Leafs Postgame: Blue-per Reel

Over the past decade, the salary cap has found a way to create the right amount of parity in the week. Enough that there’s still a couple of teams at the top and bottom that deserve to be there, but also enough for a bit of Any Given Saturday-ism. No team is safe from anybody, as the Leafs proved tonight by beating the St. Louis Blues for the second time in as many games together, winning by a familiar 4-1 score.

Both teams played a hard-fought first period, but very little of it was worth writing home about. They both took eleven shots, none of them went in, most of Toronto’s were crease-bound while St. Louis’ were off to the wings. Jake Allen was good, as was Jonathan Bernier. Things changed in the second period, though, as Vladamir Tarasenko blasted a seeing-eye one-timer from David Backes into the back of the Toronto goal. Nobody was amused; especially Daniel Winnik, who was in the penalty box on what ended up being Toronto’s only penalty kill fo the game.

The Leafs soldiered on, though. James van Riemsdyk took advantage of a couple of St. Louis miscues after their faceoff win, bolted down the ice, and scored his fourteenth of the season just five minutes after the Leafs originally trailed.

chart (1)

Those were the only five seconds the Leafs found themselves behind in. A few minutes into the first period, Peter Holland put his team ahead, taking in a pass at the start of a Toronto powerplay and roofing it past Allen. Ten minutes later, the Leafs doubled up on their lead. Michael Grabner, with no prime shooting lane available, waited for just the right moment in Nazem Kadri’s stride to get him the puck, which led to an easy goal. As a reward for his generosity, Grabner just so happened to the one to seal the deal with an empty-netter, as he took off with a Matt Hunwick-dumped puck, skated around the Blues’ defenceman, and notched his sixth of the season.

The Leafs were outshot by seven, but in the end, won by three. It doesn’t always make sense, but on a night like this, you take the nonsense if it helps you.

Why The Leafs Won

This was a pretty evenly matched game overall, with the two sides trading shots, scoring chances, and the like at a pretty equal pace throughout. But the Leafs did a great job of pushing towards the net and keeping themselves mentally in check. Last year’s James van Riemsdyk, like many of his teammates would have struggled to shake off the Tarasenko goal. This time, he came out like a bull in a china shop.


Holland’s goal come from a decent distance, but Kadri got up close and personal for the insurance tally. Even Grabner’s empty netter required some extra effort. It seems like Mike Babcock has found that skill/grit balance that previous bosses have struggled with, teaching the team to force themselves into the zone with possession, yet getting them to push it even close to the crease as they attempt to score. There’s no complacency; just pure relentlessness.

Makes you wonder what will happen once some of the youth get integrated into the team up top. I feel like it’s going to be fun, if far away from now.

Boo-ernier

Jonathan Bernier has stopped 78 of the last 81 pucks he’s faced over these last two games. I’d love to take credit, but I don’t think I’m capable of putting voodoo hexes on people with my typed out words. If he was even just okay tonight, the Leafs probably lose this game; he warded off a few scary situations and led his team to victory.

See You Next Time

Break time! The Leafs are heading out to California, but not for a few more days. Their next game comes against the Ducks on Wednesday. Get a timer set up for your morning coffee, because with a 10 PM start, you might be getting a bit less sleep than usual.

    • TGT23

      T.G. I must admit every time I think Bernier has fallen to the canvas for the 10 count he has been getting up and fighting on.

      He stole the game in Pittsburgh and tonight had a lot of shots but really played well positionally and gave up few rebounds.

      I thought you had a great line the other night in the comparison to Ricky Romero. Most of us had given up on Jonathan but obviously he hasn’t given up on himself. Good for him and good news for the leafs.

  • Harte of a Lion

    It fun to watch hockey in Toronto once again. The Marlies keep rolling with many pieces that will fit nicely onto the Leafs in either March or September.
    Babcock has the Leaf team competing every shift, who would have thought after a 1-7-2 start they would, should, could reached 500% 15-15-7 to start 2016

    I can only think of 4 games where they lacked compete (never 2 in a row) and even the Stars and Capitals have occasionally crapped out a pile of $hit.

    This seems to be the year of true parody in the league and though we are only 7 points out of the wildcard now, I would rather see the Leafs as sellers in February.

    Don’t kid yourself, There is a market for the remaining Nonis players like Bozak Lupul, Phaneuf and Polack. It might be another year or two before the team can move the remainder of Lupul and Phaneufs contracts and though Phaneuf is having a very good season, only 8-10 teams could absorb his contract.
    With the way he is playing, he has value to both the Leafs and other teams.

    (Last trade deadline Lupul vetoed a trade to Montreal, Rumor was Lupul and a minor leaguer for Eller) love him or hate him, you have to admire his loyalty to the team, the city and us fans.

    For all you Polack haters, somehow he has rediscovered the ability to skate and pass, it’s amazing what happens when everyone starts playing as a team…

    Has anyone noticed that the Leaf haters from La Belle Provence have disappeared from the comments lately as their teams pull a 2014/15 Maple Leafs fall off a cliff, multi-car pile-up??

    • Kanuunankuula

      Harte I tend to agree with your assessment of wheeling and dealing, although I’m not sure how much they would get for some of them or other clubs will be willing to pick up much of the salary especially Phaneuf’s.

      It appears that there are character guys like Uncle Leo and the speedy Grabner who the team seriously should consider keeping to help with the rebuild.

      You are absolutely right as the Habs 18 wheeler has truly gone over the Cliff. Obviously with out Price they will struggle to make the playoffs and the Habs now have the same number of defeats as the leafs.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Agreed; need to stick to the plan. Babcock probably has this team playing near its capacity (which itself is a feat). But that’s not good enough once the top teams start to double-down. Not sure we’ll be able to move any of the longer-term Nonis contracts, but certainly many of the UFA’s.

      It is a relief to see the team playing well. The shot differential is even exaggerated as the Blues blocked many of the in-coming. The shot attempts were even, 38:38.

      Things I liked:

      1. Peter Holland. He’s responded really well to the coaching, and the coaches have reciprocated. Sends the right signal to everyone else.

      2. Decent fourth line. Finally. Boyes-Arco-Matthias. Nice work.

  • Gary Empey

    Just surfaced here from New Years. Watched the highlights. Game looked good. I don’t think I will mess around with that exotic, local, homemade, coconut wine, (Tuba), anymore. It is no fun waking up in the jungle, wet with rain, being eating by red ants, among other things, I have no idea what they are.

    Bloody Hell.

  • Gary Empey

    “scored his fourteenth of the season just five minutes after the Leafs originally trailed.”

    typo: seconds, not minutes! (it’s right in the next paragraph, though)

  • Harte of a Lion

    i’m not on the bernier hype train until his save percentage is at least .910 and he is consistently this stable for 10 games. a few good games means nothing when you have sh*t the bed for all of 2015. it’s best he plays well for everyone’s sake as he needs to be traded while he still has value.