Late Leafs surge comes up short
Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
|Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak is checked off the puck by Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris (R) during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto on Nov. 15, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
TORONTO - As Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was saying after a recent road win, they don’t ask how, they ask how many.
The Leafs didn’t cover up all of their warts on Tuesday night, but they managed to salvage a point in a 3-2 shootout loss against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Slow, disorganized starts have plagued the Leafs, and they’ve now gone four games on home ice without registering a victory. But take away the early hiccups against the disciplined Coyotes, and fans probably would have been talking about a Toronto win as they departed the Air Canada Centre.
“We’re going to win a lot more games if we start the same way we finish,” said defenceman Mike Komisarek, whose first goal after 87 games without one lit a fire under the Leafs in the third period.
“It was a good point. But we need to come out of the gate with intensity. We need to dictate the level of play and have teams adjust to us.
“You’re going to get punched. For our team, it’s not to wait to punch back, it’s to initiate, not dip the toe in the water and check the temperature.”
The single point might have come at a large cost for the Leafs. Winger Clarke MacArthur (upper body) left the game after the second period and centre Mikhail Grabovski (lower body) excused himself midway through the third. They will be evaluated on Wednesday and both will undergo an MRI.
The good news is that centre Tim Connolly, who has missed four games with what is thought to be a rib injury, told coach Ron Wilson he will play in Nashville versus the Predators on Thursday night.
MacArthur had been replaced by Matt Frattin on a line with Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin toward the end of the first period, but it was the usual suspects — Joffrey Lupul, centre Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel — who generated the majority of the Leafs’ top scoring chances.
Just minutes after Komisarek cruised in from the blue line and buried Matthew Lombardi’s pass behind Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, Kessel, who was flying all night, tied the game at 4:41 of the third period on a Toronto power play when he fired into the net one of the juicier rebounds you’ll see.
Komisarek’s goal was his first since Oct. 15, 2010 in a game against the New York Rangers.
Shane Doan and Oliver Ekman-Larsson took advantage of the Leafs’ stumbling and fumbling in the opening six minutes to score. Phaneuf’s fall at the Coyotes blue line led to an odd-man rush with Doan’s goal the result, while Raffi Torres provided a great screen for Ekman-Larsson’s floating wrist shot from the point.
But rookie goalie Ben Scrivens shrugged off the goals and was sharp after that, making 33 saves by the end of the game.
Patrick O’Sullivan and Radim Vrbata made smart moves to beat Scrivens in the shootout, while Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin were stopped by Smith.
Scrivens has made the past three starts and earned the right to get another in Nashville, ahead of Jonas Gustavsson.
“He buckled down and did not cave and then he came up with a lot of saves as the game went on,” Wilson said. “He hit another little bump in the road (with the two early goals) and he got through it. Our team’s confidence grew as the game went on.”
Scrivens was told that he reminded someone of a young pitcher, one who struggles through the first couple of innings but then gets into a groove as the game progresses. At one point, Scrivens was razzed by the fans after making an easy save.
“I’m not really a big baseball fan, so I guess the analogy is a little bit lost on me,” Scrivens said. “The fans are great. They were just frustrated and we were too. That’s the way they can affect the game and good on them. They’re in the building, they paid their money, and if they want to do that, let them do it.
“I have had that a little bit already, ‘Why can’t you play (well) at home.’ I have played less than (three) games, really. It’s a pretty small sample size.”