Over the past decade, the salary cap has found a way to create the right amount of parity in the week. Enough that there’s still a couple of teams at the top and bottom that deserve to be there, but also enough for a bit of Any Given Saturday-ism. No team is safe from anybody, as the Leafs proved tonight by beating the St. Louis Blues for the second time in as many games together, winning by a familiar 4-1 score.
Both teams played a hard-fought first period, but very little of it was worth writing home about. They both took eleven shots, none of them went in, most of Toronto’s were crease-bound while St. Louis’ were off to the wings. Jake Allen was good, as was Jonathan Bernier. Things changed in the second period, though, as Vladamir Tarasenko blasted a seeing-eye one-timer from David Backes into the back of the Toronto goal. Nobody was amused; especially Daniel Winnik, who was in the penalty box on what ended up being Toronto’s only penalty kill fo the game.
The Leafs soldiered on, though. James van Riemsdyk took advantage of a couple of St. Louis miscues after their faceoff win, bolted down the ice, and scored his fourteenth of the season just five minutes after the Leafs originally trailed.
Those were the only five seconds the Leafs found themselves behind in. A few minutes into the first period, Peter Holland put his team ahead, taking in a pass at the start of a Toronto powerplay and roofing it past Allen. Ten minutes later, the Leafs doubled up on their lead. Michael Grabner, with no prime shooting lane available, waited for just the right moment in Nazem Kadri’s stride to get him the puck, which led to an easy goal. As a reward for his generosity, Grabner just so happened to the one to seal the deal with an empty-netter, as he took off with a Matt Hunwick-dumped puck, skated around the Blues’ defenceman, and notched his sixth of the season.
The Leafs were outshot by seven, but in the end, won by three. It doesn’t always make sense, but on a night like this, you take the nonsense if it helps you.
Why The Leafs Won
This was a pretty evenly matched game overall, with the two sides trading shots, scoring chances, and the like at a pretty equal pace throughout. But the Leafs did a great job of pushing towards the net and keeping themselves mentally in check. Last year’s James van Riemsdyk, like many of his teammates would have struggled to shake off the Tarasenko goal. This time, he came out like a bull in a china shop.
Here’s JVR getting a goal back for the Leafs just five seconds after giving one up pic.twitter.com/Gt9OWQvddF
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) January 3, 2016
Holland’s goal come from a decent distance, but Kadri got up close and personal for the insurance tally. Even Grabner’s empty netter required some extra effort. It seems like Mike Babcock has found that skill/grit balance that previous bosses have struggled with, teaching the team to force themselves into the zone with possession, yet getting them to push it even close to the crease as they attempt to score. There’s no complacency; just pure relentlessness.
Makes you wonder what will happen once some of the youth get integrated into the team up top. I feel like it’s going to be fun, if far away from now.
Jonathan Bernier has stopped 78 of the last 81 pucks he’s faced over these last two games. I’d love to take credit, but I don’t think I’m capable of putting voodoo hexes on people with my typed out words. If he was even just okay tonight, the Leafs probably lose this game; he warded off a few scary situations and led his team to victory.
See You Next Time
Break time! The Leafs are heading out to California, but not for a few more days. Their next game comes against the Ducks on Wednesday. Get a timer set up for your morning coffee, because with a 10 PM start, you might be getting a bit less sleep than usual.