The Leafs are in tough, that’s for sure. Who would have imagined, looking ahead in the schedule from the point of view of October 22nd, when Toronto beat Anaheim 4-2 in the Great White North, that their road trip in March would see them playing three teams—the Ducks, Sharks, and Kings—who are in turn second, fourth, and sixth in the West? Tough go. And if that’s not enough, as soon as they fly back East, they’ve got the always-erratic Washington, then Detroit, and at home, Tampa Bay and Montreal. It’s not possible anymore to cruise through a week of the schedule and face also-rans.
But whatever fear they might have had coming into their first California game Monday in Anaheim was quickly put aside as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead against the Ducks in period one. It was a frame filled with interesting moments, and more fighting than you normally get in a month out West these days. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration, but there were two tilts. Clarkson-Lovejoy after they had exchanged cross-checks, for which they also got two minutes, and Gleason-Maroon after the former pushed the other down in the crease and they each spent two minutes working up a hate in the penalty box.
But back to characterizing the game. There might have been a little nervousness, but no fear on Toronto’s part. The former exhibited itself in the form of a penalty taken just a minute and a half in, in the offensive zone, by Nazim Kadri. It allowed the Ducks a power play on which they showed all kinds of passing skills but no ability to shoot. Or at least, not to shoot fast enough. It would be a theme that they would carry through the period. Every time someone got a puck in the slot—Bryan Allen comes to mind in the middle of the go—he would hold it just long enough to get the goalie set and make the save less than difficult.
The shots in period one ended 11-9 in favor of Toronto, with, obviously, each goalie stopping nine pucks. But while the Ducks seemed to control play, they also showed that their fast-and-loose style can be dangerous. The Leafs’ second goal, scored in the dreaded last minute of the period, was a puck knocked loose of Getzlaf’s stick near the blueline. (Where was the defense? Heck, I don’t know. In near the net somewhere.) Kessel took it down, through the two defenders who were converging, and flipped a weak shot that was partially saved by Freddie Andersen and then rolled up his stick’s shaft and in behind him.
The assist on that one was to Tyler Bozek, complementing his goal scored just seven seconds into the power play at 16:51 on a flip shot that he redirected off the stick of Dion Phaneuf.
Periods two and three were no more kind to the Ducks, though they outplayed the Leafs, arguably, in period three. If you judge it by shots on goal, that’s an easy case to make. The Leafs shots went from 11 to 7 to 5 over the three periods. The Ducks, on the contrary, were at 9, then 19, then 16 in the final frame.
There was another fight, and a lot of Leafs’ minor penalties. On the evening, they had six. The Ducks had four. The home team’s failure to capitalize was perhaps summed up by Coach Boudreau after. “We’re not getting to the front of the net, and when we do, we’re not shooting.” The goalie, who was Kings’ castoff Bernier, was seeing everything, according to the coach.
The exception to that was Corey Perry, who was all over the ice. He scored the Ducks’ only goal, after the Leafs had been up 3-0, with assists to his linemates in the later going, Getzlaf and Patrick Maroon.
Boudreau rode his big horses hard as the second period turned into the third. The icetime of Perry was 24:21. Getzlaf was nearly 27 minutes at the end of the game. Most of the rest of the forwards trailed by a long shot. On D, Fowler played nearly half the game, Beauchemin 26 minutes exactly. Of course, this was partly influenced by the power plays the Ducks enjoyed. But mostly, it was Boudreau trying desperately to find something.
This is perhaps why you also saw these players together as the clock waned: Selanne, Koivu, and Beleskey; Bonino, Cogliano, and Palmieri; Cogliano, Koivu, and Palmieri; Beleskey, Koivu, and Silfverberg. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice one name not accounted for: Winnick. In fact, he started the game with his usual mates Cogliano and Koivu, but he ended up playing the fewest minutes of any forward, at 9:43. Make that the fewest on the squad.
Wait, you’re saying. What about Teemu? Selanne was with Maroon and Rakell to start. Then he lost Maroon to the top line. After that, he kind of disappeared, except for a couple of highly effective shifts in period two. Plus, he was on the power play. His evening saw him net 14:11, 3:36 of which was on the PP. He had a couple of shots. He also took four faceoffs, but lost three of them. Of the seven Ducks who took draws, just one, Getzlaf, was on the plus side. Bonino was an even 9-9, and the others were in the losing bracket. The team won 46% of the draws during the game.
What was it about the Leafs that confounded them so? For one thing, and several players mentioned this after, Carlyle was apparently super-motivated to beat the Ducks, having not been back since he was fired by the team. (In fact, that’s not true. I remember seeing him around, in the press room in some capacity or other, after being let go as coach. So revenge? Not sure that’s a motive.) He was, incidentally, honored by the Ducks with a video tribute to his 2007 Cup win. He said after that he was nervous about that, and on the win, he said, “There’s always satisfaction when you beat your former hockey club. I’m not going to hide that fact.”
For two, Bernier was as good as he needed to be. The Ducks, while they had a lot of shots, didn’t have a lot of terrific scoring chances. They were often on the outside. There really wasn’t one save where you said, “There it is. That’s a game-changer,” but he stopped more pucks than the guy at the other end, and that’s enough.
For three, the Ducks, it is increasingly clear that they may not have been as good a team as they looked to be early on. It was fun to say that they’d always find a way to win. And it was fun to watch them free-wheel their way past teams that probably shouldn’t have lost to them. But those days are gone, and the rest of the league has caught up to their speed, caught on to their tricks.
For four, and I’m quoting Boudreau now, this losing streak has officially become a “funk.” That’s right. An honest-to-goodness, no doubt about it, gotta get out of it, funk. What that means for the team’s upcoming road trip (Calgary, Colorado, Los Angeles) is either a giant anchor pulling them back into the thick of the Pacific, or a giant relief as the weight that seems to be on their backs is shucked off.
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