Three games this past week for the Blue and White, all involving teams that are projected to have a better season than the Leafs. With two of the three games at home, the Leafs were looking to get some W's in front of the home crowd and establish themselves as a tough opponent for the visiting team. They began the week at 2-3-0 and by weeks end, found themselves at .500 with a 4-4-0 record. Here's this week's the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Maple Leafs started the week against a historically tough opponent, whose goalie continues to be a thorn in the side of this team. Surprisingly the Leafs got off to a fast start against Ryan Miller and worked hard to force the overtime win.
They held the lead 3-2 going into the 3rd period before Mikhail Grigorenko tied it up at 7:10. The Maple Leafs held down the fort from that point on while James Reimer made nine others saves in the period. Matt Frattin then put a beauty wrist shot up over Miller’s shoulder with just seconds remaining on the clock to give the Leafs the 4-3 OT win.
In their next game against the Washington Capitals, everyone was talking about Capitals Captain Alexander Ovechkin’s one goal, and Phil Kessel’s no goals.
With the game tied at one in the 2nd period and the Leafs down by a man, Ovechkin unloaded a shot from the slot that went right through goaltender Reimer’s legs. You could almost hear the collective groan of Leafs nation as it looked like the sleeping giant, the “Great 8” had awaken and was about to wreak havoc at the Air Canada Centre.
But it was the exact reverse as the Leafs kept knocking on the door and were finally rewarded by a goal at 7:40 in the 3rd. Nikolai Kulemin was standing on the door step, and as a Mike Kostka shot squeaked through Capital’s goalie Michal Neuvirth's legs, Kulemin gave it a little push to guide it home while falling to the ice in the attempt. It was Frattin once again with the game winner at the 9:53 mark giving the Leafs their second straight win, which was much deserved after a 40-shot output (16 in the final frame) and a well played game overall for their first win at home.
To end the week, the Leafs welcomed the Boston Bruins. They were trying to change the image of being welcoming guests to the boys from Beantown, who had dominated the Leafs in 2011-12. 6-0-0 against the Leafs and a 39-10 scoring differential last season for the Bruins, and they were looking for much of the same. But after a first period that saw Bruins forward Chris Bourque get one past Reimer, the Leafs then played a respectable final 40 minutes. At times it seemed as if the Bruins were about to run away with the game, but Reimer came up with some big saves and the Leafs certainly had their chances to tie it up. Yes, they lost the game, but only allowing one goal against perhaps the division's best team is in itself a small victory. If anything it is a step forward against a perennial powerhouse that is the Boston Bruins.
While the Leafs deserve praise for sticking around every game this week and winning two of them, the Maple Leafs also need to take that next step and bury the other team when the opportunity is available.
The Leafs scored first in the game against the Sabers, and after falling behind 2-1, they got two goals in the 2nd period to take a 3-2 lead. Instead of adding to the lead, the Leafs allowed Buffalo to keep getting close and eventually tied the game in the 3rd.
While the shots (8 for Toronto – 10 for Buffalo) and chances were fairly even in that final frame, the Leafs couldn’t create any more space between them and their opponents and paid the price by allowing Buffalo to gain one point through an OT loss.
Division points are going to be very crucial in this shortened season, and the Leafs need to do their best to not give away any in games like this.
Against the Capitals, it seemed as if the Leafs were not going to be able to buy a goal. Their chances were many, but Michal Neuvirth kept denying them. The Leafs won’t be able to get as many as 16 shots on a goalie in the 3rd period of a lot of games. When they are out playing their opponents, like they were against the Capitals, they need to find a way to take more leads into the 3rd rather than playing catch up in the final 20 minutes.
At least it wasn’t an 8-0 blowout. It wasn’t even a 7-0 shutdown. But at times it felt like it could turn that way.
Saturday night’s game showed that the Maple Leafs have learned to adjust to the powerful Boston Bruins. While they only hit Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask with seven shots in each period, they also held the Bruins offense to around the same number of chances throughout the course of the game (12 shots in 1st – 12 shots in 2nd – 10 shots in 3rd) And while Dion Phaneuf seemed to frustrate the ACC crowed at times with his lack of a shot, he used his body and awareness to keep the Bruins at bay in the Leafs' zone. Last year, in six games against the Black and Yellow, Phaneuf had no goals, two assists and logged a -10 plus/minus.
On Saturday night he was an even in the plus/minus category, which is right where you want to be in a 1-0 loss. Reimer also showed some continuing promise to regain his 2010-11 form as he stopped 33 of 34 shots. In the two games he played against Boston last year he went 0-2-0 while allowing 8 goals on 39 shots.
An interesting note that some people seem to forget is that during the Bruins Stanley Cup season, the Maple Leafs actually had the upper hand over the team. They won 4 of the 6 meetings. Dion Phaneuf was the worst plus/minus player on the team with only a -3 rating while Kessel put up 5 points (2 goals 3 assists) and Reimer went 3-1-0 allowing 10 goals on 143 shots and a 2.46 GAA.
It is uncertain if the Leafs can repeat that kind of success against the Bruins this season, but even a season split against the Bruins this year would be a major improvement over the 2011-12 showing.
A tough four-game week begins Monday night for the Maple Leafs. They welcome the Staal Brothers (Carolina) Hurricanes (3-4-0) to the ACC to kick it off.
The Hurricanes are going through a bit of a goalie crisis right now with neither Dan Ellis playing nor Cam Ward wanting to run away with the number one goalie spot. Both have already been pulled once each during a game this season. Carolina does have an edge over the Maple Leafs with an 8-2-1 record in the last 11, winning six of the last eight.
After the Hurricanes, the Leafs fly to Washington the very next day for a rematch against the Capitals. It will be interesting to hear the Ovechkin vs. Kessel “slumping superstar” talk all over again won’t it?
The Leafs will rest on Wednesday before playing the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. The Jets are having a lose a couple, win a couple type start to their season. They haven’t won since January 27 against the New York Islanders in overtime. It was their third win in a row, but now they have lost three straight.
To finish the week the Maple Leafs visit “La Belle Provence” for a rematch of the season opener in Montreal. The Canadiens have won six of seven since opening night and lead the Northeast Division to this point. With P.K. Subban back in the lineup the Canadiens are looking very dangerous right now.
One predicts is the Leafs will go 2-1-1 this week with an OT/SO loss against the Hurricanes, wins over the Capitals and Jets and a loss against the Canadiens. Fatigue may set in by the end of the week. They should play well against the Hurricanes but will fall short by a good goaltending performance by Cam Ward (if he gets the start that is). Lastly, the Leafs should come out hot against the Capitals and dominate the game while playing a solid 60 against the Jets and getting a few lucky bounces.