The script was all-too-familiar for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the team on the other end of the ice was different. The Leafs had somehow managed to cultivate a 3-0 third period lead, and looked like they would finally dispatch the villainous Boston Bruins for the first time since March 19th of 2011. But of course the Leafs had to follow the usual script, allowing the Bruins to score twice and pressure their net late in the game in search of the tying goal. James Reimer stood tall in the Leaf net, however, and the Buds came up with an unlikely and perhaps undeserved 3-2 victory. Here are some observations from the game last night:
A Tale Of Two Goaltenders
Bruins goaltender Anton Khudobin had a forgettable game, allowing three goals on only eleven shots. Nazem Kadri and Mikhail Grabovski both beat the Kazakh netminder on low snapshots off the post, and Frazer McLaren scored a fluky one that deflected off his skate and between Khudobin’s legs for the eventual game-winner. On the other end, James Reimer wasn’t flashy by any means, but did the job and showed poise to handle a few chaotic moments in front of his crease. Reimer ended up with 31 saves and really couldn’t be blamed for either Bruins goal, as they both came from long-range with traffic in front. It’s extremely rare for the Leafs to win a goaltending battle against the Bruins, but Reimer was up to the task and he was the difference last night.
Liles Leaves With Injury
John-Michael Liles left the game late in the second period with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Liles fell while skating back hard into his own end, and an opposing player also fell and collided with him on the ice. The veteran defenseman got up in obvious pain, limping to the bench and eventually to the dressing room. Jonas Siegel of TSN 1050 tweeted that x-rays came up negative, but had no other information regarding the injury. Liles had his first point since returning from a month-long hiatus as a healthy scratch five games ago, assisting on Kadri’s goal in the first period. If Liles misses any time that would probably mean the return of Korbinian Holzer from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
Gardiner Still A Little Green
It’s difficult to pick on Jake Gardiner because what makes him so dangerous as a player can also make his team vulnerable. There’s no doubt Gardiner should have been called up to the Leafs long before this week with his game-breaking skating ability and puck skills. But at times it looks like he’s still adjusting to the pace of the NHL, perhaps taking a half-second too long to make decisions with the puck. He was victimized on a few ill-advised pinch attempts that turned into odd-man rushes for the Bruins. He also had some trouble handling the big Bruins forwards down low. Games like tonight are inevitable for any 22-year-old defenseman, but if Liles misses any time, Gardiner will be needed to log heavier minutes and cut down on the mistakes.
Interestingly, Phil Kessel saw only 16:58 of ice time tonight, seventh-most among Maple Leaf forwards. It was only the fifth time this season Kessel has logged under 17 minutes of ice time, but it’s also the third time in the last four games. Kessel had four points in that stretch before going scoreless tonight, and the Maple Leafs have secured at least a point in every one of those games. Is it possible the Maple Leafs are actually benefiting from playing their best player less? Nazem Kadri has continued to score at a torrid pace (nine points in his last four games including tonight) with more ice time and responsibility from head coach Randy Carlyle. Meanwhile, Kessel’s line-mate James van Riemsdyk has struggled, with only one point in his last four. The centreman on that line, Tyler Bozak, has been serviceable on the top line, but clearly doesn’t possess the same offensive ability as Kadri. Why not see what Kadri and Kessel can do together? Carlyle may be hesitant to make changes during this point streak, but it’s an idea that I’m sure most Leafs fans would be on board with.