Friday, 12 April 2013

Game Forty-One: Habs vs. Leafs

First Period:

- So Prust is shifted back to the first line, Bourque shifted to the 4th, which is a pretty strong indication that Therrien is wanting to set a physical tone.

- Leafs off to quick start on the powerplay, Gorges plays the puck instead of the body and gets burned. 1-0 Toranna.

- Leafs with lots of energy early, Habs will need to adjust their intensity level quickly, or it could be 2-0 soon.

- As the doctor ordered, Prust drops them with McLaren. Didn't think that one would ever end.

- Nice reply by Habs here, Plekanec line generating some energy, Eller line follows accordingly.

- Reimer has the tendency of giving up rebounds, so Habs are taking shots with every opportunity, looking for goals off those rebounds. Good strat.

- Carey Price is one shot away from getting yanked. That might have been his weakest of the year.

- Habs gunning Reimer's glove side, which is his strong side. Not there, guys.

- Price should get the yank now. Yup, he's gone. So too, I suspect, are those new pads he started wearing tonight.

- Drewiske responds with a soft wrister on Reimer's *blocker* side. One more, please. 3-1.

- Giving up juicy rebounds and now whiffing on a routine Markov point shot that clangs the post, Reimer is now looking suspect, at best.

- If you told me the Habs were outshooting the Leafs 13-4 but losing 3-1 I'd have called you crazy. But here we are.

- Wow. 13-5 shot total, score is 4-1. Leafs continue to deny gravity.

- Habs have played a very good period, arguably better than the Leafs, but the netminding is AWOL. Maddening, simply maddening.

- Some solace, Gallagher suckers Kadri into a stupid penalty.

- Gionta the wiffmaster so far tonight.

- Bizarreness abounds. Everything that could have gone right for the Leafs went right, just about everything that could have gone went wrong for the Habs in that period. That said, there's still loads of time left in this game, and I still think Reimer doesn't look his usual self. Be interesting to see how the Habs collectively respond to the deep hole that's been dug.

Second Period:

- It's been almost 23 years since anyone's scored 4 goals in 5 first period shots (Pens vs. Nords in October 1990). H/T TSN's Kevin Gibson.

- Speechless. First period Fenwick was +20 Habs, +6 Leafs. That period went beyond anomalies.

- Tremendous shift by the Eller line. Keep playing 'em, Michel.

- Budaj two tremendous saves, but Habs had exceptionally sloppy, Markov somewhere else getting caught twice on the same shift, the second time results in a Kessel goal. The drubbing is on.

- That said, Frankie Bouillon continues to be the weakest link on defence. -2 tonight and counting.

- Yeah I know the defence has to get involved, but 4-on-1 breaks? Good grief.

- Kinda need Subban to be on that powerplay, not getting suckered into undisciplined penalties. Oy.

- Gionta has fanned on four shots so far. Four. What is that about?

- Pacioretty slump continues, gripping stick too hard or something, missing too many can't-miss chances.

- Oh please don't tell me Prust has hurt his left arm again. This night has been awful enough already.

- Dunno what to say. File this game under M for "messed up". 20 minutes more to endure, and then it's home, sweet home.

Third Period:

- If Prust is done for the night, I'm already dreading tomorrow's injury report. I think I'll just stay in bed and hide under the covers instead.

- Prust is on the bench. What a relief. This game became a lot more watchable.

- Gionta's had a bad night, and now he slashes Kessel out of frustration.

- Game's a foregone conclusion but it would be nice to get this powerplay producing.

- Therrien no longer playing Markov/Subban PP combo, giving Beaulieu some icetime instead.

- Budaj gets my vote for Habs player still bothering to show up with the game long over award.

- Good news tonight is that the Bruins lost to the Canes (Boston - who can figure them out?). Of course this also means the Habs blew a great opportunity tonight cementing their grip on first place.

- Okay, best to just forget this game happened. Habs head home to play the Flyers, kicking off 4 games in 7 days, three of them at home. My bet is that Therrien goes right back to Price on Monday night, and I wouldn't be surprised if Price responds with a solid outing.

Gameday Game Preview

Writing these little updates is so much more enjoyable when you know your team is already headed to the post season.  Yeah, I know it's not like it's been 10 years (*cough* Leafs *cough*) since we've been in the playoffs, but there's something extra satisfying about the way this team qualified, especially coming off one of the most disastrous seasons in franchise history.

Speaking of disasters, the Toronto Maple Leafs. I kid! Actually, it's true. I kid. The Leafs are FINALLY going to be in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Yeah, it's actually been that long for the poor fans in southern Ontario. So let's take a moment of pity before we show these guys no mercy, amiright?

Why are the Leafs so much better? Well, for starters they hired a guy who knows how to coach. Then they implemented a new philosophy that was really not particularly complicated: take care of your own zone, and everything else will follow.
So where can we see the improvement in Toronto? By far the Leafs have improved with the penalty kill, which for so many years was ranked near or at the bottom of the League. This season? 3rd best. That's pretty impressive, turnaround-wise.

Other net benefits from the philosophical shift: The Leafs' GAA is ranked 18th. Last year it was 29th. Their goaltending, long maligned, has been pretty solid. So credit where credit is due, the Leafs' improvement from their zone outward has helped position them for a decent finish in the Eastern Conference.

That's the good news for the Leafs. Now for a little bad. They've been lucky.

Toronto's PDO is 1.30, which is 1st (or worst) in the NHL. Just to recap, if your PDO is 1.0, that usually means the points you've earned in the standings are reasonably reflective. Anything below 1.0 indicates underperformace, anything above 1.0 means you're overperforming.

What this means is the Leafs' have been getting an awful lot of favorable bounces - their shooting percentages have been defying gravity in combination with goaltending percentages that simply can't be sustained. In other words, their place in the standings isn't really where they ought to be, although it stands to reason with a sound defensive game, you can beat the curve for a period of time. But not forever. Whatever goes up has gotta come down. With a ridiculously low 46.7% fenwick, I'd make a very large wager that over an 82 game schedule, the Leafs would eventually fade out of the playoff picture.

From the Leafs' perspective, PDO and fenwick don't matter - they're in the playoffs, and that's all that matters. So tonight, the Leafs come in on a pretty good clip, winners of 5 of their past 7.  The Leafs have been led of late by excellent performances by Phil Kessel, who you might recall couldn't score a lick the first quarter of the season. Well no more - Kessel has been on a bit of a team lately, 6 points his last three games, four of them goals. Meanwhile, James Reimer, who'll start tonight, is slowly emerging as a qualified first stringer, which for many a Leafs fans will come as great relief to the chagrin of Canucks fans, who now appear firmly stuck with Roberto Luongo.

On the Habs' side, it's business as usual. After disappearing into an offensive abyss, Davie Desharnais played his best game in a long time against the Sabres on Thursday night, so keep an eye on him and his line for continued improvement. Suffice to say, the Habs need his production to be on target for the playoffs, Lars Eller and Thomas Plekanec can't carry all the weight.

Carey Price will start after an "okay" outing against the Flyers on Tuesday.

Puck drops at 7:20 EST.


That's about as close to tasting the post-season as Steve Ott's gonna get.

More later.

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