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Leafs: Week 3

Two out of three ain’t bad

The Leafs started the week off flying and ended it crashing back to Earth.

OCT. 17: LEAFS V. WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Right off the opening faceoff, the speedy William Nylander jumped on the puck and flew to the net, but he shot it wide in the first of many great scoring chances for the Leafs. By just the three-minute mark, it seemed as if virtually every Leaf had taken a shot on goal, or at least attempted to hit the net, but they kept missing their target. Still, it was an exciting first period, as the Capitals just couldn’t keep up with the speedy Buds. Washington had a few scoring opportunities as well, but they could not put the puck past Frederik Andersen and the first period ended in a scoreless tie with seven shots on goal for each side.

Despite both Toronto’s and Washington’s incredible offensive starts (Leafs first overall; Capitals fourth), neither side managed to score in the second period either with 10 shots apiece. That’s not to say that either side’s defense was great, because it wasn’t. But the game wasn’t boring either, as the first two periods seemed to fly by.

The Leafs continued to shoot wide or hit goal-posts and failed to score on the power play when Alexander Ovechkin was finally penalized in the third period. Washington failed to capitalize on its power play shortly after that when Tyler Bozak sat in the penalty box, managing just one shot on goal.

Finally, Connor Brown broke the deadlock and the Leafs led 1-0. Defenseman Morgan Rielly got the assist.

Brown was playing with Bozak and James van Riemsdyk on this night after coach Mike Babcock “demoted” their usual linemate, Mitch Marner, to the fourth line. There was some debate about whether it was Bozie or JVR who were the real problems with the line, not Mitch, but there were also some calls to “trade Marner” as Leafs Nation lost its mind. Then everyone regained their composure after remembering that Nylander had been demoted last year amid calls to trade him and then became one of the Leafs’ best players. Maybe Mitch could use a change; after all, he has been a little off his game recently. (And already we have seen some improvement in his performance, so calm down, everyone.)

And speaking of Nylander, he put on a great show of speed, skating and puck-handling skills, controlling the puck like there was glue on his stick, and embarrassing the Capitals in the process.

Another talented Leaf who was a thorn in the Capitals’ side, especially Ovechkin’s, on Saturday night (as he was in the playoffs earlier this year) was Nazem Kadri. He had a great chance to score in the third, but his shot was too high and missed the net.

After that, the Leafs got a bit sloppy in their own end, but they managed to keep their opponents from scoring, forcing the Capitals to pull their goalie late in the period.

In a brilliant effort to escape the clutches of Ovechkin, Kadri cemented the Leafs’ 2-0 victory with an empty-net goal and silenced whatever little crowd was left in the Washington stands.

Frederik Andersen earned the shutout, stopping all 30 of Washington’s shots.

OCT. 18: LEAFS V. DETROIT RED WINGS

The Leafs were back home at the Air Canada Centre the next night to take on the Red Wings.

To be honest, I didn’t expect the Buds to have any gas left in the tank after such an energetic performance in Washington less than 24 hours earlier. But I was wrong.

After playing two scoreless periods in the U.S. capital Tuesday night and scoring only two in the third (low in terms of Leafs’ standards), the Buds were hungry for points in Toronto Wednesday night.

After scoring the last goal the night before, Kadri opened up the scoring on home ice, and the Leafs led 1-0 early in the first period. Zach Hyman scored 43 seconds later to make it 2-0 Toronto. The Leafs had two shots and two goals with less than seven minutes played.

Detroit got one past Leafs’ backup goalie Curtis McElhinney (Henrik Zetterberg) before Auston Matthews restored the two-goal lead and, 40 seconds later, Brown made it 4-1 for the Buds. At this point, the Leafs had four goals on just five shots, prompting all kinds of abuse on Twitter against Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who was pulled after the Matthews goal and replaced by backup Petr Mrazek. The Leafs have made a habit of chasing goaltenders out of the game after just one period . . .

But the abuse was also leveled against McElhinney, who didn’t really deserve it as the Leafs’ defense did not help him out much on the next two Detroit goals in the second period (Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Ericsson). But there was nothing wrong with the Leafs’ offense as Rielly got one back on the power play to give Toronto a 5-3 lead after 40 minutes of play. Shots were tied at 17 apiece.

The third period got off to a flying start as there was no whistle until about the six-minute mark. The Red Wings fired 15 shots at McElhinney in the final frame, but he managed to keep them from scoring. He may be no Freddie Andersen, but he did the job of a backup goalie and the Leafs got the win. Nylander got the empty-net goal to make it a 6-3 final.

OCT. 21: LEAFS V. OTTAWA SENATORS

That game I was expecting the Buds to lose came Saturday night at the expense of Ottawa. This time, it was the Leafs who would fall 6-3.

The Senators have been accused of being boring for their defensive style of play and tonight was no exception. They even made the Leafs look boring and that’s hard to do. Even worse, they made the Buds look slow, which is something they’re not. Needless to say, the game was a snooze-fest for Leafs Nation.

I actually felt bad for the boring Senators because they couldn’t even fill their own rink with fans. Many of the fans present Saturday night were Toronto fans loudly chanting “Go Leafs Go!” Despite its billing as “The Battle of Ontario” I personally don’t consider Ottawa to be such a hated rival on the scale of Montreal or Boston, so if the Leafs are going to lose to a tough defensive team after playing hard and winning two high-flying, high-scoring games in the same week, I can live with that.

But that’s not to say that the Leafs are off the hook for their less-than-stellar performance. They knew Ottawa’s style of play and they should have been prepared for it. They weren’t and it cost them.

The Senators lulled the Leafs to sleep early in the opening period, limiting Toronto to eights shots on goal to their 13. I, too, was in danger of nodding off until Ottawa scored (Nate Thompson) late in the period and the incredibly loud bullhorn shook me out of my slumber. The first frame ended 1-0 for Ottawa.

Although the Leafs looked a little more awake in the second period, they couldn’t get a shot past Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson. The Senators, however, had no trouble scoring (Ryan Dzingel, Derick Brassard) against the Leafs’ Andersen, leading 3-0 after 40 minutes.

By this point, I was ready to turn my attention to the Toronto Raptors, who were beating the crap out of the 76ers, or the Astros, who were doing the same to the Yankees, but being the loyal Leafs fan that I am, I resumed watching the hockey game following the second intermission.

And for a while in the third, it looked like the Buds were ready to mount a comeback when van Riemsdyk tipped in a shot by Ron Hainsey, cutting Ottawa’s lead to 3-1. Less than three minutes later, Matthews scored off a pass from Nylander and it was a one-goal game.

Leafs’ fans in the stands went wild and no amount of filters could dampen their loud cheers or their spirits. Then boring Ottawa called a timeout and scored shortly afterwards (Mark Stone). But the fans kept cheering for their beloved Leafs and that got them going to the point that Ottawa had to take an interference penalty. Nylander promptly scored on the power play and Toronto was back within one goal. Marner had a great chance to tie it up, but Anderson made sure he didn’t and the Leafs ran out of time after Ottawa scored an empty-net goal (Stone).

Boring Ottawa won the game and I still had time to watch the Raptors obliterate Philly and the Astros eliminate the Yankees.

Just like the Leafs’ week, two out of three ain’t bad.

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