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Maple Leafs fall under the sway of Steven Stamkos

From Pension Puppets

The Leafs go into the All-Star break not quite last in the league. Last night they took their show on the road to Tampa and fell for Steven Stamkos all over again.

Any time a game is 1-0, it’s likely either team could have won it. I think that’s true about Toronto vs. Tampa last night.

The graph shows the ebb and flow of all situations play. The ebb tide went Tampa’s way hard for most of the first, but the rest of the game was the Leafs, catching up, coming even, taking control.

Through all that Jonathan Bernier had one of the best nights of his wildly up and down season, so that’s a huge positive for him. He looked as dialled in as Reimer on his best day.

The Leafs looked outclassed by a better team at first, and they were doing that thing where bad positioning and bad decisions led to bad penalties. And Steven Stamkos knows how to take advantage of a penalty kill that isn’t on 100%.

But a funny thing happened as the game came more and more into focus for the Leafs. They stopped taking so many penalties, passes connected, the offensive players got to play where they’re good, and the Leafs got their game back. It’s been gone for a while, and that was good to see.

The best part of the game though had to be Frank Corrado playing a smooth set of shifts, mostly with Dion Phaneuf. He played just over five minutes of 5-on-5, and was good for all of it.

Dion Phaneuf was excellent all night, maybe his best game in a while, and he also drew a couple of penalties instead of taking any.

Morgan Rielly led the team in individual shots (all shots, not shots on goal), and he came on more and more as the tide turned and the play moved to Tampa’s end of the ice.

Roman Polak had a very bad, no good night, but considering he was the only guy who showed up to play in Sunrise the night before, I’ll give him a pass.

Top forward was, as always, Nazem Kadri. He and Michael Grabner had lots of chances.

Not really a factor offensively was Nick Spaling’s line. They were matched up primarily against Stamkos and held the line to nearly even with him, so they got their job done, but Joffrey Lupul is not going to score much when he’s busy tying up guys in the neutral zone. He still managed two shots though, when he wasn’t busy elsewhere. So did Peter Holland.

The fourth line was solid all night, even in the first period when no one else was. Byron Froese, Rich Clune and Frank Corrado led the way in CF%.

One curious thing stands out: Tyler Bozak and P.-A. Parenteau each had two shots, and I think two and two are still four. But their Corsi For was 14 and 10 respectively. Who was shooting? It sure wasn’t Shawn Mathias. I guess the D were getting busy and taking care of things. I don’t think that’s a recipe for success.

Again though, Jonathan Bernier, 29 saves, was the player of the game. Unfortunately for him Andrei Vasilevskiy managed 30 and got his first career shutout.

Acha’s notes

– I attended the game last night. I had a side-angle view of the Leafs’ bench, so I spent a large portion of the night staring in fascination at Babcock to see how he coached. He always looked 100% intent and involved in the play, but did not always just stare at the puck-carrier. He looked all over the ice to see positioning. He also maintained the most professional demeanor I’ve ever seen on the bench, never actually showing emotion other than a calm interest in what was going on.

– Moments when Babcock looked up at the jumbotron: before the anthem to see the starting lineup, for replays of certain things, like penalties or saves, for the announcements of Amalie’s community activism things like “standing salute” and “community hero.”

– Moments when Babcock talked to players: He generally did not talk much to his players, except for during the one time-out called before the last minute of play. It was almost like he expected them to know his system already without a lot of talk. He occasionally leaned down and talked to a player after they did something “coachable” that he didn’t really like, but I felt that was rare.

– I had playoff series flashbacks to the Red Wings – Bolts because of Babcock’s coaching style and how the teams interacted with each other. Leafs’ backcheck was tough for Bolts to fight through. Had Bernier made the save on Stamkos during the power play, the game would’ve been very different. I felt that the teams were evenly matched (discounting the first, for the Leafs, and the third, for the Bolts). If Vasilevskiy’s parents hadn’t been in the stands watching him play in the NHL for the first time ever, I think the score would’ve been more like 3-1, Leafs.

– The two loud PINGS from Leafs’ pucks on Vasy’s crossbars made the Leafs-fan-filled audience groan.

– It was really hard to tell who was rooting for whom, mostly because the jerseys are so similar. But the arena was at around 90% capacity, and I’d say a good 40% were Leafs fans down for a visit.

– Pirates? What? Yesterday was the start of Tampa Bay’s pirate/music celebration, Gasparilla.

– During first intermission, I met a PPP reader wearing a Rielly jersey. It was fun to hang out with a Tampa Bay-area Leafs fan and reader of the site! Nice to meet you, Mr. Bertrand. (He got to listen to me school a guy in a Marlies sweater about what a “Solar Bear” is.)

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