Richard Panik scores a beauty of a goal as he slides the puck between Red Wings' net minder Petr Mzarek's pads to put the Leafs up 2-1 in the second period.
Toronto - December 14, 2014 - Saturday night the Toronto Maple Leafs squared off against the Detroit Red Wings, in a rematch of Wednesday night’s game. Despite James Reimer’s phenomenal performance on Wednesday, in which he stopped 41 of 42 shots to lead the Leafs to a 2-1 shootout win, Jonathan Bernier got the start on Saturday night. For the entirety of the game the Leafs looked a step ahead of the Red Wings, and played a solid game at both ends of the ice. In the end the Leafs would prevail 4-1 over the Red Wings, led by the excellent play of their second and fourth lines up front. Defensively Morgan Rielly and Korbinian Holzer had terrific nights, as did the entire Leafs defense core for that matter. In the end though Jonathan Bernier was the key to the Leafs victory, as he stopped 27 of 28 shots, and had a save percentage of 0.964%. It was a complete team victory for the Leafs.
From the beginning of the game the Leafs looked like the better team. The Red Wings were playing their third game in four nights and it showed from the get go, as they iced the puck 11 seconds into the first period. Despite Detroit lacking their trademark offensive presence, it was a fast paced, exciting game.
The scoring was opened by Detroit on the powerplay by Niklas Kronwall at 15:27 of the first period. However, one minute later the Leafs equalized when Phil Kessel had his shot go off James Van Riemsdyk, also on the powerplay. The highlight of the first period though belongs to Jonathan Bernier, as he stacked the pads on Darren Helm.
The second period is where the game opened up. For the first 5 minutes of the second period the teams were relatively even in possession and scoring opportunities. However after the 5 minute mark, the Leafs’ blew the game wide open. By the end of the second period the Leafs had a 44-27 advantage in Fenwick, and a 53-34 advantage in Corsi. Normally when the Leafs play Detroit, those numbers would be in Detroit’s favour.
Late in the second Richard Panik hopped off the bench and took a pass from Korbinian Holzer, and undressed Red Wing’s netminder Petr Mrazek for a beauty of a goal. Panik topped off his best game as a Leaf with an emphatic fight in the dying minutes of the game. Saturday night’s game served as a bit of a coming out party for Panik, who now boasts the second highest goals per 60 minutes on the team at 1.12 G/60. He now only trails Kessel in that stat.
Then less than 2 minutes into the final period, Morgan Rielly netted a beauty of a goal on what was a fantastic solo effort. He rushed into the Red Wing zone and placed a shot just over Mzarek’s pad on the far side, putting an exclamation point on a great night. Nazem Kadri would add an empty net goal to put the final nail in the coffin.
The continued success of Nazem Kadri is noteworthy as he has been the Leafs best centre by a large margin for the last few games. The time to put Kadri on the top line may have arrived as the top line has completely dried up. For the first time in 103 games Phil Kessel did not register a shot on goal, and finished with a Corsi For% of 35%, and Bozak had a Corsi For% of 42%. On top of it all, Kadri shut down the Zetterberg line, holding Zetterberg to a Corsi For% of 38%. If the top line does not get it’s act together soon, Bozak has to be moved down. He’s been borderline useless all season long during even strength hockey.
The Leafs continue to play at a high level since the debacle against the Predators, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. That’s 17 of a possible 20 points in the standings, which is crucial because they have 16 of the next 20 games on the road. With their win on Saturday night, the Leafs move 5 points clear of Florida in the standings and currently hold the top wild card spot. The Leafs will have to rest up quickly as they play the Los Angeles Kings at 5pm on Sunday; a game that will truly test their resolve.