If nothing else it was exciting. The Leafs and Oilers put on a track meet at the Air Canada Centre on the Hockey Night In Canada broadcast, and the twelve defensemen might have well stayed home. This was run-and-gun, hang-your-goalie-out-to-dry hockey. It would be hard to envision either coach being thrilled with the result of what went on tonight, just a lot of teachable moments.
The ugliest part of the game, if you can bear to hear, was the first and fifth Edmonton goals. The Oilers Ryan Smyth is hardly worthy of a roster spot, yet the lumbering, six-foot-plus defense on the Maple Leafs couldn’t manage to handle a 37-year-old going hard to the net. You expect goals from Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but not to a next-to-done crasher like Smyth. The Leafs looked like a Ron Wilson-coached squad tonight, and the result was the only thing that was surprising.
The hard part to evaluate was that the best players for Toronto were also the worst players for Toronto. Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and Dave Bolland were all equally as responsible for the offense as they were for giving up odd-man rushes. The face-offs were pretty much in Edmonton’s favor all evening, and the Corsi numbers while not handy should read quite well for the Oilers as well (Editor’s Note: The Leafs and Oilers were actually almost even in both Corsi and Fenwick, per Extra Skater). At some point, Randy Carlyle has to rein this group in to prevent a collapse similar to that of two years ago.
All of this is surprising to those that follow box scores and seldom watch the games, but not to those that have seen the squad play. The only difference tonight was that rather than playing for seemingly eternal stretches in their end of the ice, they decided to give up an odd-man rush every other shift.
But not on this Saturday night. The Leafs will now get another win that they in no way deserved. The Oilers were flat-out robbed by a Toronto team riding a statistically maddening scoring percentage with little to any prowess in the defensive zone. Thoughts and musings on the game below:
- Tonight may have been the first time Paul Ranger looked like he could play at NHL speed. To be completely fair, it was hard not to look good the way the rest of the defensive unit played. It appeared that there was an equipment issue on the bench, but that only accounts for so much.
- Jonathon Bernier’s first time starting three consecutive games, and also his first rough spot on the season. It makes one wonder how much headline cruising these guys do on their days off, as the tire pumping of the Toronto goalie has been incessant. In his defense, the team in front of him was largely responsible for all but two of the goals, but all the numbers say that this will be standard fare for any goaltender in Toronto.
- Nazem Kadri scored a goal that no player in the NHL should be able to. It is two-and-a-half feet from goal line to face-off circle, and to be just inside the boards and hit the top over the shoulder is just awesome talent. With that being said, Kevin Weekes and Ron MacLean should not be directly copying the Sunday Countdown broadcast habit of running plays on a television set. Let the players play and stick to commentary.
- In a tradition that I started on the site last year, tonight’s Maddies Mark player of the game is none other than James van Riemsdyk. While the goal was scored early on, the spin around the net was gorgeous, and certainly worthy of being a “Best Day Ever”. In the spirit of comparing young players to former players, JVR has a strong resemblance to Dave Andrechuk, making himself a menace in front of the net, and occasionally doing something like the between-the-legs play or the wraparound to remind you that he is extremely talented. JVR for Luke Schenn was the best trade made by Brian Burke, no question. For more information on how you can help give some sick children one of their “Best Days Ever” visit www.maddiesmark.org.