Photo Credit: Andy Marlin/USA TODAY Sports
Tonight was a battle of former players. Brad Boyes, PA Parenteau, and Michael Grabner wore the blue and white in a foreign building situated in a familiar market. On the other side of the ice, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin reminded Leafs fans of an era since past. Tonight, it was the former group that gained the most from the experience, as the Leafs eeked out a 3-1 victory in Brooklyn.
While it took the Leafs to get their legs under themselves in the first period, the two sides had a pretty evenly matched opening twenty. Toronto’s wake-up call came attached to a Brock Nelson penalty about three minutes in, and from there, they began putting on pressure. The two teams exchanged shots, but the Leafs defenders kept the Islanders to the outside while they crept in. Neither team saw their efforts do much good for them until the second period, though.
For the Leafs, their efforts were rewarded in quick success. A minute and a half into the second period, Tyler Bozak lead the rush into the offensive zone, sending the puck to PA Parenteau to carry in, who sent it to Roman Polak to attempt to put on net, and while it didn’t work as planned, Bozak was able to take advantage of Thomas Gress not positioning himself square to the puck and roofed his shot behind him to break the ice.
Two minutes later, Toronto struck again. This time, it was Grabner who struck; after Kadri deflected a shot by Morgan Rielly and put it right in the Austrian’s wheelhouse. It was an insurance tally for a team who had a lot of time left on the clock, and as it turns out, it had a lot of value. In the third period, the Islanders made one last push to restore balance to the game, and with seven and a half minutes to go, Nikolai Kulemin tipped in a shot from Nick Leddy. This lead to a nerve-wracking couple of minutes, but the Leafs kept their cool and eventually sealed the deal with an empty-netter by James van Riemsdyk.
Why The Leafs Won
This game was a pretty close one if you look at the “industry-standard” 5 on 5 possession numbers, but Toronto made their attempts matter, outshooting New York 38-26 and outchancing them 37-19. Mike Babcock and his boys were very keen to Jack Capuano’s plans and kept them as far away from Jonathan Bernier as possible. The top six did a spectacular job of keeping the Islanders in check; particularly the Kadri line, who did so despite starting nearly two-thirds from the offensive zone.
Stick It To Them
This was a good night to get vengeance, apparently. Grabner was super stoked to get a goal in his first game against the Islanders since being traded by them for table scraps in September, and PA Parenteau contributed to the party with an assist on the Bozak goal. Even on the other side of things, Grabovski and Kulemin were two of New York’s best forwards and Kulemin was rewarded for his efforts with an assist.
As mentioned before, Bernier wasn’t challenged by a lot of high-quality rubber, but when it came, he was there. 25 saves on 26 shots is a great performance, and the man we thought would never win again now has three victories in his last four. His save percentage on the year is now up to 0.894, which bumps his status up from “Allan Bester” to “Andrew Raycroft”. Baby steps!
See You Next Time
The best part about a good game by this is the fact that there’s going to be an opportunity to do it again very soon. The Leafs get two days off before hosting the Islanders at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday. The key differences in venue include the fact that the scoreboard has been described as “gorgeous” instead of “off-centre”, and that there are car company executives in* the front-row seats instead of the cars themselves.
* Seat presence in first eight minutes of the period not guaranteed