The Toronto Maple Leafs ran their streak to three wins in a row, defeating the Vancouver Canucks 4-2. This was a fun game that proved that the Maple Leafs appear to be buying in to Babcock's system and gaining confidence, but also proved that they still have a long way to go.
Vancouver appeared to be carrying play a little bit in the first period, creating a number of dangerous chances that included a post. James Reimer stood tall and kept things perfect through the first, even earning praise from the broadcast crew and a backhanded-compliment highlight package from Glenn Healy.
It was at this point that I realized that I'd volunteered to recap a game involving Glenn Healy, not to mention Jim Hughson, calling a game involving Vancouver. Fuck I am stupid.
James van Riemsdyk scored 8 minutes into the first period to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead that they would carry into the intermission.
This was one of those plays that highlighted a lot of the things that the Leafs have been doing successfully under Babcock that they struggled with previously. Polak, for example, has the puck below the goal line with pressure coming from two Canuck forwards, but rather than shove the puck up the boards he makes a simple three-foot pass to Leo Komarov.
Komarov then gets the puck up through the neutral zone to Nazem Kadri. We'll get to more from Kadri later but he gains the blue line, dishes the puck off to van Riemsdyk, and then goes to the net, taking the defender with him and creating both a screen on Ryan Miller and space for van Riemsdyk to get a shot
The "little things" show up in the advanced stats. This is a textbook example. Polak's effective breakout pass leads to a clean zone exit. Komarov attacks the neutral zone with speed and with support, which leads to a clean zone entry by Kadri. Kadri goes hard to the net to create traffic and allows JvR a shot from a higher danger scoring area, leading to a goal.
The Leafs extended their lead to 2 in the second off of a 5-on-3 power play goal by P.A. Parenteau. The goal capped off some pretty passing around the net, undoing what was a brainless man advantage as Rielly and Gardiner were just bombing shots into two Canucks forwards.
Jannik Hansen cut the lead to 2-1 shortly before the end of the second period, on a goal where he cut back across Dion Phaneuf and then shot back against the grain. It was a real great shot to beat Reimer, but Phaneuf didn't look great on the goal, and it underpinned some of the mobility issues we've talked about before with the captain. Hansen's a speedy guy but Phaneuf was at sixes and sevens almost immediately.
Michael Grabner also earned a penalty shot but missed miserably. His attempt was laughably bad, and I'm honestly starting to wonder how long a one-note guy like this is going to keep a deserving Marlie out of the line-up (and I'm not even talking about William Nylander).
Shawn Matthias got a matter of revenge against his former club, finishing off a wonderful little tic-tac-toe play off the rush with Tyler Bozak to make it 3-1 early in the third. I can't say I've noticed much of Matthias - good or bad - so far this season, but this was a nice little goal and started with Roman Polak saving himself from going wayyyy out of a position for a hit but stealing the puck in the neutral zone.
The Canucks would get one back mid-way through the period on the power play. Some good puck movement got Yannick Weber open for a one-time at the point, and the shot was tipped past Reimer in front by Alex Burrows. The Leaf penalty kill didn't exactly shine on this play. They got caught puck-watching in their box, giving Weber way too much space to get off a shot; and Burrows was wide open in front of Reimer, well below the Leafs defence. Even if Reimer had made the stop Burrows would have a clear scoring chance on the rebound.
Vancouver, by virtue of playing catch-up as well as a few power plays in the third period, managed 25 (!) shots in the third, which was apparently quite close to a team record for the most shots in a single period. Vancouver out shot the Leafs 45-40, which is a lot of shots in a game and a pretty stark contrast to much of that Nashville game on Thursday.
Joffrey Lupul would ice the game with a few minutes left, when Nick Spaling crashed the net looking for a rebound, appearing to make some incidental contact with Ryan Miller and giving Lupul an open net for his 200th career goal.
They reviewed this one for potential goaltender interference but I don't think there was much of a case for such a call, given: the puck was loose, Miller was already on his stomach, and his defencemen nudged Spaling into contact which hit the puck out from Miller's stick right onto Lupul's. It's a tough break for Miller, but if that was goaltender interference then a bigger net won't fix the league's scoring problem.
The Canucks scored with 2 seconds left but it was called off due to an offside that was missed by the linesman. It was funny to think that Babcock had used his challenge with two seconds left to reverse a meaningless goal, alas the review came from the NHL.
The Leafs travel to New York tomorrow to play the Rangers.
- Nazem Kadri was easily the Leafs' best forward tonight, and so it was curious to see him sparsely used down the stretch in the third period. Kadri played 16:53 which was well in line with what most Leafs played tonight, but Nick Spaling shouldn't be playing 19 minutes for an NHL team.
- Also when you have Nick Spaling playing 19 minutes for an NHL team Byron Froese shouldn't also play 14 and a half minutes. The Leafs should probably call Mark Arcobello back up immediately aw he's unquestionably better than either of those guys. Or move Peter Holland back to the middle and reward one of Richard Panik or Josh Leivo's great play.
- Jake Virtanen keeps taking runs like the one he took at Dion Phaneuf from behind late in the third and somebody's going to make sure that bum shoulder he dealt with last year stays that way. And also punch him in the face.
- It's interesting to see James van Riemsdyk sliding into Phil Kessel's role as trigger-man. JvR's basically scored the same goal twice now - once against Columbus and tonight - and Leo Komarov's working well as the plow horse on this line. Though he (Leo) was immensely useless on the power play in front of the net, providing a completely ineffective screen in front of Miller.
- Play Jonathan Bernier tomorrow night. James Reimer has been great this past week, and has certainly been deserving of seven straight starts. He's a big reason they've won three in a row. But tomorrow is the team's fourth game in six nights, in four different cities. You can't run Reimer into the ground in November, and at some point you're going to need Bernier to play and to prove he's healthy again.
- The Leafs are 4-2-0 against the Western Conference and 1-6-4 against the East, which I mention only because of how little sense that makes.