The Toronto Maple Leafs came into tonight's game with Tyler Bozak, Peter Holland, Trevor Smith, and Zach Sill at center. They had Jake Gardiner, Dion Phaneuf, Morgan Rielly, Tim Erixon, Petter Granberg, and Eric Brewer at D. The SportsNet pre-game panel was wondering whether or not the Leafs would have the effort to compete. AND COMPETE THEY DID.
The Game in Six
The game was filled with highlight reel efforts. David Booth muscled through two islanders, then backhanded a nice shot into the far corner for a goal. Holland crashed the net and scored to make it 2-0. JVR blocked a shot, won a foot race to the puck, streaked down the side and scores a goal. On the flip side, Franz Nielsen did a nice job to sneak behind Leo Komarov and knock home a puck that squeezed through Jonathan Bernier, Casey Cizikas had an unreal tip to beat Bernier, and Tavares beat two Leafs off the boards and set Tyler Kennedy up for a goal. Tavares stole the show, though, when he made an overtime effort to cut to the middle of the net, beating Rielly, Erixon, and Bernier for a game winner.
Leafs' power play looked really poor, especially early on, and was twice cut short by penalties the Leafs took while up a man. It took a 2-man advantage to actually get a couple chances, but even then the Leafs failed to really establish control after the Isles' first clear.
At 5v5, the Leafs spent the first period utterly incapable of escaping their own zone with control, and the Islanders forecheckers seemed to be constantly pressuring the Leafs' puck carrier. It was funny to see Tavares claim the forecheck was lax in the second intermission, because they got a lot of forced turnovers from the Leafs early.
Bernier had HUGE saves at the 10:10 mark in the second, with 6:21 left in the third, and then two nice glove saves to close out regular time. He stopped 40 shots, with none of the goals looking particularly bad in my eyes. Maybe he wants the short-side tip back, but the Isles were able to force a lot of lateral movement all game.
Panik continues to look good given the extra ice time - he did a lot of the work on the Holland goal, and continues to look creative. Booth looked good too, both on the goal and away from the puck, even after leaving the game with an apparent injury.
Gardiner and Phaneuf both broke 25 minutes, as one might expect given that depth chart, but Brewer held the next highest share of ice time, at 23 minutes - was surprisingly effective in getting to the puck carrier and making a hit (even if it was after the puck had moved away).
A special shoutout to Nazem Kadri, who put the franchise before himself as he calmly took Horachek's healthy scratch to heart. He and the team did a great job blowing nothing into something in order to justify the tank. I know it was nothing, because "anonymous sources" have confirmed to me that he wouldn't be scratched if the Leafs were in a playoff hunt. You can talk about "accountability" and "teaching lessons" all you want, but if those are principles are flexible based on the standings - and "missed a meeting by 20 minutes" is definitely flexible - they're not exactly the Ten Commandments of the locker room. Strong move, Horachek.
The Next One
The good news is that the Leafs weren't able to come away from this game with two points. It was fun watching the Leafs take a two goal lead, but you can thank the NHL's backwards draft incentives for guaranteeing that when the Leafs lose, the Leafs win. Wednesday's game will be a tough one, as the Leafs play against the Buffalo Sabres. It'll be interesting to see how Horacheck gets creative with the tank - could Phil Kessel's iron man streak be on the line? Could Phaneuf's injury flare up again? Tune in to find out!