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Isles comeback topples Leafs—don’t pin this one all on Scrivens

Momentum is a funny thing in sports.  Well into the second period at the ACC against the Islanders, the Leafs looked to be in cruise control with a 3-1 lead.  The Islanders didn’t look at all dangerous, and I’m betting most fans were wondering how many the Leafs would score before the game was over.  It looked to be a rout.  They sure weren’t worried that the islanders would stage a comeback.

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.


  1. I didn't see this one quite the way you did, Michael. This was a winnable game - like the Sabres game - and in both instances, we were done in by our atrocious power play. How many 5-on-3's have we had already this year? 4? And not a goal to show for it. Take this to the bank: if a team can't score on their power play, and particularly on a two man advantage, it's going to be a long night.
    I'm sure the players were tired, of course. I watched the Islanders feed, and they felt the Leafs ran out of gas in the second period. Still, with some timely saves and a power play marker or two, it would've been ours.
    Both Scrivens and Reimer are continuing their maddening custom of making tough saves and giving up soft goals. I'm not hanging this one on Scrivens completely, but we need a goalie who can make the stops on goals 4 and 5. Period. And that final goal was a slap in the face - neither Phaneuf or Kessel took the man, which we've been doing effectively in the previous games.
    So, to chant our mantra these days, it's early yet. We've played 4 games in 6 nights, including late night travel on back-to-back games. The lines are in almost constant flux, it seems, as we try to find some combinations that will jell. But I think we've seen the areas that will be our Achilles heel(s) in the non-existent power play and inconsistent goaltending. I look forward to solutions!

  2. Generally Michael I have to agee with you on this game. It wasn't all Scrivens, though he was not good and if you look over his three games hasn't really looked confident at all this year. This was the same old Leafs, just as we start to praise them for their defensive game they put up this stinker.

    I know everyone in Leaf nation is excited about Kostka but since the first game his overall game is steadly in decline. There is a reason why he was/is a career AHL'er. I'm gonna say that in a month or so Kostka will NOT be playing nearly as many minutes as he is now. When the rest of the league gets back to normal he is going to be a depth player. If we going to point out Aucoin on the Islanders it is only fair to point out that we too have a career AHL player playing signifigant minutes. What does that tell us about the overall shape of the Leaf blueline, nothing good I'd guess. On that note I have no idea why Komisarek sat out tonight. The guy has been very steady the two games he has played and that's his reward. Makes no sense to me.

    All the negative stuff aside I am really excited for Kadri and his play this year. Another very good game, lots of jam and sandpaper in his game. Frattin was very good as well. Those two along with Komarov have the makings of a very very good line. Skill and snarl, something we haven't seen a lot in recent years. That is exactly what I have wanted to see for a long time. Not the useless sideshow fights but actual "muckulence". Love it.

  3. Oh man was this a weird and funny game to watch.

    I watch the first period and oh look at that 3-1 lead - wasn't really expecting that after such a high energy game 24 hrs ago - but good.

    Go have dinner - come back and its 3-2, ok - one goal lead still good, and then right in front of my eyes - damn a pretty sloppy goal allowed both by leafs players on ice and scrives - although the goalie was less to blame - he was just shocked. - That was a brain fart moment.

    I get busy with some stuff - come back to the game at about 6 mins in and WHAT - 5-3 isles - that was such a WTF moment - lol.

    I now understand why Randy Carlyle started Reimer yesterday - i think he was afraid of putting him in his first game back in front of a tired team - and get him lit like a christmas tree as a possibility or have to stand on his head - which happened to Scrives - but since he has put to decent starts - he can let this one role of his back - imagine if the goalies had been switched. The luongo trade rumor talk would be worse than it is now.

    Now the big question is who goes in net on saturday and do we actually agree that Komi might actually be better this year and to just give him some games in a row - and let Franson or Kostka (I think some of the NHL talent may be catching upto him now - a minus 2 today) sit for a game or two.

    Gardiner may be headed for a sophmore slump if he isn't careful - he made a terrible pass in the final minutes when the team had a slim chance of a come back - that lead to the 7th goal.

    Kessel is starting to worry me - his game somehow feels very similar to his pre-lupul play from 2 seasons ago (very streaky) these first few games - I would like to see someone better than MacArthur of that line with him - JVR? Kulimen?

    I am still proud of what this team did yesterday, some of it skill, some of it luck, and some of it a gift from the pens - but nonetheless a worthy victory. Now we need to have this team learn to play that kinda game more consistently.

    And Completely agree with ur one-game-at-a-time mentality.

