Leafs get big performances from stars in 4-3 win over Rangers

via Abelimages and NHL Interactive

Phil Kessel is a wonderful hockey player.

James Reimer is a wonderful goaltender. 

Both players played very good games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their win against the New York Rangers. The result of this game gave the Leafs a six-point cushion on the Rangers and an eight-point cushion on 9th place. For the Leafs to fall out now, something spectacular must happen. The Maple Leafs, against all odds, appear to be a playoff team in 2013.

Van Riemsdyk got one. Kessel got two. Ryan O’Byrne, somehow, got one, and the Leafs gave up a 3-1 lead but eventually held on for the victory after a tense final two minutes.

Do they deserve it? Well, yes and no. They’ll deserve it in the sense that they’ll have won more games than at least seven opponents in the Eastern Conference. The results of the games are what determines the standings and the seedings, even if the standings after 48 games on the ice don’t exactly reflect whether the team is bad or good.

Considering Toronto was one of the better teams, goaltender-independent, in the 2010 season, they’re owed a season in front of a good goalie and where everything is going in. I’ve resigned myself to thinking that a cosmic force is working somewhere off in the distance to allow Toronto to once again become relevant in the picture when discussing the top teams in the league. They aren’t there yet. The Leafs don’t belong at all in the discussion with the Pittsburghs and Bostons and Chicagos and not by a mile. But the more wins they get, the harder it is to work up a convincing argument to not at least discussing them in that second tier of teams.

The results or events of a single game will never sway my opinions, but the results of seven or eight in a row may. I don’t think the Maple Leafs are a good team. I think that they’re a team that’s having success despite a backward philosophy and taking advantage of a short schedule, a poor Conference, and the best individual goaltending season by a Leaf since Curtis Joseph.

Tonight I don’t show up to the post-game recap to bury the Leafs, but I come to praise them. After Derek Stepan’s 3-3 goal, the Leafs didn’t give up a single scoring chance to the New York Rangers despite a tonne of zone time and puck-possession. The Leafs, like the Rangers, like to collapse in front of the net when threatened. Turtling doesn’t exactly work early in the game since you can throw enough pucks on goal and eventually one of them will get through, but it worked in this instance.

The Leafs played two dangerous offensive lines. Rick Nash and Brad Richards are now split up and they were both buzzing. Nash wheeled around both Cody Franson and Mark Fraser for two goals, on different sides of the ice. Brad Richards put the puck on Mark Zuccarello’s stick twice and had a couple of good looks in the final minute.

However the Leafs actually out-chanced the Rangers all considered. That’s factoring in another fantastic game by Toronto’s first line that absolutely tore apart New York’s top pair of Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi. That pairing spent a tonne of time in their own end tonight, amazingly, since the Rangers controlled the pace of play and the bulk of the shot attempts even if they didn’t turn the possessions into chances. 

Girardi-Del Zotto were the only negative Corsi players on the Rangers on Monday night. James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and, er, Colton Orr were the only positive Corsi players for the Leafs. 

Still, Orr took on entirely too many shifts in this one. The most egregious time Randy “I Have A Theory About Concussions” Carlyle had Orr out there was right after New York’s first goal. John Tortorella, who presumably last cared about the fortunes of the Rangers the last time he shaved, put out Richards and Zuccarello—at that point in the game the Rangers’ most dangerous pairing. Carlyle countered with Orr, Frazer McLaren, Joe Colborne, Ryan O’Byrne and John-Michael Liles. A few seconds later, James Reimer had to cover a puck after making a stop off of Zuccarello scoring chance. 


Dion Phaneuf was the minutes workhorse against the Rangers top player, playing 15.3 minutes against Rick Nash, during which Rick Nash and the Rangers generated a single scoring chance. Rick Nash played 4.7 minutes away from Dion Phaneuf and in that time the Rangers generated two scoring chances. 


I thought the John-Michael Liles and Ryan O’Byrne pairing was okay. O’Byrne got the goal, mostly off of a great play by Nazem Kadri, but on defence they weren’t real liabilities. They had a tough assignment against Richards, Ryane Clowe and Mats Zuccarello and, despite a high-event night, came out ahead in the end. John-Michael Liles made a great pass to James van Riemsdyk on his first goal and while his contract has a lot of critics, I think his play has been pretty good this season and he definitely belongs in the Leafs top six.

