Custom Search

Leafs win in Boston: that was the kind of statement game I’ve been looing for…

Some of you may recall that, a while back here at VLM, I posted a piece that said the Leafs needed not just one “statement” game, but a number of such efforts.

It’s always hard to know if the impact will last, but for now, I feel we can call the win in Boston on Tuesday night one such game.

I’ll simply say that, once we got the requisite fight out of the way in the first few minutes, the Leafs looked an awful like the “good” Leafs (versus the “bad” Leafs) we saw at times last season—and a fair bit in the playoff series against these same Bruins.  They received outstanding netminding.  They moved the puck quickly and with authority for the most part.  They used their speed (maybe having the “right” forwards in the lineup helped with that) and their special teams were essentially perfect: two power-play goals and nothing allowed on the penalty kill.

Kessel was a presence with three assists. Bozak was involved all night at both ends of the ice.  Besides his goal, van Riemsdyk looked like Rocket Richard (right) going around the Bruin defender for a dangerous play on Rask in the third period. (The Rocket was famous for bulling his way around defensemen and driving to the net for a shot on goal, as JVR did against the Bruins on that great solo rush...the Leaf winger sure has some moves around the opposition net, eh?) There was some crisp play, some hitting, a bit of everything, really. Everyone played more than 10 minutes except for Ashton and McLaren.

I won’t pronounce the Leafs back on track just yet, but this has to help build some inner confidence individually—and collectively as a roster. I posted on Twitter before the game that I felt the Leafs would be ready to play, and they pretty much were.

I thought I saw a team that was calm, all things considered, when they had a two- goal lead in the third.  An odd bounce off the backboards gifted the Bruins their third goal, and they had some close calls, but you would expect that. The Leafs were flying around, blocking lanes (and shots) and doing everything they could to keep the late lead.

The Leafs held on, and earned a win—a big win on the road against a top club, at a time when the Conference standings are awfully tight.


Did you see signs that something was different?  Did a light bulb go on?

27 comments:

  1. The real statement game is tomorrow night. We have seen this story before. After the thrashing of the Blackhawks we all thought the problems were behind us. If the Leafs show up against Buffalo then I will start to think the train is back on the rails.

    I almost don't want to bring this up, and I'm not sure it even needs to be said in this particular forum. But if the Leafs community is going to anoint Bernier as some type of saviour, that second goal simply cannot happen. That said, Bernier played very well otherwise. I bring up that goal not so much to take away from what he did, but just to point out that he is no less imperfect than the number 1 goalie we already had. I think I'll stop banging on about this issue though. It will do no good to discuss further, and if the team effort tonight is something we can come to expect I will be happy just to see the Leafs win.

    The main point I want to make is that this was a good, solid effort, but it will be meaningless without a followup tomorrow night. If the team plays like they did tonight I will be expecting a thorough dismantling of the Sabres.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're absolutely right, Oliver- without a real follow up in the days ahead, one good game (even against a strong team) in isolation doesn't mean much. There are "upsets" in the NHL every day. It's what you do after a big win that matters.

      Yes., the goalie issue is now over. Bernier is the guy. While I agree with your point, it was never a competition, as I've said here many times. Bernier is the goalie and if he continues to win, Leaf fans will be more than happy. Thanks Oliver.

      Delete
  2. "Did a light bulb go on?"

    Yes, Carlyle performed better as a coach. He had a better "compete level"

    He kept his brain moving. He played Holland on the 3rd line. He played McClement on the 4th. He got Kessel and JVR each and extra shift with the 4th line, one that resulted in an penalty and then a power play goal.

    It was more like last year. As a coach he had a higher "compete level."

    Carlyle now has to develop "more consistency."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't disagree, DP. The coach has to adjust, just like players often have too. We've often discussed a faster, quicker lineup here, and that was in evidence Tuesday night. Thanks DP.

      Delete
    2. It seems Carlyle will only adjust for The Bruins and when there's injury/sickness.

      Would Gardiner have received PP time if Franson wasn't still battling flu-like symptoms?

      Will McClement, a great 4th liner/PKer who until last night been played over his head, go back to leading ice time again while Holland (or D'Amigo) goes back to ~3 minutes?

