Two very different games were played on the Island on Tuesday. While the Leafs were a bit slow out of the gate, at least they were opportunistic. Here are a few takeaways from Toronto’s 5-2 win over the Islanders.
When Phil Kessel scores, the Leafs win. This is a fact: Their two wins prior to this game occurred when No. 81 managed to find the net. And on this night, Kessel scored twice. His first goal tied things up midway through the second period. With the Leafs already up a pair of goals, Kessel scored an identical tally to his first one, which punctuated the rout.
It’s been quite a while since Kessel had a multi-goal game: The last one was Feb. 1, where he registered a hat trick in a 6-3 win over the Senators. While undefeated this season when he scores, the Leafs have won eight straight games when Kessel registers a multi-goal performance.
Exploiting Goaltending Weakness
Coming into this game, Jaroslav Halak ranked among the bottom of NHL goaltenders in both goals against average and save percentage. He didn't do much to prove the numbers wrong: Halak was chased out of the net to start the third period, after he gave up four goals in the span of 8:49. All the goals given up were targeted towards Halak’s blocker side, something which newly acquired defenceman Roman Polak admitted the Leafs used to their advantage. Polak played four seasons with Halak, before being traded to Toronto this past off-season.
Polak Don't Stop There
He scored his first goal as a Maple Leaf and led all players with 22:46 of ice time. And that’s with seven defencemen dressed for the first time this season. Polak was a physical presence, standing up for Joffrey Lupul after Cal Clutterbuck spun him along the side boards.
Bernier’s First Win
Despite a solid 31-save performance in his previous start, Jonathan Bernier picked up his first win of the season. In the third period, the Islanders were pressing early and often. It got to the point where a three-goal cushion wasn’t enough comfort for Randy Carlyle, so the Leafs head coach called a timeout to settle things down. When that didn’t work, Bernier took over, making save after save including a brilliant one off Casey Cizikas. Bernier made 17 saves in the third period and now has a .956 save percentage and 1.44 goals against average over his past two starts.
Clarkson In The Groove
David Clarkson does appear to have put any memories of last year behind him. He scored his second goal of the season and continued to be a presence in front of the net, generating opportunities on the Islanders' side of the ice.
There was some criticism when the Leafs elected to go with seven defencemen over rolling four lines, but it paid off. The Islanders provided a lot of speed, but as the Leafs generated momentum, all seven defencemen played a role in shutting down the New York's top weapons. The Islanders are loaded with speed, so Carlyle felt the need to emphasize defence. It should be interesting to see if the same tactic is employed against Ottawa.