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Toronto Maple Leafs at Chicago Blackhawks: Monday game preview

From The Star

UNITED CENTER

Puck drop: 8:30 p.m.

TV: TSN 4

Radio: TSN 1050

Key matchup: Leo Komarov vs. Patrick Kane.

A game after irritating the Sedin twins into frustration, Komarov and the rest of Toronto’s makeshift first line — which, for the past two games with Nazem Kadri on the shelf, has been centred by Peter Holland and rounded out by Michael Grabner — will take a step up in class and do its best to slow down Kane. The league’s leading scorer, Kane has 33 goals and 78 points, 15 points clear of his nearest challengers heading into Sunday’s action.

Need to know: The Leafs finish a four-game Western Conference road trip that has seen them travel without veteran forwards Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Shawn Matthias . . . Former Leaf Richard Panik joined Jonathan Toews and Andrew Sharp on the Blackhawks’ top line when Chicago lost Marian Hossa to a lower-body injury on Saturday . . . The Hawks have scored just four goals over the last 10 periods . . . The last time the Maple Leafs met the reigning Stanley Cup holders, they had won nine straight games before a 4-1 victory at the Air Canada Centre made it 10. That hot streak ended a few weeks ago after 12 consecutive victories. Since that high point, the Blackhawks are 4-5-1.

Up next: Thursday vs. New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m.

Source: Toronto Maple Leafs at Chicago Blackhawks: Monday game preview

Retro-loving Komarov looks for offence of first half: Feschuk

From The Star

For aficionados of hockey gear, there’s always something fresh coming through the pipeline. Manufacturers design it. Marketers hype it. Star players endorse it.

It can be magnetic stuff for the type of person who craves the latest and greatest. Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov is not that type of person.

For the past handful of years, for instance, he was famous for wearing an old model of skates. How old?

“Really old,” Komarov said. The skates were made by Graf, trimmed in white leather, released around 2006. Komarov liked them so much that, as the company launched new model after new model, he stockpiled a collection of his preferred ones. How many pairs?

“Many,” Komarov said. “The skate was really good. Nothing wrong with it. But it’s a business. They switch it up every year, trying to sell more. So that’s what happened. I stayed with those. And I kind of loved them.”

This is one of the many reasons hockey people love Komarov. Mike Babcock, the Maple Leafs coach, calls Komarov “a zero maintenance” player. While ex-captain Dion Phaneuf burned through new skates at an amazing rate — Phaneuf said a while back that he broke in a new pair “every 10 days to two weeks” — Komarov usually kept his scratched-up, floppy-tongued pairs for most of two months. It only enhanced his reputation as a no-muss grinder that his skates were likely the cheapest in the NHL, clearance-rack specials in a league where footwear worth around $1,000 is now the norm.

But this season Komarov faced at least a couple of gear-related problems. For one, Lou Lamoriello, the incoming GM known for team rules that prioritize uniformity, frowns upon outliers who wear skates with white trim. No big deal. Komarov simply asked the equipment staff to paint the white parts of his skates black. Problem solved, mostly.

“The only thing — you hit the boards and (the black) comes off,” Komarov said one day this season, examining the paint peeling and flaking away to reveal white leather.

Another issue: By last month, Komarov was down to the final pair of size 8 1/2s in his collection of circa-2006 skates. So this month he began breaking in a new pair — late-model Grafs wrapped with all-black leather. As the Maple Leafs wound their way through a four-game Western Conference road trip that concludes Monday in Chicago, Komarov said he was still getting accustomed to the new boots.

“It’s probably never going to be the same,” he said the other day, a little forlornly.

Other things have changed in Komarov’s world of late. The quadrilingual Finn opened the season on an offensive tear. Through his opening 32 games he scored 15 goals, an unsustainable pace that saw him nearly double the eight goals he scored in 62 games the season before, a total that was then his career high for an NHL season. But in Komarov’s 22 most recent games — a stretch that has included his first trip to the all-star game — he has managed just three goals, the third coming on an empty net in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

“I need to do something out there. I’m not doing anything,” Komarov said last week. “I don’t know what happened. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Sometimes it’s bouncing in, sometimes it’s not.”

