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October 24, 2013 6:00 am

On Wednesday, the unending chatter about the Toronto Maple Leafs had to do with David Clarkson and his pending return to the lineup. While many are excited to see what the Leafs big (by big I mean long and expensive) UFA signing can contribute on Friday night, I was still looking back to a couple of issues from the game Tuesday night against Anaheim. There were three things that stood out to me in that game.

The first one was Phil Kessel’s beautiful second goal. I did link the clip in yesterday’s post of Kessel’s complete hat-trick. However, if you would please allow me, I’d like to take a closer look at the second one again:

Immediately into the clip we can see the pressure Paul Ranger puts on Ryan Getzlaf creating the turnover. Ranger has been justifiably criticized this season, but he has slowly been looking better and better. I don’t think he is a good fit with Jake Gardiner, but that’s another article for another day. Ranger’s ability to pressure Getzlaf up the boards (and Tyler Bozak being in good positioning behind him) allowed Kessel to pounce on the loose puck and take off. Watch JVR blow past Getzlaf (who was ahead of him when the race began) to create the odd man rush. Getzlaf has no chance to catch up to Kessel as he effortlessly creates distance. Ducks blueliner Cam Fowler plays the 2 on 1 perfectly as he completely takes away the pass to Kessel. The Leafs sniper then took what was given to him instead of forcing a bad pass (pay attention Bozak) and capitalized on a shot that maybe a handful of players in the league can. It was a perfect play by the Leafs, and one that demonstrated the high-end skill set of both Kessel and JVR. Thank you Brian Burke.

Setting The Tone

Dion Phaneuf is unfairly maligned by too many people in this city. Yes, there are times when he looks uncoordinated and awkward. However, what he excels in is leaning on the opposition and playing a hard style that wears players down. Phaneuf was a force against the Palmieri – Getzlaf – Perry line as he logged 24:10 of hard time against one of the leagues top combos. Phaneuf’s hit on Palmieri while the Leafs were down 2-0 seemed to wake up his teammates. Toronto visibly became a more physical team (I loved Dave Bolland cross-checking Mathieu Perreault on the 5 on 3). The Leafs are better when they play with that edge and Phaneuf is the guy who gets them going in that department. His goal to tie it up was just gravy. People can praise Clarkson all they want, but I still think the Leafs live and die with #3.

Still Not There

Jonathan Bernier has not won me over yet. I’m not saying that he won’t, but at the moment I just don’t feel comfortable with him in net. Of course, I am being a little unfair but that is what watching a team with horrible goaltending for nine years will do to someone. Heading into last season I was a strong advocate of the Leafs doing whatever necessary to acquire Roberto Luongo. I did not trust James Reimer following his concussion (or neck injury) and I had had enough with gambling on goaltending. I wanted the sure thing. Reimer proved me wrong. He came in and gained my trust.

Currently with Reimer in net I feel confident (even after Game 7 in Boston) that he can get the job done in between the pipes. Bernier though hasn’t earned that from me yet. Heading into the third period of the Ducks game I was convinced Bernier wasn’t going to be able to preserve the one goal advantage. Last week’s poll asked: If The Playoffs Began Tomorrow Which Goalie Would You Start? Bernier received 68% of the vote while Reimer got only 32%. It seems odd that so many people have jumped ship from Reimer following his great 2013 season. Some either never liked Reimer or have just fallen in love with Bernier due to his hot start. I don’t know which. If you participated in that poll (or just have a general opinion on Reimer v Bernier) please let me know why you chose who you did in the comments below.

As it did with Reimer last season, the time may soon arrive where I don’t hold my breath every time a shot is directed towards Bernier. For the time being however, I am wary of Bernier’s small stature. He has looked small to me the past few games and he’s going to have to prove to me (for more than five games) that he can overcome his lack of size. I am still convinced that Bernier is the Leafs goaltender of the future regardless of how things play out this season. If the playoffs started tomorrow though, I know who would I want in goal.

Leaformation

Cam Charron at The Leafs Nation talking about shot quality

James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail breaks down the Leafs finishing ability 

Check out Michael Langlois’ with an as always thoughtful look at the blue and white

If you missed it yesterday, my post on Joffrey Lupul’s shot at making Team Canada in Sochi over at Back Row Sports

 

This article was written by on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 6:00 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
  • Dee Fence

    To me Bernier is much more of a goalie, for lack of a better term. He’s more technically sound, and more predictable in how he makes a save. Speaking from experience if you, play at any level and, have a technical goalie who you can judge quickly how he makes a save allows he entire team to make plays and react accordingly. Hockey’s a series of spilt second decisions and I feel that Bernier makes some of those decisions easier when he handles it and saves it. Reimer can get it done, but maybe with a little more guess work and difficulty to the 5 players on the ice.

    • hope_smoke

      I respectfully disagree. If Bernier is more technically sound, or a blocker as others call it, then doesn’t his lack of size become even more of a factor? Thomas and Hasek were considered guessers and non-traditional. Their teammates seemed to be fine in front of them. Thanks for the comment.

      • Dee Fence

        Thanks for replying, your articles and Twitter feed are usually one of the first few things I check on Twitter daily.

        Berniers size isn’t a factor because he puts himself in good position. If you can put yourself in good position it doesn’t matter if you’re as small as Darren Pang or as big as Pekka Rinne.

        Hasek and Thomas were both great goalies. It’s almost unfair to compare those guys to Reimer and Bernier. Keep in mind Hasek and Thomas played the majority of their teams games. For the Leafs to go from Bernier between the pipes to Reimer can be a big difference. There’s no statistical value but I personally think the team will have better results with Bernier.

        I was in Reimers camp till Bernier started playing, and I honestly feel bad for the guy after what he accomplished to have to fight for the #1 gig.

        • hope_smoke

          I appreciate the kind words, thank you. I wasn’t necessarily comparing Reimer to Thomas and Hasek, just more looking at your point about teammates feeling more comfortable in front of fundamentally sound goaltenders. Bernier has already shown you enough in his brief time this year to make you think he’s better than Reimer? You may be right, I just need more time. Have a good one.