Things got off to a Jonathan Bernier start for the Leafs this evening, as the Islanders scored on just their second shot of the night. Brock Nelson (who was a big factor in the last Leafs-Islanders game) angled Peter Holland off the puck and slid home a shot five-hole.
It wasn't the worst goal on Bernier in that he was forced to move laterally and it's wasn't like his defenders did much to prevent the rush. Joffrey Lupul was the last man back and was about as porous as you might expect him to be. Still though, it wasn't that tough a shot, and so early in the game, you would hope that your goalie could give you a save.
Fortunately for Bernier's dignity, just 39 second later, Brad Boyes snapped home his third goal of the season from Byron Froese and Jake Gardiner. The play was broken, but came as the line generated some decent zone time and capitalized on a rebound, and so the trio deserved some commendation for their efforts.
Then, with 8:09 left in the first period, Tavares put the Isles back in the lead with a quick tip as he glided through the slot, his stick unchecked by Matt Hunwick. It was admittedly a quick pass and tip, and while it would again be wrong to blame Bernier exclusively (or even principally) for the goal, the Leafs were in need of a save, and they couldn't get one.
Things went from bad to worse for the Leafs before the period was over however, as Frans Nielsen danced through the neutral zone, took a pass in flight, and caught the Leafs' defenders standing stock-still at the blue line. He finished the play off with a slick move and tapped a backhand through Bernier to make it 3-1.
The Leafs followed up the goal with two solid shifts in the Isles' zone, and Nazem Kadri managed to draw a call on Mikhail Grabovski for having a terrible new goatee, but it only came two seconds before the end of the period, so the Leafs had to wait to put their power play to work.
Overall, the Leafs put forth a good effort in the offensive zone but made several mistakes in their own, and each and every one of them proved costly, as Bernier continued to struggle.
The shots after 20 minutes were 12-7 in favour of the Leafs, though the Isles dominated the faceoff dot 16-6.
The Leafs began the second with a couple good chances on the power play, the first to Lupul, as he broke in nearly alone, but missed far side. The second came following a nifty backhand pass by Kadri, but three separate Leafs in the slot failed to pick up a rebound shot.
It took until 11:57 into the second, but the combination of James van Riemsdyk, P.A. Parenteau, and Holland responded for the Leafs with several good chances, finally resulting in a goal for Parenteau on a feed from Holland.
Unfortunately, only 28 seconds later, former Leaf Nikolay Kulemin scored his second in as many games again the Leafs on a communication mix-up between Bernier and the defence. Bernier stopped the puck in back of the net, but Dion Phaneuf got beat to the puck, only to have an uncovered Kulemin receive a pass out front for an easy open-netter. Daniel Winnik attempted to half play defence and instead only succeeded in knocking down Bernier, as the Leafs' goalie tried to scramble back into place.
Things started to get really ugly for the Buds when Matt Martin went unchecked by Phaneuf, Parenteau, and van Riemsdyk in the slot, and then fired a one-timer past Bernier when Bozak lost a puck battle down low. Again, tough to blame Bernier, but hey, the Leafs could have used a save.
Then, things went from ugly to downright heinous, as an Anders Lee tip made a parabolic hop over Bernier's shoulder and bounced into the net. Martin Marincin had good positioning on the play getting between the Bernier and Lee, and though ideally, Marincin would have been able to tie up Lee's stick, it was weird bounce to give another goal to the Tavares line. Suffice it to say that the Kadri trio had a lot more trouble containing them in this one.
Mike Babcock challenged the Lee goal, as Lee's arm did in fact make contact with Bernier's head, but ultimately, it was determined that it wasn't enough to call back the goal, and the Leafs lost their timeout and also conceded the goal.
By the end of two, the Leafs had out-shot the Isles 26-16, and though there were indeed some defensive breakdowns - no goal could be blamed entirely on Bernier - the team needs to be able to expect better than .600 goaltending from the man who was brought in to be the starter.
As you might have guessed by now, James Reimer came into the game to start the third period, which was his first NHL action since December 3rd.
Mercifully, most of the third period progressed rather uneventfully. Phaneuf and a couple of Isles got chatting about a fight, but in the end, Phaneuf did the right thing and skated away. Really, there was nothing to be gained by a fight at that point in the game.
Matthias scored one for the Leafs with exactly 4 minutes left in the game, and really, his line was probably the Leafs' best on the evening, and so he deserved it. Daniel Winnik and Holland picked up assists on the play.
Bozak took a penalty with just over two minutes left in the game to neutralize any momentum the Leafs might have had, though really, it's not like the game was up for grabs.
About the only good news on the evening was that Reimer was able to come in and stop all 6 shots directed his way.
Notes on individual players:
- The Kadri line had a tough night against Tavares & Co. in that the Tavares line had multiple goals and bested them in terms of Corsi +/- at 5v5.
- I mentioned earlier that Shawn Matthias was one of the Leafs' best players tonight to my eyes, and it also showed in his 5v5 Corsi +/-, as he was the Leafs' best skater in that regard.
- Brad Boyes also had a strong night on the scoreboard as well as on the Corsi +/- tables so that's something.
- Dion Phaneuf got beat cleanly on a couple of the goals tonight and in both cases it was a question of his inability to match the speed of Islander forwards on the rush/forecheck.
- It sort of goes without saying at this point, but Jonathan Bernier needed to be better tonight. No goal was entirely his fault, but he certainly didn't look good on Kulemin's goal.
- Another Leaf that stood out to me tonight was Peter Holland. His hands in in the offensive zone are looking better and better, and he also wound up on the better side of the Leafs' 5v5 Corsi +/- tonight. He had two assists in this one.