They’ve played some stinkers in recent memory but tonight’s Canucks-Leafs tilt at the ACC was very entertaining. Two goals in the first five minutes of the game, the Sedin line was electric, Kessel-Lupul-Bozak was on fire, Luongo and Gustavsson trading huge saves at various points of the game. If you didn’t catch this game, you missed some fantastic hockey.
That being said, like any good hockey game there were a lot of interesting points that played themselves out over the course of three periods. This game could have been won by either team had it not been for some outstanding individual performances. Here are 10 thoughts from the game:
1) The Leafs are the second youngest team in the NHL and they really have a propensity to show it – particularly when you look at the times they’re giving up goals. Four of the Canucks goals were given up within two minutes of a period beginning or ending. Toronto looked sluggish at the beginning of periods and frantic at the end of periods and that cost them at the end of the day. See: Schenn leaving Higgins in front of the net in the first.
2) Alex Burrows played one hell of a game. He was fantastic defensively, showed great finesse and was involved around the crease and below the goal-line as advertised. If Burrows doesn’t have the performance he did tonight, I don’t think Vancouver wins. He was a nightmare for Toronto’s defensive corps without making himself a liability as he is known to do at times. He played within himself as opposed to trying to bait his opponents and that was a treat to watch.
3) The Sedins are magical. Even when Toronto was on a good run offensively they found a way to generate turnovers and drive possession. Daniel’s second period goal was a backbreaker for the Leafs.
4) The Kessel-Bozak-Lupul combo is equally impressive. When you consider that Lupul was essentially a salary chip in the Francois Beauchemin deal and Bozak was considered by fans to be off the roster at the beginning of the season, this line plays with phenomenal chemistry and poise. Why nobody thought to pick up Kessel on his goal baffles me.
5) The officiating was great tonight. Obviously the disallowed goals drew some ire, but here was a game that had fantastic pace to it largely because only four penalties were called (five if you count the delayed call that set up the Kessel goal). When you get two teams with this much pace who aren’t afraid to let it all hang out, you have a great game for fans to watch. More proof you don’t need eight power plays for each team to have offence.
6) Cody Franson has really stepped up his physicality and it’s going to be hard for anyone in Toronto to justify any absence he has from the lineup going forward. Obviously he has made some questionable decisions handling the puck in his own end at times, but that’s something a young defenceman has to learn on their own. The knock on him was that he doesn’t use enough of his frame and strength, yet here he being a force physically. Love it.
7) As far as people who had good games go, I thought Mason Raymond and Chris Higgins were exceptional tonight for Vancouver. They challenged Toronto’s defence with their mobility, and maintained possession when they had it. When you have those two on the wings with Kesler down the middle, that’s a tough matchup for an opponent’s second and third defensive pairings. They combined for five points tonight.
8 ) Jonas Gustavsson is a solid goaltender. Obviously he still had a few wrinkles tonight, but all in all it looks as though he’s finally starting to absorb the style imparted on him by Allaire. He is much more steady, no longer has the goaltender equivalent to a quarterback’s “happy feet” and is really absorbing the puck well. You can tell his confidence is coming around as well as he’s much more willing to challenge shooters at the edge of his crease and he doesn’t fall into his sulking body language as he has been known to previously. He may not be a long term member of the Leafs – make no mistake, Reimer is the guy – but he is an NHL goaltender.
9) Today in negativity: what purpose does Philippe Dupuis serve on the Leafs roster? He played 4:37 tonight – not that you would have noticed – and all four minutes of that came at even strength. Isn’t one of his supposed merits that he is a solid special teams contributor? I’d have to think a player like Darryl Boyce – who was a quality citizen at the end of last season playing Dupuis’ current role – would be making more of an impact in the same scenario. The temptation is to say Kadri or Colborne ought to be called up, but they wouldn’t be able to get the quality minutes they need to further their development.
10) I’m cheering for Roberto Luongo. He gets an unfair shake from fans and media everywhere – a team loses a Stanley Cup, not a goaltender – and his performance is usually much better than he gets credit for. I want this guy to win in Vancouver or elsewhere. For those of you keeping score at home, he hasn’t lost a regulation game since December 1.
Elsewhere in Luongo news, he made a save that will surely be on everyone’s ’2011 in review’ highlight reels in a couple of weeks when he absolutely stonewalled Colby Armstrong. Take a look and enjoy.
Also, in that game Tyler Bozak went “Backhand Shelf” for the Leafs which was pretty awesome too.