Leafs Postgame – A Surprising Dagger

Many people who aren’t from here have a tendency to describe Toronto as "Hell on Earth". This is mostly out of jealously, but with last night considered, they may have a point. I mean, the city freezes over and both the Leafs and the Raptors dominate their high-flying opponents from Chicago? Even I’m a little skeptical…

Last night was arguably the best Leafs game of the season, and while getting those results against a powerhouse is a bit unexpected, there was nothing flukey about how they got this win. 

The Rundown

As evidenced above, the Leafs pulled off the amazing feat of keeping up with the Hawks for the entire 60 minutes, and came out of the gate flying. Just seven minutes into the game, with Andrew Shaw in the penalty box, Peter Holland took in a cross crease pass from Joffrey Lupul, banging it home on the third or fourth take. The lead wouldn’t last long – penalties to Holland and Mason Raymond gave the Hawks a 5 on 3, and a desperate dive to intercept a pass by Dion Phaneuf ended up working, but sending the puck past Jonathan Bernier to tie the game. 

The Leafs regained the lead just forty two seconds into the second period. Beating Duncan Keith to a Nikolai Kulemin rebound, Jerry D’Amigo gave the puck a bit of Peter Forsberg touch for his first NHL goal. Goals started to come quickly in the second half of the period, starting with Holland striking again, this time converting Raymond’s cross-crease pass on his first attempt. A minute and a half later, James van Riemsdyk coughed up a Morgan Rielly pass to Patrick Kane, who notched his second goal of the night as a result. But continuing the one-upmanship, Kulemin converted on a slot wrister to give Toronto a 4-2 lead. Before the period could close, Lupul made the most out of a powerplay by tipping a Jake Gardiner point shot to end Antti Raanta’s night.

In came Kent Simpson for Chicago, and just twenty eight seconds into his career, on his first shot against… he was beat by Lupul to make the score 6-2. Brandon Saad tipped in Nick Leddy’s point slapper to give the Hawks a bit of life in the final few minutes, but even then, he was responded to by Phil Kessel within a minute. Finishing up a fantastic pass by Nazem Kadri, Kessel’s 17th goal of the season wrapped up the scoring and gave the ACC fans their 7-3 final score.

Why The Leafs Won

Minus the obvious "they put pucks on net", the lineup shakeup seemed to make this team much more mobile. While Morgan Rielly and John-Michael Liles were sloppy at times, they were no worse defensively than Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger are on even decent nights, and were much better at rushing and distributing the puck. Jerry D’Amigo is much better at playing hockey than the enforcers, in pretty much every facet. Kadri and Holland didn’t look out of place playing big centre minutes.

This feels a lot like last year’s playoffs. A bunch of injuries/suspensions (and in the case of Ranger and Fraser, a couple of worse than already skepticism-causing nights) forced Randy Carlyle into making decisions that, while they don’t line up with his typical philosophies, make the Leafs play significantly better against good teams. I wonder if one of these situations will give him his "come-to-Jesus" moment. In the mean time, here’s hoping that these skating, rushing Leafs stick around a bit. If nothing else, they’re way more entertaining to watch.

Blue Warrior

Between Raymond and Lupul having 4 point nights, Peter Holland having his best game of his career, D’Amigo having a night to remember, and so many others playing so well, I can’t decide. So I’m going to give it to this dude:



Other Notes

  • The Leafs became the first Eastern Conference team to score 7+ on the Blackhawks in the Salary Cap era yesterday. The last team to do so was the Atlanta Thrashers on October 18th, 2003. 
  • Trevor Smith was a stellar 71% at the faceoff dot.
  • Very quietly, Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner found their way into playing more minutes than the Phaneuf-Gunnarsson pairing. Gunnarsson in particular played just 15 minutes.
  • Phil Kessel was the only Leafs player not credited with a hit last night.
  • Yesterday’s attendance of 19,603 was the highest of the season at Air Canada Centre.
  • The two teams combined for just 12 penalty minutes. 
  • The Leafs outshot or tied Chicago in all three periods.

Photo courtesy of Brennan Love (@brennanlove)

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    • I agree. That third line reminded me a bit of the McArthur, Grabo, Kulemin line when they had that big year. I thought it was the best line for the Leafs–playing against the Toews line for a lot of the night, they seemed to keep the puck in the Chigago zone A LOT, and this led to the goals, which came at big moments in the game.

      I thought Kulemin was a monster, last night, in particular. He has been one of the Leafs’ best players in the past three games, and I thought tonight he might have been the best.

      So the Leafs have a lot of depth at the wing (who knew?!): so they didn’t need to spend 5 mil on another one who just came from a fluky season (who knew?!)

