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Leafs lose to Penguins in a very entertaining game
The Leafs started off with all the energy tonight as the Penguins were flat for probably 55 of the 65 (overtime included) minutes of play. Tyler Bozak scores a goal just a few minutes into the game which is disallowed by the referee because he deemed goaltender interference.
Cornwall - February 1, 2012 - The title could also be "Leafs blow a three-goal lead with half a period to go", either way works. The Leafs started off with all the energy tonight as the Penguins were flat for probably 55 of the 65 (overtime included) minutes of play. Tyler Bozak scores a goal just a few minutes into the game which is disallowed by the referee because he deemed goaltender interference. As the replays would show, however, Michalek bumped into his own goalie and goal should have counted. The refs call on the ice stands and the game is still 0-0. The Leafs would continue pressing well into the second period until Dion Phaneuf would pinch and find Mikhail Grabovski for the first goal of the game. Grabovski has been red-hot lately for the Leafs and he continued to put up the big numbers again tonight. He would score his second on the night with a beautiful shot through traffic into the top corner for a 2-0 lead. Matt Cooke would redirect the puck pass Gustavsson to cut the lead in half before the end of the second period.
Then Penguins had picked up their game late in the second period and the Leafs needed to come out strong for the last 20 minutes to secure the victory. Quite a bit of back-and-forth hockey was played in the third period, showcasing Marc-Andre Fleury with some spectacular saves. Tyler Bozak would blast one past him on the powerplay six minutes into the period and 19 seconds later MacArthur would score on a beautiful feed from Grabovski. The Leafs now led the game 4-1 with just over 13 minutes remaining, almost sure they'd had a victory. Two minutes later Jake Gardiner fell at the blue line and Steve Sullivan came roaring down the wing and beat Gustavsson with a slapshot over the glove. Then with five minutes left in regulation, Gustavsson tried smothering a loose puck, missed it, and Vitale put it into the net and the Pens were back within one. With just twenty seconds left Grabovski frantically worked the puck to the center ice where it was thrown back towards the blue line by the Penguins. The pass was taken inside the blue line while Pittsburgh players were off-side and the play should have been blown, but wasn't. The play would continue and James Neal would shoot one on net which hit Malkin in the leg before going in with just six seconds left in the third period.
The overtime would show us no change on the scoreboard despite many quality chances from both sides. The game went into a shootout where Evgeni Malkin completed the comeback with the lone goal in the shootout.
The Leafs give up a three-point swing against a team they're chasing for a playoff spot. Instead of getting two for a win and the Penguins getting nothing, the Leafs only got one point and Pittsburgh got two. The blame can be placed somewhat on Jonas Gustavsson who let in a terrible third goal. The second Penguins goal wasn't too nice either. But then again if you follow the Maple Leafs game after game you should be expecting the goalie, regardless of whether its Reimer or Gustavsson, to let in a terrible goal or two. Another good portion of the loss can be blame on really inconsistent refereeing. Take a look around the NHL on any given night and you will find far too much questionable refereeing. "It's a fast game" is not an excuse for terrible call after terrible call. If the refs cannot keep track enough to make the right calls then video review needs to be expanded to overruling referee's decisions that lead to a goal. Giving the coach the ability to challenge a play could have been used for either the waved off first goal, or the off-side that led to the tying goal by the Penguins and the Leafs would have won the game in regulation.
If I had a nickel for every absolutely terrible call made by referees this season, not just the slightly bad ones but the absolutely terrible ones, I think I could purchase the majority of the Phoenix Coyotes. There have been so many inconsistencies. The Maple Leafs went the entire month of January with only 17 penalty calls against them. Although part of that is due to more disiplined play, a larger chunk is due to the referees simply not making the calls on several plays. I'm completely unbiased with my view of the referees, because frankly they have been terrible many times in favour of Toronto. But the lack of consistency, the straight-up missed or wrong calls, and the fact that the NHL hasn't let video review override certain decisions or provided a challenge option to the teams, is simply frustrating. There must be a solution to the problem. There must be something better than having to deal with the fact that a terrible call is going to be made twice a night. A terrible call that may cost your team the win, or one that might give you the win on a silver platter. I can't understand how the referees are allowed to gather and converse over a delay of game penalty, yet they can't, or choose not to, over a goaltender interference play, or a high-stick play, or an off-side play that leads to a goal.
Mikhail Grabovski was once again the best player on the ice, he scored twice and added an assist tonight. Tyler Bozak also played a good game. For most of the first and second periods he was skating hard, creating chances and making good plays in all three zones.
I would expect James Reimer to get the call in net in tomorrow nights rematch. Reimer hasn't played much lately as Gustavsson has taken the starting job, but in my opinion Reimer is the better goalie. He needs to play a near perfect game tomorrow to gain an opportunity to take back the starting job for the Leafs. If the Leafs make the playoff it will either be because of Reimer's solid play in net or it will be despite Jonas Gustavsson's on-and-off play in net.
There is some good news behind the blown lead for the Leafs. The Boston Bruins rattled back three unanswered goals to beat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 in regulation. The winning goal for Boston was taken from center ice as Anderson simply missed the slap shot that was dumped on goal. The Washington Capitals would also lose 4-3 in a shootout against the Tampa Bay Lightning. On the flip side, The New Jersey Devils beat the New York Rangers 4-3 in a shootout and the Winnipeg Jets beat the Philidelphia Flyers 2-1 in a shootout.
At the end of the day the Leafs jump into the eight and final spot in the East, but only because the Florida Panthers didn't play. The Senators sit at 60 points in 53 games, the Devils have 57 points in 49 games, the Capitals have 56 points in 49 games, and the Maple Leafs have 56 points in 50 games. From the outside looking in are the Panthers with 58 points in 49 games and the Jets have 52 points in 51 games.
The Leafs are back in action Wednesday night with the Penguins, however, this time the game is in Toronto. Then they play the struggling Ottawa Senators on Saturday night in Ottawa.
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