After last night's embarrassing loss to the New York Islanders, the Leafs must have been keen be, well, moving on. More specifically, Jonathan Bernier needed to move on, after allowing 6 goals on 15 shots, and finishing the evening with a .600 Sv%. The Leafs admittedly had some defensive lapses in front of him, but that was no excuse.
As an aside, that James Reimer came into the last game and did not start against the Pittsburgh Penguins suggests that he is simply not healthy enough to start, so why was he playing at all? He reaggravated an injury stopping only 6 shots. It seems like the Leafs were playing a little too fast and loose with Reimer's health.
Bring up Ray Emery, whatever. This season doesn't matter. Don't destroy one of the players currently doing good work for this team.
This game featured a couple of other interesting storylines, including the fact that Phil Kessel was again facing his old team, even if he wound up doing so on the Pens' third line. Secondly, Mark Arcobello played his first game for the Leafs since being sent to the Marlies, where he collected 27 points in 23 games.
The Leafs started this game on their heels, but at least Bernier made a save on the first shot of the game. The team got running around a bit in their own end, but no harm on the scoreboard came of it.
Dion Phaneuf opened the scoring on a blast from the point as the Nazem Kadri line did some decent work recovering the puck down low and getting traffic in front of Pens' rookie netminder Matt Murray.
Unfortunately, things took a rather familiar turn as the Pens evened the score on their third shot of the game, as their star-studded power play came to life to complete a pretty passing play that really gave Bernier no chance. It would have been nice if Bernier were able to stop the puck when it was rung around the boards, but it's a stretch to say lay blame at Bernier's feet on that basis.
Later in the period, with Evgeni Malkin in the box, the power play unit of Kadri, Joffrey Lupul, and Leo Komarov hit the post and generated about two or three other near misses. Then, the unit of P.A. Parenteau, Tyler Bozak, and James van Riemsdyk also hit the post on the next shift of the same power play.
Then, with the Leafs doing some good work in the offensive zone, Komarov laid a very ugly hit from behind on Kris Letang that cost him a double major penalty (and could very well have seen him kicked out of the game). Letang took a 2-minute penalty for retaliating but also had to leave the ice to head to the 'quiet room' to check for a concussion. The league will likely examine this one, despite the lack of a major penalty.
Leo Komarov got two minutes for boarding on this play. Fair? pic.twitter.com/yeN8upRJTd— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) December 31, 2015
Interesting that after three Penguins jumped Komarov, the first player to jump in to his aid was Jake Gardiner.
On the ensuing power play, Bernier absolutely robbed Kessel on a rebound opportunity, and came up with another couple great saves before the end of the period. Really, he looked good.
The period got progressively chippy after the Komarov hit, as Phaneuf really got into things with Sidney Crosby and got right under his skin. I'm not normally a fan of this kind of play, but in the case of Crosby, if you can get him off his game, you do it.
While the Leafs out-shot the Pens 12-7 in the first period, the overall 5v5 shot attempt event charts showed a much more even game, as both teams wound up with 15.
Early in the second, the Leafs jumped out to a 2-1 lead on a rush from the Bozak line. JvR sent an absolute laser into the towards the net only to have it tip off Gardiner as the defenceman rushed towards the net. Murray did not expect the tip at all and at first appeared to have simply missed the shot, but upon further review, Gardiner did in fact redirect it off his upper body.
With Phaneuf and Malkin getting penalties for some chippy play away from the puck, both teams went to 4-on-4. After some good zone time for the Leafs following a Morgan Rielly rush, Crosby went 2-on-1 with only Rielly back, and absolutely ripped a shot over Bernier's shoulder. 2-2.
There were plenty of chances for both teams to go ahead as Kunitz snapped another shot off the post, and then Gardiner deked out half the Pens on the ice, only to fail to stuff the puck home. Seconds later, Bernier was forced to make another big save but Roman Polak got called for hooking on the play and sent the Leafs to the penalty kill, which they fortuantely did successfully. Really, Bernier came up huge. Kessel, Crosby, and Malkin had chance after chance after chance. The penalty kill was a total scramble.
