The Leafs rode into Manhattan winners of three straight and getting points in six of their last seven. They ultimately ran into an even more impressive streak, dropping a 4-3 decision to the New York Rangers. The win was the Rangers' ninth straight.
The Leafs looked like a team playing the second half of a back-to-back. They made sloppy mistakes and struggled at times to get out of their own zone. The special teams were a garbage fire. Yet, in spite of all of these things, they were in line to get a point for 59 minutes.
So, why didn't they? Look no further than the man in net.
In spite of their flaws, the Leafs managed to take advantage of a day off for starter Henrik Lundqvist, and get three goals past Antti Raanta. In the end, however, New York got better goaltending from their backup than the Leafs did from theirs.
I agree with the decision to rest James Reimer; he started seven straight games including a back-to-back last weekend. That said, Jonathan Bernier simply had to be better. He allowed four goals on 30 shots for an .867 SV%, which is just brutal. While two of those goals were defensive lapses beyond his control, he allowed two goals with a distinct odor, including a laugher from centre-ice. In the end, that was the difference between leaving the Big Apple with zero points and coming home with one or two.
The first period was pretty much a snoozefest. Shots were 12-8 for the Leafs, but you could probably count the scoring chances on one hand. Early on, the Leafs looked like a team that played 24 hours ago and hopped a plane to New York right after the game. They got hemmed in their own zone for long periods of time, and had trouble escaping the neutral zone.
The Leafs did, however, turn it on later in the period and got rewarded. Byron Froese mugs Viktor Stalberg behind the net and dishes to Peter Holland, who beats Raanta on the backhand with a pretty impressive solo effort. The Rangers almost tied it on a Rick Nash shot, but the inanimate carbon rod came up big with a save.
The second period got off to a rocky start, as a sloppy Tyler Bozak giveaway turns into a 3-on-1 chance for the Rangers. Ryan McDonagh converted to tie the game at 1-1, as he had an empty net to shoot at. The Leafs would respond to this....well, by giving up another sloppy odd-man rush on an ill-timed change. Luckily, Bernier could stop this one.
Babcock was less than pleased with their defensive play, to say the least:
now you've done it, Leafs. pic.twitter.com/HAVUscn8mh— Stephanie (@myregularface) November 16, 2015
The defensive woes continued for the Leafs. Six and a half minutes into the second, the Leafs had no shots and just one shot attempt. When the play was in the Rangers zone, the Leafs could not maintain possession. The Leafs would finally get their first shot of the period almost eight minutes in.
The Rangers then take the 2-1 lead on a harmless shot from centre ice. Or, it would be harmless if anyone not named Jonathan Bernier was in net. In a valiant effort to stop a completely innocuous puck, it bounces through Bernier's pads and into the net. You tried, Jonathan. Almost had that one. Maybe next time?
Fortunately, the Leafs got that one back later in the second period. Joffrey Lupul positioned himself excellently in front of Raanta to catch a rebound and convert it to tie the game at 2-2. The Leafs almost took the lead on a 3-on-1, but alas, Leo Komarov couldn't cash in the feed. Much like the first, the Leafs napped through the first half of the period, but really turned it on the second half.
The Leafs started the third with more sloppy play. Shocking, I know. Much like the beginning of the second period, it would cost the Leafs. Mats Zuccarello gets the puck to Derrick Brassard all alone in front for an easy tap-in to give the Rangers the 3-2 lead. The poor coverage of Zuccarello wasn't Morgan Rielly's best moment, but I'm not sure what Matt Hunwick was doing there. He let Brassard get in front of him and make a clean shot. Woof.
The Leafs had an answer for this goal, too. Tyler Bozak wins an offensive zone faceoff, and Dion Phaneuf rockets a shot past Raanta to make it 3-3. The shot appeared to either deflect off a Ranger stick or bounce off the ice to change direction, but whatever. A goal's a goal. We'll take it.
The sloppy play continued as P.A. Parenteau missed a drop pass and was forced to trip up Jesper Fast to prevent a breakaway. While it didn't seem like it, this occurred on a Leaf power play. Thankfully, the Rangers power play seemed to be about as proficient tonight, so the Leafs didn't pay for their sins.
Speaking of power plays, the Leafs were absolutely atrocious with the man advantage, going 0-for-3, and allowing at least three breakaway opportunities for the Rangers.
Of course, this being the Leafs, they found the Leafiest way to lose. With 52 seconds left, Bernier gives up a terrible rebound right to Zuccarello. The Norwegian Hobbit converted for the game-winning goal. If you're not keeping track, Zuccarello now has 4 goals and 6 points in two games against the Leafs this year. Sigh.
-The Leafs take a too many men penalty in the 1st period, their second in as many games. The Leafs are now up to seven bench minors on the season while no other team has more than four. This is a crucial area for Babcock and company to clean up going forward.
-My god, are the Rangers a boring team to watch. If low-event, clutch-and-grab, Dead Puck-style hockey is your cup of tea, then you'll love watching the Rangers. If, however, you prefer fun, these games are a snoozefest.
-Rick Nash had quite the scoring chance in the second period, slaloming around JVR and Kadri to get a clean shot on Bernier. This should highlight how good a night Nash had, but also how the top line still needs improvement defensively.
-Scott Harrington made an excellent stick play to break up a potential odd-man rush. He's been quite the pleasant surprise for the Leafs, especially when you consider he's been paired with a defensive boat anchor in Roman Polak.
-Chris Kreider has some impressive speed. I've never seen someone retrieve a dump-in and make a legitimate scoring chance without breaking stride.
-I haven't been one to complain about the usage of James Reimer because Bernier was the better goalie the past two seasons. Tonight's game is further proof that is no longer the case. Bernier has just been flat out awful this year. Reimer has earned the starting job with his stellar November play. I hope Babcock feels the same way.
-The first two Leaf goals started with some good work behind the net. Froese forced the turnover on the Holland goal, then Daniel Winnik did the same to get attacking zone possession prior to the Lupul goal. I had also never seen Lupul station himself right in front of the net prior to this season. These are the kinds of little things that the Leafs weren't doing under prior coaching regimes, and it makes a difference.
-Hard to pour on them too much because they've been so good in November, but the Hunwick-Rielly pairing did not have a good night.
-Joffrey Lupul has had one of the best nights I've seen in a while. Beyond the goal, he was getting good chances. He hasn't looked out of place on the checking line, either. He has been a pleasant surprise under Babcock.
-I'm not sure I agree with Babcock's decision not to make any lineup changes. This was their second game in two days, and fourth in six. The team definitely looked like a tired bunch, which makes it perplexing why you wouldn't turn to some well-rested options in Brad Boyes, Martin Marincin, or Frank Corrado (who has yet to even a play a game as a Leaf).
-Jonathan Bernier: 0-7-1, .895 SV%. Woof.
The Leafs won't get much rest after this back-to-back. They have just one day off before hosting the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.