      Where do you put Clarkson when he comes back? If that third line has another game like this against the Penguins, I say you either si Clarkson or put him on the fourth, until D’Amigo deserves demotion (I thought the Holland line also looked good). I actually like the play him on the fourth line idea: he can fight, right? So he can replace McClarent, right?

      • To be honest I think he should be put on the 4th line I get that he’s being paid to play 2nd line,minutes but until he shows us otherwise I would just put him there until form or injuries intervene. I totally agree Kulemin was beastly I think McClement allows him more license to get forward with D’amigo. Remember Kule scored 30 goals a few seasons back and was producingin the Khl so he has it and D’amigo might be the guy to bring it out of him.

        • I agree with the notion of trying Clarkson on the 4th line, but not as an enforcer, not playing just 5-10 minutes a game, but actually having 4 lines that can play. He and smith with another competent winger, maybe Broll, Leivo or Abbott. His salary doesn’t matter at this point, it’s his ability that does, and whether you like having him or not, gotta make the best of the situation. He has been somewhat snakebitten, but he can play, and if it becomes necessary, he can drop the gloves if necessary.

          The Kulemin McClement Damigo line looked good last night, so it should be given a chance for a few games to see if it can succeed, especially if they are good defensively. Not expecting a ton of points from them, but if they can provide the secondary scoring like they did, it’s all you want really.

          • God no not as an enforcer I have finally seen the light myself I used to be really into the goon line but not anymore I would personally go Clarkson-Smith-Ashton. I have loved Carter Ashton this year love his chippiness and pestiness. If your able to role a 4th line that good why wouldn’t you? Carlyle needs to get over this 3 line system and embrace the fact we have alot of young hungry players that are guaranteed to give their all if it means sticking with the team.

          • Exactly. Ashton has been alright to me, I see the chippiness you are speaking of, but I think the lack of point production (although understandable being on the 4th line and all) is what I don’t like. But I am willing to give him a shot on a line like that.

            Even if Carlyle really needs an enforcer in the line up, I would go with Broll (an up and comer), or even Bodie. Bodie actually impressed me in the first part of the season with the way he was skating and forechecking (who knows if he could sustain it), and if he can rediscover that aspect of his game, I’d take him in the lineup. I don’t think he’s even dropped the gloves at all this season actually.

          • I tend to agree I don’t really understand why Bodie was dropped, he’s got some speed, respectable hands and he’s big and strong. I don’t mind Ashton not producing im hoping he was inspired by Komarov and starts playing that sort of a role because he’s well able to.

          • liamo

            Definitely wouldn’t mind seeing Ashton develop into a Komarov type player. Will have to become better defensively to follow that path, and somehow be able to get under the skin of other players, then when they try something or confront him, just skate away like nothing happened lol.

  • Great game. Good strategy by Carlyle, put more speed and puck moving ability in against teams like Chicago and more Braun in vs. Teams like LA. Nice to have this ability to be flexible. The Leafs seem to have the most difficult aspect of offense mastered (skillfull quickstrike rushing), and they are getting better at the lesser skilled, easier to learn cycle game. Not out of the woods yet, but they need to keep this going against their upcoming Eastern Conference opponents.

  • I find trying to reconcile stats with the line up can lead to interesting conclusions:

    1. The leaf lost to the Hawks when using the more accepted 5v5 Fenwick close so maybe we shouldn’t overestimate the imapct of Liles/Reilly just yet.

    2. And to contrast that pairing, when fraser/ranger lined up against the kings without Phaneuf the team played much better measured by Fenwick Close versus the kings then the team played against the Hawks. That said, in the next game versus St Louis the team laid a dud. What we are missing with Reilly/Liles is a large enough sample size to make a sound conclusion that playing fast skilled faster players in place of soup cans improves the leafs shot differential. Anything at this point is speculation and perhaps at best an educated guess.

    3. Mclaren was still in the line up so I won’t read to much into a Carlyle epiphinay of how bigger players are useless soup cans and that the faster and more skilled liles/reilly are the reason the leafs better managed shot differentials.

  • “Where do you put Clarkson when he comes back? If that third line has another game like this against the Penguins, I say you either si Clarkson or put him on the fourth, until D’Amigo deserves demotion (I thought the Holland line also looked good). I actually like the play him on the fourth line idea: he can fight, right? So he can replace McClarent, right?”

    Put him on the 4th for a while. Clarkson actually had some chemistry with Smith. Bring up David Broll to play the left.

    Broll-Smith-Clarkson is a 4th line that would give most teams fits.