The Toronto Maple Leafs finally found their way back to the win column last night, edging the Phoenix Coyotes in a shootout at home. The team showed much more fight than Tuesday night, but were still outplayed for much of the game, and were probably fortunate to come out with the two points. Here are some thoughts from the game:
- James Reimer was coming off a couple of tough games but returned to form last night, stopping 30 shots during regulation, five in overtime and two of the three shootout participants. He looked like he was on his way to a shutout until Martin Hanzal scored with less than five minutes left. It was a bit of a curious move by Randy Carlyle to go with Reimer after a not-so-great game Tuesday, but it turned out to be the right one.
- Phil Kessel and the rest of the first line looked good tonight, creating a number of chances. The trio of Kessel, Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk combined for 12 shots. Unfortunately for that line, Mike Smith was very good in the ‘Yotes net, and they couldn’t find the score sheet. Nonetheless, it was a great showing on their part, and if they continue to play at that level, the results will come.
- The Leafs were gifted with three power plays on the night, but two of those were cut short when they took penalties of their own. The Leafs power play is one of the league’s best, but they need to be out there for the majority of the two minutes to be effective. I also found it strange that Carlyle went with three wingers in Kessel, van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul as the first power play unit, instead of having Kadri on that line to take the draws. The Leafs could have really widened the gap if they took advantage of special teams, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
- Another theme through much of this season is the Leafs inability to break out of their own zone. There were two long stretches I noticed – one in the second period, the other in the third – when the Leafs just couldn’t take possession of the puck in their end. Luckily, the Coyotes aren’t a great offensive team, and Reimer was up to the task. But this team needs to figure out how to consistently win puck battles in the defensive zone and make good passes when they finally get the puck.
Next up for the Leafs is a date with their Winter Classic counterparts, the Detroit Red Wings, on Saturday night.