    Anon from Scarborough

  4. It's not all on Scrivens, no. But he certainly wasn't able to do much to keep a sinking ship afloat.

    The first period was very good hockey by the Leafs. We were firmly in control of the puck (and therefore, the game itself), and creating chances while allowing few. No magic tricks or anything spectacular to it, just combining smart passing with smart skating. The only really disappointing thing on the first was the inability to score during the late two-man advantage.

    At the second, we needed to step on it and put the game away, but the opposite happened. Not much else to say about the rest of the game, except that when you ease up on the skating, there go your passing avenues as well.

    Grabovski scored a nice one on the first, but took a bad penalty and later made an equally bad turnover, both resulting in a goal for the Islanders, so he definitely had a bad night.

    Scrivens didn't fare any better. I don't expect our goalies to provide a string of highlight reel saves every night, but we do need them to not compare poorly to their colleagues on the other end of the ice on majority of occasions, and Scrivens fell far short of that this time around. I don't think he'll start the next game, but he still needs to pick himself up and get back to work pretty soon.

    Few players came out of the game looking good, but Kadri's point streak continued with a goal and an assist, which is nice, and Frattin had a three-point night, which is not too shabby a start for him after getting called up. Gunnarsson matched Frattin's scoring and the +2, which makes for a pretty good overall showing on a night with far more villains than heroes.

    So the Leafs can take a lot of positives from the first period, and an abundant list of "do nots" from the second and third. Let's hope the lessons sink in pretty fast.

  5. I mostly didn't want us to throw Scrivens under the bus, Gerund O'. Not his best outing, for sure. But he had a fair bit of "help", as Carlyle also said after the game.

    I think the power play will get turned around. They have the players to make it work. We'll see, eh?

  6. Phaneuf had a garbage game. He coughed up the puck, overskated the puck leading to a goal, failed to tie up his man, runs away from Carkner, fails to protect the puck and then hung Scrivens out to dry and on the PP he can't even hit a soccer net from the point with his slapper(and we know about lupul's arm last game).

    What I find most disturbing about Phaneuf tonight was not addressing the questionable hit on Taveres when Carkner stood up to him. This is the type of action of how "rats are taking over the game" that Burke warned us about.

    I lost lots of respect for him and his game.
    Be a captain and clean it up your game.

  7. Yes, I like the return of Bobby C.'s term, "muckulence", Willbur, as you put it. I, too, am appreciating watching Kadri right now, and I do think he and Frattin/Komarov can be good together.

    Yes, I've noticed Kostka's play has declined a bit, but given where everyone's game last night, I'm prepared to give him more time. I like his energy and his go-for-it attitude on the ice. He makes mistakes but I just don't want to see him over-coached, which happens to so many players nowadays. He may still be a later-career "find". Time will tell.

    I like Scrivens, but I do hope Reimer emerges with an opportunity to play. (Others will have more dramatic suggestions, I'm sure, including a trade for a goaltender!)

    Thanks Willbur. We'll hang in 'til Saturday.

  8. It may indeed have been a "off-off", Scarborough Anon. As you mention, the Pittsburgh game was an unexpected lift, but fatigue may well have set in last night.

    As Willbur also said, Kostka is perhaps struggling a bit, though Phaneuf did as well against the Isles at times.

    I think Kessel will be Kessel. He'll blow us away at times, and when the puck isn't going in for him (he's still getting his chances, it seems), we will wonder...

    MacArthur has always confused me. He's a nice player, for sure, but then I won't notice him for lengthy periods of time.

  9. I think this will (partly) be where we see Carlyle's value, CGLN. If he has a way to connect with players to remind them of the little things that they need to do to be successful at this level, they should be able to work past games like last night.

    If they find the message negative and irritating (which shouldn't be the case yet), it could go the other way.

    I think right now Carlyle has their attention, and respect. They should respond with fresher legs on Saturday.

  10. Not to over-dramatize one play in one game, macro, but you do raise a point about Phaneuf that I have tried to gently raise here in the past. I dob't think he is a true "tough" guy. He hits, yes, but he doesn't always meet the challenge afterwards, if I can put it that way.

    Leaf fans would likely be complaining if Kessel got hammered into the boards from behind, as Tavares was by Phaneuf. I'm not surprised the Isles went after Phaneuf. The goal after Phaneuf's give-away was hockey justice, in a sense.

    Phaneuf is a good player. I think there remain questions about how tough he is, in hockey terms, and if he is a leader teammates will "follow". The jury is still out for me.

