After a real lacklustre effort in Columbus a night ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs rebounded and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 on Hockey Night in front of yet another spectacular performance from James Reimer. The theme for the Leafs so far this season seems to be “play well in two periods and get totally out-shot in the other 20 minutes” and that remained true Saturday. After a fairly even first period and forcing Penguin goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to make some excellent saves, the Penguins peppered Reimer in the second, but he was very solid and making all the saves he had to.
Clear of the second frame, the Leafs put together a couple of highlight-reel goals against Fleury, one coming at the start of the period, another coming at the end, and got an empty-net goal from David Bolland for good measure.
Also, despite taking the second period off, the Leafs did manage to generate 30 shots on goal. On the whole, a pretty good game for Toronto, who find themselves at 8-4 ahead of their three-game Western Canadian road trip.
Just before the game, it was announced that Tyler Bozak would be sitting out this game, moving Nazem Kadri onto the top line. While you hate to see any player lose a job to injury, this was going to be a good test for Kadri, who hasn’t gotten a chance to prove himself on the first line just yet.
The Penguins did open the scoring early in the first, just as the Blue Jackets did, and they did it on the powerplay, just as the Jackets did. A good pass from Evgeni Malkin behind the net found Kris Letang out front, and while he heeled his shot and it didn’t have a whole lot of power, it was still taken from a very dangerous area and past James Reimer’s right pad. From then-on, Reimer was perfect.
On another Leafs penalty kill later in the period, David Bolland got a break and got the Leafs on the board with one of three great goals on the night for Toronto:
What a heads-up pass from Phaneuf to find Bolland. He hit him right in stride. Who doesn’t like a good slapshot goal on a breakaway? Just under the bar, the puck made the goalpost sing. Best sound in hockey.
The second period belonged to Reimer. Pittsburgh out-shot Toronto 16-4, and had 24 unblocked shots to Toronto’s six. I’m not entirely sure what happened to the Leafs in that frame, but they had a tonne of problems getting pucks through the neutral zone. The Penguins did a great job at containing Toronto at the line, not allowing them to get any sort of speed up-ice, which really is Toronto’s bread-and-butter for establishing possession.
The important thing is that Toronto got out unscathed, with the period punctuated by this great post-to-post save by Reimer on Pascal Dupuis:
Reimer also stopped two shots during the lone Penguins PP of the game. The Leafs again had trouble preventing shots while down a man (9 in 4:37) but it didn’t cost them too much.
Start of the third period, the new van Riemsdyk-Kessel-Kadri line went to work. While Kessel was pretty quiet in the early going and not generating any shots on goal through 40, van Riemsdyk was probably the best Leaf in the opening two periods. He had three shots on net and entered the zone five times with possession, team-highs in both. He was the big part in setting up this excellent goal:
Finally, van Riemsdyk set up Kessel’s clinching goal on a powerplay with just under three minutes to go. Against Anaheim, van Riemsdyk had a similar assist, whipping the puck in front of the net while simultaneously falling down. This one also landed on Kessel’s stick, and he had some time to eat a cookie or two before putting it in:
Bolland got the empty-net goal after an extended 6-on-5 sequence from the Penguins really generated nothing of substance.
Gotta be JvR. Five shots, two assists, most active Leaf in the neutral and offensive zones. While all eyes were on Kadri, van Riemsdyk was the guy that really stepped up in the absence of Bozak.
Another guy that was real good was Carter Ashton. He was playing with Jay McClement and Colton Orr, and those two have had some issues at even strength turning dump-ins into shots and turning ice-time into offensive zone time. Some pretty good Corsi numbers through two as well. Check ExtraSkater for details tomorrow for a full game statistical recap.