Hopefully, you did not watch this game.
The Leafs have been embarrassed in Boston for years, and I can't be bothered to count how many. Even when they've won, they've won on a lucky bounce or ten, all while being outplayed all over the ice. Typically, this was the kind of game you could happily miss for any reason - root canals, funerals, jury duty, whatever. And yeah, I did just say 'duty'.
I had some hope that tonight's game would be different. After all, the team has looked quite different under Mike Babcock against pretty much any other team, and so I thought that this could provide a good litmus test for the progress being made in the rebuild so far. Nope.
The Leafs got off to a disconcerting start, at one point allowing the gap in shots to reach 14-5, forcing James Reimer to stand on his head in the first half of the opening frame. The Bruins took several shifts entirely in the Leafs' zone that looked a lot like power plays, but there were actually still 5 Leafs on the ice. Later in the period when Brad Marchand was assessed a minor penalty for
roughing being a worse version of Hitler, the Leafs failed to muster anything - against the penalty kill that has so far been the least effective in the entire NHL. Basically, things went about like they did last year.
The Leafs did get a chance or two in the first period, most notably as Shawn Matthias capitalized on a bad giveaway in the Bruins' defensive zone and managed to walk in all alone against Tuuka Rask - he missed, naturally. ("It's Spaz-way. He'll screw up.")
At the end of one, the shots were 14-7 Bruins.
The second period saw the Leafs get several good scoring chances. Matthias hit the post and flubbed a breakaway, Michael Grabner hit the post, and Nazem Kadri also had a pretty good look. Having said all that, the Leafs were again out-played, only this time not as badly. At the end of two, the shots were 25-16, and the Leafs had to be happy going into the third tied 0-0. Thanks, Reimer!
The Leafs began the third by getting hemmed into their own end, and Kadri took a minor penalty for high-sticking Marchand. I mean, you couldn't blame him for wanting to, but it did give the league's top power play a chance to open the scoring. Fortunately, Matthias continued his strong work, hustling for yet another near-breakaway while shorthanded, and then causing the Bruins all sorts of frustration.
Finally, the dam burst. With just 3:43 left in the third period, on Boston's 36th shot of the game, Zdeno Chara blasted a point shot by Reimer, who couldn't be blamed for not seeing the puck through the busy screen in front of him. It was exasperating to watch, because not only did the Leafs turn in a poor performance in the third period and deserve to be scored on, but they responded to the goal by getting hemmed into their own end on the ensuing shift.
The Leafs pulled the goalie, but it was really no use. Marchand (who else?) scored to ice this one.
Overall, this game was a festering turd sandwich, served à la Randy Carlyle. The team managed to do nothing other than chip and chase, and get beat on the overwhelming majority puck recovery opportunities. The Bruins stifled all speed in the neutral zone (as usual), force dump-ins (as usual), and beat the Leafs to the puck in their own end over and over again (sigh). The Leafs had no answer to it. Or, at least, they couldn't think of anything different to do other than to continue to chip and chase, chip and chase.
"Hey, I know what we'll do!" thought the Leafs, "We'll play the Bruins on the boards all night! That'll play to our strength and their weakness!" Uh, wrong.
A few notes on individual performances:
- Dion Phaneuf had a good game. Really. He was one of only four players for the Leafs to wind up with a positive Corsi number at the end of the night, and all game he made safe, simple plays.
- The Kadri line got buried against Bergeron. Kadri, Komarov, and JvR were the team's worst Corsi scores, leaving aside Roman Polak because, well, you know. Both goals went in with them on the ice.
- Shawn Matthias was great. I mean, it stinks that he has no finish around the net, but he's a great skater and caused all kinds of problems for Boston tonight. Aside from Reimer, he was easily the best Leaf on the ice.
- James Reimer. Hoo boy. He was great. Just great. He deserves so much better than this.
- Brad Boyes. Why aren't the Leafs playing him? It seems that he's good every time he's out there.