Saturday’s game, which saw the Leafs snap a three-game losing streak, saw Komarov doing plenty beyond producing points, most notably playing key minutes on a penalty kill that held the Canucks to two shots on goal in six minutes with the manpower edge. Komarov, playing on the first line alongside Peter Holland and Michael Grabner, also antagonized the normally stoic Henrik Sedin into targeting him with a gloves-on punch that drew a roughing penalty. And along with tapping in that empty-netter, Komarov also zinged a wrist shot that beat Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller, only to hit the post.

“No luck, you know?” Komarov said after the game. “But it’s okay. Just need to keep working.”

Komarov’s relentlessness certainly sets an important standard for the procession of fresh-from-the-AHL prospects that have begun to populate the Toronto lineup. And it could also make him an attractive acquisition for a playoff-bound team between now and the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

“Anything can happen,” Komarov said.

If a player’s presence in any situation is ultimately fleeting, perhaps that’s why Komarov values the relative permanency of another piece of vintage gear in his locker. His jock strap, a Jofa model with a tattered waistband, is decidedly retro.

How old?

“It’s really, really old,” Komarov said.

He’s had it, he figures, since he was 15 or 16. At age 29, this particular plastic cup has been preserving his wellness for nearly half his life.

“Why wouldn’t I keep it?” he said. “It’s not broken yet, so it’s fine.”

Source: Retro-loving Komarov looks for offence of first half: Feschuk

Game Journal: Game 53 – Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

5:50 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Gord Dwyer and Brian Pochmara. Ryan Gibbons and Vaughan Rody will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in to the game can watch on TSN 4, listen on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

5:45 PM: Here are tonight’s projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Oilers.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

40 Grabner – 24 Holland – 47 Komarov

38 Greening – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau

26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 32 Leivo

25 Clune – 56 Froese – 28 Boyes

Defence

2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly

51 Gardiner – 46 Polak

52 Marincin – 20 Corrado

Goaltenders

45 Bernier

34 Reimer

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards

4 Hall – 29 Draisaitl – 16 Purcell

67 Pouliot – 97 McDavid – 14 Eberle

26 Pakarinen – 55 Letestu – 10 Yakupov

44 Kassian – 23 Hendricks – 28 Korpikoski

Defence

2 Sekera – 5 Fayne

25 Nurse – 19 Schultz

88 Davidson – 62 Gryba

Goaltenders

33 Talbot

1 Brossoit


5:40 PM: Peter Holland will skate between Michael Grabner and Leo Komarov tonight as Nazem Kadri is unavailable due to injury. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…

Leafs TV
[embedded content]

What are your thoughts on going up against Connor McDavid?

I better be ready to skate tonight, some of the highlights I’ve seen he just flies. He makes some great moves at full speed, some great passes and he sees the ice well. I’ve got to get my feet moving and make sure I’m on the defensive side of him most of the time.

Is there a curiosity in playing him?

It’s going to be fun. Obviously he was hurt for a while there but he’s been on a torrid pace before and after. He’s a great player, he’s come in with a lot of confidence and so it’s a good challenge tonight.

What stands out to you as a big challenge playing centre?

Just play a 200 foot game, continue the momentum I’m building in the offensive zone but be solid defensively. That’s how you earn [Babcock’s] trust and take some important faceoffs for him. Play all 200 feet.

On the shuffling of roles between players:

When you have three or four injuries and people coming in and out of the lineup, obviously it creates different opportunities for guys. Obviously I find myself on the top line tonight but I just have to take it and play with the confidence I’ve developed here and do my best to help this team win.

Do you get more comfortable as a winger or are you anxious to get back to the middle?

I’ve flip-flopped so much this year that I’m comfortable playing both positions at this point. It seems like every couple of games I witch back and forth so I’m just trying to find my centre game as quick as I can tonight.

Are you worried about being on a highlight reel when you play a player like McDavid?

You know he has that skill. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where he can use his speed to burn you. You don’t play the puck, play the man against him. It goes back to the basics you learn in minor hockey. If you start watching the puck on a guy like that he’s going to make you look foolish. I’m just going to go out and play my game and hopefully I don’t end up on the wrong side of one of those.



5:30 PM:
Here’s what Matt Hunwick had to say following Thursday’s morning skate in Edmonton…

Leafs TV
[embedded content]

What are the biggest challenges going up against a guy like Connor McDavid?

