The Leafs saw their short win streak come to an end, as they lost to the Coyotes for the 12095824th straight time (or so it feels). Here's how it happened:
The first 15 minutes of the game were honestly rather uneventful. The Leafs defence were having real trouble completing passes, with Gardiner, Rielly, and Phaneuf all botching what should have been relatively easy breakouts by forcing long stretch passes under limited pressure . It was vaguely reminiscent of the Carlyle era Leafs, where there was often massive gaps between the forward and defence, inhibiting useful puck movement.
All hell broke loose in the final quarter of the period. After Kadri drew a penalty (stop me if you've heard that one before), the Leafs wasted little time, as JVR ripped a perfect shot into the top corner from the circle. 1-0 for the good guys. But just secen seconds later, the Leafs were victimized by a brutal bounce. After losing the centre-ice faceoff, a dump-in took a horrific bounce into the slot, right into the path of Shane Doan, who made no mistake, burying a backhand. While luck could be blamed in this instance, the Coyotes' second goal left the Leafs with no one to blame but themselves. After receiving a short pass in his own zone from Martin Marincin (a very good one, I should add - Marincin seems to excel at those), Byron Froese proceeded to crap his pants and turn the puck over, ultimately leading to another goal for Doan, just 14 seconds after his first. Froese had another brain-fart in his own zone later in the period, but Bernier managed to save the resulting shot. It should be said that neither of the two goals let in this period were really the fault of Bernier. That being said, what separates the good goalies from the average ones is the ability to make the 'hard' saves.
After P.A. Parenteau took an interference penalty following a bizarre play where the Coyotes goalie had a Hasek-esque expedition in his own zone, the Leafs had two fantastic chances to equalize. First, a Coyotes turnover lead to a 2 on 0 breakaway for the Leafs. Unfortunately, it involved perhaps the two worst Leafs forwards for that change: Byron Froese and Michael Grabner. Froese had the puck, and ultimately turned in the worst 2 on 0 chance I've seen in my lifetime, opting to ignore his teammate and cut to the middle. Unsurprisingly, his straightforward shot attempt was saved.
Grabner, who was all over the ice on this penalty kill, later got a clean breakaway, stemming from a Coyotes turnover near the Leafs blueline. After being taken down past center ice, the referees made the correct call of giving the Leafs a penalty shot. Not to be outdone by Froese, Grabner fired a tame shot that attempted to go five-hole, and the Leafs let two glorious chances go to waste near the end of the period.
The Leafs started to play more cleanly in this period. While they occasionally devolved into firing aimless stretch passes, the Buds did a better job of getting controlled zone entries, and consequently saw an uptick in productive possession, particularly in the second half of the period. This level of play was rewarded when Nazem Kadri potted a goal off a nice feed from Tyler Bozak, during the Leafs' best stretch of the period. Morgan Rielly got the secondary assist, which is becoming a bit of a pattern for him - given what we know about the repeatability of secondary assists, this may be a sign that Rielly's seeming jump in offensive production is simply him getting on the right side of randomness. Something to note in this period was how inconsistent the Leafs defensive pairings were. It seems like every possible combination of Leafs defensemen played together. Frank Corrado still doesn't seem to have the trust of the coaching staff, as he was given no PK time, and played just 7 minutes through the first two periods. On the forward side of things, Brad Boyes continues to struggle for minutes, despite his typically solid play. The same is true of Shawn Matthias.
The Leafs started the third on a power play, and only had one real chance on it, as Boyes was unable to get solid contact on a bouncing rebound from a Tyler Bozak shot. Throughout this period, it became apparent how mediocre the Coyotes are as a team. They seem to put little pressure on offending puck carriers, and for the most part, the Leafs had little trouble breaking out of their own zone and gaining the blueline of the Coyotes. When you consider that the Leafs played Monday, that's particularly damning for the Coyotes.
Naturally, the Coyotes get the next goal. Off a seemingly innocuous play, a point shot from Connor Murphy found its way in past Bernier. And despite playing better than the Coyotes for most of the night, the Leafs found themselves down a goal, and having to chase the game. It didn't look like the shot took a deflection, but Roman Polak might have been screening Bernier. After an uneventful penalty kill from a Marincin delay of game penalty, the Leafs went back to work putting pressure on the Coyotes. The Bozak - JVR - Parenteau line, consistently the Leafs best line on the night, had a glorious chance off a cross-ice pass from Bozak to Parenteau, which was brilliantly stopped by Louis Domingue.
The Leafs continued to generate grade-A opportunities - Peter Holland had a phenomenal chance in front of a brilliant steal and pass from Daniel Winnik. Ultimately, it wasn't to be, and the game ended 3-2 for the bad guys.
- The Leafs lineup usage is weird. The 4th line of Brad Boyes, Shawn Matthias, and Byron Froese had very few ES minutes. Boyes and Matthias are both pretty solid players, and on the second night of a back to back, I think that it might make more sense to distribute minutes more evenly to avoid fatigue.
- Frank Corrado doesn't seem to have the trust of Babcock. He played the fewest minutes of any Leafs defenseman, and it didn't help that he got run over in the minutes that he did play.
- Bernier didn't have a bad game, but he didn't have a good one either. I don't think Bernier can be blamed too heavily for this loss. The first goal was a terrible bounce, and the second goal was far more on Froese. The third goal was probably the weakest of the three, but Polak seemed to be screening Bernier. And to be sure, Bernier did make some solid saves throughout the game. That said, one or two more saves and this is an entirely different game - and as I mentioned before, this is what separates the good goalies from the average ones. The ability to make the tough saves is the key differentiator for netminders.