Here are five takeaways from Toronto’s 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers Sunday at Madison Square Garden:
No letdown for Leafs after a goal-against.
In what is becoming an increasingly familiar pattern for them this season, the Leafs did not wilt when miscues erased a lead - in this case, a 1-0 advantage that turned into a 2-1 Rangers lead near the midway point of regulation time. Less than four minutes after the Blueshirts’ go-ahead goal, Toronto answered back on a play started with a puck battle victory by Daniel Winnik and finished when Joffrey Lupul scored his seventh of the year. Then, after the Rangers retook the lead three minutes into the third period, the Leafs tied the game less than two minutes later on a goal from Dion Phaneuf. This Buds squad is already looking more resilient than previous editions of the team have in some time.
Jonathan Bernier is going to need some time to rebuild his game.
Bernier’s first game since Oct. 31 was not his finest. The goal he allowed to Derek Stepan from centre ice didn’t reflect well on him, and the Rangers’ game-winning goal with less than a minute left in the third also was not one he wanted to surrender, particularly knowing teammate James Reimer had played so well in his absence. In fairness, Bernier didn’t have help from his teammates on the Blueshirts’ other two goals. Bernier is going to have to be patient and wait for another chance to re-establish himself as Toronto’s starting netminder.
Toronto’s discipline – at least, in most areas – is impressive.
The Leafs’ penalty kill has improved considerably of late, and the only news better than that is not giving up any penalties at all. Toronto gave up just two man advantages to the Rangers, but one of them was a bench minor for too many men on the ice. The Buds have been assessed a league-high seven bench minors this season, and you know head coach Mike Babcock will want to address that issue sooner than later. But for the most part, the Leafs aren’t sloppy – as evidenced by the fact they gave away the puck just three times Sunday – and that attention to detail is one of the reasons they’ve become more competitive.
A bounce-back game for the captain.
Dion Phaneuf logged just 20:47 of ice time Saturday when the Leafs took on Vancouver – his lowest total since Oct. 21 – and also was assessed two minor penalties against the Canucks. But Sunday, he played 22:30 and had a one-goal, two-point night on the scoresheet. In back-to-back games, you need your veterans leading the way, and Toronto’s captain was up to the challenge against the Blueshirts.
The Rangers? They’re good.
The Rangers entered the game as the NHL’s hottest team and proved why en route to winning their ninth in a row and maintaining their spot atop the NHL standings. They’re fast, very well-coached and have an excellent balance of veterans and youngsters to depend on. As the Leafs continue to build, they don’t have to look far to see an example of what they can be in years to come.