You know it’s a one to forget when the commentators simply stop talking about the game in the third period and yap about other things during play.
That’s what happened tonight with Sportsnet; spending five minutes educating us on the Islanders’ arena fiasco. I can’t blame them. There wasn’t anything good to talk about with respect to the Leafs play.
The funny thing is that the Leafs won the possession battle handily. According to Natural Stat Trick, all the Leafs finished with a positive shot differential except the fourth line of Martin-Smith-Brown. That’s in both all situations and 5v5 only.
The Leafs were taking shots, but there was a quality factor at play here. Roman Polak attempting a clapper from the blue line isn’t the same as John Tavares on a breakaway on Jhonas Enroth (which he stopped).
I wouldn’t at all say Enroth was the key problem tonight. There were defensive breakdowns in the Leafs own zone, and they were committed by almost every line of the team.
The game starts off on a sour note with an early goal, which includes the obligatory setup by ex-Leaf Nikolay Kulemin.
It turns out this one was deflected a bit by James van Riemsdyk’s stick, and Enroth would have had a really hard time stopping it.
Nazem Kadri’s line had some good possession in the attacking zone and generated some chances, though my eye-test has them as weak, even if they were in the high danger zone. Seth Griffith had some low speed wrist shots where Thomas Greiss was already lined up on him and stopped them easily. The Islanders were also blocking a lot of shots, 22 times in total, which of course ratchets up the Leafs’ Corsi without providing a scoring chance.
When it sort of looked like the Leafs had some life in them, and they definitely started to get a positive shot differential, we had this:
The Islanders blew past Polak like he was not even there and not capable of catching up. Jake Gardiner made a bad guess on the play and went down, unable to defend against Clutterbuck’s shot and the rebound was buried by Cizikas.
There were no goals in the second period, but we got to see a variety of special teams work due to a variety of dumb penalties form both sides.
Polak was out on the penalty kill with Zaitsev a fair bit. He didn’t do well.
A power play unit of Matthews - Komarov - Kadri - Nylander - Gardiner allowed two big breakouts by the Islanders. Then when the PP ended they missed Tavares coming out of the box, ready to pounce, and he made a great breakaway which Enroth fortunately stopped.
Babcock clearly didn’t like what he was seeing and activated the line blender to try and get the offence going. Marner spent some time with Kadri and Komarov. Brown got time with JvR and Bozak. Griffith was temporarily exiled to the fourth line.
I thought Brown added a temporary spark to the Bozak line. They tried out some new plays and generated some scoring chances, but it didn’t last.
The most notable part of the end of the period was a brutal giveaway by William Nylander right at the goal line. I can’t even understand what he was thinking, but he passed it right to the stick of Nelson who was at the side of the net. Enroth scrambled, and stopped the shot.
Kadri escalated a situation near the end of the period and wound up with a double minor. The Leafs went briefly on a PK until the exact opposite happened between Martin and Ladd and then it was a confusing mess of alternating PK and PP time. The take away is that if you ever wanted to have a practical way to apply a vague term like character to an NHL player, it would be measured in ones self-control in certain critical situations like this. The Leafs are down 2-0. The last thing they needed was a penalty kill. The same goes for last night on the Marlies with Valiev costing the team a third period lead by instigating a fight instead of walking away.
The Leafs score?
Finally after all those shots, Jake Gardiner got one in. And there’s sort of a feeling that the Leafs might be back in the game. A certain energy built and....
I don’t even know what to say there. Enroth flubbed it. Gardiner was looking at someone in the stands. Who knows.
Three minutes later Nelson seals the door for the Leafs shut.
It’s like JvR had cartoonishly attached rocket boosters to his skates backwards, and the puck he was meant to pick up was left open, sitting on the boards for the Islanders as he flew in the opposite direction. Zaitsev at least sees something has gone horribly wrong and tries to skate across to fix it, Marincin has fallen and can’t get up, and then the last line of defence can’t stop it.
But wait. It gets worse!
Now, with the game basically over, the last goal comes with three Leafs looking like they stopped caring and were waiting for the final buzzer. Gardiner is busy recovering from a pointless cross checking and shoving match, Nylander is staring at the play lost, probably wondering why Polak is way in front of him, and Polak is wondering if he should be covering doing something like covering someone.
I picture Polak here like Homer Simpson when he was at the Kwik-E-Mart with the new gun he purchased and imagines what would happen if he robbed the store. When he finally decides to actually do it he realizes he has already bought a hot dog, paid for it, left, gotten in his car, and is driving home.
Somewhere, right about now, Polak is snapping back to reality that he’s already on the Leafs jet flying back to Toronto and saying “Oh well. I’ll defend next time.”
And that brought an end to a game that was exhausting to watch.
Every forward line flubbed tonight. I might even say that the only forward who played to expectations was Matt Martin. He actually did have some good plays.
Defence is a bit of a different story with Polak being a black hole that sucked them down. Still, they participated well on the offensive side.
This was a winnable game. The Islanders are (were?) last in their division and have below league average goal tending. Let’s not get muddled in ideas about whether the back-to-back was a problem here. It also can’t be pinned on Enroth. It was bad all over and the Leafs now need to regroup and seriously re-evaluate what they are doing.
But, wait. Maybe this game was all a bad dream?