Ten and Oh. So, while a win in the COTU is always nice, sometimes it is OK to throw the less successful Canadian markets ( in our lifetimes, anyhow ) a bone. Just kidding of course. Gallows humour. 91 ( 46 shots, 24 blocked, and 21 misses ) to 47 ( 28 T.O shots, 10 blocked, 9 missed ) will do that to you. All Hail Bernier !!!
This is the way this one was going. When the Canucks played a fine road period for about fifteen minutes or so iof the opening period, playing the "four line grind" that we are coming to know is the hallmark of Willie Desjardin's style, the Canucks looked for all intensive purposes to be the 11 and 4 Road Warriors they were coming into Saturday night.
It was hard not to continue ot be giddy with how things were going. True, there were the early stick foul penalty on Bieksa, which was a decent enough call, and a lazy play. The second one, on Stanton, however, seemed more puck battle-ish than penalty, and was in front of the net with said rubber disk in the vicinity of the play. The penalty kill mostly dealt with both in a confident manner, with the Buds only getting one period of sustained pressure on both man advantages. They did get a bit of momentum off of them, and forced Miller into some good early saves. But the ice tilted back the other way again soon enough.
It was mainly Bernier who was the goaltender of note in the first period, ( and game, obviously ! ) making saves on all four lines that were worthy of a replay. The Canucks were pressing, and it seemed inevitable, like in numerous other games this season, that they would get one. When the decisive play on the opening goal first occurred, it did not even seem like that bad a decision. Bonino got the idea to move up the boards to maintain puck possession, but Holland and others checked him and broke out.. The play by Weber as they went to the net, and the resulting goal are just what happens on broken plays. It looked like Holland's goal, but was given to Gardiner, as he was last to touch it as it went off of Weber. It is the first goal in the 5:46 of highlights below. And yes, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. The game was at that end a lot.
Now, Ryan Miller was simply outwitted by Panik on the second one. It was a nice play, and the defenceman could have done something better there too, but two goals in 46 seconds will take the wind out of any team. But that is a tough one for a goalie, to side that far out of the play.
A late power play had a chance ( well, Bernier ) to close the gap in the first period, but while it looked dangerous all night, the first one was indicative of the whole thing. They look great, and are get great chances. It is just that the results are not there. ( mostly )
The Maple Leafs showed that, they too, are a four line team in the NHL, at least on this night. Well, once in a while. At least for that early five minutes of the second. First it was the Holland goal, to replace the one he lost on the scoresheet, and then the second was another nice play by Holland, this time setting up Lupul for a one timer.
You can see on both that the team in Blue was flying and making the nice lays now. Confidence will do that to you. Being ahead in a game where you are getting outplayed, and getting to cash in on a LOT of your chances helps too. The Leafs executed, and that got them the win tonight. But they sure made the most of a few chances.
That saw the end of Miller's night. ( we got the 18 goals in 4 previous losses Miller tonight. ) He was really only to blame on the Panik goal, and did not even see the third through the Bieksa screen. But Eddie Lack was into the game.
It turned into a less entertaining game, of course, with the score,( for non Leaf fans across Canada, anyhow. If you like aa goaltender standing on his head against wave after wave of pressure, this was manna from heaven for you... ) but it was still fun for the Leaf fans in the booth. We got to hear Healy et al extol on how Burrows should have went to the box for the almost apologetic snow shower on Bernier. To be fair, Bernier was a little late on the cover, but Burr' did give it that extra but of oomph. In a game with this score, you do those things, because you are trying to do anything.
It worked, and worked up the Leaf fans in the booth even more. They almost crowed with glee when Bozak beat Edler on a puck along the boards and drew another one. A third was in order, this time on Gardiner for holding Matthias. So, we got to see the rare four on three power play. They set up Weber almost immediately for the one timer. No traffic, Bernier makes the save. That familiar pattern. They kept pressing though, and just at the death of the power play, Daniel Sedin was able to get his own rebound. 4-1. In the end, it was a special teams goal, for what that is worth.
It turned out to be not quite enough to turn the tide on the night, however.
Perhaps it the Canucks had gotten that late power play goal. Higgins chance ( a deft reaction save with the blocker ) really should have twinkled the twine. It would have on most nights. As Juice said in a succinct appraisal in the between periods interview, the execution was just not as good as most nights. The Canucks were their own worst enemy in the first two periods, as far as making the breaks, and executing on them. The shots on the last two goals for the Buds were top notch as well. And, well....Bernier.
