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Leafs 4 v. Islanders 2: Premature Exultation

Game Recap

The Leafs teased their fans with an excellent first period that was followed by 40 minutes of listless hockey. I could not really put my finger on my mood over these past few games but it finally hit me during the third period: anxiety.

I have constantly felt that the games have been on the verge of getting away from the Leafs. This has not necessarily been because the other team has been dominating because for most of the past 180 minutes the Leafs have been carrying the play. Rather, it was because I felt that if the opposition were to get their noses in front (or level in this game's case) that the Leafs did not possess the driving force necessary to assert themselve on the game. In short, I miss Mats Sundin.

His presence would likely have been the difference in the two previous games when so many chances went wanting and in this game he probably would not have allowed the Leafs to enter the lull that opened the door for the Islanders. Thankfully, Paul Maurice is cut from the same competitive cloth and video of him berating the team on the bench reinforced my belief that he will not allow this team to enter any extended down spells.

As for this game, the first period was everything the Leafs' coach expects from his team. Actually, there is no way he expected to see Wade Belak, who took the place of Brendan Bell, help open the scoring by delivering a pin-point pass to John Pohl after jumping in the rush. Wellwood added a goal after Nik Antropov calmly slid him a pass at the side of the net after intercepting a loose puck. Frodo faked a shot, I would have killed him if he passed, before slotting the puck in the yawning cage. Darcy Tucker added to the scoring, and his future paycheck, with a powerplay goal. The only downside to the period was Ian White's terrible giveaway for the first goal. Since I questioned his defensive ability White has really stepped up his game in the Leafs' end. He still has the habit of occasionally throwing the puck up the boards in panic before checking to see if anyone is there to receive it. On this occasion, the Islanders quickly created a one-timer for Chris Simon who made no mistake blowing it past Raycroft's glove hand.

The Leafs were rolling and it seemed like this game would at least mirror the 9-6 shootout for the home team. However, a strange thing happened to the boys in blue and white. They stopped doing the little things that had resulted in their 3-1 lead. Despite seemingly being in control of the penalty kill the Islanders added a second when the box was slow to react to Yashin's move to its centre and he one-timed a pass to Jason Blake who slapped it past Raycroft's outstretched left leg.

Eventually the Leafs iced the game with a Ponikarovsky powerplay goal that resulted from some good work by fellow former Soviet Bloc member Nik Antropov and the delightfully small Kyle Wellwood. The mood post-game was startingly desultory considering the victory and that is refreshing. Too often it has been good enough for the Leafs to just win. While there is nothing wrong with grinding out results a Leafs team that depends on contributions from the younger/unproven set needs them to learn to win as a result of good habits not because of the poor display of their opposition.

Because I like it so much, here is...

The Final Word
The reason was coach Paul Maurice, who was in no mood for in-house glee even though his club snapped a two-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the New York Islanders.
Mark Zwolinski, Toronto Star, highlights Paul Maurice's clear displeasure with the Leafs' effort after the first period.
No Islanders viewpoint because no one cares enough to write about