Jimmy Howard shuts the door on Phil Kessel on Saturday night. Kessel was held off the score sheet but played well and had multiple scoring opportunities.
Toronto - November 23, 2014 - On Saturday night the Toronto Maple Leafs played the Detroit Red Wings. Toronto continued their recovery from the 9-2 beat down by Nashville and beat Detroit by a score of 4-1. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier picked up the win stopping 26 of 27 shots and Tyler Bozak continues to perform on special teams, picking up a shorthanded goal, as well as a goal while Detroit had pulled Jimmy Howard for the extra skater. The most impressive aspect of the Leafs game though has to be how they ended it. For a team that is notorious for late game collapses, and being significantly out shot when leading late in the game, Toronto held Detroit to only 5 third period shots. And yes, they did salute the fans at the end of the game.
In the first period the Leafs played well, having the advantage in both possession and scoring chances leading up to Leo Komarov’s second goal of the season. Komarov took the puck from Santorelli and took it hard to the net beating Jimmy Howard. This also makes the Leafs 6-0 when Komarov scores a goal. The Leafs are also 8-0-0 when scoring first this year, proving just how key the start to the game is for the Leafs.
The line of Kadri, Komarov and Santorelli continues to play well, but will probably get shaken up on Wednesday night when both Joffrey Lupul and David Booth return to the Leafs lineups. This injection of skill should help steady the production of Nazem Kadri and Mike Santorelli.
Despite playing well in the early stages of the first, after the first goal the Leafs slowed down. The second period was dominated by Detroit as the Leafs looked content to try and hold on for a 1-0 victory. This would not be the case, however. Ten minutes into the second period Tomas Tatar scored for Detroit to even the score board. More importantly though, on the play Leafs defenceman Roman Polak collided awkwardly with Tatar and suffered a lower body injury. The specifics are not known at this point, but coach Randy Carlyle said after the game that they expect him to be out for a while.
The lone bright spot for the Leafs in the second period was their fourth line of Richard Panik, Josh Leivo and Trevor Smith. All three finished the period with a Corsi percentage of 80% and played very well when given the opportunity. Panik and Leivo would finish with a Corsi percentage of 78% while Smith finished at 70%. The ability to play four lines has been a great addition to the Leafs and is really going to pay dividends down the stretch before the playoffs.
The third period was by far the best of the evening for Toronto. Early in the period, Tyler Bozak poke checked Niklas Kronwall shorthanded and raced down the ice towards Jimmy Howard. Bozak then backhanded the puck over Howard’s glove to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. It was a great goal, however it was not the best goal of the evening. That belongs to Peter Holland.
With under five minutes to go, Holland took the puck away from Gustav Nyquist in the defensive end and raced up ice. When he hit the Red Wings blue line he got in front of Nyquist, used his strength to protect the puck, created space and then lifted the puck over Howard’s shoulder on the short side. It was the type of goal you love to see from a young centerman. Holland is 23 years old, 6’2 and 185 lbs. If he can continue to play at this level, produce points and penalty kill, he has all the makings of an NHL top 6 centre.
In the end it was a good win for the Leafs. They came out hungry and got the early goal. Then they stayed strong while Detroit poured on the heat, and dominated the play during the final minutes. It should also be pointed out that Nazem Kadri had a great game despite only getting a single assist. Kadri was playing high energy hockey and at times looked like he was sure to get a goal. If Kadri can continue to play physically and maintain his creative playmaking ability, there is no reason he shouldn’t get more time with Phil Kessel.
The Leafs are in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, and after two solid performances from Bernier, I would expect him to get the start. Leaf fans should also keep an eye on what lineups are used in practice this week, as the return of Booth and Lupul will result in some noticeable changes.