Leafs Sneak a Point in Uniondale
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The Buffalo Sabres did more to further the Leafs cause by losing to Pittsburgh than the Leafs did themselves on Tuesday night, in a game where the visitors to Long Island were lucky to escape with a point, to stay within four of that last playoff spot in the east.
It was a pretty ugly affair for Leaf fans, witnessing a top 6 group who have been so exciting to watch recently, struggle to complete a pass or break into the offensive zone, much less put any real pressure on the Islanders goalie.
With just 27 shots to contend with, many of the pedestrian variety, the recently acquired Al Montoya had little trouble in earning the win for a team which is all but eliminated from post-season action.
James Reimer faced 40 shots and five-near misses, with pucks ringing like church bells behind him off posts and crossbars, evidence of just how glaring the the disparity in determination levels between themselves, and a Leafs team supposedly 'in the hunt' for it's first post season berth in six seasons.
The top two lines were impotent for the most part, showing no jump and less determination, with Phil Kessel firing just one shot all night.
Even after Captain Dion Phaneuf got rocked with a high, late hit from Islander pest Michael Haley, the Leafs continued to slumber in their skates, showing precious little in the way of push-back.
Tyler Bozak tripled Kessel's effort with three shots on three excellent chances but with no result. The good news is he was shooting the puck after being shifted to a line with Armstrong, likely a move designed to exorcise him of his fixation on finding Kessel every time the puck is on his stick.
Zenon Konopka struck first in the second as he crashed the crease upon winning a draw in the Leafs zone, overcoming Phaneuf's effort to tie him up.
Keith Aulie responded in under 30 seconds for the Leafs, with his first goal in the NHL, with Tim Brent distributing the puck his way as Jay Rosehill created a fracas out front.
Brett Lebda apparently had more pressing matters to tend to, leaving Kyle Okposo all alone in front of the Leafs goal to bank a pass inadvertently off the far post, which Frans Nielson converted for the Islanders second goal in the period. Coach Wilson rightfully awarded the wayward defender with a nice long pine ride for his 'efforts'.
While the Leafs did themselves few favours, the referees didn't help the cause either, awarding Matt Martin with a penalty shot as a result of Dion Phaneuf making marginal contact with his stick, certainly not enough to impede the shooter. Reimer denied the opportunity with a solid, stand-up glove save.
Colby Armstrong led the charge toward the end of the second, controlling the play down low and bullying his way to the Islanders net, with Tim Brent cashing in on the resulting rebound. As ugly goal, but those are the ones you need when your shooters are only marginally engaged in the affair.
Lebda made a brief return in the third which lasted one shift, having apparently learned nothing from his 2nd-period benching. Once again, he left the front of the net unattended, leading to a Josh Bailey scoring chance. He then abdicated his post in order to chase an Islander to the top of the dot, creating time and space for the opposition to set up. Michael Grabner cashed in on the Leafs gaffe for the go ahead goal, with Coach Wilson summarily planting Lebda on the bench for the remainder of the game and going with five defenders.
Nikolai Kulemin's active stick came in handy at both ends of the ice, the burly winger employing it deftly to deny chances in front of the Leafs goal as well as supplying the equalizer at the other end
after fighting off coverage in front of the Islanders net to pot a Grabovski feed behind Montoya.
Another grimy one for the visitors, but it was the one that prevented the game from getting away, ultimately assuring the Leafs of a single point.
Radek Martinek stung Reimer's catching hand with a slapper from the point in overtime, leading to a stoppage in play while the the keeper composed himself.
With 58 seconds to go, Martinek tried again from the opposite point, which Blake Comeau, who had been buzzing all night, tipped in for the winning overtime goal.
Visibly frustrated with his team's lack of desperation, Wilson praised the bottom six 'plumbers' for being the difference makers while calling out his top six for a lacklustre showing. On the occasion of his first NHL goal Keith Aulie echoed the coaches sentiment: “We didn't respect our opponent enough, and underestimated them in their own building”. Dion Phaneuf concurred, saying that they'll “take the point”, knowing they didn't bring their 'A' game, and “move forward”.
Whether the Leafs simply underestimated a team that has been performing well since the All Star break, or elected to save their efforts for their Thursday night opponent, the lack of any offensive zone pressure from the top six had best be dealt with in short order if there is any hope of pressing on for a shot at post-season. What we saw last night is simply not good enough.
Leafs have a chance to redeem themselves Thursday VS Philly at the A.C.C. The Flyers have stuttered a bit in March, but managed a win over Edmonton last night.