The Toronto Maple Leafs fell, once again, in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite peppering Antero Niittymaki with 41 shots the Leafs only managed one goal by way of the moustachulent Ian White and a healthy deflection. Jonas Gustavsson looked good once again in stopping 30 shots. He gave up a juicy rebound for the Lightning's opener although Matt Stajan and Francois Beauchemin (aka the player that gives me ulcers) should have done a better job of picking up players after The Monster's giveaway.
But the real news was Phil Kessel's debut as a Toronto Maple Leaf and what a debut. Phil Kessel looked dangerous all night especially 13 minutes into the game. It looked like he was going to waltzed through the Lightning. Of course, Matthias Ohlund had a different idea. I have to admit that I almost passed out when he stepped up into Kessel and almost ended his life. Thank God Kessel's not made of glass so he didn't even miss a shift. He finished the night with over 23 minutes of ice-time, 10 shots on net, and highlighted just how vast the gap is between himself and the rest of the team's forwards.
So there was a lot of good tonight. Of course, they wouldn't have lost the game if there weren't any problems.
Shut your eyes around a minute in.
The league's best powerplay went 1-for-8 in a game that went to overtime. That was the difference right there. And what was one of the problems? As expected, Phil Kessel was run out there at every opportunity and frequently for almost the entire powerplay. While Kessel is a hell of a sniper he is pretty static which, when combined with the other players deferral to him, hmstrung the penalty kill. It was much easier to defend them than when the movement was much more dynamic. The refs actually did a pretty good job of calling some soft penalties both ways.
The overtime winner was another sign of trouble. Too often, the defence pairings seem as if they just met each other. After Matt Stajan made a Matt Stajan play (95% good, 5% falling down) the Lightning came down the ice 2-on-2. Simple enough right? Well, then the Lightning forwards crossed just inside the blueline and all hell broke loose. There are two options on that play: the defence can communicate and follow their respective forwards across the ice or the the defence can communicate and switch forwards and remain on their side. Instead, we were treated to secret option # 3 where one defenceman follows his forward across the ice and the other steps up on that same forward. The only problem is that that move leaves Ryan Malone alone in front of the net to slam the rebound (and Gustavsson) into the net. The puck doesn't go in if Malone doesn't knock Gus into the net and it's a shame to see a simple call like that get missed but based on some of the phantom calls made tonight we shouldn't be too surprised.
The penalty kill has been improving incremnetally and tonight marked the second straight game with no powerplay goals again. It's strange to think that a small change like adding a goalie that can make a save would have such a big impact. There is definitely still room for improvement. With Jonas Gustavsson in net the Leafs have killed 13 of 17 penalties (76.5%) with Gus making 21 of 25 (.840sv%) saves. Of course, even that 76.5% number is a huge improvement over the rest of the year. However, as with so much, it's about baby steps for the Leafs.
Maybe one night the Leafs will get all aspects of their game firing at the same time. If they had to choose one night to do it I'd suggest Friday night when the Leafs face their fellow basement dwellers the Carolina Hurricanes. Until then the Leafs will be busy fixing the little things.