I just want to say that I was very, very disappointed Bob Cole didn’t call this game. I figured since it’s the Canadiens, I’d finally get to hear Cole call a Leafs game again, but instead I had to hear Jim "GREAT SAAAAVE" Hughson. We did, however, get to see the Leafs wear their Winter Classic jerseys again which was fun because they’re awesome. Right after they won the game, Carlyle said, "Burning the other jerseys boys!!!! Unbeaten with these digs!" Not really, but they’re 2-0 with these beauties, so let’s pretend Carlyle said that anyway.
Chris Hadfield also sang "Oh Canada". Who doesn’t love our Canadian astronaut? REPRESENT.
So basically what I’m saying is there were lots of good things and one bad thing about this game aside from the actual game itself.
Just like you’d expect in a game between the Canadiens and the Leafs, this was a physical tilt. Nazem Kadri continued his ability to run people over (!?!?) with his small stature and PK Subban chirped the Leafs bench after a first period goal by Montreal.
Cody Franson opened the scoring five minutes in after Kadri absolutely undressed Alexei Emelin at the top of the circle and set up Franson for a backdoor tip-in. That wasn’t all we had from Kadri in the first, as he almost set up two goals on his own during a powerplay. This was one of the best periods we’ve seen from Kadri in a while and could be a big stepping stone towards getting him out of his funk.
Brendan Gallagher tied the game late in the first with a powerplay goal after the puck took a weird bounce off the boards behind the net and landed on Gallagher’s stick.
The second period was mostly uneventful to start with aside from a Phil Kessel breakaway stopped by Price and Troy Bodie acting in typical Leafs fashion by ruining a Mason Raymond rush by getting into a fight with Brandon Prust at the other end of the ice. But Kessel gave the Leafs a lead with six minutes remaining in the period off a one-time pass from Raymond, registering his 300th point as a Leaf. Oh, and he scored the goal when he was on the ice with Raymond and Holland, so Bozak finally didn’t have a hand in the "amazing play of the first line."
Raymond gave the Leafs a 3-1 lead on the powerplay after a cross-ice pass from Kadri, but a bad bounce in front of the Leafs net let Gionta slip one underneath Bernier with only 12 seconds left in the period.
David "my mayor hates me" Desharnais tipped in a Subban slap shot off the faceoff that tied the game 3-3 with 11 minutes remaining. But that Leafs first line did it again, with van Riemsdyk putting a two-on-one pass from Bozak top shelf. Kessel also assisted on the goal, giving him two points tonight and ten points in his last five games.
A frantic pace at the end of the game ended with Lupul getting hauled down with an empty net, where the refs awarded him a goal even though he never put the puck in the net. With that goal, the Leafs won the game 5-3.
WHY THE LEAFS WON
Because their talent played to their strengths. The Leafs are a fast team with lots of talent up front and speed everywhere on the ice. Kadri played amazing, the first line dominated again and Bernier played well, given that all three goals were either tip-ins or weird bounces. If they can continue to play the way they’re supposed to play, and not the way that the "Carlyle" system dictates, they can continue to win games.
Thankfully, Carlyle didn’t keep rolling his goon-line on the ice like he usually does, with Bodie, Orr and Ashton playing only 6:46, 2:55 and 2:28. Still, I envy the day that four hockey lines will grace the Leafs bench.
Nazem Kadri was the Leafs best player tonight. He played "Carlyle" hockey (that’s me being ironic because I hate that term. But you guys don’t know me as a writer yet so I thought I’d clarify) by being physical and in-your-face. He also had an outstanding first period, followed by a tremendous pass setting up Raymond’s second period goal. Considering the flack he’s been getting lately, this is exactly the kind of game Kadri needed. He’s Toronto’s most creative player and tonight he put that on display.
NUMBERS AND NOTES
Tonight’s fenwick chart, from extra skater:
- Toronto has the best powerplay in the league on home ice, but also the worst penalty kill.
- This is the first time all season that the Leafs have won four consecutive games
- Canadien Joonas Nattinen made his NHL debut and was immediately benched after being terrible on his first two shifts of the game. Being a young player is one thing, but playing undisciplined hockey for a tough coach will glue you to the pine very fast. Therrien isn’t even scared to bench his best player, Subban, from time to time.
- Because I mostly watch Leafs games, I don’t always get to see Subban aside from when the Habs play Toronto, but his conditioning is insane. He moves at 100-mph every second he’s on the ice. Some people might want to question his discipline, but his passion for the game is unmatched. How he wasn’t considered a lock for Team Canada by some people is baffling.
- The Rielly/Gardiner pairing is looking better and better every game. They both skate like the wind, can make outstanding outlet passes and Rielly is surprisingly strong on the boards for a smaller player. Rielly finished with a +5 corsi, and Gardiner a +2. Not outstanding numbers, but it’s hard not to like what the pair is doing.
- Fun fact: I started both Bernier and Price on my fantasy team tonight instead of Kari Lehtonen because I wanted the guaranteed fantasy points. Probably means nothing to all of you but whatever.