The Toronto Maple Leafs came from behind in the third period to win their first home game of the season, and their second game in a row. The final score of 3-2 was not indicative of the play as the Maple Leafs out shot the Capitals 40-22, and the shot attempt margin was even wider. If it weren’t for the strong play of Michael Neuvirth and the struggling Maple Leafs power play, the score would have been much different. There were a lot of positives to take from the game, but here are a few things that caught my eye:
Franson and Fraser
Randy Carlyle decided to reward the pairing of Franson and Fraser after their plus-3 night in Buffalo by going right back to them against Washington, even with Mike Komisarek declared ready to play. I am happy he did this with Franson, as I have been a proponent of his. He clearly belongs in the top six of this group and I would argue that he should be seeing top four minutes. I was not so thrilled to see Fraser back in the lineup. I thought Fraser was effective in the AHL with the Marlies and he brings a lot of sand paper on the back end, but in the games he has played he has looked slow and not capable of being a regular defenseman in the NHL. This pairing was victimized on the Capitals first goal, on their first shift of the game as Fraser got a little overzealous in the corner and then proceeded to lose his man in front of the net. I’m not sure if Carlyle will want to mess with a winning lineup, but I would not have Fraser back on the blue line on Saturday.
Phil Kessel has taken a lot of flak from the main stream media after not scoring a goal in his first six games this year, some even suggesting that he be traded. However, most logical observers can see that he has been playing very well and has been a victim of some bad luck. Gus Katsaros of the Leafs Nation does a good job going into detail on this subject. Kessel was very good again on Thursday with a number of scoring chances including five in the first period, one of which turned into James van Riemsdyk’s goal as he cashed in a Kessel rebound. He was buzzing all night and his goals will come. Hopefully he is saving a couple for Boston on Saturday.
Reimer made his third straight start for the Maple Leafs and appears to be the guy going forward. After the loss to the Islanders last week I hinted that coach Carlyle should do just that and I am glad he listened. Reimer looks like the goalie that came up two years ago and almost took the Maple Leafs to the playoffs. He appears to be very confident and quiet in the net. What I mean by that is he is not flopping around, rather he is keeping his structure, getting out to the top of the crease and cutting off the angles. In a nut shell he looks BIG in the net.
As I have said many times, good goaltending doesn’t guarantee you a win, but without it you don’t have much of a chance. Although I’m sure he would like to have the second goal back and at times he looked a little shaky, he shut the door in the third period when the Maple Leafs had the lead. Something their goaltenders failed to do on many occasions last season.
One thing he definitely needs to work on is his puck handling. He had four brutal giveaways in the game, luckily none of them led to goals.
Kostka and Phaneuf
Carlyle continues to rely on his top pairing of Mike Kostka and Dion Phaneuf. They led the team in ice time again, with Kostka playing over 24 minutes. Although I think this is appropriate for Phaneuf, Kostka is over matched. I don’t doubt that Kostka can carve out a niche in the NHL as a bottom pair defenseman who can get minutes on the power play; he in no way should be playing on the top pairing. It was interesting to see that Carlyle had Gunnarsson out with Phaneuf to close out the game. Although he realizes they are his top two blue liners, it looks like he wants to try and get some balance out of his defense by splitting the two up. If that is the case, he needs to find someone else to play with Phaneuf other than Kostka.
Where Is Tom Fitzgerald When You Need Him?
Nikolai Kulemin on more than one occasion this season has failed to clear the puck on the penalty kill and it resulted in a puck finding its way into the back of the net. This situation occurred again in the second period Thursday night where Kulemin had the puck along the side boards and failed to get it out of the zone while on the penalty kill. The result was Alex Ovechkin’s second goal of the season. For the most part the Maple Leafs penalty kill has looked much improved over the past couple of seasons, but it seems as though whenever they whiff on one of these opportunities it ends up as a goal against.
For anyone who doesn’t get the reference, Tom Fitzgerald is an ex-Maple Leaf who Harry Neale and Joe Bowen would often refer to as the best “icer” in the league because of his prowess in clearing the puck on the penalty kill.
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