The Kadri line responded admirably by absolutely hemming in the Crosby line, and getting a great chance. Kadri dished a great pass to Michael Grabner, who took it off the skate, and slammed a good chance on net, but was denied by Murray. They even forced an icing and were able to change while catching them on the ice.
Kadri also created a pair of other grade "A" chances on his next shift, but his line also saw Kessel break free for a breakaway that Bernier turned aside with aplomb. Kadri also later stripped Malkin of the puck and broke in all alone on a breakaway, only to be stopped by Murray.
Kessel denied on the breakaway pic.twitter.com/s8JSbBccyv— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 31, 2015
Overall, Bernier absolutely stood on his head through two periods, turning aside enough dangerous chances for two games. The shots at the end of two were 27-22 for the Pens, though the Leafs held a 18-14 edge in scoring chances.
The third period started with the Leafs still looking disorganized in their own end, but getting a couple chances at the other end as a result of some rushing defenceman, including a nice one from Gardiner as he looped around the net and fed Holland in front for a quick one-timer that Murray stopped cold. JvR was also stopped cold trying to go five hole on a breakaway.
Although Bernier was absolutely lights out in this one, Pens' rookie Murray was equal to the challenge. He stopped three separate breakaways, including a shorthanded one when Bozak forced a Letang turnover. Really both teams appeared to have forgotten entirely about playing defence, which undoubtedly made their respective coaches angry, but left the fans entirely thrilled.
Kadri sprang Rielly for a great chance with five minutes left and Rielly rang a great wrist shot off the post. Really, neither team had any interest in playing defence tonight, and it was totally fun.
Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 31, 2015
With just 1:40 to go in the third period, Bozak was forced to dive to take away a chance from Matt Cullen, and took a penalty for his efforts, setting up a wild finish to a wild game. The Penguins hit the post on the power play, and there were four or five other fantastic chances for the Pens to seal the victory, but they were unable to. Regulation time ended while there were still 20 seconds of power play time left.
The Leafs killed off the penalty in overtime and then got a great look on net as Kadri absolutely ripped one off the post on a 2-on-1. The wild chances continued at the other end as Malkin charged the Leafs' net, only to be denied by Bernier and then wrestled to the ice by Komarov.
The Buds spent the rest of OT hemmed in their own end, with Bernier turning away shot after shot from Malkin, Crosby, and Kessel. By the time the horn sounded to herald in a shootout, Patric Hornqvist had to drop a large F-bomb and pat Bernier on the head, acknowledging the goaltender's impressive performance.
Utlimately, it was Parenteau who scored the winner in the shootout, shifting from his off-side into the middle of the ice, snapping a quick shot inside the post. Bernier made the final save on Letang to seal the victory.
Notes on individual players:
- Jonathan Bernier was the big story tonight. He made 39 saves on 41 shots and was absolutely the difference for the Leafs. He was the game's first star, and with good reason.
- Nazem Kadri picked up an assist and now has 8 points in his last 7 games. We always knew the luck would come back.
- Tyler Bozak now has 11 points in his last 10 games, and also has been red hot of late.
- I wish I could say that I noticed Mark Arcobello more, but he really wasn't the big story tonight. That said, he finished the game second among Leafs skaters with a 5v5 Corsi +/- on the night. I think it was a great move for the Leafs to bring him up. He was good with the Leafs before going to the A, and was great with the Marlies while he was there.
- Jake Gardiner had a very strong game offensively. He jumped into the rush more than we've seen lately, and picked up a goal for his efforts. He also finished atop the Leafs' 5v5 Corsi +/- numbers for the evening.
- Leo Komarov was a beast all night winning faceoffs and making the Pens angry. His hit on Letang was ugly however, and I won't be surprised at all if the league reviews it. He also picked up an assist.
- Dion Phaneuf played a great game. In addition to being third on the Leafs in 5v5 Corsi +/-, he was absolutely nails on both Crosby and Malkin, making life difficult for both star players. The fact that he ripped home a goal was just gravy on a good performance. Oh captain, my captain.
- Peter Holland continued his strong play, and was rewarded by Mike Babcock with a chance in the shootout. Holland scored, and proved yet again that he still has some untapped offensive potential.