If there’s a positive that I can take out of a game like this, it’s that I’m reallllllly happy that John Tavares is going to play for Team Canada next month. He’s become so creative, and so smart, and is now tied for second in league scoring. Why now? Because he scored three points tonight. Why did he score three points tonight? Because the Toronto Maple Leafs allowed three or more goals. Two more, to be exact, as the Leafs dropped this one by a score of 5-3.
This game actually started off pretty well for the Leafs. Five minutes into the first period, Tyler Bozak scored his sixth goal of the season, deflecting a point shot from Paul Ranger. While he didn’t get a point on the play, full credit should also be given to Phil Kessel, who aggressively forechecked to force Calvin De Haan into making a play. The two sides traded chances back and forth throughout the period, and in the final minute, Kyle Okposo beat Jonathan Bernier with a routine wrist shot from the point, tying the game.
Just three minutes into the second period, the Islanders took the lead. This time, Michael Grabner took advantage of a Bernier puck misplay, wrapping the puck around him for the 2-1 tally. On a mid-period powerplay, Mason Raymond picked up a rebound to beat Kevin Poulin. Both teams kept a pretty even pace for the rest of the period, leaving the game to be decided in the third.
In that third period, Frans Nielsen scored his sixteenth goal of the year on Toronto’s lone penalty kill. Just two minutes after that, Calvin de Haan fired a shot from behind the blue line, bounced it off of Dion Phaneuf’s stick, and past Bernier to widen the gap. A late period goal by Joffrey Lupul gave the Leafs life, but with nine seconds left, Cal Clutterbuck sealed the blue and white’s fate with an empty netter.
Why The Leafs Lost
For the first time in a while, I’m comfortable with pointing fingers at a Leafs goaltender for a loss. Simply put, Jonathan Bernier had an off night, and it cost this team a chance at winning. The Okposo goal seemed stoppable. The Grabner goal was the result of mishandling the puck and then risking getting to the net rather than taking the trapezoid penalty, and the De Haan goal was deflected early enough that he should have been able to re-evaluate.
With that said; I wouldn’t use tonight as knock on him. Soft goals happen, off games happen, and he still has an impressive rest of the season attached to it. I’d like to see James Reimer play a lot more than he has, but I’m not pointing to a night like this and saying that makes Bernier the "worse" goalie.
Nazem Kadri quietly put up two assists and won 79% of his faceoffs over 18:23 of ice time. I wouldn’t say he had a particularly mind blowing game tonight, but the numbers were there, he created a few solid opportunities, and there weren’t any glaring mistakes on his end. If he could put up a string of games like this, he’d win back many people who have begun to question him.