Leafs Stomp Caps in Third, Phil Kessel Still Goalless

James Van Riemsdyk celebrates his first period power-play goal in Thursday night’s Leafs win over Washington.
Photo Credit: Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Going into the third period of Thursday night’s 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals, the Maple Leafs were at a distinct disadvantage. Beyond the one goal deficit and some shaky goaltending from James Reimer, the Leafs also had to conted with what I suspect might be a hex that someone (or something) has placed on Phil Kessel. 

It wasn’t easy, nor was it necessrily pretty (Nazem Kadri’s cross crease feed to Matt Frattin aside), but the Leafs managed to throtle the Washington Capitals in the third period in a come from behind regulation win.  

Gamer and chance data after the jump.

– Let’s start with the basic numbers. Overall the Maple Leafs controlled the majority of scoring chances in the contest: recording 15 to Washington’s 8. Their margin was even greater at evens, where they manhandled the Capitals 11-4. As well the Leafs narrowly edged the Capitals in a "score tied" game state as well, recording a +1 chance differential.

– The talk in Toronto on Friday will probably center around Phil Kessel’s continued inability to ripple the mesh, and on some level that’s fair enough because holy smokes Phil Kessel has done something to really piss off the hockey gods, or the PDO bear or whatever.

First he rifled a nasty shot from the point directly off the post. Later in the period, he was fed a cross-crease pass by Tyler Bozak and Neuvirth stoned him. Then on Toronto’s first goal, Phil Kessel took a dangerous shot at Neuvirth from the slot that totally handcuffed the Caps goaltender but didn’t quite beat him (JVR capitalized on the rebound). In the second frame he made a really remarkable play to get a solid backhander on a loose puck in the crease while in the middle of a goal-mouth scramble. Neuvirth kicked it out – just. Finally in the third period Phil Kessel got just about all he can get on one of his patented wristers, but Neuvirth made a highlight reel glove save.

– Finally, Phil Kessel spun and shot on the open net in the dying seconds of the game. The puck went wide.

– Criticizing Phil Kessel for still being goalless after a dominant offensive performance like that one (results aside, of course) is really  missing the point. A total of two inches (combined) on three pucks and he’s got a hat-trick. At some point the flood gates will open and the goals will pour in, especially if he keeps generating scoring chances at the rate he did on Thursday.

– That said, it might be worth giving Phil Kessel a look with Nazem Kadri – at least on the power-play. Might be worth it just on the off chance that Kadri gift-wraps Kessel a goal the way he did for Matt Frattin on the game winner. Just a stunning dish:

– The Maple Leafs did extremely well to shutdown Washington’s once feared (and now actually rather woeful) offensive attack. Unsurprisingly, the McClement, Grabovski line saw the majority of even-strength shifts against Ovechkin, while Phil Kessel’s line spent much of the evening matched up against the Backstrom line. Kadri and friends played most of the night against Joel Ward, a matchup that cost Carlyle an early goal. Kadri and Frattin’s game-winner, by the way, was scored against Washington’s fourth line.

– Ovechkin didn’t factor into a single Washington even-strength scoring chance in the game (his goal came on the power-play). Neither did Grabovski, but I suppose that’s because he spent the night chasing after Ovechkin. I guess Carlyle likes him in that more defensive role, but yeah, I’d wager Grabbo’s not going to put up points like he has in the past if he’s consistently skating with McClement and Kulemin and being deployed in that fashion all season. 

– I said earlier that James Reimer had a shaky game and I’d stand by it on the basis of his save percentage on difficult shots (scoring chances that hit the net, including posts). He faced seven difficult shots in all and was beaten three times – by Joel Ward on his goal, through his five-hole by Alexander Ovechkin and by Wojtek Wolski on a shot that hit the post. He also seemed to struggle covering up loose pucks in the crease and his puck handling was pretty adventurous. Not his best night (but what do I know, I’m merely pulling a reverse Damien Cox and scouting for Vancouver).

– Mike Kostka continues to play top-pairing minutes, but I think it’s a stretch to call him a critical part of the Maple Leafs future as Sportsnet did during an intermission segment. I feel bad for the video editor who was trying to find clips of Kostka based on his six previous NHL games. It’s not that Kostka isn’t a useful player – quite the contrary – it’s just he kind of plays a ho-hum style of game and they were overselling his skill set. So the audio was describing him as this heroic player who fans have fallen in love with because of his "infectious personality" but on the video it was all clips of him against Buffalo shooting burners wide of the net from the point, or making a routine breakout pass. Pretty funny.

