March 8, 2011
Leafs didn't deserve win, but steal a point
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - For now, little victories still count.
But if the Leafs are going to get into or have a serious shot at remaining in the Eastern Conference playoff race, they are going to need so many things go their way.
Like bounces, goals from unlikely sources and bonus points when game goes to overtime.
The Leafs got two of three Tuesday night on Long Island, losing 4-3 in overtime to the Islanders and moving back to within four points of eighth-place Buffalo (and just how big is that game against the Sabres Saturday at the Air Canada Centre?)
In a game Toronto didnít necessarily deserve to win ó especially with its top two lines so benign ó the fact that they managed to push it to overtime is worth something.
A stolen point on a night when the opposition hits the post five times, your power play is still gone missing and your defence loses its toughness in front of the net makes it a wash for letting the bonus point get away.
Down by one goal in the second, the Leafs seemed to have far too little desperation to their game. Thatís one of the great challenges of being in a long-shot playoff race over 20 games or more. To maintain that energy level over that many nights, is a tall order especially on a young and inconsistent team ... The more you see players such Colby Armstrong go hard to the net as he did to set up Tim Brentís second-period goal, the more you wonder why the Leafs canít do it more often. And the more you wonder where the top-six forwards were on this night ... Three times the Leafs came back from one-goal deficits but never had the lead once ... One-goal games are ulcer-inducing for coaches, goalies and sports writers on deadline. Tuesdayís was the teamís 10th in their past 11 in that category.
Two things that will guarantee the Leafs donít have a shot if they go missing for much longer. 1. Phil Kessel. Heís had a great run since the all-star break, but has now gone three games without a goal (though he did have a point on Nik Kuleminís goal last night). The team can live with that, but not with one of No. 81s prolonged droughts. 2. A powerless power play. The unit entered Tuesdayís game on an 0-for-21 ďrunĒ with the man advantage and then went 0 for 3 against the Isles with barely a sniff of a legitimate scoring chance ... Leafs coach Ron Wilson clearly got frustrated with his top two lines, shuffling them up in the second and third periods.
Inexcusable for both Brett Lebda and Mike Komisarek to let Islanders forwards get behind them on the Islanders second goal. Lebda paid for it too, getting glued to the bench for the rest of the second and much of the third. And on his next shift? The Isles scored again ... Crazy second period for Leafs centre Brent. It started on the wrong foot when he lost the draw to Zenon Konopka in his own zone then left the Islanders slugger get loose to the front of the net for his second of the season. Just 34 seconds later, Brent did the dirty work to set up Keith Aulieís first career goal. Then, with less than two minutes remaining in the period, Brent scored his eighth of the season ... Big night for James Reimer in the Leafs net, despite all the help needed from the iron. How about his back-to-back breakaway saves on the Islesí Matt Martin, including a penalty shot ... The Konopka goal had to sting on multiple levels for the Leafs. For one, he chirps at just about any Leaf on the ice an especially captain Dion Phaneuf. And for another, you canít let a fourth-line centre with just one goal on the season do that to you ... The Leafs are now 16-5-10 in one-goal games.
No surprise that Jay Rosehill was in the lineup for Freddie Sjostrom. The Leafs needed the heavyweight presence against the Islanders, the NHLís nearest version to the UFC ... The loss ended Reimerís five-game road winning streak ... If the Leafs were so inclined to watch the out of town action, they couldnít do it on Tuesday. The Long Island rink doesnít have an out-of-town scoreboard ... Further to the Leafs lack desperation: They managed just three shots on the Islanders goal in the first 13 and a half minutes of the second period ... Trust me, Iím no mathematician but all those projections that the Leafs need to win 12 of their last 16 may be a little premature. Remember thereís no guarantee that 90 points will be the number. It could be four or five less than that ... John Tavares may be settling in as a bonafide NHL scorer but the Islanders forward continues to have undistinguished games against his hometown team.