After an embarrassing (and questionable) decision to pull him Saturday night in Buffalo, Tuukka Rask capitalized on his chance at redemption. Rask stopped 36 of 37 Toronto shots, with the lone Maple Leafs goal coming on a Mikhail Grabovski breakaway.
The Leafs went up 1-0 in the first, on the Grabovski breakaway. For the most part, apart from the breakaway, the period was marked with muck-it-up, dump-n-chase hockey that I won't glorify with further recapping.
The Bruins didn't respond until the second, when Nathan Horton put on a stickhandling exhibition, working his way into the slot and then ripping a low wrister past James Reimer. Reimer scarcely had a chance on the shot. Seven and a half minutes later, Marc Savard scored his second of the season, from almost the same spot on the ice, after some nice puck movement from his oft-struggling linemates, Horton and Milan Lucic. The period even featured a scuffle between Savard and Clarke MacArthur, with both getting 2 for roughing, as opposed to major penalties.
The third period belonged to the Leafs, who outshot the Bruins 18-9. Phil Kessel had a few good-looking shots on Rask, with one golden opportunity about 4 minutes in, when Rask gave up a rebound, but the Leafs couldn't bury it. Unlike the game on 12/4, the Bruins were able to keep the Leafs' forecheck at bay when they pulled the goaltender, although Kessel had a slapshot with 2 seconds left that could have tied it, but it bounced harmlessly off one of the half-dozen bodies in front of the net, as time expired.
- The Bruins finished up their 5 game roadtrip with 8 of 10 possible points. One hopes that will quiet the inane "Fire Julien" crowd.
- James Reimer was a hard-luck loser for Toronto, stopping 31 of 33 shots while filling in for the injured Jean-Sebastian Gigure.
- The Lucic-Savard-Horton line was fantastic tonight, their best game together in at least two weeks. Lucic finished +1 on the night and the other two were +2. Horton was the game's third star, and Savard would have earned a star if not for both goaltenders playing excellent games.
- We're not going to talk about the USA/Canada IIHF World Juniors Game. Nope, nothing to see here, please move along.
- Special teams were not a major factor in this one, as both teams were just 0-1 on the power play.
- Old friend Phil Kessel had a three-game points streak snapped. What a shame.
- The B's return to action back home on Thursday night against Minnesota.
Countdown to Couturier:
As of this writing, the Leafs, with 32 points in 38 games, have the fourth-worst record in the NHL. The Devils are firmly entrenched in last, with 22 points in 38 games. However, the Islanders and Oilers are both close to the Leafs. The Isles
have 28 points in 36 games (as of this writing, they were leading Calgary 4-1) beat Calgary, and now have 30 points in 37 games, and the Oilers have 31 points in 37 games. So, it wouldn't take much for Toronto to move into second to last.
The good news is that the Leafs really are that bad, and are likely to get worse. Their goal differential of -23 is fifth-worst in the NHL, and apart from Kessel (and his dreadful -14 rating), their best players have been Tomas Kaberle, Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. Kaberle figures to be traded before the end of the season, which isn't going to help their record, while MacArthur (29 points to date, just two off his career high season) is playing so far above his head that he's getting altitude sickness.
Odds are, the Bruins will receive a second lottery pick from the Kessel trade. And even if it's not first overall, that's fine. At present, Sean Couturier is arguably the consensus top draft prospect (and thus, provides the name for this feature), but the top of the draft is deeper than most years, if not as star-laden. The separation among Coututier, Adam Larsson, Ryan Murphy, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gabriel Landeskog is nowhere near as much as the separation in the 2010 draft, when it was Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and then...who cares? For what it's worth, Larsson is my personal favorite. His stock had dropped, but he has rebounded mightily in the IIHF World Juniors, and may be back in the picture for #1 overall.