I haven’t really seen him play too much, obviously I’ve heard a lot of things. I think his speed is one of his biggest assets and obviously he can make plays at top speed. We’ll have to have a good gap tonight and he’s just a dynamic player that we haven’t had the chance to see this year. It’ll obviously be a great challenge for us.

Have you seen any of his highlights?

I don’t watch too much but I’ve seen the one, I think it was against Columbus. That’s the only one I’ve seen. Obviously he’s a special player and an unbelievable play there.

Is there a curiosity as a veteran to play a guy like him?

Yeah, I mean I always like to see the newest guys and he’s a generational type of player is what they’re touting him. I think he has lived up to that billing so far in the short time he has been in the League. It would be better watching him play other teams but tonight we’ll have a firsthand chance to see what he’s all about.



5:20 PM:
Jonathan Bernier is slated to get the start for the Maple Leafs in Edmonton tonight. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…

Leafs TV
[embedded content]

What do you know about McDavid?

Obviously he’s very skilled and I’ve seen some goals that he’s scored, he’s got very high skills and I think he makes everyone around him a lot better. We all know as a team we’ve got to be on top of him all night long. It doesn’t change when you play against a guy like Crosby or Ovechkin or all those top guys in the League. You’ve got to make sure you’re on top of them all night.

When you see the highlights are you amazed he’s a teenager?

Yeah, I mean the League has changed. You see a lot more guys now 18, 19 and they come up and they’re more ready than 22, 23 when I started. It’s changed a lot but he’s amazing.

On stopping McDavid’s famous deke:

Well it depends. In a game it all depends on how much time he’s got, if he’s got a guy on his back. When he scored those goals it’s because he was alone with the goalie and I think he had a bit more time to stop and go the other way. I’ve seen that goal and obviously I’ll be expecting it I guess if he comes in on a 1-on-1.

How are you feeling about your game?

I feel good. Like I mentioned, I think since I came back from the [American League] and I’ve just got to — whenever I get the call to go in I’ve just got to make sure I go in and make sure I’m ready and give a good chance to my team to get a good W tonight and move on that long road trip. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready right from the start.

Do you feel you need to step up with a shorthanded lineup tonight?

I just think I’ve got to do my job. Once you start trying to do too much, that’s when you’re getting caught. You’ve got to make sure you’re doing your part and hopefully the guys in front of you are doing their part.



5:10 PM:
Here’s what Mike Babcock had to say following Thursday’s morning skate in Edmonton…

Leafs TV
[embedded content]

On the lineup:

[Kadri is out] Everybody else that was in the game last game is going to play. Cowen is not going to play. When they did our scan of him or whatever our medical people do, they felt his hips were really tight. He’s not injured or nothing, he practiced today. We’re going to spend the next 10 days doing what we can to loosen his hips up so we can catch him being good when he starts.

What stands out about McDavid when you watch him on film?

He’s an elite player, he can really skate, great speed through the middle, good hockey sense. It looks like he’s going to develop into a real, real good player at the National Hockey League level. I’ve never seen him live so this will be my first chance. He’s a good kid, I met with him prior to the draft and he looks very exciting.

On injuries scrambling the lines:

I don’t think they’re scrambled, I think they’re beautiful, it’s just how you look at it. A new opportunity, an opportunity to get some momentum together. You do what you do. I never thought Holly would be our first line centre tonight but that’s just the way it goes. It’s an opportunity for everybody and the great thing about life is if you grab hold of something it’s amazing what you can do for yourself. Some guys that might not have thought they were playing yesterday are in. Play hard, play well and let’s find a way to get a win.

What would you like to see from Holland at centre?

I like him on the wing just because I think he’s more comfortable. The bottom line is when you play in the middle you’ve got to be real good down low or else you spend too much time down low in your own zone. If you’re good you spend a lot of time in the offensive zone. That’s going to be the challenge, the faceoff circle and playing well without the puck in your own zone so you can spend some time in offence.

How would you assess the team’s achievement in your system through 50 games?

I think a lot of guys are playing really well, it’s just their level of their capability. I think the big challenge for us as a group, and we knew that going in, is to keep improving our roster so that we can get to a spot that we can have a real good run. That’s our plan.

5:00 PM: The Leafs are continue their road trip on Thursday night when they visit the Edmonton Oilers.

