Tonight was the perfect opportunity for the Toronto Maple Leafs to fall into a shell and have their season start on the path of last. All the elements were there, the collapse in Ottawa on Saturday night, and playing in a building that has not been friendly to Toronto since before the 2004/2005 lockout season. However, none of that happened at all. The Leafs grabbed a 1-0 lead on a Ilya Bryzgalov classic that resembled something that the Monster (Jonas Gustavsson) would have allowed to deflate the team the last two years. From that point on, they never surrendered said lead. It was a perfect road game, with just some warts.
Tonight was the night for struggling Leafs to score, with Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolai Kulemin all getting on the score sheet. The penalty killing, in spite of giving up the late goal, was excellent. As much or more time was spent in the Flyers end of the ice while the Leafs were shorthanded. Three weeks ago much of Leafs nation was irate when the names Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Kulemin, Jay McClemment, Frazer McLaren, and David Steckel all appeared as line combinations. Clearly most of us did not see the world the way that Randy Carlyle does, and maybe that’s a good thing. The second and third lines of Toronto nearly shut down Wells Fargo Center drawing ire from the orange crowd. The forecheck was as good as it has been all season, let’s hope this continues.
Highlights from the game:
– Toronto winning battles on the boards was probably the biggest story of the night. They had quite a bit of luck as the puck was isolated around Ben Scrivens three or four times, but for the most part the Flyers attack presented nothing the defense could not handle. The Leafs for better or worse are a trapping team, and only on one occasion did the defensemen get caught up ice, resulting in Hartnell’s goal.
– Regardless of whether James Reimer or Ben Scrivens is the goaltender of choice, the Leafs have no issues in net. Scrivens did have a rough outing on Saturday with rebound control, but that was peanuts compared to the goals that Bryzgalov gave up to Kessel and Kulemin. On the Kessel goal Bryzgalov was so deep in his crease that Kessel still had room to the left of where the puck actually entered the net, and on the Kulemin goal the puck simply went right through him.
-The power play tonight was good, even if unproductive. They had good possession numbers, and the defensemen were active in maintaining the blue line throughout. The Cody Franson-Dion Phaneuf combination is a large improvement.
Thanks Leafs nation for leaving me alone in that building with those fanatics. I have been to road games in nearly every building on the east coast, and more often than not the blue and white jerseys fill the stands. Florida, Tampa, Ottawa, and Buffalo are practically home games. Tonight the Wells Fargo Center was solid orange. It was frightening at first, but as the game wore on it became clear that this building is everything that the Air Canada Centre should be, but isn’t. They were loud from start to finish without provocation from a video board, it was like I got into a DeLorean and travelled back to the 1970’s where orange is awesome, tacky used car and dentist commercials filled the commercial breaks, and the way they love their fighting is something to behold. As noted on Twitter, most places have a montage of their most famous players scoring as they enter the ice for warm ups. This would not fit the mold, as instead a fight reel starring Dave “Hammer” Schultz was streamed for a good three or four minutes. The building loved it, and to be honest, so did I.