This is the “Randy Carlyle’s system keeps shots to the outside moment of the game”:

Two of the Leafs best defensive players are on the ice right there and Clowe is able to reach a loose puck from his knees and is nearly score from his stomach, but Reimer gets his stick down. Not pictured immediately before: Ryane Clowe is stopped by Reimer on a shot 30 feet out.

30 feet is pretty close.

Phil Kessel had five shots on seven attempts. Four of those attempts were considered scoring chances. James van Riemsdyk had six shots on goal on seven attempts. Four of those attempts were considered scoring chances. I think JvR is back, and I think that the first line has been carrying the Leafs on offence since Kadri’s dominant performance against Ottawa. 

Individual scoring chances:

TARANNA Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Tyler Bozak 5 2 3
James van Riemsdyk 7 3 4
Phil Kessel 7 5 2
Nazem Kadri 4 3 1
Clarke MacArthur 2 2 0
Nik Kulemin 4 3 1
Mikhail Grabovski 1 3 -2
Jay McClement 3 4 -1
Leo Komarov 3 2 1
Joe Colborne 0 2 -2
Colton Orr 0 2 -2
Frazer McLaren 0 2 -2
Dion Phaneuf 4 1 3
Carl Gunnarsson 2 2 0
Ryan O’Byrne 5 4 1
John-Michael Liles 6 6 0
Cody Franson 3 5 -2
Mark Fraser 4 4 0
YEW RORK JANGERS Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Derek Stepan 3 4 -1
Ryan Callahan 2 4 -2
Rick Nash 3 7 -4
Brad Richards 6 6 0
Ryan Clowe 4 6 -2
Mats Zuccarello 5 4 1
Derick Brassard 2 2 0
Brian Boyle 2 1 1
Carl Hagelin 3 2 1
Darroll Powe 1 0 1
Taylor Pyatt 1 0 1
Arron Asham 0 0 0
Michael Del Zotto 4 8 -4
Dan Girardi 3 7 -4
Anton Stralman 7 5 2
Ryan McDonagh 6 4 2
John Moore 1 0 1
Steve Eminger 2 0 2

Team chances:

  1st 2nd 3rd Total
Toronto (EV) 3 (3) 4 (3) 6 (6) 13 (12)
NY Rangers (EV) 3 (3) 5 (4) 4 (4) 12 (11)


LeafsNation Three Stars:

  1. James Reimer
  2. Phil Kessel
  3. Dion Phaneuf
  • Jeremy Ian

    I agree completely with the analysis. A few questions:

    (1) Could you elaborate on what you think the “backward philosophy” is? Is it that Carlyle goes is old school in a new game (like French generals in 1940)? Or that his strategy is not matched well with his assets? Or both?

    (2) This may be related to the first, but is there a systemic reason why the Leafs have trouble carrying the puck out of their own zone even when they retrieve possession? The turnovers on defense and lobs to center ice are a recurring pattern — and to me explain a big part of the puck possession imbalance.


    • Jeremy Ian

      I’d like to add to Jeremy’s post..

      I’ve noticed a few things about the leafs strategy:

      The leafs rarely take shots from the side boards but instead choose to either

      (a) Put the puck behind the net and attempt to cycle

      (b) Force a pass to the slot

      (c) Force a pass to the point

      I believe that as a result try to do these 3 things, the leafs do not generate a large number of shots and often turn the puck over leading to shots against…

      Cam, do you think that these tendencies may account somewhat for why the leafs are continually out shot most night, yet some how are more or less even in terms of scoring chances?

      May it also partially account for why the leafs high shooting percentage hasn’t regressed yet?

      Thanks again Cam for doing these recaps.. I really appreciate it.

      • Jeremy Ian

        I’ve also noticed that the kings (tops in team corsi) often score their goals by throwing pucks on net from weird angles and then knocking in rebounds..

  • One thing you notice counting chances is just how many goals are scored from outside the classic “danger” areas. A tonne of goals are jam plays in front off of missed rebounds, but about 20% of goals are deflections from harmless shots.

    I think you can find more success throwing pucks at the net and being absolutely relentless in pursuit. I think you somewhat need the personnel for that though, and the Leafs don’t have it.

    That said, the two biggest cyclers on the planet are Henrik and Daniel Sedin and they put up massive Corsi numbers.