The Leafs are coming off of a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night. Peter Holland, Josh Leivo and Jake Gardiner recorded goals for the Maple Leafs while James Reimer stopped 18 shots in the loss. Jonathan Bernier will get the start in Edmonton. It’s his first start since Jan. 27 in Tampa Bay and first appearance since Feb. 6 in Ottawa.

The Oilers last played on Tuesday night and lost 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils. Jordan Eberle had the lone Edmonton goal while Cam Talbot stopped 24 shots in the loss. He will return to the crease against the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Stay tuned for comments from Coach Babcock and the Leafs, projected lineups and more.

Source: Game Journal: Game 53 – Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

Postgame Quotes: Feb. 9, 2015

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Wednesday, 02.10.2016 / 12:45 AM ET / News

By Chris Lund

Here’s a sampling of what the Leafs had to say following a 4-3 regulation loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night.

Mike Babcock

I thought we gave them two gifts, but I thought we did lots of good things. In the end, we worked hard and had the puck a lot, but didn’t score enough to win.

Jake Gardiner

In the first period we kind of beat ourselves in a way. Any time you start like that it’s always tough to get back. I thought we competed well, but just didn’t start the way we wanted to.

Peter Holland

Pretty happy with our overall effort. With a depleted lineup, I thought we played pretty hard. I thought the chances and the goals we gave them were our fault. I thought we dominated most of the game, but they found a way to win.

James Reimer

It was too bad to get behind. They got a couple goals – couple of seeing-eye shots. It was too bad. But I thought we did a great job of battling back, especially in the third. I thought all game we played fairly well, but especially in the third I thought we really came at them. Lucky bounce here and we’d still be in OT.

Source: Postgame Quotes: Feb. 9, 2015

Leafs Go The Distance For Win

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs


TORONTO —
P.A. Parenteau’s shootout goal lifted the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night, giving coach Mike Babcock a reason to celebrate his 1,000th game.

James Reimer stopped Reid Boucher, Jacob Josefson and Lee Stempniak in the shootout. Peter Holland and Tyler Bozak missed for the Leafs.

David Schlemko’s disputed third-period goal had seemed destined to give the Devils a 2-1 win.

But Bozak beat Keith Kinkaid with a snap shot from the slot with 2:06 remaining to tie the game. His 10th of the season snapped a 15-game goal drought that dates back to Dec. 27.

The Leafs challenged the Schlemko goal, a shot though traffic from inside the blueline at 6:27, arguing that Reimer was interfered with as Jordin Tootoo, tangled up with defenceman Morgan Rielly, cruised past the net. But the goal stood.

Babcock, whose record stands at 546-307-19-128 is the 25th NHL coach to reach the 1,000-game mark.

He was the subject of a first-period video tribute to the sounds of “How You Like Me Now?” by The Heavy. The 52-year-old Babcock, likely steaming that his team had just given up the first goal, raised his hand in a brief acknowledgment from behind the bench.

Josefson also scored for New Jersey (26-20-6).

Shawn Matthias scored for Toronto (19-22-9).

The Devils, who defeated the visiting Rangers 3-2 Tuesday, arrived having have won five of their last six games. Toronto, despite winning 4-3 in overtime Tuesday in Boston, were mired in a 2-7-2 run.

It was a night of milestones for the Leafs, who outshot New Jersey 39-34.

In addition to Babcock’s 1,000th, captain Dion Phaneuf appeared in his 800th game, winger Joffrey Lupul his 700th and Nazem Kadri his 300th. And the Leafs used the occasion to mark the 40th anniversary of Darryl Sittler‘s 10-point night against the Boston Bruins.

Sittler said he congratulated Babcock on his big night before the game.

“I said ‘I’m sorry to steal your thunder, it’s your 1,000th game.’ I said ‘Just win it for us,” Sittler told reporters between periods.

On a night long on statistics but short on excellence, Devils rookie forward Joseph Blandisi stood out. The 21-year-old from nearby Markham, Ont., playing in his 13th NHL game, buzzed round the ice and assisted on the winning goal for his fourth point in five games.

Kadri delivered several enthusiastic bodychecks. Leafs defenceman Roman Polak did his part, erasing Josefson at the blueline.

Toronto outshot New Jersey early but the Devils went ahead on the power play at 4:16 when Josefson’s shot _ New Jersey’s third shot of the night _ handcuffed Reimer. Matthias, parked in front of goal, tied it up at 8:34 redirecting a nifty feed from Bozak just three seconds after Travis Zajac stepped out of the penalty box.