      Will Carlyle ever try to find shifts for Kessel/JVR away from the other team's top defender if that defender's name isn't Chara?

      Delete
    3. Good questions, Anon. As DP noted, it was a night that saw Carlyle adjusting along the way. We can only assume that will continue!

      Delete
  3. I missed the last 5 minutes. (I had my eyes closed.) C.N.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoy your contributions, Colleen.

      I definitely feel where you're coming from tonight. I sent my sister a text message after the game saying "that's the most intense final 1:30 I've ever seen that didn't end with me saying 'oh, the Leafs %&#ed it up'"

      Delete
    2. Ha! Another night owl, Oliver? At least we're up and happy this time. Colleenacher

      Delete
  4. You wrote yourself Michael we as fans get carried away with a bad couple of games and we over state a couple of wins. The Leafs won tonight and good on them. They closed out the game. Really though let's be honest, the same old problems were there again tonight. If Bernier (and you know I don't much care for him) doesn't stand on his head in the first period the Leafs are toast. They are playing a team that just got home from the dreaded California trip, probably the three toughest games any team can play in a row and heads back to Dallas tomorrow. Look the Leafs caught a tired Bruin team that is at home for two nights after a long hard road trip, that received just average goaltending and they won good on them. Was it a statement game? I don't think I would go that far. Once again they gave up 40 shots. This is how they won early in the year, great goaltending and super special teams. looking back now we know that it is not sustainable. Over the course of a game maybe even a couple of weeks it is but over the long term, well we know the answer to that.

    I don't want to be too negative about a win, the Leafs did look like they played harder. I'm glad they won because they are going to need every point they can get but this is hardly statement game. As Oliver said I want to see them do it in back to back games.

    I did like the fact that Carlyle seemed to pick his line ups with a little more care. Still need to find a fourth line that plays more but tonight was a start. It was a small step in the right direction. Hopefully, it won't be followed by two steps back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All fair points, Willbur. As I often say about Kessel, he often plays the same game, just with different results on the nights when the puck goes in for he and his linemates. Many of the same issues were present, but they won.

      I guess the real point is if the players believe it was a statement game, find their confidence and play like they should be able to the rest of the way. If not, then, yes, it will just have been a nice win in the middle of a long season. Thanks Willbur.

      Delete
  5. An entertaining game, for sure! Some good goals, some lucky goals, and some great saves at both ends. The Leafs showed a bit more energy than we've seen lately, and a win is always good, but I still see the problems that have bedevilled us all season: one scoring line, costly defensive miscues, and way too many shots against.
    If I'm honest, I'd have to say we didn't outplay the Bruins, but we held our own. It's amazing to me how the Bruins (or the Hawks, or the Pens, etc) always have someone in position to score in the offensive zone. Marchand's goal is a good example - Phaneuf kind of waved his stick at whoever took the first shot, and Lupul loses Marchand who's focussed on the puck and is there to pot the rebound. Gardiner makes an ill-advised pass off the end boards and it's in our net. There's nothing fancy about it.
    And yes - Carlyle showed he can adapt. Good on him!
    But one win does not a Cup run make! As Oliver says above, Wednesday's game will tell us a lot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rome wasn't built in a day, eh, Gerund? So if the Leafs can work to minimize some of those mistakes and build on this, who knows? As you say, the Leafs had some energy, and let's call it a good road win, though it wasn't exactly a game where they kept shots down and all that. But they won. We'll see how Buffalo goes!

      Delete
  6. Oliver T nailed it Michael. This was a wonderful high compete game but will prove meaningless unless they follow it up by putting away an inferior Buffalo team.

    There were many things that I found
    encouraging last night.

    The Holland, Clarkson, Kulemin line got a cycle going and actually hemmed the Bruins in their own end for an entire shift. I thought Clarkson played his best game as a Leaf despite that flub in the 3rd period.

    The first line came to life and was a threat all night, especially on the power play. Bozak maintained his stellar play, Van Riemsdyk weaved some magic and Kessel had 3 assists plus a great back checking effort to help prevent a goal.

