The Leafs made their first visit to Columbus since 2003 and came away with 2 well-earned points. Much in the same that the Avs triumphed in Toronto, the Leafs played just a bit better than a Columbus team devoid of passion. The Leafs made a few lineup changes with Jay Harrison moving to the press box to be replace by Wade Belak and Ben Ondrus making his first appearance of the year on the seldom used fourth line. There was also a sizeable contingent of Leafs fans present. The occasional Go Leafs Go chant made you think that you were in Ottawa.
A guarded first period saw the Leafs doing much more of what they need to do. They were winning battles for the puck, establishing the forecheck, and hitting much more than Wednesday when they recorded less than a handful of hits. Alexander Steen was moved to the first line and it looked like his understanding with the skipper did not miss a beat. The good news is that Mats now has two offensively gifted youngsters (Wellwood and Steen were 9th and 10th in rookie scoring last year) ready to feed him the puck. The flip side of that is that they are always looking to feed Mats so they will have to work on creating their own chances.
The second period saw the Leafs struggling to deal with a surprisingly pacy Columbus attack. Of course, this led to a parade to the penalty box for the Leafs. Thankfully, Mike Peca had another great game killing penalties and added his first goal as a Maple Leaf. His PK efforts were aided by Chad Kilger, Ian White, and Hal Gill. The PK won almost every one-on-one battle and did a superb job icing the puck. Andrew Raycroft who had a great game and made a number of stunning saves including one in which he moved from post to post to stop a certain goal.
Matt Stajan was once again the forward with the most jump in his step. Apparently, the coaching staff sat him down after the first couple of games and made him watch each shift in order to teach him and it has definitely paid off this season.
I think they may have done the same with Bryan McCabe because he played his best game of the season. That is not saying much since he has been pretty terrible but it was a good game for any $6M defenceman. He cut out a number of opportunities, he was not caught pinching and he opened the scoring.
The third period saw the game descend back into the same kind of stultifying boredom of the first except for a ray of sunshine from the fourth line. Paul Maurice was unable to get them much ice-time because of the amount of penalties but when he called upon them they delivered. They hemmed the Blue Jackets in with an exuberant puck pursuit before forcing a turnover that led to a John Pohl goal. Hopefully, they can continue to put forth that sort of effort in their rare time on the ice because the Leafs may eventually need a strong 4th line (see: playoffs, if we make the).
Overall, despite the lack of excitement, which Michael Turner compares to getting stabbed in the eye with a syringe (I hope he doesn't actually have a reference point for that because it sounds painful), there were enough bright spots to come away from the game happy. Tonight it's the Rangers and with Jaromir Jagr I don't think that the Leafs will be able to get away with giving up 7 powerplays.
Maple Leaf Goals
Wellwood drove wide down the right wing and slide the puck through to Mats Sundin who continued around the back of the net before trying to centre it to Alex Steen. He couldn't connect with it but Bryan McCabe leaned into a one-timer to open up his account.
The Leafs' powerplay broke down the Blue Jackets' box with some slick passing. McCabe took a quick touch pass from Kaberle who just got the puck after a sprawling effort by Chimera to intercept a pass from Wellwood. His pass was deflected to Tucker at the right side of the net and he made a nifty behind-the-back pass to Wellwood who tried to pass it to Mats behind the net and accidentally scored.
Alex Steen made a great play to shield the puck along the boards after Kilger's dump in. Peca chipped the puck up to Kilger who left it for Steen who fired a perfect pass to Peca who had floated to the front of the net. He chipped the puck past LeClaire for his first goal as a Leaf.
The fourth line was rewarded for their hard work with a turnover that Ben Ondrus picked off between the tops of the circles. His blast resulted in another huge rebound from Pascal LeClaire and John Pohl was there to slap the puck into the roof of the net.
And as always...
The Final Word
The games are all sold out in Toronto, so those poor, hockey-starved folks have a chance to chant "Go, Leafs, Go" somewhere. But all kidding aside, the Leafs should be more than a rumor in an NHL city a mere 5Â∏-hour drive from Toronto, especially given their widespread popularity. The schedule heavy with intradivision games that the NHL adopted two years ago doesnâ•˙t look any better today than the Blue Jackets looked last night. Want to be here when the Blue Jackets get a little home ice revenge on the Maple Leafs? Donâ•˙t despair. If things stay the way they are, Toronto will be back in town for the 2009-10 season.
Bob Hunter, Columbus Dispatch, illustrating the ridiculousness of the unbalanced schedule.
After more than 35 minutes of very flat play from both teams and an unusual number of power plays for both teams that kept specialty units on the ice, Maurice threw the high-energy No.4 line over the boards. As they usually do, they kept the opposition in their own end. Ultimately, ex-Leaf Anders Eriksson was called for holding Ondrus's stick in a desperate bid to end the pressure. Out came the Leafs' No.1 power-play unit, which had struggled through the last game-and-a-half, and suddenly it sprang to life. A passing play involving all five players ended when Kyle Wellwood tipped in Darcy Tucker's behind-the-back beauty.
Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, giving the little guys their due as the game's turning point.