It feels so good. Jake Gardiner up, Dion Phaneuf to his normal side, a goon to the box, and James Reimer in net. Hockey how the Toronto Maple Leafs were meant to play it. Scoring opened with a series of slick passes from Carl Gunnarson to Nazem Kadri to Joffrey Lupul and straight through Mathieu Garon to the back of the net. Phaneuf slapped a gift home after Kadri wrestled the puck to Gunnarsson. Phil Kessel and Mark Fraser combined for a brilliant (and slightly fortuitous) passing play that left Tyler Bozak sitting in front of a net so open that it looked like the Lightning left their goalies in Tampa. Nikolai Kulemin snapped home a pretty wrister that was set up by none other than Nazem the Dream. Tampa got two back in garbage time (read: the second half of the game), but the Leafs took home two points. Your game in six:
Nazem Kadri had a great night. Three well-earned assists, great puck possession play, and get this: almost all of his time was against Stamkos, St Louis, Purcell, Carle, and Hedman. Heck, he spent more time on ice against Stamkos and St Louis than he did against Garon or Lindback. Carlyle said after the game that Kadri would spend more time against opponents' top lines, which has been a common theme in recaps and discussions on this blog for the past month or so.
Gunnarsson-Phaneuf reunited and it felt so right. Along with Kadri's line, they shut down the Stamkos line on the night, holding him to zero scoring chances for, and St Louis to just one. They should've been paired together since the start of the season, and it's nice to see Carlyle's dumb Phaneuf-to-the-left-side rule crumble.
Gardiner had a very nice game. Jumped in to the rush, broke up a good 2-on-1, and snuck down in the offensive zone for a couple dangerous shots. Very glad to see him freed from the AHL, and yeah, it makes me wonder why he spent so much time down there in the first place. This, too, has been a common theme on the blog for the past while.
Colton Orr - Jay McClement - Leo Komarov worked as a fourth line, and featured two players who could handle heavy PK time in Komarov and McClement. It's way better than coddling two lead-fisted fighters who certainly do not create extra space for skill players like Kadri.
Neither the first line nor Mikhail Grabovski's line had a big part in this game. Grabbo had a goal, but the ref claimed intent to blow on the softest of calls against Lupul. I'd like to think that the top six's low TOI were mostly about the 4-0 score and the Leafs facing another opponent tomorrow night - why shouldn't Carlyle conserve their energy?
It helps that the Lightning are a terrible team, but this is a win where the underlying figures and decisions were good. For all the people who bitch about the site for not celebrating in the face of a win, this is one that deserves pure, unfettered joy. Tomorrow night, the Leafs play another lousy team, the Buffalo Vaneks. Here's hoping for another two points.