Hey, 2 points.
The Leafs racked up 6 goals on the Panthers' Scott Clemmensen tonight, and it felt good. Beating Florida 6-3 is no incredible feat, but hey, I'm not complaining.
The first period saw the Leafs make far too many mistakes - at both ends of the ice. The Panthers went up 1-0 on a bad pinch by Jake Gardiner and a really poor backchecking effort by Nazem Kadri. He let Nick Bjugstad get inside positioning on him, and just didn't move his feet nearly enough to provide any backside pressure on what became a clear breakaway. Minutes later it was Cody Franson getting overwhelmed and coughing up the puck to the Panthers inside his own zone to put the Leafs down 2-0. To be fair to Franson, the Kessel line wasn't giving him a lot of outlet options, as they left the zone too early. The Leafs passing was off all period, and like so many other games, this was a sign that the team's positioning needed to be tightened.
Things got steadily better for the Leafs after they went down 2-0. Normally, this is a poor strategy for winning NHL hockey games, but fortunately for the team in blue, their opponents tonight were the Panthers. Kadri atoned for his backchecking mistake later in the period when he did good work to chase down a puck deep in the Florida zone, strip a defender of it, and feed Franson for a point shot, which cut the Panthers' lead to one goal. Kadri also made a good backchecking play to close out the first, as he lifted the stick of a rushing forward. The team also managed to kill two penalties, which was refreshing, and only wound up out-shot 11-9 after 20 minutes.
The Leafs began the second period with a nice rush from Mason Raymond, as the Panthers inexplicably handed him the blue line, and he let a great wrist shot rip cleanly over Scott Clemmensen's shoulder. Then, on the power play, James van Riemsdyk, standing in front of the net, managed to get a stick on a Phil Kessel shot/pass to put the Leafs ahead 3-2. There were some shaky moments in the second half of the second period for the Leafs, but they held on until the intermission when they could regroup.
The third period was arguably the Leafs' best. The Kadri line proved to the be the Leafs' strongest of the game, as they cashed in twice in the final frame to widen the Leafs' lead to 5-2, effectively icing this game. It was great to see Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul find twine, but Kadri stole the show with great forechecking down low, an improved defensive game, and 3 assists on the night.
With five minutes and change left in the third, Jonathan Bernier lost track of the puck and had it hit him in the face before going in. The Panthers' surge was short-lived, however, as Phil Kessel slid Tyler Bozak a beautiful pass to make it 6-3 just four minutes later.
Overall, the Leafs didn't play so well so much as they played a really poor opponent. Of course, the team did wind up scoring 6 goals against a team you'd expect them to light up, and they were perfect on the PK. The PP kept clicking, even if it looked disorganized at times, and so you'd have to say that everything went as well as needed to. Heck, the Leafs didn't even give up 40 shots!
- Kessel's line was OK, not great. Kessel himself looked pretty dangerous, but Bozak and JvR were ghost-like through most of this contest.
- It was a very good game for both Carter Ashton and Mason Raymond, who did great work on the Leafs' PK and each generated some good chances. Raymond had the goal, and Ashton came ever so close on two occasions.
- Tim Gleason, human piñata
- Bernier was good enough to win, but not great. Hey, it's not like the Leafs don't owe him a few bail-outs.
- JvR left the game early with Jay McClement taking his place, no update as of yet why that was.
- McClement was deployed well - mostly to protect the lead late in the game
- Peter Holland's third line had a fantastic shift in the opening period and it was too bad not to see him get more ice time, especially in a game where the Leafs wound up with a 3-goal lead with plenty of time left in the third. He played fewer minutes of any forward except Ashton and Colton Orr.