By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Dec. 12) – Oh, it’s a time-worn cliche alright. But, rarely has it so dovetailed with a game involving the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, folks, the Leafs indeed got a “taste of their own medicine” here in town Wednesday night. Kind of like that nasty plate of liver Mom would plunk down when you were a kid.
An entire bottle of Listerine couldn’t wash away the after-effect of such a meal (Pepto Bismol was far more productive) and the Leafs were probably spitting up violently after losing, 3-1, to Los Angeles Kings at Air Canada Centre. Virtually all 16 Toronto victories this season bore similarity to Wednesday’s defeat. Rather than getting out-blasted on the shot-clock, Maple Leafs held a considerable edge (39-23) against the Stanley Cup champions of 2012. Rather than Jonathan Bernier or James Reimer plundering a game against all odds for the Leafs, it was rookie Martin Jones pulling a stick-up on the Blue and White.
Everything Randy Carlyle has been accentuating finally emerged against one of the National Hockey League’s most frugal defensive teams (L.A. has now yielded a maximum of two regulation-time goals in 17 consecutive games dating to Nov. 2, when Nashville prevailed, 4-3, at Staples Center). Instead of hanging back in the event of misfortune, Toronto blue-liners – absent Dion Phaneuf – head-manned the puck; darted cleverly into openings in the neutral and attacking zones, and actually fired shots at the opposition goal. Maple Leaf forwards, augmented by the return of Joffrey Lupul, skated vigorously and chose to cycle the puck down low. It was a performance wholly reminiscent of many the club turned in during its renaissance season a year ago.
ROOKIE MARTIN JONES CONTINUED HIS ASTONISHING FIRST WEEK IN THE NHL, TURNING AWAY 38 OF 39 TORONTO SHOTS IN A 3-1 VICTORY WEDNESDAY NIGHT. JOFFREY LUPUL (ABOVE) AND NIK KULEMIN (BELOW) WERE AMONG THOSE THWARTED BY THE LOS ANGELES NETMINDER. PHOTOS: GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
Leafs only goal (by Cody Franson) came with a two-man powerplay edge, which is typical, as the Kings give up almost nothing while playing 5-on-5. Jones was mainly responsible for the road win; his teammates had rubbery legs in the wake of Tuesday night’s 6-0 romp in Montreal. Leafs will encounter a similar challenge later tonight in St. Louis, facing another of the NHL’s premier squads (20-6-3), one time zone away, after a two-hour post-game flight. If the visitors can summon more energy – and rested James Reimer can stonewall Alex Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Co. – the game will be competitive. Otherwise, TV remotes around the GTA will be active midway through the second period.
I am frantically trying to match I.P. numbers to determine whether Carlyle read my Tuesday blog, urging him to dress Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly against the Kings, and to provide Franson a leading role in Phaneuf’s absence. All three came to pass. Franson and Gardiner – in my opinion – were more assertive than at any time this season.
A repeat performance in St. Louis would be timely.
By the way, the Leafs four games this week are being played against teams (Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Chicago) that have a combined record – this morning – of 85-27-14. Oy vey.
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