Toronto picked up some of the slack from their loss on Monday,by showing up the Penguins 5-2 in Pittsburgh last night. It was also a good night for James Reimer, who stopped 28 shots for the win after playing his first game in almost a year. He did look shaky at some moments in the game, but that’s expected after the length in time between starts. The two goals he did allow were also scored by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who you may recognize as two of the best hockey players in the world (if not the two best in the world). This extended Crosby’s scoring streak to 7 straight games against the Leafs. That’s where the good news ended for Pittsburgh, as the Pens looked sloppy throughout the game and took a few stupid penalties to put them down a man. These brain farts included Chris Kunitz hitting Mike Komisarek into the boards from behind TWICE, a too many men call and Sidney Crosby getting an unsportsmanlike penalty because he was whining to put Pittsburgh down two men with only two minutes left.
Although the score was 4-2 at the time of Crosby’s penalty, there was still just under two minutes left which isn’t inconceivable that the Pens could come back from with the elite caliber of players they could put on the ice. Instead, Crosby guaranteed that Toronto would be on the man advantage the rest of the game unless they scored (which they did), but he also took their best player and captain (himself) out of the game at a pivotal moment.
As for the Leafs, it was good news to see Jake Gardiner back in the lineup after suffering from concussion-like symptoms since his time with the Marlies during the lockout. Colton Orr and Deryk Engelland had a great tilt as well, with both men standing after more than a minute of fighting. Although a minute doesn’t seem too long, in a fight it feels like eternity. Nikolai Kulemin and James van Reimsdyk also silenced some critics, as Kulemin was a plus-three with three assists on the night, while JVR scored two goals and threw an assist in as well. He looked strong with the puck, and even scored a goal while crashing the net, something Carlyle said he wanted to see more of out of the young winger.
Other goal scorers for the Leafs were Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak. The single blemish on the Leafs romp was the freakish accident that occurred when Joffrey Lupul took Dion Phaneuf slapshot off the arm, which fractured his forearm. This comes a few days after Ben Scrivens celebrated his season-opening win at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
This comes at a bad time for Leafs fans and management, as Lupul already is considered a brittle player after his lengthy injury history and the injury came only three days after the other news broke about Lupul. That news was that he now has a full wallet, not that it wasn’t padded before. General Manager Dave Nonis announced on Sunday that Lupul was signed to a new five-year $26.25 contract extension that will take him to the end of the 2017-18 season in a blue and white sweater.
The only problem for Lupul is, now he won’t be able to celebrate the contract, or the Leafs’ win after taking the shot in the arm. Granted, a fractured forearm is probably the best outcome one can hope for when taking a Dion Phaneuf slapshot to the body, as Phaneuf is known for his glass-shattering shot (a fact I’ve stated before). Lupul is out indefinitely, but with a fracture the timetable can usually be measured in weeks and not days. This was proven today when coach Carlyle said Lupul would miss “a minimum of six weeks,” which is horribly unlucky for the Leafs in a season that is only 48 games. If Lupul was to miss only those six weeks, he would miss 23 games, which factors out to be almost 48 per cent of the season of 48 games, but is more than half (23 per cent) if you factor in the three games played already. A hard pill to swallow for Randy Carlyle and the Leafs after beating Montreal and Pittsburgh at home and losing a close 2-1 game at home against Buffalo, a game that the Leafs appeared to tie with just over a minute left, only to see the goal negated.
Phaneuf commented on the freak accident after the game, saying this to NHL.com:
“It’s a big loss — can’t really say much more than that. He’s a huge part of our team up front, and it’s terrible when you lose a guy like that. But we’ve got to come together for him and play for the guys that are here.”
A big loss no matter how you look at it, so look for Carlyle to demand more out of the goalless Phil Kessel, and push the team to produce at the same pace as the game against the Penguins on Wednesday -five goals- as compared to the first two games yielded a combined three goals for. Now that Lupul is out, Jay McClemment will wear the “A” on his jersey, as Carlyle said he would do if one of Phaneuf, MacArthur, or Lupul couldn’t play. They were letter-bearers of the Leafs, with Phaneuf continuing his captaincy while MacArthur and Lupul were his assistants. As for those wondering about who will take Lupul’s spot on the roster, Matt Frattin was called up by the Leafs this morning, so he will play tonight when the Islanders come into town. Frattin deserves the chance, after Leafs brass had previously said he was a NHL player playing in the AHL, and I predicted him to be on the opening night roster in my season preview. This leaves David Steckel the odd-man out, as he’s been in the Leafs press box since the season started. He will have to wait for another injury or a losing streak to get a chance, although it’s possible the Leafs could call up Tim Connolly should one of those situations arise.
As for Toronto’s first two games:
The Leafs started the season off on the right foot, out-lasting a Canadiens team that was missing P.K. Subban in the season-opener 2-1. The players who started the season with the AHL Marlies led the big club, Scrivens looking stellar with 21 saves, Nazem Kadri opening the scoring on the Leafs first shot of the game, and Mike Kostka having the second most ice-time (22:59) of any leafs player, while registering his first NHL point with an assist. Kessel couldn’t find the back of the net, but did manage two powerplay assists.
In the Leafs’ home-opener against the Sabres on Monday, Toronto dropped a 2-1 decision to Ryan Miller. Before I get into it, I highly encourage you to check out the puck drop, as Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, initiates the puck drop via a live satellite stream from the International Space Station. Yes that’s right, the Leafs puck drop started in SPACE, and you can watch it here. Now, if you noticed that I said the Leafs lost to one specific player instead of Buffalo or the Sabres previous to the puck drop rant, it’s because Ryan Miller deserves 95% of the credit for the win. Although 27 saves isn’t exactly a high number when it comes to shot totals, he made the saves necessary to preserve the win – especially when Toronto was pressing with Scrivens pulled and two minutes remaining. Kadri did score his second of the season with 1:42 left, but the Leafs couldn’t find the back of the net again. That is, if you don’t count the disallowed goal that Lupul put in with a punch 25 seconds later.
The Leafs take on the New York Islanders tonight at 7pm EST, and you can catch the game on NHL GameCenter or LeafsTV. If you haven’t subscribed to either of those channels (like most people), than you can listen to the game online on TSN radio at TSN.com/Toronto.