Toronto - November 7, 2014 - On Thursday night the Leafs faced off against the Avalanche and lost 4-3 in a shootout. This was a game that had a disastrous start for the Leafs. Thirty one seconds into the game, Nick Holden of the Avalanche scored while the Leafs looked panicked in their own end. On the very next shift winger Daniel Winnik was hit by Jan Hejda and landed awkwardly on his neck. Winnik laid motionless on the ice for minutes before being stretchered off by a team of doctors and paramedics. It was announced later that Winnik would not require a hospital trip and was moving and conscious in the dressing room.
The Leafs also sustained another injury halfway through the first period when defenseman Jake Gardiner blocked a shot that resulted in bone bruise. He would leave the game and not return. All of these injury concerns are compounded by the fact that forward Carton Ashton received a twenty game suspension for violating the NHL’s substance abuse policy.
Make no mistake Leaf fans, the Leafs had no business being in this game. For the vast majority of the game the Leafs were out skated and out possessed. Jonathan Bernier looked frenzied and very uncharacteristic in net, and was nearly caught out of position multiple times. He did show up when it counted though and is a large reason why the Leafs’ even had a shot at pushing the game to overtime.
The biggest highlight for the Leafs has to be Richard Panik who had an amazing game in every respect. Not only did he score the game tying goal, with Jonathan Bernier pulled late in the 3rd, but statistically had a tremendous game. Panik played 15 minutes, had a Corsi percentage of 75% as well as an assist to go with his goal. It will be interesting to see how Panik is used in the coming games, now that Daniel Winnik joins Joffrey Lupul on the injury report.
A player that should help fill the void for the Leafs is Peter Holland. Holland was thought to be at best a fourth line player coming out of training camp. Thursday night though, Holland played over nineteen minutes, putting him on the ice more than star Phil Kessel. Not only was Holland able to play far more than he had previously, he was able to do so and contribute. He had a positive Corsi percentage, as well as only 50% of his starts coming in the offensive zone. This level of play by Holland, as well as similar numbers from Mike Santorelli will be key if the Leafs want to have success not only down the stretch late in the season, but as well as in the coming weeks while a number of players are out of the lineup.
In the end this is a game both Leafs’ fans and players should try to forget quickly as the team is faced with back to back games this weekend and will need to be focused. The Leafs play the New York Rangers on Saturday night, followed on Sunday by the playing of the game against the Ottawa Senators that was postponed due to the shooting on Parliament hill on October 22nd.
@RobMcPhee on Twitter