Forget Bieber. Check out the dude in the brown sweater. "Well hello there."
Alright. There’s plenty to complain about. The Leafs allowed 43 shots from the Carolina Hurricanes. The ‘Canes are 13th in the east and 25th in the league. Offensively? They’re worse! Third-last (aka 28th). They can’t score on a barn door this season and they still fired the kitchen sink at Toronto IN Toronto.
But scew it! The Leafs finally get a regulation win. Let’s enjoy it.
Phil Kessel scored the lone goal of the first period with what I’m going to call an "awesome fluke." Was it a fluke? Sure, but it was awesome. We’ll look at the actual video later in this post (for good reason).
Nathan Gerbe scored for Carolina just 1:36 into the second to tie it. Why the Buffalo Sabres decided to use one of their compliance buyouts on Nathan Gerbe, I will never understand. He didn’t have a great season last year, but with one year left, his contract wasn’t such a disaster that a buyout needed to happen. Now? He’s currently fourth on the Hurricanes in scoring. Not bad.
The Leafs responded with two goals in just over a minute. JVR and Kessel (and Bozak) combined for a dirty goal, and Nikolai Kulemin followed it up with a cracker to put the Leafs up 3-1. An unfortunate deflection off a Justin Faulk shot brought Carolina within one after two.
Paul Ranger – yes, Paul Ranger – fired home an insurance marker five minutes into the third, David Clarkson missed an empty-net but Mr. $49 million Dion Phaneuf finished the job. Leafs win 5-2!
WHY THE LEAFS WON
Goaltending for sure, but even though the Leafs were outshot in each period, they weren’t helpless offensively, either. They mustered 27 shots and took advantage of their chances, as well as some luck. Kessel’s first goal was some luck, Kessel’s second goal was sweet.
I’ll take some flack for this, but screw it – Tyler Bozak had a good game.
Jonathan Bernier made 41 saves and was named the first star of the game. The "Leafs goalie saves day" headline isn’t news, so let’s focus on the rest.
Let’s do what might be a first on this site and name Tyler Bozak player of the game.
Tyler Bozak’s return was obviously a welcome sight for Phil Kessel, as the man they call Bozie earned three assists. I’ve already seen people on Twitter ragging on Bozak’s return. I’ve already seen people anticipating the Toronto media exaggerating Bozak’s performance just because he put some points up. You know what? Fine. Whatever. Reporters going after an easy narrative isn’t exactly new either. But he played well. He earned those assists, did he not?
Let’s look at the goals he assisted on.
This is interesting to me. One part of the third episode of 24/7 was Randy Carlyle lecturing the team for not helping centres win faceoffs. On this draw, we see Bozak battling away and unable to come out with a clean faceoff win. What happens next? Kessel jumps in, gets a couple chances, and one of them goes in. Was it a gorgeous tape-to-tape saucer pass? No, but Bozak earned the assist.
Here’s assist two.
This was a great combination of luck and beauty. Gardiner fires a long stretch pass to Bozak, and he acts fast. It’s more of a nudge than a real pass, but with little time and space, Bozak gets it to van Riemsdyk. It wasn’t the cleanest reception, but luckily JVR is a monster and he fed Kessel for the bank-in goal. It’s a secondary assist, but again, Bozak earned it.
Here’s assist three.
This was a combination of the Hurricanes being awful and the Leafs working hard. Nikolai Kulemin barely stays onside as Clarkson enters the zone. A few moments later, the puck is on Kulemin’s stick and two Hurricanes are staring at him flat-footed. Bozak flies in from a line change to receive the pass and creates a scoring chance immediately by throwing it in front to Clarkson. That’s a no-go, but Bozak stays on it and knocks the puck to Paul Ranger. Ranger Danger puts it a shot on while Clarkson creates a screen in front, and there’s the dagger. Bozak’s pass to Ranger isn’t going to make Joe Thornton jealous, but hell, it worked, right? Side note – really watch the Hurricanes on this play. Woof.
Advanced stats are often unkind to Bozak, but his underlying numbers were alright tonight, too. His Corsi was 17 for and 21 against, which isn’t good, but compared to his teammates he came out well in that category. In terms of traditional stats, he’s got 14 points in 17 games, which ain’t half bad at all.
Maybe it’s the eggnog talking, but Bozak had a fine game.
NUMBERS AND NOTES
Well the third period sucked, but hey.
- Another pretty unpopular opinion is defending Paul Ranger. Has he had a good season? No, he hasn’t. But he’s got eight points in 33 games as a third-pairing defenceman. That’s OK. If he cuts down on the defensive brain farts and poor pinches, I think he can still be a fine NHL defenceman.
- Colton Orr played 5:35 and took just eight shifts. The Leafs had just two shot attempts for with him on the ice, and eight against. Stop the madness.
- The Carolina trio of Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Tuomo Ruutu were on for three Leafs goals and none of theirs. Rough night at the office.
- Have the Leafs been good lately? No. But guess what – they’ve got point in five straight games (3-0-2).
- Phil Kessel has 20 goals in 41 games. He’s on pace for his first 40-goal season as a Leaf. Will he make it?
- The next game is the Winter Classic, FYI.
- HAPPY NEW YEAR!