The Toronto Maple Leafs played perhaps the toughest stretch of their season this week, swinging through the California Death Triangle that is Anaheim, San Jose, and Los Angeles. These teams boasted a combined home record of 67-19-11 (more than half the regulation losses coming in LA) at the beginning of the week, showing just how hard a task it would be for the Leafs to bank points on the trip.
Anaheim is a team I wish the Leafs could play against more, to me they’re a look ahead at what the Leafs could be if they are managed properly. With a lot of skating ability, a surplus of truculence, and a pair of top lines made in heaven, there are quite a few similarities in these teams’ rosters. ‘Unsurprising when you consider that both teams have employed Brian Burke, Dave Nonis, and Randy Carlyle over the past few seasons.
The Leafs did a good job shutting down Ahaheim’s top weapons in the first period, not allowing them the time or space in the offensive zone to create much of anything. David Clarkson and Ben Lovejoy had a fight, this was followed up on later by fisticuffs from Tim Gleason and Patrick Maroon. It wasn’t until late in the period that the tie broke, Dion Phaneuf made a great play to set up Tyler Bozak on the powerplay, making a nice move to get close to the net before giving Bozak a hard pass which tipped past Frederik Andersen. Phil Kessel got his 34th goal of the season moments later on a breakaway chance, Andersen made the initial save but the bouncing puck wouldn’t take no for an answer, it rebounded off his body to the knob of his stick and into the net. The Leafs didn’t let the intermission slow them down, Kessel set up Paul Ranger on a two-on-one break for a 3-0 lead just a few minutes into the frame. The Leafs eased off the gas at that point, Anaheim would be the better team in the final half of the game, but could only tally a single goal. The game finished 3-1, just the sixth game Anaheim has lost in regulation at home all season.
The Sharks proved themselves to be a much tougher task the next night. San Jose’s top flight possession play and skating ability shut down the Leafs’ offensive weapons for much of the night, leaving Toronto helpless as they scrambled around their own end for much of the game– unable to do simple things like zone exits and tape to tape passes. San Jose’s shot totals more than doubled the Leafs’, sending 48 shots at James Reimer whereas Antti Niemi only dealt with 21. The final score was 6-2 Sharks.
Two nights later the Leafs made the last stop of the California trip in LA to face the Kings, who went into the game riding an eight game winning streak. Jonathan Bernier returned to LA for the first time since being traded last summer.
The Kings got off to a fast start, Marian Gaborik scored his first as a King less than two minutes into the game. They doubled their lead later in the period with Anze Kopitar‘s powerplay goal. The Leafs wouldn’t enter the break without crawling back into the game though, a Phaneuf backhander that got through Quick would give the team some momentum headed into the second period.
Drew Doughty caused a bit of a stir among Leafs fans by saying “…they play one dimensional, they’re gonna look for turnovers at all times. They’re gonna cheat to get breakaways”. I don’t really know what the fuss is personally. The Leafs’ top line is one dimensional and rush-oriented, thing is they’re exceptionally good in that one dimension and at creating two-on-ones and breakaways.
Jonathan Bernier left the game with a lower body injury after the first period, Reimer coming to his relief. Carl Gunnarsson‘s second of the year tied things up after the intermission, the Kings allowed the Swede far too much space on the left side of the ice, giving him time to wire a slapshot past Quick.
Reimer was outstanding for the Leafs, denying the Kings left and right to keep the game tied going into the third, despite the Leafs being outshot 31-14 while he was in the crease. Reimer ended up playing a big part in the game winning goal, he made a jaw dropping pad save on Kopitar at the side of the net, Kopitar was able to get the puck back but he sent the rebound high and into the corner. The Kings lost track of the puck momentarily, giving James van Riemsdyk and Mason Raymond a two-on-one chance. Raymond chose not to pass, instead firing a laser of a slapshot over Quick’s shoulder. Reimer kept his performance going for another fifteen minutes and got the Leafs a win.
The LA game wasn’t all good though, Reimer collided with Jarret Stoll at one point, a hit which left Reimer motionless on the ice in its aftermath. He recovered and stayed in the game, meaning that a skater from the team wouldn’t have to suit up in his place. Leafs fans breathed easy at that point, but Reimer’s post-game comments renewed fears of a concussion:
Reimer said he had his bell rung on Stoll collision. Says he had headache afterward. Did consider coming out of the game.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) March 14, 2014
The Leafs have Saturday night off this weekend, instead of the typical HNIC clash they will play a Sunday afternoon game against Washington. Make sure to check EiL’s game day preview for all the latest news before the game.