    Gleason provided that shut down defense that we have been missing this year, especially on the penalty kill and late in the game. I thought Franson looked much more relaxed defensively when paired with Gleason. They were not perfect but they seemed to be building a chemistry that can be further developed. If so they could take a lot of pressure off the Phaneuf-Gunnarsson pairing.

    I thought Gardiner showed some of his 2011-12 brilliance at times last night.

    Carlyle finally utilized all four centres. Holland was given meaningful 3rd line minutes and McClement, with reduced 4th line minutes, was fresh for extended time on the penalty kill and late game checking duties.

    Encouraging for sure but we need to check in after tonight's game and continue this discussion. Hopefully they will give us cause for continued optimism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those little moves you mentioned, Gleason with Franson, Holland playing more, McClement more focused on the penalty kill, all seemed (for one night, at least) to help. Gardiner played some good hockey against the Bruins in the playoffs and looked comfortable against them for the most part last night. Reilly just keeps quietly doing a job as a 19 year old.

      We all agree that they need to build on this. Thanks Pete.

      Delete
  7. Hi Michael
    Agree with you Oliver. A number one goalie doesn't give that 2nd goal up. Maybe once in a long long while it can be expected, but maybe we are seeing it happen more than our liking by Bernier. However, he did make up for it the rest of the game by battling afterwards sort of what good goalies do, that is to shake it off.

    DP, your reference to Carlyle having a higher compete level and light bulb turning ON is Hilariously accurate. Hopefully he can roll 4 lines more in the future now that he has seen that it works.

    Gotta love the shot blocks at the end of the game by Gleason and the tying up the Bruin player by Bozak on the backcheck. This was a huge victory for the Leafs not just from the standings point of view but because they managed to hold off the Bruins in a manner like they failed to do in the infamous game 7.

    I hate to be negative in a great victory but that Gardiner turnover for the 3rd goal reflects that he simply needs to make better decisions much more quickly. Although he scored a nice goal, I noticed a couple of offensive chances he had to just get it to the net but held onto the puck a second too long, negating the chance all together.

    It is imperative that we follow that up tonight with a good game against Buffalo. It is not a given with this team though because we have already seen this year playing good games against better teams, followed up by laying an egg the next night against a weaker team. I hope we have learned from this type of complacency and correct it this time round.

    It was great to see the battle, resiliency and special teams deliver for us tonight. Maybe we should have the flu more often, as it has seem to have brought out an ability to dig deep for something extra the last few games resulting in much better all round efforts.

    Sigh... We can breathe again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that was one of the key things, BlueANDwhite- the Leafs (and Bernier) were able to fight through issues along the way. It would have been easy to cave when Boston made it 4-3, for example. So good on the Leafs. Tonight's another opportunity to build some chemistry- and win a game.

      Delete
  8. Not sure it was a "statement" game Michael, but it was indeed a huge hard-fought win. The game easily could have gone south for the Leafs, but they worked hard and did it for a solid 60 minutes. They may not have dominated the play, but at times they did, and they had some excellent scoring opportunities.

    Carlyle made some interesting adjustments last night. I'd like to credit them all to his wisdom, but some he may actually felt forced to do simply because of the flu bug affecting the team. Either way, it worked. That Clarkson-Holland-Kulemin line gave the Bruins trouble all night. They frequently hemmed the Bruins in their own end. That was refreshing to see against any team, but especially against the defensive minded Bruins.

    No doubt the Leafs learned an important lesson last night that they have struggled to learn all this season. That is... work hard & play with intensity/urgency for 60 mins. JvR and the first line were on fire last night. One of the best games I've seen from them this year. Gleason had a solid outing, and made a couple of incredible back-to-back blocks so hold the Bruins off.

    About the only player who I thought was under-performing for the Leafs was Joffrey Lupul. He just seems to be struggling lately and not able to generate much of an offensive threat. Maybe its the flu or something else were unaware of, but he's not looked his usual self.