Scoring Chances

A chance is counted any time a team directs a shot cleanly on-net from within home-plate. Shots on goal and misses are counted, but blocked shots are not (unless the player who blocks the shot is “acting like a goaltender”). Generally speaking, we are more generous with the boundaries of home-plate if there is dangerous puck movement immediately preceding the scoring chance, or if the scoring chance is screened. If you want to get a visual handle on home-plate, check this image.

Individual Chances: 

Skater Chances Taken Chance Assists Total
Phil Kessel 4 1 5
James Van Riemsdyk 4 1 5
Nazem Kadri 2 1 3
Tyler Bozak 1 2 3
Mike Kostka 1 0 1
Jay McClement 1 0 1
Matt Frattin 1 0 1
Nikolai Kulemin 1 0 1
Leo Komarov 0 1 0

 Team Totals:

Scoring Chances 1st 2nd 3rd Total
WSH (EV) 2 (1) 4 (2) 2 (1) 8 (4)
TOR (EV) 5 (1) 2 (2) 8 (8) 15 (11)
  • Carlyle should cut back Kessel’s time and play Frattin Kadri and JVR who have the hotter hand. As we know Kessel is a streaky, frustrating and inconsistent player so when Kessel gets hot again then up his minutes.

    Alternatively I would put Kessel with linemates who have hotter hands (kadri or Frattin). But I sure hope that doesn’t destroy the great chemistry those other lines have.

  • Beleafer19

    I thought the team in general played well. JVR is really surprising me and I didn’t kno just how fast he was. Kessel had a great performance but just couldn’t find the net. Goals will begin to come in bunches if he continues to play like that. Reiner looked a little shaky but got it done so I guess I could say the reiminister was in office. Overall, a great team game. Not much to be upset about after a game like that.

  • Beleafer19

    Kessel misses the empty net goal. LOL.

    First why in the world would you put Kessel to protect the lead. It is not like he is a defensive stalwart – ok ok – lets give kessel the opportunity to score an easy goal. But the guys screws that up.

    I’m done with this guy until he starts producing (and not scoring chances or whatever crazy metric these advanced stats guys create). For pete’s sake, gomez has a great corsi, but he has trouble scoring. And so now does Kessel. People need to stop making excuses.

    • Kessel has been a better player overall lately just that he hasn’t scored. In some ways he’s compensating for the lack of offence though his line does get goals.

      Against the Capitals he was solid defensively from what I’ve seen. He was even laying out hits.

      Carlyle knows what he’s doing when he gives Kessel his shifts. Now what he’s doing about his defensive pairings and time allocation is something else.

    • ……………I’m done with this guy until he starts producing (and not scoring chances or whatever crazy metric these advanced stats guys create). For pete’s sake, gomez has a great corsi, but he has trouble scoring. And so now does Kessel. People need to stop making excuses………….

      Wow this has to be one of the dumbest comments ever. It’s called a slump. It happens TO EVERY SINGLE PLAYER.

      Comparing Kessel and Gomez is awesome. Let’s all forget everything these guys have done over the last few years and focus on Kessel’s 7 games this season only. Never mind too, any assists on goals because that isn’t producing. Damn advanced stats. Goals or bust.

  • Wow at the Kessel comments. Its only 5-6 games in. Be patient and let the man get his stride. But I guess its hard to please fair-weather fans. Us REAL fans will press on and cheer hard regardless of any outcome.
    The last 5 minutes of the game was nerve-wracking; not to mention hilarious when Ovi did the double-hokey-pokey around Reimer.
    I like the idea of putting Kessel with Kadri, seems they would be a good combo.

  • You need to adjust scoring chances by time on ice.

    This makes Kessel look better then this scores suggest because Carlyle gives him almost as much time as Kostka and limits the TOI for some of the better players who are producing and contributing to the leafs winning (kadri, frattin etc)

    • We’ll do this mid-season. It’s just fairly time-consuming to do it for every game.

      I trust that Kessel will be one of the more successful Leafs in this category, perhaps behind only Kadri and Frattin, who get a lot of help from Carlyle because they start each shift at the right end of the ice.