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.