John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs ground Ducks, win 4-2 at home

The Toronto Maple Leafs found their way back to the win column after a strong effort against the Anaheim Ducks at home tonight. The Leafs were able to generate odd-man rushes and quality scoring chances and figured out some of their puck-possession issues to beat one of the top teams in the league right now by a score of 4-2. Here are a few notes I took from tonight’s performance:

Bad First Period

Even after all the talk of how much the Leafs needed to improve after the last few games, they still started the game flat. The Ducks were the better team and opened the scoring on a Nick Bonino goal off a nice pass by Patrick Maroon on a 2-on-1. The Leafs finished the period with only two shots on goal, and it looked like they were in for another stinker. But the Leafs woke up in the second period, generating more chances and looking much more lively as a unit. It wasn’t a great start, but kudos to head coach Randy Carlyle and the players for getting things turned around.

Kessel Breaks Out

As I mentioned in the game preview, the Leafs needed to figure out a way to get Phil Kessel going after he was held scoreless in the last two games before tonight, both Leafs losses. Kessel delivered with probably his best effort of the season, scoring a hat trick. He and James van Riemsdyk were both back showing tremendous chemistry together as JvR assisted on two of Kessel’s goals. The Leafs are a dangerous team on the rush and Kessel and van Riemsdyk lead the way in that regard.

Former Ducks Fly

It was a big night for Carlyle as he was facing the team that fired him back in December 2011. But two other former Ducks in Jake Gardiner and Joffrey Lupul made their own statements with their play tonight. Gardiner had a couple rough patches in his own zone in the first period, but had a very strong game after that, leading the rush and creating chances with confidence. He saw the second-most ice time among defenseman with 21:31, behind only Dion Phaneuf’s 24:10. Lupul didn’t show up on the score sheet, but was one of the team’s top players in corsi percentage and showed flashes of his usual brilliance in the offensive zone.

Bernier Shuts It Down

For the first time this season, Jonathan Bernier faced less than 30 shots, and rewarded his team’s defensive effort by putting up a .920 save percentage. Although he faced a relatively low 25 shots (low compared to what he’s seen so far this season), he still had to make a few great saves. The Ducks still fired 68 shot attempts (otherwise known as corsi events) on the net, so the Leafs still have some work to do to cut those down, but at least they were able to give Bernier a nice two-goal cushion to work with for most of the third period. I would guess James Reimer, as long as he’s healthy, will get the start Friday in Columbus so Bernier can play the Saturday game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Defense Better, But Still Room For Improvement

As I said in the last paragraph, this game was probably the Leafs’ best defensive effort of the season, but it still wasn’t very good. The game was entertaining as both teams traded chances, but that kind of style isn’t going to work very well against a team like the Penguins who can burn you. Morgan Rielly continues to play pretty well, but still had a couple bad giveaways. Cody Franson had a tough game, and seemed a little lackadaisical and disinterested in the Leafs’ end. This game was a step in the right direction for sure, but the Leafs won’t be winning many possession battles if they don’t continue to improve.

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Tags: Anaheim Ducks Toronto Maple Leafs

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