  11. You're right, this is not all on Scrivens. That isn't to defend him either. I guess the best I can say about him this morning is he looked like a minor league goalie doing his best in the NHL. Luongo or not, my hope all along is that the Leafs would acquire a steady veteran to at least back up Reimer. I do not believe Scrivens is ready for the NHL today.

    It's difficult to try to assign much individual blame (okay maybe Franson looked the most inept throughout the game). Overall the Leafs did not play the same physical game they played the first three. They allowed the Islanders to dictate the flow of the game, and once they got tired half way through, the Isles were skating rings around them. Sloppy passes and clearings abounded, with no semblance of designed play thereafter.

    My best hope is that Carlyle peeled the paint off the wall afterward, reminding the players of staying within a system together and simply to play their game. Early as it is, they have already shown they can run with any team as long as they stick to the script. Let's see how they respond Saturday.

  12. I'm sure Carlyle will be reminding the team - and individual players - of what is needed before they step on the ice in New York, Pete. I don't doubt they hit the proverbial "wall" last night. Something sure happened. A bad goal, not scoring on the 5 on 3, whatever, there are always excuses but they didn't play well as the game went on. That happens.

    I'm sure there's no panic- in fact, there may be a lot more of that in NY and Washington, where expectations were sky-high heading into the season. There's plenty of time for those teams to rebound, and they likely will. But this is the kind of season where the Leafs could well make a playoff bid. How good, really, are most of the rosters in the East?

  13. Michael,

    This is a little more like what I thought the season was going to be. A lot of mediocre hockey. Still, I am surprised that they beat Pittsburgh and lost to the Islanders. If it had happened the other way around, would we be as upset as everyone seems to be? I don't think so. Perspective, would be I think, that we did what we had to do and got two points. The flip flopping of results doesn't change that. We got to see the good Leafs, and the bad Leafs on back to back nights. As well as in the Islander game itself.

    I agree with others that the League seems to be catching up to Kostka. He was in mid season form, other players hadn't played at all. I think it was an advantage for him. I hope he picks up his play going forward, I like a lot of what he does. Kadri is on the rise, that is a good thing. I am happy for him, while hoping that he continues to work on his game. I want him to be an elite NHL'er not a middling 3rd or 4th line guy.

    I will give no credit, or pass to the players for late travel, and having games on back to back nights. They are professional athletes, not regular guys with jobs who are playing after work. If they still had time for their scheduled afternoon nap, the game should be playable without excuses.

    Scrivens was certainly not the only player who could have played better. I agree with you on this. The problem I see Michael, is that he should be in mid season form. His rebound control, as well as his ability to make routine saves, is hurting the team. Sometimes there needs to be a give and take. Your goalie makes a save he isn't expected to make, and sometimes his team needs to bail him out after letting in a softie. I assume that Reimer will be starting in New York on Saturday night. Tortorella will not be happy with his teams start, and I suspect Carlyle is not a happy camper today. I expect an energetic game on HNIC.

    And so we get to Dion Phaneuf. What a fascinating player. Lots of talent, pretty sure that he is never going to be more than what he is today. Dangerous shot from the point, to his teammates as well as the opposition. Has never been able to hit the net on a consistent basis, et he gets oodles of powerplay time. If I was his coach, he doesn't play PP until he proves he can hit the net every time, as well as keep the puck down. When your coach preaches everyone goes to the dirty areas, you need to know that your teammate isn' going to take your head off when you get there. Or pretty simply, you don't go there when Dion has the puck. I have no comment on what he did after running Tavares. What he did stands on its own. Throw the puck up the middle and then skate in circles to avoid paying the piper. That looked terrible, I wonder what his teammates think of him. I really do.

  14. gerund's on to something when it comes to the 5-3 power-plays... come on guys! no goals in all of the 5-3 situations so far? that's VERY difficult to watch/stomach.
    as the captain, dion needs to lead by example, as his every move is going to be scrutinized. smarten-up your game dion!

  15. By and large, I agree with Michael's assessment of the game. However, I am in a miniscule minority who has never felt that the goaltending was the main problem last season. “Goaltender management” maybe, but that is another story. I think Scrivens would agree that he was not particularly sharp, however it appeared to me that the several of the goals scored against Scrivens and Reimer seemed similar, one timers from the slot with the shooter uncovered, in fact no defender nearby or even skating hard to get there for that matter. “Dopey” defensive coverage, I think Don Cherry would call it.