One thing that will be talked about, ( and should be, regardless of the Leaf cheerleaders in the studio, and between the benches pooh-poohing it tonight. It was high, and to the head, causing injury ) is how Robidas put out one of the more effective as of late players in Blue and Green with an illegal hit. Matthias was not on the bench, and did not play a shift afterwards. That gets the Safety Poobahs attention most times. We shall see.
After repairs to a moulding brought an extra long break to start the third, we saw Dorsett out with the Twins, as the line up got the blender, with the loss of Matthias. Higgins and Bonino stayed together, with Vrbata joining them. Vey and Ritchie got to pay with Burrows, and Hansen and Horvat got to play with everyone. ( mainly Vrbata and Bones, actually ) Burrows and the Twins even got some reunion shifts late in the game.
The last period was more open, with the Leafs getting some early chances that Lack stopped, in particular a back to back sequence early on Kessel and JVR ( rare from a line held in check in the game until then ). The Canucks did not seem to even notice how they were playing with new guys Finally, the Burrows, Richardson and Vey line capped off a period where, to that point, they had about 12 of the last 13 shots, with a sweet feed from Burrows to Tanev down low. Panik then put his team down a man, with a stupid penalty, and the first unit really should have made it a one goal game. Two posts from the Daniel Sedin, after not being able to beat the goalie ( so, 93 shots on net? Does Corsi account for posts? The NHL doesnt. #lol )
That was the chance. The Canucks ground ( an example that encapsulates this game perfectly. The Leafs had their first sustained zone pressure, for about 40 seconds, at the 6:35 mark. That is 6:35 LEFT, not into the game. It generated no shots on net. ) Most of the 9 shots they got in the period were one and dones. The Canucks were clearly the better team, as far as, you know, playing the game. But. Execution.
I am willing to give them a break ( well except for Edler, that turnover on the empty netter was horrible...just kidding Eddie. 5-2 matters not over 4-2 in this shitshow of a result. ), as long as this is not the precursor of a slide. It sure did not seem to be, however. It depends on how much you want to assign blame on the breakdowns. The mistakes are there on the video above. We can grind them, as is our wont. Me, I am still giddy about this team and their play. They looked pretty good in a loss tonight. How good ?
Corsi's, Numbers and Such :
- On a night where a lot of Canucks got a minus, Radim Vrbata was a +1 ( only Vey was the same ) and had 6 of his 8 shot attempts force a save. His Corsi For was a +8. Those 6 shots on net were a team high.
- That was a rather pedestrian Corsi For on this night, however. Check the leaders at hockeystats.ca. Richardson led his team with a five on five Corsi For of + 16. Vey was a + 14. Weber had a +13. Stanton a +11. Compare those to the traditional stats, and you can see why the latter gets sneered at. Weber was a -2, and his partner on most shifts was an even. ( it also shows that two goals probably happened on shift changes as well ;-)
- Peter Holland. 5 on 5 Corsi For of -14, worst on his team for forwards. A goal and an assist, a +3 in traditionals. But this is how it was. Only three players for the Leafs were above zero on 5 on 5 Corsi For. Panik and Smith were +2, and Booth a +1. Wow.
- Peruse the list above. Only Jannik Hansen was under that line, at a -2. The worst were his fellow 4th liners at +3 even strength CF tonight. In short, everyone was going.
- That Miller .741 save % on the night is yucky, no matter how many he saw, or how good the plays were. He had some tough breaks, but has to be held to account to. Not the best night for him on his reads and reactions.
In the end though, you have to think that a team that plays like that will win more games than they do not. Simply put, not every goaltender in the NHL will look that good on that many shots. The sheer quality and number of the chances was just fun to watch, albeit in a hollow way with the results on this night. What I saw from Juice in the aforementioned interview was a leader on a team that knows where they are going and how they are going. Whether Willie goes back to Eddie Lack, who looked great in relief , or gives Miller the shot at redemption, if they play like that without the breakdowns and breaks going the other way, I like their chances in Ottawa tomorrow.
That Montreal game to end this road odyssey will be another story. Jean Beliveau passing on the heels of the Big Irishman, Gordie battling on. Give them a thought this holiday season, for all the enjoyment they brought us in the past.
See ya tomorrow.