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Leafs out-battled by Carolina, and the Powerplay was awful
The Toronto Maple Leafs got off to a slow start once again and Brandon Sutter scored early in the first for the Carolina Hurricanes. The Leafs showed no signs of hustle. No signs of wanting to win, they deserved to lose.
North York - December 29, 2011 - The Toronto Maple Leafs got off to a slow start once again and Brandon Sutter scored early in the first for the Carolina Hurricanes. The Leafs would struggle to manage any offense, Carolina was the better team after 20 mins and led the game 1-0. But in the second period the Leafs came out with a lot of energy and determination. They took the game to Carolina for most of the period and Nazem Kadri, who was the best Leaf on the ice, scored to tie the game. James Reimer was strong throughout the first fourty minutes of the game, he was seeing the puck very well and his rebound control was near perfect.
In the third period Grabovski carried the puck up the middle and gave a saucer pass to Boyce who was going hard to the net. Boyce shot it off the pad of Cam Ward and the rebound came right to Nikolai Kulemin who buried it and gave the Leafs their first lead of the game. A few minutes later after one of many unsuccessful powerplay attempts, Phil Kessel threw a wrist shot at Cam Ward that Joffrey Lupul tipped just enough to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead. The Leafs couldn't hold the lead though. Just a few minutes later Keith Aulie pinched to try to hold the offensive blueline and Dion Phaneuf didn't back him up enough Eric Staal would take the puck on a breakaway and score on Reimer through the five-hole. A few minutes after that the Leafs were hemmed in their own zone for a long shift and the puck found its way behind Reimer. All of the sudden a 3-1 Leafs lead halfway through the third turned into a 3-3 game and the Hurricanes had all the momentum.
With just over six minutes left in the third period both Clarke MacArthur and Nazem Kadri were stripped of the puck on partial breakaways. Carolina was taking the game to the Leafs until they took a two many men penalty with just three minutes left in the third period. The Leafs didn't score and to make matters worse, just as the powerplay ended Carolina came roaring into the Toronto zone on a 3-on-1 rush. James Reimer would make a huge save to keep the game tied.
The game would go into overtime and just 30 seconds in the Hurricanes were in on another odd man rush, a 2-on-1 with Joffrey Lupul the last Leaf back. Lupul would make a great play to break up the rush and keep the Leafs alive. The game would press on and with two and a half minutes left in the overtime period Tim Connolly was knocked to the ice and as he fell he tripped the Carolina player. It was definitely a dive, but given the fact that the Leafs had seven powerplays and Carolina only had two, you knew it was coming. Sure enough, on the powerplay Carolina scored and won a game. They deserved it, it was only a matter of time.
The Leafs powerplay unit, especially the first line with Kessel, Bozak, and Lupul, was simply awful. They struggled to gain entry into the zone, and once there didn't move the puck effectively. The second powerplay unit also couldn't convert but had some success setting up in the zone, mainly due to the fact that the Hurricanes couldn't take the puck off of Kadri. By the time the third period rolled around Ron Wilson was playing the second unit to start the powerplay.
Phil Kessel and the first line had another off game as they couldn't get much going. Kessel was very tired and was thrown off the puck more than a couple of times. With Kadri and Grabovski playing so well with their respective lines, I don't see the need to play the first line as much as Ron Wilson has been doing in the last few games - they don't have the energy for it. Dion Phaneuf also logged big minutes and as usual he was showing signs of being tired when crunch time rolled around in the third period. I'm curious to see if the first line will stay in tact for Saturday night's game following their recent poor performance.
The Leafs managed a point, but despite having a two-goal lead at one point in the third period really didn't deserve it. They looked bad. They made a ton of stupid mistakes once again which cost them the game. No John-Michael Liles means no functioning powerplay - Liles is also all hustle, he leads by example, the Leafs showed no signs of hustle. No signs of wanting to win, they deserved to lose. Their next game is on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. They need to come out with a much stronger effort and play a full sixty minute hockey game.
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