Game in 10: Game 35, Leafs vs. Islanders


    Generating some offense early was the key for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as it was the lead they established so quickly that kept them afloat throughout this game. It was a game that saw both teams dominate at various points, resulting in plenty of goals for us fans to enjoy (or sit in discomfort), though the better team definitely won tonight. The Leafs got the lead early, and played through some defensive lapses to earn a much-needed victory.

    1 – The Leafs sit at 18-13-4, a record which looks much better than the 12-17-6 they posted this time last year. The Leafs enter the Christmas break by winning both games of a back-to-back set after a 2-4-2 start to December.

    2 – The scoring got started early. Tim Connolly skated untouched through the neutral zone into the slot, feeding an easy pass to Clarke MacArthur, who buried up high for a 1-0 lead. Great finish by Clarke netted him his first goal in ten games. Just 2:39 after Clarke’s goal, some great work down low by MacArthur and Connolly led to a successful backhand attempt by Kadri to make it a 2-0 tally. Shortly thereafter, Carl Gunnarsson blasted one by a confused looking Evgeni Nabokov to push the Islanders down even further.

    3 – Kadri with another sound game, as he has added some much needed offensive creativity to that ‘third’ line with MacArthur and Timmy Connolly. As Chris Cuthbert mentioned midway in the second after a down-low give and go attempt by the two, it seems Kadri and Connolly have found some instant chemistry here. Let’s hope this is just the beginning, as Nazem seems to have found his NHL feet for the first time alongside some talented linemates. Not to mention the kid’s defensive commitment. He made one great play in the second where he back-checked from the opposing net to negate a 3-on-2 rush, and then stripped the puck from the Islander player. Really great stuff to see from Kadri, something we may not have a year ago.

    There’s skill overload on this line, but they’ve played in a couple of wide open games last night (40+ shots for both teams) and again tonight against a Isles team that played awful team defence. It will be interesting to see them up against a stronger team that takes away some of their space and possession time.

    4 – How about this fourth line? They didn’t end up scoring tonight, but there was one point when the Boyce, Steckel and Crabb line was out against Moulson – Tavares – Parenteau and pinned the Isles in their end for an extended period. Great disruptive energy from this line on almost every shift. Maybe the Dupuis experiment went on a tad long. Then again, Rickard Wallin once played 60 games.

    5 – 3-0, the scariest lead in hockey? Right defenceman Cody Franson was caught out of position, and Joey Crabb and Luke Schenn were caught flat-footed and watching the play, as Mike Mottau made a two-line pass to Kyle Okposo who buried high glove on Reimer. Then, just 40 seconds into the second, Frans Nielson took advantage of three Leafs’ players with their backs to the puck to cut the lead to one. Just to note, Nielson’s was a power-play goal.

    6 – Following a complete blunder by the ref on a Cody Franson high-sticking call, Tyler Bozak and Joey Crabb compensated for the injustice of the play, as Crabb finished on a play that saw Bozak take the puck out himself, then have the presence of mind to pass it back to Crabb on a two-on-one play.

    7 – The second best exemplified the ups and downs of both teams. Early and late, the Leafs got into trouble with chasing the puck too often, rather than sticking to their assignments. One time it led to a goal, but thankfully the second time around the Hockey Gods let Toronto leave the second with a two goal lead. The nail in the coffin of course for the Islanders was an odd positive contribution from the PK in the form of a shorthanded goal.

    8 – Despite being “improved”, the Leafs continue to hand out power-play goals like presents on Christmas day. Tonight saw only two power-play opportunities for the Islanders mere 17% powerplay, yet on one of them the Leafs looked completely lost. They chased the puck, had inactive sticks down low, and in the end they were facing Reimer when shots were being taken. Even on their kill of the Franson “penalty,” they looked as if they were unsuccessfully attempting to employ a collapsing defending tactic.

    9 – The Leafs were 9-0-0 when leading after two periods going into this game, so the rest as you would say was history. The Islanders scored midway through the third to make things interesting, but an unselfish play by Kessel with under 10 seconds remaining led to a Lupul goal to seal the deal.

    10 – And to close out the night, can you believe the Kessel we saw tonight? Only had two SOG, but if the NHL recorded passes per game I’m sure he would have led all skaters. He looked Kaberle-esque tonight, passing instead of firing on many occasions, and it’s great to see Kessel evolve into a five-tool player right before our eyes.