A short-handed New Jersey goal midway through the second was called off due to offside after Stephen Gionta beat Reimer on a two-on-one break.

The crowd of 18,947 roared when Devils defenceman Eric Gelinas fanned on a shot at the blueline in spectacular fashion, toppling onto the ice like a tot new to skates as the puck sailed past him into the New Jersey end.

Josefson ripped a shot off the post during a Devils power play late in the second period.

Reimer made his eighth start in the past 10 games. He came into the game with a save percentage of .932, second only to Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth (.933) among goalies with 20 games or more this season.

Devils backup Kinkaid started for Cory Schneider, who is nursing an undisclosed injury.

The Leafs spend the next two weeks on the road with games in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Chicago before playing five of their next six at home, starting Feb. 18 against the Rangers.

Source: Leafs Go The Distance For Win

Wheeler's mid-season Top 25 Under 25 ranking update

From Pension Puppets

Christian Bonin | TSGphoto.com

The top-10 is… unchanged.

At the end of August, when our staff’s collective Top 25 Under 25 ranking began to wrap up, I chose to release my individual ranking and explain my reasoning.

With the All-Star Game come to a close, and February starting, I thought it would be prudent to update that ranking and justify the movement that has occurred.

In order to get a better understanding of how I ranked the players, here’s an updated version of the criteria I included in my August ranking:

My Criteria

There were several ways in which I approached the ranking, but due to the age and established nature of some of the players, it was a decidedly different approach than the one I take when evaluating a draft class or pool of non-NHL prospects.

Not all voters used the organization’s status as a criterion. I did. The Leafs rebuild factors into the value each player has to the organization moving forward. The present isn’t nearly as important as the future, and that gives huge value to a Mitch Marner or a William Nylander over an established Nazem Kadri. Future star power will make or break the end result of this Leafs rebuild, and Kadri may well factor into it as a key player (he already is), but he’s not a piece that changes a franchise.

I didn’t approach the ranking as one that was strictly a meritocracy. As evidenced through my non-ranking of Byron Froese, a player’s NHL status doesn’t guarantee him value. Byron Froese is replaceable. The Marlies roster this season includes several players who could play a fourth line role in the NHL.

The lottery tickets that the players I ranked near the bottom of the T25U25 represent hold more value than a Byron Froese does. The chance that Martins Dzierkals can be more than a replacement level NHLer holds considerable value to a team like the Leafs. Nothing plagues NHL franchises more than the idea that picks are expendable. If you draft for upside, you will find real value, not Byron Froese value.

Dzierkals’ footwork and skating ability, as well as the low kick to his release and his knack for getting it off in stride is a real, identifiable stylistic trait that translates well at the next level. And there’s a very good chance he never becomes an NHL player, but the value in acquiring players like him is worth more than any value Byron Froese holds to the Leafs, at least for a rebuilding team.

The top 11 players remain unchanged. The prospects within the group have progressed as expected, Jake Gardiner has blossomed (yes, he’s 26 but for continuity’s sake I re-included him in the ranking), and after faltering out of the gate Peter Holland and Nazem Kadri have returned to form. I nearly moved Jeremy Bracco back a spot in favour of Dmytro Timashov (who has risen more than anyone except Garret Sparks) but Bracco elevated his play after being snubbed by Team USA and he’s really beginning to find his game after leaving the NCAA for the OHL.

Sparks wasn’t ranked in August in part because I regarded Chris Gibson as the Marlies starter, which would have limited Sparks’ ability to get the starter’s load he needs to really progress. Both were narrowly left off of my August list, though Gibson was ranked 25th on the overall PPP ranking.

Travis Dermott also rose substantially thanks to some impressive play as one of the OHL’s best defensemen this year, though I still worry about his skating limiting his upside when he becomes a pro.

Rinat Valiyev also moves into the top 25 — his skating has held up more than I expected it too as an AHL rookie — and is joined by two players who weren’t available to be ranked in August in AHL scorer Jeremy Morin and Frank Corrado (who should play more than he does).

