Last night's game was crazy, and a lot of fun.
After a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, I noticed lots of people on Twitter comment that it was the most dominant Leafs victory they had seen in a while.
On the scoreboard, I would be inclined to still agree with that statement. In overall play, however, this was probably the best, most complete game the Leafs have put together all season. The Leafs out-attempted the New Jersey Devils by a 79-52 margin (and 39-25 at evens), and more importantly, won the game 3-2 in a shootout.
How did such a dominant game by the blue and white end in a shootout, you ask? For one thing, the Leafs faced a top-5 goaltender in the league in Cory Schneider. While he gave the Leafs a gift in the first period (more on that below), he was solid as always tonight, stopping 36 of 38 shots.
Another factor was penalties. It was a tightly-called game, with each side taking five penalties. The Devils were 2-for-5, and of their 27 shots on the night, 12 came with the man advantage. Suffice to say, this could have been a much more lopsided game with a more disciplined Leafs team given their play at even strength.
The first four shootout attempts were turned away by the goalies. In the third round, Tyler Bozak would deke out Cory Schneider, only to watch Mike Cammalleri convert a backhand shot to even the score. After another scoreless frame, Nazem Kadri- he of the niftiest mittens- put home an amazing shot that would make the difference in this game.
The game got off to a rocky start, after Roman Polak did what he does best, taking a cross-checking penalty 39 seconds into the game. On the ensuing power play, Lee Stempniak would tip a John Moore point shot past Garret Sparks for the 1-0 Devils lead. The good news, if there was any, is that it got the "ex-Leafs scoring on Toronto" quota out of the way early.
The period was fairly low-event after that, with most of the activity occurring in the pressbox between Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro. If you weren't watching the TSN telecast, you missed some pretty great idioms about the post-Lou Devils on facial hair ("It's like a toga party in New Jersey!") and high jersey numbers ("Lou doesn't like race car numbers."). This was probably the most riveting thing to happen between the opening goal and the first TV timeout.
There wasn't much happening at even strength; in fact, the Leafs' tying goal was nothing close to what one would consider a "scoring chance." P.A. Parenteau, on a seemingly innocuous play, dumped a puck in from the blueline. It took a funny hop on the ice, under Schneider's glove, and in the net. Strange goal, but that usually happens to us, so I'll take it.
The end of the first saw some decent chances, including a flurry of Devils chances on a power play, and a pair of breakaways by Byron Froese and Peter Holland. All and all, the Buds had a formidable first period, out-attempting New Jersey 28-12. Any time you can win the possession battle and get a blooper past Cory Schneider, you're laughing.
The Leafs' momentum would continue early in the second, as on a power play, James Van Riemsdyk would tip a Dion Phaneuf shot through Schneider's five-hole to take the 2-1 lead. But, the Devils would get one back on the man advantage as Kyle Palmieri ripped a shot past Sparks to knot the game 2-2.
The Leafs got a couple of chances late, including an open net gimme by Matt Hunwick foiled by a hook from Mike Cammalleri. They cycled well and generated shots on the ensuing power play, but Schneider stood tall.
The early half of the 3rd was....well, for lack of an adjective, a pretty good time to make dinner. Shots were 3-2 for New Jersey, and at some points, I found myself staring in space at the game, pondering existential mysteries of life. Who am I? What *is* hockey? Are the Leafs and Devils hockey teams, or just constructs of a greater imagination we have collectively created? If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to call it offside, and it scores a goal, will someone challenge it?
The Leafs ramped it up later in the frame, putting shots on Schneider in the crease. Unfortunately, Cory Schneider realized he is, in fact, an elite goalie, and stopped them. The Leafs wouldn't get much more pressure due to a Morgan Rielly penalty for tripping, and the game would go to overtime.
The Leafs had great opportunities to put away in OT, but Michael Grabner was the recipient of these chances, so it was pretty much a foregone conclusion the Leafs wouldn't convert. The game went to a shootout, where the Leafs won to take the game 4-3.
Good, Bad, and Ugly
Good: on the whole, the entire's team even-strength play. The Leafs had a 60% CF tonight, with no single player under 50%. Everyone was great at generating pressure and moving play forward. It was a rare night without a single laggard getting the Leafs in trouble in their own zone.
JVR gets full marks tonight for his goal, and excellent play overall at both 5v5 and on the PP.
On the Devils side, full credit to Schneider, who rebounded from a fluky goal with a good- albeit frustrating as an opposing fan- performance. Our old pal Lee Stempniak stuck out as their best forward tonight; he was a menace to get off the puck.
Bad: the Leafs PK, which was a pretty underwhelming 60% on the night. On both occasions, a man was left wide open to take a clean shot. On the Stempniak goal, he was given time and space to tip the puck. As I said above, the PK is probably a reason the Devils stayed in this game.
Ugly: the Leafs Twitter account went Peak Dad on us all:
#Leafs pepper the New Jersey goal but can't bury a scramble in front. #TMLtalk pic.twitter.com/JXHxqxb58m— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 9, 2015
Also, with one week to the day until the next game, we shall voyage onward into the abyss and the bleak future that it does bring.