Leafs 4 v. Flyers 1: Harder Than It Had To Be
Andrew Raycroft is having quite a run of results. Monday morning, his excellent work last week (3-0-0, 1.67 GAA, .943 SV%) led to him being recognized by the league as the week's number two star. Monday night, he took another step towards rehabilitating his status as a top goaltender with a 40 save performance to steal a 4-1 decision for the Leafs. The score is not indicative of a game where the Flyers controlled the majority of play. It is at the same time reassuring that Raycroft stole his first game as a Leaf and worrisome that he had to do it against the NHL's worst team.
To be fair, the first two periods hinged mostly on penalties. In the first period the Leafs were skating hard and moving the puck well. Those two generally add up to penalties against and the Flyers spent much of the first period shorthanded. Unfortunately, the Leafs' powerplay did not capitalize although I suspect it was mostly done out of pity and the fact that Antero Niittymaki travelled back in time to get his February 2006 self in net. The Leafs left the period with a 1-0 lead on a Bates Battaglia goal on a beautiful play where he held off Hatcher (now on pace to be -930) as he came around the net and spun and fired a shot into the top corner.
The second period was literally the opposite of the first. The team in orange and black (wasn't Hallowe'en last week?) were clearly berated into realizing that they play in the NHL during the intermission. They caught the Leafs off-guard with their 'effort' and 'determination', two things that cellar dwellars are not supposed to show on the road, and the Leafs promptly got into penalty trouble. As is becoming usual, the penalty kill was once again spectacular. Hal Gill did an incredible job of using his long reach and big body to cut off any cross ice pass while Mike Peca continued to dislay an almost nonchalant ease while winning faceoffs and clearing the puck. The Leafs have now killed 30 of the last 31 shorthanded opportunities against and have moved into the top 10. For a team that finished last year 24th on the PK this is a massive improvement. Raycroft did a wonderful job in stopping 16 of 17 shots but Ben Eager was able to bury one when a bad line change resulted in him being sent in alone.
Rather than fold now that the momentum was clearly in the Flyers' favour the Leafs decided to get back in the fight. The third period was much more evenly matched but it eventually turned on a powerplay. The newly re-united trio of Sundin, Ponikarovsky, and Antropov created the winner after Sundin won his third straight offensive zone faceoff. Bryan McCabe took a page out of Ian White's book and threw a hard wrist shot between two Flyers that resulted in a rebound. Mats and Poni scrambled it in front until the lanky Kazakh (his official title) Nik Antropov was able to use his size and reach to crash the scrum and bury the winner. Is nii-ice.
The not-so weak Ukranian Ponikarovsky scored a third to ice the game after White muscled the puck into the neutral zone. Poni carried the puck over the blueline before rifling a shot past Niittymaki's glove and into the top corner. Tomas Kaberle finished the scoring with an empty netter that capped off a nice series of unselfish passes from O'Neill to Stajan to Steen who passed up a chance at a goal.
While Raycroft and the kids (Steen, Stajan, White, Bell, Wellwood) have garnered a lot of the attention this season one of the more unheralded stories has been that of Bates Battaglia. His goal last night was not only his fourth of the season but it also displayed his physical strengths. He held off Hatcher while still being able to control the puck while completing a nice spin move and fired a hard shot into the net. He has shown a willingness to crash and bang each shift this season and Maurice has rewarded him more ice-time and promotions up the lines. Last night he skated most of his time with Mike Peca. Battaglia has been a good example to the youngsters of the effort that is necessary on every shift and may be the Leafs' most underrated addition along with Hal Gill.
And with a renewed focus on the man of the hour...
The Final Word
His teammates launched a season-high 41 shots at goalie Andrew Raycroft last night at the Air Canada Centre, but came away with only one goal in a 4-1 loss to the oronto Maple Leafs. The critical difference? The Flyers' hideous power play, which is 7 for 87 this season. It was a one-goal game with five minutes to play and the Flyers had already failed seven times with the man advantage.
Tim Panaccio, Philadelphia Inquirer, highlights the importance of the Leafs rejuvenated penalty kill to last night's victory.
The Leafs can be thankful for Andrew Raycroft and the way he pulled out a win last night with some spectacular goaltending. They can also be thankful the 26-year-old from Belleville possesses a stone-hard resolve to better himself.
Mark Zwolinski, Toronto Star, noting that despite some bad numbers against the sens that Raycroft maintained belief in his abilities.