Well, JS Giguere had to be scored on eventually, and it makes sense that if he was gonna give up a goal or two it would come against the Western Conference leading San Jose Sharks. Still, none of the 3 goals that the Sharks scored against the newest Leaf netminder can be attributed to anything more than bad luck, something that the Leafs have seen plenty of all season.
Dan Boyle opened the scoring for the Sharks, evening the game at 1-1 with a shot from the point that deflected off the stick of John Mitchell, changing direction and sneaking past Jiggy, who was in good position to save the original shot. Same story with Joe Pavelski’s goal a few minutes later. His seemingly harmless wrister from the slot ticked off Carl Gunnarsson’s lumber and again, nothing Giguere could really have done. The 3rd Sharks’ goal could possibly be blamed on a small defensive lapse on the part of youngsters Luke Schenn and Tyler Bozak, who watched as Ryane Clowe buried his gift-wrapped goal in the gaping net, but the only reason the puck ended up on Clowe’s stick was because Devin Setoguchi’s wraparound attempt ricocheted off Gunnarsson’s leg and right over to Clowe who was sneaking in from the far circle, virtually out of the play.
Still, a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think anyone would have given the Leafs a chance to beat the powerhouse Sharks, and based on the way they played last night, I felt they probably should have won this one. Tyler Bozak opened the scoring off a beautiful feed from Phil Kessel, who has seemingly caught a second win since the trades, and seems to mesh very well with young Bozak. Since the Phaneuf trade, Kessel has 4 goals and 8 points, and it appears he is benefiting from the fact that the attention of Leaf Nation has been somewhat diverted from his scoring, or for a good stretch of the season, his lack thereof. Late in the 2nd, the Leafs’ powerplay, which has suddenly come to life in the last 4 games, needed only 9 seconds to score, with Kessel burying the rebound off of a Dion Phaneuf slapshot.
Evgeni Nabokov turned in a fantastic performance, turning aside 32 Leaf shots over the course of the game, including a couple chances late in the game as the Buds scrambled to even the score. He appeared to get a little help from Dany Heatley in the closing seconds, as the sniper looked like he gloved the puck in the crease while Stalberg, Bozak and Kadri were all whacking away at it, but no call was made.
Rickard Wallin is starting to grow on me, as much as I hate to admit it. He’s played well defensively over the past few games, and matched up with perhaps the best line in hockey all night, he turned in a great defensive effort, as did the rest of the Leafs. Heatley, Thornton and Marleau were all held without a goal. The only production out of that line all night came on Boyle’s lucky goal off an offensive zone faceoff.
The Leafs have a couple days off before facing St. Louis on Friday, which should give Freddie Sjostrom and Christian Hanson time to recover from the flu. Nazem Kadri made his Leaf debut in their absence, called up on an emergency basis since the Marlies were on the road in Abbotsford yesterday. I thought Kadri played alright, although he definitely needs to bulk up if he’s going to be successful at this level. He logged over 17 minutes of ice time, and was played in a number of key situations, including powerplays, and the final minute as the Leafs were looking to score with an empty net. Kadri has been great with London this year, netting 26 goals and 66 points, and showed glimpses of that talent last night, making a nice outlet pass that sent Stalberg for a breakaway, but he also had a few turnovers that came as a result of him trying to do a bit too much with the puck. Ron Wilson was not in a complimenting mood, apparently, noting that “He had a lot of turnovers,” and added that Kadri probably gets away with a lot more in juniors that he simply won’t be able to do here.
1. Evgeni Nabokov (32 saves)
2. Dion Phaneuf (1 assist, 4 shots, 2 blocked shots, 6 hits)
3. Joe Pavelski (1 goal, 2 shots, 2 hits)
I’ll be on the road for the next few days, but should be able to get a couple of posts up. Lots of speculation going around about Kaberle, Ponikarovsky and Stempniak, so I’ll do my best to keep things up to date.