    While it is probably too early to panic, I have to admit that I feel trepidation about weak defensive zone coverage, inability to "finish" and a number of other warts that look eerily like last season's warts. It becomes difficult to judge goaltending with such sloppy coverage. I remain happy that we did not hand Bozak and Kadri to Vancouver and load them up for a Cup run the way we did Boston with Seguin, Hamilton and Rask. And after all, there were some good things. Frattin's improved confidence level could be overlooked in this ugly collapse. As I saw it, his points were the result of confident hands, something we would not have seen last season. I am also happy to see Aucoin do well. The Islanders do seem to unearth some productive players, like Matt Moulson for example, who have been overlooked everywhere else.

    Michael's measured consideration is probably the right one at this point; however, as a casual poster I have the luxury of being less than rational. I have to say that the breakdown looked, to me, a lot like last season's collapse in microcosm. That is my visceral fear. Hopefully, the coaching staff can get a quick leash on it or it risks leading to rash and foolish trading and ultimately, an even longer-term mediocrity.

  16. Shortly after the game ended, I was struck by the sensation that the game appeared to match my feelings about last year as a whole.

    One bad decision (made for a natural reason) seemed to send the 18-wheeler off a cliff in the same way that a trucker might argue that the scantily-clad beautiful woman on the side of the road had distracted him. In this case, a highly effective defensive drive on the powerplay, turned 'offensive' when Bozak attempted an ill-conceived pass toward the slot that sent the team over the cliff.

    I trust that this experience will be moulded into a learning experience for the whole team... defense responsibility first has been the message from Carlyle from the outset. Here is an example of how the puck on your stick in the offensive zone can be a time for defensive responsibility... it was the end of a previously highly successful effort, but that scantily-clad scoring opportunity took Bozie's eyes off the road to success.

    Fortunately, one loss is not as dramatic as the illustration (or the whole lost season last year), however, it does provide the opportunity for a great learning experience. I hope the example and the heartache over a lost game will help the guys to gain some 'muscle-memory' that will kick in next time a low-chance-high-risk opportunity presents itself.

    The stark contrast between the defensive success on the PK turning into such an easy goal (followed by another) just sucked the life out of the team for much of the remainder of the game. I was sad for them at the time, but truly hope they realize that a Penguins game can surely be followed by and Isles game, if they're not all on the same page.

    BTW, I'm not lambasting Bozak, it's just that he made one bad decision and that can be corrected for the future! Also, I thought Scrivens had made some phenomenal saves before he was also affected by the whole team rolling over the cliff. He has a good mental perspective and I believe he will learn from this experience, too.

  17. All fair comments in my mind, Jim. I, too, as I said above, hope Kostka will be solid for the most part. He will make mistakes, but he brings a breath of fresh air to a sometimes boring squad (personality and playing-wise).

    As to you last statement, well, you said it very well. Maybe other Leaf supporters will have a different perspective on Dion, but I see it as a recurring pattern, sadly.

  18. I hear you, Alex. At some point, we do need to take advantage of 5 on 3's. As Jim says, Dion has the shot, but just keep it low and get traffic in front. Not rocket science, exactly....

  19. Bobby C- you've touched the raw nerve, in my view. The things you cite (casual defensive zone coverage, sloppy play, careless turnovers) are all the things we are supposed to now be out of our game with Carlyle. It's early, and based on the earlier games, this may indeed have been just a "one off". The proof will be in the pudding.

    We won't want to see that kind of performance very often, eh? On occasion, sure. We all understand athletes - and teams - are not robots. But there is a need to be smart, tough, disciplined and defensively aware. You can do all that and still be creative on offense.

    Yes, we don't have the best goaltending in the league. But determined defensive play makes goalies look better, too. And you've made this point here before, that goalies are part of an overall team approach. Yes, we need them to play well. But goalies need their teammates to pay the price, too.

    Thanks Bobby.

  20. That's a great post, InTimeFor62. It's one game- but one that can be used as a reminder (and benchmark example) for the rest of the season. Well said.

  21. Hey, just as i thought gardiner was in trouble of going into a sophmore slump - today he was assigned to the toronto marlies - perhaps to let him get some confidence or to give him some time - who knows.

    Reimer is most likely the starter in MSG - is he ready? Is the team ready?

    Anon from Scarborough

  22. The Islanders and Keith Aucoin might be better than we think. They are giving Boston all they can handle righ now. Aucoin has 2 more goals.

  23. Given his good work with the Marlies, and having been a fine AHL'er over the years, we're all happy for Aucoin- and happier when he fares well against the Bruins rather than the Leafs, eh, DP?