LOVIN' NYC RIGHT NOW (POST-GAME OPINIONS)
What is it with the Leafs when they play against New York teams this season? In the two games they have played in the Big Apple, the Leafs have scored 11 goals (wow). 5 of them were scored tonight against a strong Islander team and the buds got a big win where the offense exploded again.
In what was one of the final visit to Long Island in Leaf history, the start to the game did not go as hoped. Within the first two minutes of the game, the gave up a goal to new Isle Nick Leddy on a questionable play, where there were indications that the play should have been offside. It has been a problem early in the season, and no team should benefit from it (including the Leafs). Getting back on track, the Leafs did eventually tie things up midway through off another JVR-Kessel play with JVR being the beneficiary of the play. Unfortunately for the Buds, they ran into penalty trouble with call after call going against them. It resulted in a poor goal against from (guess who) Taveres. Not that he scores bad goals, but the Leafs had a bad defensive breakdown there.
Once the second period began, so did the onslaught on Halak. It started with Kessel by scoring a beautiful goal off his usual snipe which beat Halak to the right side. The play would not have happened had it not been for the efforts of Komarov and Santorelli. Moments later, the Leafs struck again, this time from Polak with his first as a Leaf. His shot also beat Halak to the right side, as the two were once teammates. The game, clearly in Toronto's favour, then became wide open after Clarkson (of all people) scored his second goal of the season. Clarkson, by the way, took 25 scheduled games to register his second goal last season. The finished off the strong second period with Kessel's second of the game by beating Halak, where else, the right side. That seemed to be a pattern all night, and by the time the thrid period started, Halak was pulled from the net.
The third period was unmemorable, to say the least. One key fact to note was that Panik and Holland had increased ice time in the third, possible to conserve energy for tomorrow's game. The Isles pressed hard to score, but were unsuccessful. Then, late in the third, Clarkson scored what would have been his third of the season and second of the night. However, it was called off as it was kicked in off of Neilson's skate. It did not really matter though, as the Leafs pulled through again with a big 5-2 win over the Isles.
1) The Leafs really got to Halak. Yes, the Leafs were able to score 5 goals against the New York Islanders in this one. They did this, however, in a very unique way. On the 5 goals scored against Halak, all five goals were to his right side (something that has been noted as his weakness). Good on the Leafs for noticing this pattern and scoring their goals this way. All of the goals scored were good ones, but what makes it special of how smart the Leafs were in recognizing a goalies soft spot,
2) The top line broke through again. If there is one indicator of how good the Leafs were tonight, it is the offensive work put forth by the top line. Kessel, JVR, and Bozak combined for 3 goals and 3 assists. One other thing to point out, the Leafs have always won the hockey game, so far this season, when Kessel finds the back of the twine at least once. While it's good to see the Buds thrive off their best players success, it is important that everyone contributes to lead to a win (not just Kessel).
3) Bernier was sharp. Bernier, as we've seen many times last year, was the best Leaf player all night long. He made countless saves and made them look easy. Although he had the slow start early on in the contest, he rebounded and provided a strong effort. This was especially true in the third when the Isles pushed hard to make the game close. With his first win of the season, it's good to see that Bernier is back and better than ever. Now he must be prepared to keep up the hard work as the season progresses as he will be tested constantly.
What can be learned from this game
The Leafs seem to love playing in the Big Apple, as mentioned earlier, and it clearly shows on how they play in the second period. With 5 goals on the night, the Leafs offense was the least of their worries. Goaltending was also strong, and the defense, while sloppy at times, got the job done. Like I said, the Leafs seem to win when Kessel scores a goal (similar to how the Leafs were 9-1-0 in the lockout season when Phaneuf scored). It's good, but they need to win when someone else finds the twine, because it may be a back and forth season should this pattern continue.
Also, Bernier is back and better than ever. He may have had two poor showings in the early going, but he has slowly returned to his strong play from last year. Tonight was perhaps his best start as he made key saves throughout and gave the Leafs a chance to win, which they did. If Reimer can keep a good record as the second option, the Leafs will be in good shape in goal, and possible in the playoff hunt. What needs to be worked on, though, is the defensive effort put forth by the defensemen, especially in the third where the Islanders really tried to get at the Leafs. Things like this can be easily improved by making simple plays off the rush and not being too creative when there is a big lead (see Game 7).
As predicted this morning:
"I expect the two teams to put on a good show and provide some goals. It may result in a 4-3 win in overtime or the shootout with one member of the top line providing a goal. The power-play will break through in this one as well."The two teams did put on a good show and there were a ton of goals scored. While there were 7 goals scored total, the final was not 4-3 and did not result in a three point game. And although the power-play did not break through, the top line provided a combined 6 points on the night. This one will result in a draw.
The Leafs are back at it tomorrow night, as they take on arch-rivals the Sens in what should be a fun match to watch. Considering the Sens did not play tonight, the Leafs need to conserve some energy for that one. Expect Reimer to start and the Leafs use 7 defensemen again.