Well, they almost blew it, but the Leafs win 5-4 in overtime against the New York Islanders in Long Island, New York. The Maple Leafs were up 4-2 going into the third but the Islanders came back to tie it 4-4 and take it to overtime but, in the end, the captain comes through and wins the game.
Early in the first, after trading a couple of chances, the New York Islanders open the scoring. After a brutal change, Kyle Okposo (a favorite of mine) sets up Josh Bailey (another personal favorite) as he scores his first of the season to make it 1-0 Islanders. A few minutes later, the Isles come in on a 2-on-1 and Josh Bailey almost scored his second of the period but it rings off the goal post and stays out. Remains 1-0. The Maple Leafs would tie the game shortly after. Nazem Kadri gets the puck in his own end, skates down the wing, cuts into the middle, a nice little toe-drag and he puts it past Evgeni Nabokov. Tie game. The three fans (okay, the 9,222 fans (at least half were Leafs fans anyway)) at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum getting to see some exciting hockey so far with two goals and a shot off the post within the first 10 minutes of the game. More exciting action with around 5 minutes to go, Michael Grabner gets sprung on a breakaway and gets hauled down and… penalty shot! Second night in a row. So Grabner, with his first ever penalty shot of his career, shoots it wide of the net and it remains a tie game, 1-1. That score would be the same at the end of the period, with the shots 9-6 in favor of the Maple Leafs as they looked to be the better team for the majority of the first.
We begin the second period with a close call for the Maple Leafs as it appeared that John Tavares had scored but upon further review it was ruled that Tavares hit the puck with a high stick before the puck went into the net, no goal. Not even a minute later, Islanders defenseman drills Leo Komaov from behind into the boards and a scrum ensues. However, no penalty called. Alright then. Well, about 5 minutes later, the Islanders come down on a 2-on-1 once again, but Cody Franson breaks up the pass. But 5 seconds later, Lubomir Visnovsky wires one past Reimer to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead. The Leafs come right back, however, and who ties it? None other than Nazem Kadri! Takes a pass at centre ice, wheels into the offensive zone and his shot hits off of Nabokov’s glove and goes in, 2-2. Not too long after that, James van Riemsdyk shoots, gets stopped, grabs his own rebound and scores to give the Leafs their first lead, 3-2. The Maple Leafs take a two goal lead with about 6 minutes left in the second on an absolutely fantastic goal by Nazem Kadri to give him his first NHL hat-trick. The score would remain 3-2 at the end of the second. Shots in that period were 11-10 for the Islanders but it seemed like a fairly Leafs-heavy period with the scoring chances being 6-1 in the Leafs’ favor.
About four minutes into the third period, Lubomir Visnovsky appeared to score his second of the night but just like Josh Bailey’s chance for a second goal in the first period, Visnovsky’s shot hits the crossbar and doesn’t go across the goal line, still 4-2 Leafs. The Islanders make up for it a couple of minutes later, after the Leafs can’t get the puck out of their zone, Kyle Okposo makes a fantastic pass over to Andrew MacDonald who blasts a one-timer past Reimer to cut the Leafs lead to just one, 4-3. The Isles think they tied it up a few seconds later, but Reimer somehow keeps the puck out in the mad scramble around him. They actually do tie it up midway through the third after Kyle Okposo blocks a Mark Fraser shot standing up, comes in on a partial breakaway, and rips a shot over the glove of Reimer and it’s a tie game 4-4. The third period ends in a tie, so we go to overtime. The shots in the third were 9-8 in the Islanders’ favor but it really wasn’t that close as the Islanders dominated that period.
Early in overtime, Michael Grabner come down the wing and hits the post but the puck stays out. A little while later, Mikhail Grabovski feeds Dion Phaneuf at the point, he streaks down the right side and snipes a shot short side on Nabokov and that’s the game winner, 5-4 Leafs win.
Now onto the good and bad.
I really shouldn’t have to justify why Nazem Kadri is here. He was far and away the best player on the ice for either team tonight. Kadri just seems to have so much confidence this season. Maybe it’s because Randy Carlyle is actually giving him a chance to play good minutes and not stashing him on the bench like Ron Wilson used to do. I really like what Kadri’s doing this year both offensively and defensively as he’s beginning to live up to his potential.
One of my favorite players for the Leafs this season has been Leo Komarov. He’s so physical and has this great “in your face” attitude about him and he’s developed a good chemistry with Nazem Kadri and really any line he’s been on, he’s improved it simply by hitting anything that’s moving wearing an opposing jersey and chipping in some offense as well for a bonus.
In my recap for the game against the Flyers, I put Phil Kessel here. I didn’t do a recap for the game against the Canadiens but I would have put him here again. So this is three straight poor games for Kessel. I know he doesn’t only need to score goals to make an impact, but he’s not producing any sort of offense and his defense isn’t great either. So he’s just going through the motions, really.
One of the biggest surprises this season for the Maple Leafs has been Mark Fraser. However, tonight he was really bad. Yes, he had two assists but I wouldn’t say he really “set up” those goals so much as to say he just passed it off and the other player did the work for him. He’s been very good on defense for most of the season and made very few mistakes. He was out there for 3 of the 4 Islanders goals and was directly responsible for the Kyle Okposo goal to tie the game at 4-4 when he chose to shoot it at Okposo’s legs instead of passing it off to Cody Franson.
Although it wasn’t completely his fault, James Reimer didn’t do much in terms of giving his team the best chance to win. Was it all his fault? Absolutely not, but he could have stopped 1 or 2 of those goals and bail out his defenders. There was also one play late in the third where he almost got caught completely out of the net and the Islanders nearly capitalized. He needs to stop coming out of his net so often, he can’t handle the puck very well. I know it was his first game back from injury, but I still have to put him here because he did not play very well.
With the win, the Leafs are now 13-9-0 with 26 points. At the time of writing, that would put the Leafs tied with division rivals, the Ottawa Senators for 5th in the Eastern Conference, after the Senators lost 2-1 to the Boston Bruins. However, the New Jersey Devils could also tie the Leafs and Sens if they defeat the Winnipeg Jets, who they are currently tied 1-1 with at the end of two periods. Anyways, I hope to see Ben Scrivens in net for the Leafs’ next game at home against the aforementioned New Jersey Devils on Monday.