The Leafs just keep winning games they have no business winning. They welcomed the Eastern Conference co-leading Pittsburgh Penguins to town with yet another injury to a key player, but the Leafs battled through adversity to dispatch the Penguins 4-1 thanks to a strong third period. Here are some thoughts from the game:
No Bozak, No Problem
Tyler Bozak missed tonight’s game with what was called a lower-body injury, and Joffrey Lupul was held out for the second straight contest. That paved the way for Nazem Kadri to take over Bozak’s spot on the top line between Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, and he performed admirably. Kadri scored a nice goal after Kessel found him with a pass in the offensive zone that sent him on Fleury alone. Fleury bit hard on the shoulder fake, and Kadri stepped around him and put a backhander into the empty net. The goal would hold up as the game-winner. Many Leafs fans have been calling for Kadri to take Bozak’s spot for a long time, and even though it took an injury to Bozak to make it happen, it was a great sight to see. Let’s hope we’ll see it again soon.
Kessel’s game resembled that of a volcano tonight. He was very quiet in the first two periods, as he didn’t record a single shot. Then in the third period, he had the nice feed to Kadri on the game-winner. Kessel would add a goal of his own on the power play when van Riemsdyk fed him a beautiful, off-balance, no-look pass through the crease, leaving him with a tap-in. He had another great chance when he weaved through a couple of defenders in the offensive zone, but just missed the net as he tried to go low far-side. Call him streaky if you want, but when Kessel gets going, he’s very difficult to stop.
Tonight was James Reimer’s first game since he suffered a concussion in the early moments of the October 17 game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Let’s just say that he looks fully healthy now. Reimer was the unquestioned first star in this game, stopping 36 shots and withstanding a steady stream of chances in the second period to keep the Leafs in the game. The Leafs were outshot 16-4 in that period, and Reimer had to make several key stops to keep the game tied at ones. The Leafs skaters really picked up their play in the third period, and Reimer did as well. After a tough outing for Jonathan Bernier in Columbus last night, things could get interesting again in the battle for the crease in Toronto.
With Bozak, Lupul and Nikolai Kulemin out, the Leafs’ forward ranks were seriously depleted. Fortunately, substitutes Carter Ashton and Troy Bodie stepped up and performed well. Bodie started the night off on the fourth line, but moved up to the third with Ashton and Jay McClement after Colton Orr sustained an injury trying to hit Kris Letang. It’s doubtful Randy Carlyle will keep Ashton and Bodie with the big club when reinforcements get healthy, but they’ve proven they belong.
I gotta give credit where it’s due here:
Paul Ranger had a tough game. I’ve refrained from piling on Ranger too much in this short season, as he’s been away from the NHL for almost five years, but it’s probably worth asking whether or not he should be on this team. When Mark Fraser gets healthy (which should be the case next week), I would expect Ranger to be the odd-man out. I think he can still be kept around as a sixth or seventh defenseman, but I don’t think he can be considered anything more at this point.