    We'll see if they can carry the momentum over to tonight against the Sabres. It could be a bit of an anti-climatic game for the Leafs, and we've seen before how difficult those games are for the Leafs. If they struggle to get their competitive juices flowing tonight, have no fear as the Leafs host the Habs Saturday. That will be an important and exciting game against a long-time division rival. That could be an excellent opportunity for another statement game. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If a line such as Clarkson-Holland-Kulemin can perform as they did last night, that would certainly provide a spark, Don (TML_fan). Playing as a team - even with the customary mistakes and breakdowns - for a full 60 minutes is so important.

      You raise a good point about the upcoming Hab game. We need not worry about adrenaline for that contest.

      Delete
  9. Is it my imagination or did the fans and media select the lines for last night? As much as we here try to temper our so-called expertise on hockey matters with the realization that there are those employed in the NHL to make these decisions, and then there's us. Yet we have all been screaming for the exact changes in the lineup that finally happened last night, and look what happened.
    Like most other comments here, mine will not be filled with too much excitement about last night's win. I'll take the two points and say that the Leafs fought hard the whole game, yet I do not think this game in and of itself will say too much. I think I even said it here a while ago, five or six games in a row with that same "compete level" are needed to show that the Leafs are on to something.
    The Leafs certainly looked like the better team at times last night, and at other times the Bruins sure did. Bounces and luck may have gone both ways at various times, so all other things being equal, the Leafs by and large outskated the Bruins, forced them into sloppy penalties, and beat them at special teams. There were too many lazy defensive lapses in our own end for my tastes, but they found space moving the puck out of the zone and through the neutral zone much better than they have all season, and kept the Bruins hemmed in their own zone for several grueling stretches.
    My hope tonight is that Carlyle sticks to the same lineup and that it proves to be a better model moving forward. Oh yeah, and is it too much to ask to keep John Scott off the score sheet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You said it well, Pete. Good breaks both ways, lots of skating, they hemmed the Bruins in at times and won the special teams battle. Does it mean more than two points in the standings?

      As for the lineup, there's no reason some version of what we saw last night can't work (if everyone plays hard) against most NHL rosters. Thanks Pete.

      Delete
  10. Michael
    The main derivative from last night's game for the team (and the fans) is the knowledge that "we can do it". We can beat a tough team in their building. Last night's win was not a fluke but well deserved after a night of hard work. Confidence building is an important step for this team in my view. Good to get that particular Bruins' monkey off their back.
    I agree that there is still lots to work on but, aside from systems and skills, there remains the requirement to put in a 60 minute effort every night. No nights off against "weaker" teams. As noted by other commenters, we will see if that lesson has been learned after the game against Buffalo tonight.
    If so, and another spirited game against the Habs follows, I expect the team will have something to build upon. If not, I'm afraid we are back to square one.
    Let's hope the next step to maturing as a good "team" starts tonight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You hit the nail on the head, Ed. Knowing you can indeed "do it" matters to a team and their psyche. If they can reach that next level you refer to in their maturation process, then we'll know they're on to something.

      Delete
  11. I agree that the next game is very important and we know that Scott and Ott will be there to see how much they can annoy the Leafs . The Leafs don't play well against this team. Miller has been very sharp lately and they will need offence, and lots of pucks to the net, to beat him-not a checking 3rd line.

    One thing I think is positive is that the Leafs have competed in three games in a row. It's been a while since we've seen that. If Clarkson can play like that after a long night with the flu, maybe he has turned a corner as well. They have youngsters that are going to make mistakes but, with the lower cap, many teams have inexperienced players on their roster. We do know that these kids give everything they've got.

    It's so important that the team responds well to the minor changes Carlyle has implemented otherwise we will see McClement's minutes creeping up, 4th line minutes disappearing and Holland sent back to the Marlies. Randy has finally listened but this group now has to prove in the next few games that these changes make a difference. They won't get a second chance. C.N.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Michael, I just wanted to bring up Carter Ashton for a moment. We all know that he will take a bloody nose for this team but I don't think the opposition is lining up just for the pleasure of being the next to give it to him. They're really mad! Carter knows how to hit and battle on the boards. Is he showing an ability to " get under their skin" just a bit as well? Colleen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A player that agitates the opposition is usually very helpful, no question.

      Delete