Yep. One of those nights.
The Maple Leafs couldn’t make it a third shootout victory on the season, but did pick up a point against a tough Minnesota Wild team on the road, giving them three of a possible four against a team that could be a contender in the Western Conference this season.
Perhaps if you’ve been watching Magnus Carlsen against Viswanathan Anand’s chess series this month, this game between the Leafs and the Wild would be more at your pace. To those of us used to the fast-paced, chaotic style of game the Leafs have been running this season, this game could have been seen as a disappointment aesthetically.
But if you’re a Leafs fan, it’s effectively a tie game against a good team on the road. What happens next?
Overall, a pretty good road game by Toronto… to a certain extent. The Maple Leafs did a very good job at shutting down skating lanes in the neutral zone. Only the nimble Mikael Granlund was able to consistently enter the zone with the puck, from my observations, and most of the time he was easily forced to the side wall.
Of course, when you play a closed game like this, sacrificing offence for defence, you sacrifice offence. The Leafs didn’t generate a single three-on-two or two-on-one rush in this game. Phil Kessel had a partial break late in the second period but it didn’t amount to much. While Minnesota wasn’t getting a lot of quality looks at Jonathan Bernier, the Leafs weren’t getting a lot of quality looks at Josh Harding.
Midway through the second though, Mason Raymond was able to open the scoring for Toronto on the powerplay, on a rebound on a shot that Harding would probably like to have back:
Still, right place, right time. Lots of space for Morgan Rielly to move in and shoot, and Raymond was in the right area.
Fast-forward to the third period… in my preview, I’d mentioned that Toronto would be wise to not take a lot of penalties. Minnesota’s been a very dangerous powerplay team this season, generating both a lot of shots, and a lot of goals, when they’re in 5-on-4 situations. Still, the Wild generated just seven shots in those eight minutes, and only one real good scoring chance:
I know Dany Heatley has had a rough tenure in Minnesota, but what a save. Bernier flashed a smile after that too.
At the 8:41 mark of the third, however, Nazem Kadri hit Granlund hard into the boards. From the broadcast angle, it looked like Kadri had hit Granlund’s head straight into the boards, but other angles proved that it was just a real hard, good, shoulder check to the chest. Unfortunately, Kadri was given a match penalty and expelled from the contest, further limiting the Leafs’ centre depth. While it was a pretty bad call, Kadri did get away with only two minutes earlier in the game with an elbow to the head of Niklas Backstrom that knocked Backstrom out of the game. I don’t like to comment on the officiating, and referees Dan O’Halloran and rookie official Trent Knorr, working his first ever game, are probably lucky that the Wild generated absolutely nothing on the ensuing five-minute penalty. It could have been a pivotal point in the game.
Still, Minnesota wound up tying the game on a freak play. Phil Kessel couldn’t exit the zone, and then the puck wounded up bouncing in off of his foot. Problem with spending a lot of time in your own end: it makes you more susceptible to those stupid bounces.
The Leafs were hemmed in their zone for the final minute of regulation, with Dion Phaneuf and David Clarkson each failing to clear after getting knocked around a little. Luckily, a key shot block from Jay McClement kept the game even and it went to overtime.
The OT period was pretty boring and inconsequential, with a single good scoring chance from Morgan Rielly. We went to the shootout, and Minnesota called tails and won.
WHY THE LEAFS LOST
Shootouts are silly. I prefer tie games. I didn’t think either team earned a win or a loss in this game. While the Leafs were incredibly out-played 5-on-5 by all the Corsis and Fenwicks, it’s worth noting that Minnesota just had no space to work with. The Leafs made the Wild dump the puck in and work for pucks, and all they could do was shovel weak shots through and hope for rebounds. That’s eventually what happened.
The Leafs played a pretty good first, and probably could have got in a more offensive rhythm if they hadn’t spent so much time in the penalty box. In the last four games, the Leafs have just a single goal at 5-on-5, which is the bad news. The good news is that they’ve only given up four in those four games, and three of them came in Vancouver.
Jonathan Bernier. No idea how long this elite goaltending lasts, but the Leafs best pick up these points while they can and correct the issues. Next up is Buffalo, so… at least a team the Leafs may be able to out-shoot. The Wild didn’t get a lot of quality chances, but Bernier stopped every one he faced, plus didn’t allow any weak ones. The one that did go in can’t be on him in any way.
- I thought it was a quiet night for the Leafs top line, but the stats say differently. Nine combined shots on goal for Kessel, Lupul and James van Riemsdyk.
- Nazem Kadri was on pace to have a season-high in minutes, but clocked out at 16:33 after his match penalty. I have a feeling that it may be rescinded, but the NHL will probably take a look at the hit that knocked Backstrom out of the game. With the Leafs already without two of the top nine centremen, this isn’t a suspension the Leafs can handle right now, but, again… Buffalo.
- Mikko Koivu and the Wild top line was matched up against the Leafs second line with the afore-mentioned Kadri… and slaughtered them in shot attempts. Koivu was +19/-3 in shots attempted for/against (as always, per ExtraSkater.com).
- How distinct was the Wild’s territorial advantage? At 5-on-5, there were 24 faceoffs in the Toronto end and just 7 in the Wild end. Jerred Smithson was on the ice for 18 of those 24 draws against.
- The Leafs had two positive Corsi players on the night: Morgan Rielly, who played 7.3 minutes, and Colton Orr, who played 3.3.
- I thought it was a good night for Paul Ranger. He stood up a lot of entries at the line, didn’t make any glaring mistakes, drew a penalty and played 18.6 minutes. Still, bleak possession numbers, as we’ve come to expect with every Leaf.