Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw crashes into Leafs goalie James Reimer in the third period on Saturday night. Despite the Blackhawk barrage, Reimer stopped all 26 third period shots to carry the Leafs to victory.
Toronto - November 2, 2014 - Saturday night Leaf fans were treated to the best Leafs game of the season. The Leafs played a solid all around game and defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2. The standout however was goalie James Reimer who had an amazing performance stopping 26 shots, in the third period, and 47 shots overall. It cannot be said enough how tremendous Reimer was in net and he proved that he still has the ability to play at a high level. Reimer single handedly made Toronto look like a playoff team on Saturday night, and should be given the next start.
Before Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, defenseman Stephane Robidas said that the game would be a ‘measuring stick’ for the Leafs. Against the Blackhawks the Leafs’ measured up to one of the best teams in the league. The focus now shifts to maintaining that high level of play.
The Leafs reshuffled line’s continued to pay off as Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel continue to produce far more consistently than prior to the line shuffle. Kadri has now scored in back to back games and continues to excel in a top line role. Kadri’s goal in this game was the result of a great pass from Daniel Winnik in the first period. Kessel also got an assist on the goal, and so the Leafs remain undefeated when Kessel gets a point.
Early in the season I was particularly critical of the Bozak-Kessel-van Riemsdyk line and their complete inability to enter the offensive zone. This has ceased to be a problem with the line shuffling. The added physical presence of Daniel Winnik playing with Kadri and Kessel, as well as playing David Clarkson with Bozak and van Riemsdyk has added a new dimension to each lines playing style. Early in the second period van Riemsdyk scored on a turnover after a solid forecheck to tie the game. This came 1:03 after Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook scored to make the game 2-1. As good as the top two lines have looked, they should only get better when Joffrey Lupul returns in roughly 3 weeks from a broken hand.
Leo Komarov continues to be my favorite Leaf this season. He has 7 assists in 11 games and is a freight train on skates. Komarov set up Peter Holland for the game winning goal after blowing up Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya behind the net, and feeding Holland a perfect pass in the slot.
Many were initially critical of Komarov’s contract because it was assumed he wouldn’t produce points. This is based on the fact that in the lockout shortened 2012/2013 season he had 9 points, in 42 games. His offensive production has been a very welcomed surprise, but has certainly been helped by the great play of Mike Santorelli who has looked fantastic in his first season with the Leafs. The third line in general has been the biggest surprise this season.
Finally, its worth acknowledging the play of Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly. There was a lot of pressure on both players coming into this season, and both are performing at a great level. Morgan Rielly will be a star in this league. The kid is a stud in all aspects of his game. He’s fast, smart, he makes the right decision and is a great offensive threat. Rielly has the potential to be the best defensemen to don a Leaf’s jersey in a very long time.
Jake Gardiner has also made great strides in his game. He has cut out a lot of the mistakes he made previously and is a more responsible puck mover then he was last season. If these two defensemen can continue to play well and improve, Toronto’s concerns on defense may lessen. Phaneuf still desperately needs help, but the future looks promising.
In the end it was a great game all around to watch, and for Leaf fans it should be a game that inspires some hope. The two previous wins over Buffalo and Columbus are games you should win. Buffalo is a flat out bad team and Columbus is arguably the most injured team in the NHL right now. Chicago however is neither of those things. Chicago is one of the strongest teams in the NHL, and the Leafs looked good against them. They still lean heavily on their goalie at the end of games, something that they need to get better at. However Leafs’ nation should enjoy this win, and look forward to Tuesday’s game in Arizona.
Prospect Alert: The Leafs’ 8th overall pick in this year’s draft William Nylander is currently 3rd in points on his SweHL team MODO, despite only playing in 8 of a possible 18 games. The decision to send him back to Sweden is looking more and more like the right choice.