Toronto Maple Leafs Week in Review: February 4-10, 2014


John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs played four games in eight nights to cap off the first “half” of their season, going up against the Ottawa Senators,  Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks.

Hosting Ottawa for this season’s third incarnation of the Battle of Ontario, the Leafs were looking to continue their winning ways against Ottawa after taking home the first two meetings between the teams, both wins coming by way of the shootout.

As per the status quo, the Leafs came out of the gate slow and allowed Ottawa to gain a 2-0 lead by the midway point of the game. But before the second period was out, the Leafs would strike. First Phil Kessel tapped in a one-timer to cut the lead in half, followed minutes later by a Joffrey Lupul goal. The Lupul goal was controversial at the Ottawa bench, Nazem Kadri had hit Sens defender Cody Ceci from behind into the boards to gain control of the puck before passing it to the wide open Lupul. Despite Ottawa’s objection the goal would stand and the teams would head into the final period with the score tied up.

In the third period the Leafs kept rolling. Kessel scored his second of the night to take the lead and though Chris Neil‘s second goal of the game temporarily stalled the Leafs, they would come through with Kessel completing the hat trick and setting up Tyler Bozak for an insurance marker. Nazem Kadri iced the game with an empty-net goal as the clock ran down, the game finished with a score of 6-3.

After two days of rest the Leafs met the Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, this time bringing along some esteemed guests: about fifteen of the Leafs’ fathers were making the annual trip with the team.

Perhaps it was the travel or the stress of playing in front of their fathers but the Leafs never seemed to find their footing against Florida. It took them the better part of the first period to get their first shot on goal, and ended up being outshot 19-4 in the opening period. Jonathan Bernier put forth a brilliant performance, turning aside all of Florida’s attempts on net.

Tom Gilbert managed to get the Panthers on the board at the start of the second period with a power play goal, a lead they would not give up for the rest of the game. The Leafs weren’t much better in the second period, surrendering 18 shots and only countering with eight of their own. David Clarkson scored his fourth goal of the year halfway through the third period but Florida’s defense stood tall and stopped Toronto from tallying again. The game ended 4-1.

Two nights later in Tampa Bay the Leafs played their second game of the year against their Sunshine State opponents. The Leafs won their first match-up against the sans-Stamkos Lightning 3-2.

The Leafs struggled out of the gate again as their fathers watched on, they were again unable to register a shot on goal until halfway through the period, however this time they’d turn it around for the last 10 minutes and actually ended up outshooting the Lightning 12-9.

Mason Raymond opened the scoring with the second period’s lone goal, a nice little passing play by Nikolai Kulemin sprung the 28-year-old on a breakaway in which he’d roof a backhand shot.

Jay McClement and James van Riemsdyk scored quickly to start the third period, seemingly cementing a Toronto win. Rookie Ondrej Palat would score but it wasn’t enough as Tyler Bozak put in an empty net goal and the Leafs coasted to a 4-1 victory.

In the final game before the Olympics the Leafs were hoping to snap a decade-long losing streak to the Canucks, who themselves were nursing a six-game losing streak and a slew of injuries.

The teams traded chances for much of the first period. The Leafs did not look like a team playing their best hockey of the season and didn’t capitalize on the wounded Vancouver lineup. Jonathan Bernier played well until an unlucky deflection found its way past his blocking arm. Ryan Kesler got credit for the goal and gave the Canucks a lead headed into the second period.

The second period was even quieter than the first, the teams combined for 11 shots with both playing as if they were already checked out mentally for the break. McClement suffered an injury in the period as he fell awkwardly into the boards and hit his face off the ice. He left the game and Kulemin took his spot at centre for the remainder of the game. Things livened up late in the period when full cage-wearing Alex Burrows dropped the gloves with Kessel. Burrows could be seen pulling Kessel’s hair in the fracas. This marked the turning point of the game, waking the Leafs up for the final period.

Mason Raymond scored at 7:23 in the third to tie the game. Kessel then scored the eventual game-winner with a 48-foot bullet that went past a screened Roberto Luongo at 10:03. Minutes later JvR deflected a shot from behind the goalline off Alex Edler’s face and into the net, reinforcing the Leafs lead with 7:55 to play. Vancouver generated some chances but couldn’t capitalize as Bernier continued his great form of late. The game ended 3-1.

So there you have it; the Leafs head into the Olympic break having won 11 of their last 14 games and sitting six points ahead of the next wild-card team. With two points against Vancouver, Phil Kessel is now fourth in league scoring and second in goals. Considering the likelihood of Peter Holland and Dave Bolland returning to the lineup upon the NHL season’s resumption in three weeks, it’s certainly exciting to see how the Leafs will fair heading into the final leg of the regular season.