Stuart Percy and Frederik Gauthier have fallen the furthest, but not because they haven’t had good seasons. Gauthier has played really well defensively — as expected — and his results are the dividends. For Percy, it’s just a matter of timing. The clock is ticking and despite up-ticks in his offensive production, Percy’s window for establishing himself in the Leafs organization will come to a close before we know it. Mostly, for both Gauthier and Percy, the dip in their ranking speaks to some strong seasons and new faces.

Despite an excellent (surprisingly so) season from Andrew Nielsen, he remained unranked. Like with Dermott, I worry about how Nielsen’s skating will translate as a pro (his shot and physicality aren’t a problem). Still, his season has been extremely impressive and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down as the WHL’s highest-scoring defensemen. There’s a good chance, if he keeps it up, that he climbs into next summer’s ranking (though the Leafs could have 5+ picks in the first three rounds this summer that will factor into that discussion).

My February Ranking

Just missed: Andrew Nielsen, Zach Hyman, Jesper Lindgren, Nikita Korostelev.

Remember: Neither of these rankings are the overall, conglomerated PPP ranking but simply my personal list. Morgan Rielly finished first on the overall list.

Source: Wheeler's mid-season Top 25 Under 25 ranking update

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.)

Source: Maple Leafs fall under the sway of Steven Stamkos

Leafs get a couple of lessons from Panthers

From The Star

SUNRISE, FLA.—If Maple Leafs fans can look anywhere for inspiration, they need look no further than the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers demolished the Leafs 5-1 on Tuesday night, the third win in a row for the former also-rans who are the talk of the first half of the season.

The Panthers were once the butt of hockey jokes — as the Leafs find themselves today — but they have built a strong young team, patiently, through the draft, as the Leafs hope they are doing now.

Nazem Kadri scored his 10th goal with a nice deke late in the opening period to put the Leafs up 1-0. But the Panthers simply outclassed the Leafs in every facet of the game the rest of the way.

Florida’s speed forced Toronto to take penalties, and the Panthers capitalized. They scored their first two goals on the power play and had a 3-1 lead by the end of the second period on goals by Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen. Reilly Smith and Alex Petrovic, with his first NHL goal, simply padded the lead in the third.

“They’re a good a team, a quick team,” Leafs goalie James Reimer said. “They have a lot of skilled players and they make a lot of quick plays.”

The Leafs are stuck at one win in their last 10 games (1-7-2) with one game to go before the all-star break.

“I know we have a lot of work to do,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “When you see the really good teams play and you see their talent base, you see where we’ve got to get to. We all understand that. That doesn’t make it any easier on game night.”

The Panthers, in many ways, are the template the Leafs are following in this rebuild. A team that spent years out of the playoffs and built through the draft with high-end draft picks. And now they are in first place in the Atlantic Division. But it all comes with painful reminder.

“How did they get here?” Babcock asked. “The problem with the template (is the) first-round picks. All high. In order to get that, you’ve got to earn that. There’s lots of wounds to earning that. It’s great to say it’s a template. Chicago did it, Pittsburgh did it, these guys are doing it. I don’t know how much fun that is, though.

“You’ve got to draft like crazy, you’ve got to develop like crazy, you’ve got to make good decisions. If you make enough good decisions, and you draft high enough, long enough, pretty soon you end up with a real good team.”

And there was pain, plenty of it, for hockey in south Florida, said GM Dale Tallon, whose reputation for doggedly scouting talent is similar to that of Leafs director of player personnel Mark Hunter.

“You can see light at the end of the tunnel,” Tallon said. “It’s starting to become fruitful and worthy, and you’re starting to feel excited about what our future holds.”

Tallon won a lottery, and got stud defenceman Aaron Ekblad first overall in 2014, a player 19 going on 25 and drawing comparisons to Shea Weber and Drew Doughty.

He lost a lottery in 2013 and defied the prognosticators in taking Barkov second overall — ahead of Jonathan Drouin, currently suspended and hoping to get out of Tampa, and Seth Jones, since traded by the team that drafted him.

Barkov, who signed a six-year extension on Tuesday, is a cornerstone centre drawing comparisons to Jonathan Toews.

“It certainly helps we won the lottery to get Ekblad,” said Tallon. “It certainly helps that we had the second pick (Barkov in 2013) and the third pick (Jonathan Huberdeau in 2011). No denying it. Before you can be really good, you’ve got to hit the skids, be down and out.

