The Maple Leafs played a rare Sunday afternoon game against the Washington Capitals, and it wasn't just their fans that were surprised by the early start. The Leafs gave the Caps a 3-1 lead after a flat footed start and a couple dumb penalties against. Troy Bodie ripped the Leafs' second shot on goal by Halak to preserve a little dignity in an otherwise ugly period. The Leafs' second period looked much better - the bulk of play was in the Caps' zone, and the Leafs managed to bring the shots on goal even. Dion Phaneuf would score a second goal, aided by a nice screen by David Clarkson, but that was it. The third period was "meh at best," with a series of breakaways given up by pinching defensemen (not a terrible decision, given the deficit). The game in six:
The Leafs' PK did not look good through the first two, but had some success in the third. I like that Carlyle had Kulemin dedicated to taking Ovechkin out of the play, but if you can't figure out how to deal with the remaining 4-on-3, what's the point? The Caps were free to set a screen and to leave a man free in the low slot, and the Leafs seemed split between whether or not to challenge the man on the half boards. As with the rest of the game, the Leafs looked better in the third, and actually brought some effective kills. I think the difference, suggested by this Katsaros tweet, was largely in zone entry - the Caps ability to get set up was a huge difference between "scary" and "getting jeers from the home crowd."
On the other side of the whistle, I thought the Leafs' PP looked good. They managed to set up well, and the high man (Phaneuf/Gardiner) did a good job of both keeping the puck in the zone and distributing play. I liked Franson's work down low - he had a few good shots and a few good passes, which is nice because his d-zone play at even strength was "weak" to say the least.
Two things stuck out to me about Phaneuf's game: how useless the on-one-knee-passing-lane seems to be, and how strong he is offensively. The former, in the d-zone, seems like an ineffective way to take away the passing lane, and it seems like a waste for a strong guy to cover space. I'd much rather see Dion on a man, clearing the screen and tying up a stick, though he's allowed more than a few scoring chances by failing to stay stick-side. His power play goal, however, was a thing of beauty. The initial shot, collecting the rebound, shifting from side to side in the zone and a well-placed shot on goal that wasn't power, power, power.
More than anything, in my mind, today's game reinforces the Leafs' need for a top pairing left defenseman. Whether age or injury have caught up to Gunnarsson, he's neither a huge physical presence nor positionally infallible, and Phaneuf isn't enough of a defensive wonder to carry the load.
Running seven defensemen is interesting to see in person. You never really know who's coming over the boards, though with the Leafs' bottom four, I'm not sure opposing teams really care. Paul Ranger doesn't seem like a real threat in the offensive zone, and got man handled into allowing the Caps a breakaway in the third. When Tim Gleason has the puck, he seems to have two options: maul the puck over to his partner and hope they get it, or turn it over. I guess you can't expect much more from a bottom pairing guy, but I'd like more return on 4M in cap. Gardiner and Rielly are always fun to watch - I'd still like to see an even more structured method of allowing them to jump into the rush, and I think it's especially apparent after watching the Kings, where Doughty drives so much of their offensive zone play.
At F, it's more of the same: Bozak loves to pass to Kessel, Kessel always looks dangerous, but none of the top six really looked like they were pressuring hard for extended periods of time. David Clarkson actually set up a nice screen on the Phaneuf goal, so he beat the over-under for "how many useful things will Clarkson do today?" (It was 0.5). That was about it from him, though, despite getting put on the second line for some time.
Kulemin was back at C, as Holland missed the game for reasons I'm not sure of, and even though he looked poor in the first (missing a breakout pass reception and not really generating any offense), I thought he was a great bounceback player late in the game. He had a nice tip and a decent shot on goal, but watching him play center just looks odd to me - probably because I'm so used to him at wing.
Reimer was victimized early, as the Caps' two PPGs left him little opportunity to make the save. I'm still not totally sure what happened with the initial shot on the second goal, but I was even more confused by Reimer's reaction: it's so rare that he'd scramble and end up beyond the paint, but there he was outside the goal crease and out of form. He came up huge late in the game with saves on a series of breakaways and a penalty kill with under three minutes to play. Two huge glove saves, including one on a 2-on-1, left me shaking my head at people who buy into the "worse-than-league-average-glove-hand" theory. He ended up having a solid, not stellar game, but the Leafs need "stellar," especially when they're not filling the net.
A small note: Although I saw a couple tweets that involved ExtraSkater's shot attempt charts, I wrote the above without even so much as the NHL.com box score. This may be common for other recaps and other hockey viewers, but I'm interested in my own dependency - it's hard to tell when I usually both watch the game and check the stats (unheard of for many of the worst on twitter). Spend some time in the comments letting me know where you disagree, where the stats disagree, and where I'm outright out to lunch.