In fact, perusing Twitter off and on, I could see Leaf supporters were feeling (understandably?) heady. Many posted that there was no need for Luongo, that it was good the Leafs had not traded away young talent for the veteran goalie. We were looking just fine, and would be 3 and 1 after we polished off the Isles.
By the end of the night, some fans were signing a different tune.
If you fell asleep when it was 3-1 and only woke up Friday morning, you would likely be stunned to see that the Islanders did indeed come back. Some kind of switch got turned off for the Leafs, and the Isles managed to tie things up in the second period. In the third, they took the game away from Toronto and ended up with a 7-4 victory.
The easy assessment would be that Ben Scrivens was the cause of the Leafs demise. The 4th Islander marker in the third by Grabner looked like one Scrivens should have had, but I still don’t know if Phaneuf deflected the puck, causing a change in direction. After the Keith Aucoin (good to see the ex-Marlie back in the NHL) scored, Carlyle yanked Scrivens and replaced him with Reimer.
By the time Phaneuf crunched Tavares against the end boards, got chased down by some of Tavares’ angry teammates and gave the puck away to Matt Moulson—who converted to make it 6-3—the evening was pretty much over for the blue and white. A crafty empty-netter while two men down by Grabner (he smartly held on to the puck rather than make a high risk play when the game was still somewhat in doubt, before waiting patiently to slide the puck into the yawning empty cage) completed the comeback.
Is this one on Scrivens? In my mind, no, it isn’t. He made some outstanding saves in the first period to help the Leafs maintain their lead. He did struggle at times but for me, the bigger issue was simply that the Leafs stopped skating and started giving the puck away—often. They became careless and sloppy, and their game suddenly lacked sharpness or any sense of urgency. As a result, fans can say goaltending cost us “again”, but this was more like the ‘bad old Leafs’ rearing their head, as happened all too often the last few seasons.
The give-away/mistake culprits were many, including Gunnarsson, Grabovski and Phaneuf to name just a few. Plenty of guys struggled as the night went on.
Gunnarsson needs to be a lot harder on the player—and the puck—than he has been at times in the first handful of games this season. Phaneuf has been really good so far, but the huge minutes he has been playing (four games in six nights, after no games in eight months) may have caught up with him a bit as this game went on. The captain fumbled around with the puck (as did Scrivens) on the first Islander marker and overall, Phaneuf was minus 3 on the night. (Gunnarsson, despite his weak effort on the one of the Islanders second-period goals when he didn’t tie up his man in front of the net, did put up three points, and was a plus 2 overall.)
We can blame the poor result on the back-to-back games, but lots of teams will be facing that in this lockout-shortened season. Did the game change when the Leafs led 3-1 late in the first and couldn’t capitalize on a 5-3 power play? I don't think so. The Leafs still had a comfortable lead past the mid-way point of the second period, and it’s not as if the visitors were creating tons of chances.
We have to be honest. While NY has some skill guys like the ultra-talented Tavares and some nice players like Grabner and Moulson (and ex-Leaf draft choice Boyes, who had a 3 point night), this is not a strong NHL roster. Goaltending is suspect, as is their defense. That Keith Aucoin, a very solid AHL player, was not really close to making the Leaf roster two weeks ago but is a regular on the Island, suggests the Isles are still a team in transition.
The good news? Kadri remains the most dangerous Leaf on the ice these days. Besides the slick hands that he possesses, he also has that relatively rare knack for finding soft spots in the offensive zone. He can locate the open man and he has certainly done that in the early stages of this season. One thing to keep in mind: Kadri is in mid-season form, while a lot of NHL’ers are nowhere near that just yet. But yes, he looks good, and you can notice his confidence on just about every shift, which is nice to see.
Frattin also scored and added a couple of assists in his first game back with the big club, and while he did some good things, it was also one of those nights where his points outpaced his actual performance, at least in my mind. But I’m glad he’s here, and I think he can contribute to this team if he plays with energy and uses his strength to go to the net.
Seeing Komarov, Frattin and Kadri on a line together is something I had been hoping would happen the end of “training camp”. Perhaps they’ll get a chance to stick together for a while.
If you just look at some surface “stats”, you’d say, hey, a nice night for Kadri and Frattin and Gunnarsson, the Leafs must have played well. They did early, but fell off badly.
Gardiner was his free-wheeling self, but sometimes his confidence gets him in trouble. I‘d like him not to skate past the play sometimes. But he’s still finding his legs, and he sure made an explosive rush in the first period which could have led to a goal.
Just one off-night (albeit after a nice start)? Or is this a harbinger of things to come?
I think it’s too early to fret about that kind of game. Conditioning is a challenge. Momentum can change quickly. Scrivens was good at times but not stellar throughout. We weren’t as pumped up as we were against the Penguins—a much better team than the Islanders.
Saturday night, after a day off, will be a bit more of a real test. You know the struggling Rangers will be ready, having lost three of their first four games.
If I was a Leaf, I’d get some sleep—and get back to work.