive impact as him, or the same impact on possession; the Leafs had 61.5% attempted shot ratio with Bozak on the ice. The goals were his sixth, seventh, and eighth of the season, and move him up to 22 points in 28 games. Needless to say, his play has been a pleasant surprise for Leafs fans, who thought that he would collapse without having Phil Kessel to work with, but Bozak has made significant strides under Mike Babcock and is playing the best overall hockey of his career. Tonight, in a way, acted as a reward, in an away building that would appreciate him more than most.

Why The Leafs Won

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The Leafs are struggling this year because they’re a team without very much stand-out offensive firepower; not to mention, a lot of the firepower that they do have hit a brick wall of bad luck to start the year. The Avalanche, on the other hand? They’ve got as good of a forward core as any team in the league, and a number of defencemen who have the physical and mental talents to move the puck up.

But Patrick Roy, man. Those who were agonized by watching Randy Carlyle try to stuff a square peg in a round hole for years in Toronto would be pleased to know that they aren’t alone. The Avalanche bleed shots against on most nights, and while tonight was the exception (they actually outshot Toronto 28-22), it usually leads to their demise. It’s interesting to listen to the play-by-play crew praise the intelligence of Roy’s frequent decision to pull his goalie for an extra man when his team is down by a few goals with a lot of time left on the clock. Yes, it’s a more effective risk early than it is later, but if you’re frequently using it, that means you’re frequently losing by a bunch of goals.

What really helped Toronto tonight was the lacklustre effort that the Avs made the Leafs headed to the powerplay. Keeping all five players covered when you’re shorthanded is obviously difficult, but Colorado did a spectacular job of constantly leaving an open man available in a scoring area. Toronto managed to put eight shots on goal with the man advantage, which is high enough for three opportunities, but when you consider that their combined time on those powerplays was just 1:32, your eyes begin to bulge just a little; it’s a little under a shot every ten seconds.

Other Notables

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I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t praise Leo Komarov’s efforts tonight. Until Bozak went super-Saiyan, he was the undisputed star of the game. His two goals gave the Leafs a ton of momentum, his assist to Lupul was gorgeous, he headed to the net without a fear in the world, threw two hits, took five shots, played on both sides of special teams, and won draws when he needed to.

Also, Jake Gardiner picked up a whopping four assists tonight and helped set up all three goals that the Leafs scored before the third period. That combined with two takeaways and a positive possession ratio helped keep the Leafs in line until they were ready to pull away with the game.

See You Next Time

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Toronto has a relatively quick turnaround, playing again tomorrow night against the Arizona Coyotes. If you’re pro-tank, having a solid stretch against fellow lottery teams is a bit of a worst-case scenario, but it makes for fun hockey. Puck drop is at 9:00 PM.

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  • Gary Empey

    Now there’s a good game review minus the disrespect to Coach Carlyle who had this team in a better spot this time last year right before he got fired. I can’t wait for the old man to get a job and shut you up like Bozak and Polak are doing right now. Colorado actually looks like a great fit for Randy – all they would have to do is leave him alone for a few seasons. Roy is a disaster indeed.

  • Harte of a Lion

    The odds are stacked against this team making the playoffs and I think I prefer another lottery pick to stock the cupboards however it’s fun to watch the compete level, win or lose. Points in 16 of 20 games, thank you coach Babcock.

    I remember uncle Leo’s first year, 2012/13 and the passion he brought every shift, never leaving anything on the ice. I went to buy his jersey at the ACC commissary and when I asked a salesgirl to help find me a Leo Komarov Jersey she said “who”?
    It needed to be custom made LOL.
    I am no longer the only Leaf fan wearing and uncle Leo jersey but I’m proud to say I might have been the first!

    If anyone wants a brand new XL Premier JVR jersey, I got my son the wrong size,
    send me a message

  • Gary Empey

    In other exciting hockey news….. The Habs suffered another hammering this time, by the Predators. They have now lost 8 of their last 9 games. They are now only 4 points away from missing the playoffs……