Because of the luck of the draw and certain weeknight commitments I’ve adhered to this year, most of my games on the recap schedule have been Saturday night tilts. Most of them have been really fun games. This was one of them.
The Toronto Maple Leafs saw their 3-1 lead eventually slip away as the Ottawa Senators tied the game up at threes midway through the third period and sent the game into overtime. The extra frame would solve nothing, but James van Riemsdyk and Mason Raymond would both find twine in the shootout and James Reimer stopped all three Senators shooters to buoy the Leafs to a 4-3 win and two valuable points.
Here are some thoughts from the memorable Hockey Night In Canada matchup:
- This game took forever to play (OK, just three hours and five minutes), causing Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers fans to air their frustrations on social media as the CBC couldn’t cut away to their game until this one had finished. The main reason for the delay was the amount of penalties in this one. In total, 68 minutes were doled out. The Leafs scored one power play goal, but they also allowed two when down a man. Penalties have been a problem all year for the Leafs, and although the Sens had their fair share, it’s still something the team will be looking to cut down on in the future.
- The top line was the Leafs’ best, with Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri all playing very well. Van Riemsdyk opened the scoring for the Leafs just 1:37 into the game when he whacked in a rebound off a point shot. JvR is absolutely dominant when he plants himself in front of the opposing team’s net. On the Leafs’ second goal, van Riemsdyk sent a gorgeous saucer pass over a defender’s stick to Kessel on a two-on-one. Kessel appeared to whack the puck out of the air on the one-timer, beating Craig Anderson. The line was also the team’s best in shot attempt differential, with Kadri especially impressive at a 51.5 per cent corsi rate despite starting only 15.4 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone.
- On the defensive side, I thought the Jake Gardiner-Cody Franson pairing had their best game this season. Gardiner had the Leafs’ third goal when he displayed outstanding patience, holding on to the puck near the blue-line in the offensive end on the power play. He eventually worked his way to the right circle, where he had enough space to fire a shot on net. Luckily, Anderson was hindered as his own defenseman dumped JvR into his crease, and the shot went past him. Franson also looked like he regained a little bit of his mojo, making smart plays in the offensive end and moving the puck well.
- John-Michael Liles played his first game as a Leaf this year after being called-up from the Marlies yesterday, and he definitely looked like he belonged. He’s a smart player who can contribute on the power play, and also offsets some of his line-mate Mark Fraser’s lack of foot speed. The Leafs play again tomorrow, so Randy Carlyle might opt to plug Morgan Rielly and Paul Ranger back into the lineup, which would probably mean Liles would sit. But with the way Liles has shown he can play at an NHL level, I’d be very supportive of keeping him up with the big club and allowing Rielly to play for his country at the world juniors.
- I think we need to talk about how bad Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson have been in limiting shot attempts. This list is the worst defensemen in the league in corsi-for percentage. Gunnarsson is the absolute worst, while Phaneuf is third-worst. Franson is just a little bit better at sixth-worst while Ranger is eighth-worst. I get that the whole team has been bad at limiting shot attempts, but you have to wonder how much this is on the players, and how much it is on the system. Now, Phaneuf and Gunnarsson also face the toughest quality of competition among NHL d-men, but I’m not sure that should excuse their poor play in their end. It was the same story tonight as Phaneuf had an abysmal 19.4 per cent corsi, while Gunnarsson ended marginally better at 27.8 per cent. This is an issue that needs to be addressed, starting with Carlyle and how he deploys his defensemen.
- It doesn’t even really have to be said, but James Reimer was phenomenal. He faced 50 (fifty) shots tonight and only allowed three goals. I hope the rest of the team takes him out for a steak dinner. He gets all the stars.