“That’s how it works. It’s painful. You make lemonade out of lemons. You make sure you draft well.”

The Panthers, who will go into the all-star break in first place in the Atlantic, feel as if they are on the cusp of something big.

“I hope so,” defenceman Erik Gudbranson said. “We needed the young guys to step up and take over this team and I think they’ve done that. Barkov, Ekblad, Huberdeau, Trocheck, they’ve taken the bull by the horns and run with it. You need that youthful jump in today’s NHL, to bring you to that next level.

“This is something that hopefully can go on a long time. It’s a fun team to be on.”

NOTES: The Maple Leafs scored first for just the 12th time this season. They are now 7-2-3 when scoring first coming into the game . . . The Leafs scratched forwards Brad Boyes and Josh Leivo and defenceman Frank Corrado . . . Both Dion Phaneuf and Peter Holland got into fights . . . Michael Grabner lost some teeth on a play and didn’t finish the game . . . Jonathan Bernier will start in goal Wednesday against Tampa.

Source: Leafs get a couple of lessons from Panthers

Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Panthers

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers Tuesday at BB&T Center:

Another slow start to the game for the Leafs, but a different result.

The Leafs have had difficulty coming out of the gate for too many games this season, and Tuesday wasn’t any different, as they didn’t register their first shot on net until 13 minutes into the first period and managed only four shots overall in the first 20 minutes of play. However, goalie James Reimer turned aside all seven Panthers shots in the frame, and a late goal from Nazem Kadri gave Toronto the game’s first lead heading into the first intermission. That said, the Buds’ tentativeness to begin games has to remain a concern for head coach Mike Babcock and his staff.

Special teams still aren’t special enough.

The Leafs’ penalty killing unit had been sharp in the two games prior to Tuesday’s tilt, preventing opponents from scoring on all eight power play chances Toronto gave them. But that ended quickly against the Panthers, as the Buds gave up three man advantages through the first 30 minutes of the game – and five through the first two periods – and Florida scored its first two goals on the power play to erase the visiting team’s lead in the second period and take control of the contest. The Panthers had the league’s second-worst power play entering the game, but if you give any NHL team that many opportunities, you’ll likely come to regret it, and the Leafs did so on this night.

Toronto’s offense is sputtering.

Toronto began the month of January by posting back-to-back four-goal games (and wins) over the Blues and Ducks, but since then, they’ve scored three or more goals just once in nine games, including Tuesday’s loss. Buds goalies Reimer and Jonathan Bernier have kept the team in games far more often than not, but this wasn’t Reimer’s sharpest night – his modern-day team record of 18 straight games allowing three goals or fewer was snapped Tuesday – and with injured winger James van Riemsdyk weeks away from returning to the lineup, the Leafs’ offence isn’t producing nearly enough to support the netminders.

No love lost between Atlantic Division rivals.

The score in this game got out of hand nearly four minutes into the third period when Reilly Smith scored his 16th of the season to make it 4-1 for Florida, but emotions spiked well before that, with two Leafs – forward Peter Holland and captain Dion Phaneuf – engaging in fisticuffs (with Aaron Ekblad and Dmitry Kulikov, respectively). This was the first meeting of the year between the two teams, but they’ve got three more games against each other – including a March 17 game at Air Canada Centre – and there’s nothing to suggest they’ll become friendlier when next they meet.

Divisional games haven’t gone Toronto’s way at all.

The loss to the Panthers was Toronto’s 12th of the year (0-6-6) in intra-divisional play this season – and, in a league that places an emphasis on divisional battles, that’s a regrettable mark, to say the least. The Leafs can earn their first win over an Atlantic opponent Wednesday when they take on the Lightning in Tampa Bay, but the Bolts are arguably the NHL’s hottest team (8-2-0 in their past 10 games), so it won’t be easy for the Buds to head into the All-Star break with a victory.

Source: Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Panthers

Recap: Panthers 5, Leafs 1

From Pension Puppets

The Leafs’ penalty kill sunk the ship tonight.

Box ScoreWar On Ice

The Leafs began this game looking to avoid the slow starts that have characterized their last half a dozen games, but instead, the first shift of the game saw Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, and Michael Grabner run around in their own end only to yield a dangerous chance on their own net from the slot that James Reimer had to be sharp on. From there, Florida continued to control play for the first half of the opening period, with the Leafs unable to mount any sustained attack or maintain possession of the puck.

Although the Kadri line had a couple shot attempts, the Leafs failed to actually put the puck on net through the first ten minutes of the game, at which point the shot count was 7-0 Florida and the Leafs’ and Nick Spaling went to the box for interference.

It took until just past the 13 minute-mark in the first period for Peter Holland to wrist a weak shot on Roberto Luongo from a bad angle. The 5v5 Corsi numbers looked just as bad, at 12-2 for the Panthers.

In a sequence reminiscent of Randy Carlyle’s tenure with the Leafs, the Leafs scored first despite being totally outplayed, as Kadri waltzed by a fallen Erik Gudbrandson and hung on to the puck as he moved laterally around a floundering Luongo.

Oddly, Holland decided to fight Aaron Ekblad after a relatively innocuous play with under a minute remaining in the first. It appeared to be a bit of a puzzling decision on Holland’s part in that he and Ekblad had no noticeable altercations leading up to it, but in any event, Holland hung in there and sat for 5.

Dion Phaneuf took a boarding call just 2:46 into the second period on Quinton Howden, and then had to fight Dmitry Kulikov for his indiscretion. On the ensuing power play, it was Alexander Barkov who took a great pass from Brian Campbell to walk in alone and throw a backhand top shelf over a sprawling Reimer. Matt Hunwick appeared to be interfered with on the play, but Babcock’s protests to referee Dan O’Rourke went unheeded.

On the Leafs’ third penalty kill of the game, the Panthers struck again. Vincent Trochek snuck in behind Hunwick as the Panthers came through the neutral zone with a lot of speed, and took a great pass from Jussi Jokinen that left Reimer helpless.

Rielly took just his fourth minor penalty of the season to put the Leafs on the penalty kill – their fourth of the night – and although the Leafs managed to kill it off, the 29th-ranked Florida power play looked dangerous, and Reimer again had to make a great save on a shot from in close to keep the game at 2-1.

Immediately following a great shift from the line of Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias and P.A. Parenteau, it was Jussi Jokinen who made it 3-1 for Florida after Spaling made a horrible giveaway in the neutral zone. Jokinen took a pass on a 2-on-1 while Reimer moved laterally and the Leafs’ goaltender had no chance on the play.

The Leafs would take another penalty before the period was over but somehow managed not to be scored on. The shots were 22-15 in favour of Florida, though the 5v5 Corsi attempts were 25-24 in favour of the Leafs.

The third period started with the teams exchanging chances, as Campbell hit the post behind Reimer and then Joffrey Lupul was stopped on a 2-on-1 going the other direction immediately after.

Then, following three consecutive saves, Reilly Smith was left alone in front of the Leafs’ net by Martin Marincin, and Smith buried a rebound to make the game 4-1 Panthers, effectively icing the game just five minutes into the third.

Things went from bad to ugly around the 8-minute mark as a long lob from Alex Petrovic at the blue line eluded Reimer, who appeared not to see the puck at all, despite a lack of screen.

Ultimately, the Leafs won the 5v5 Corsi battle 39-32, but you would also expect them to, given that they trailed for most of the game. Special teams were the Leafs’ downfall again tonight, as they got lit up by the 29th-ranked power play in the league, and also failed to score when they had the man advantage once again.

The Leafs have one more game tomorrow against Tampa Bay before the All-Star break.

Notes on individual players:

– James Reimer allowed more than 3 goals for the first time in 19 games played. We’ll cut him some slack.

– Michael Grabner left the game after taking a puck to the mouth in the second period and did not return. He was visibly bleeding as he left the ice. Peter Holland took his place on the Kadri line for the remainder of the game.

Roman Polak played a lot tonight with the Leafs so often on the penalty kill and with Phaneuf out for 7 minutes of the second period for his boarding/fighting.

– Nazem Kadri had the Leafs’ only goal and was probably also the Leafs’ best player tonight, despite his finish in the middle of the pile of Leafs’ 5v5 CF numbers. He was up against the Panthers’ top line and kept them off the scoresheet until they notched a couple on the power play, when Kadri wasn’t on the ice anyway.

– The other Leaf that deserves an honourable mention tonight is Morgan Rielly. He looked good all evening, and lead the team in the 5v5 CF department.

Source: Recap: Panthers 5, Leafs 1