TORONTO – Not even an injury to their starting goaltender could slow the Leafs.
James Reimer went down and did not get up – without some assistance – but his team continued to roll, winning for the fourth consecutive game, a 5-2 deconstruction of the Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night, just their second home victory of the season.
Ben Scrivens filled the void for the injured Reimer, standing in with 32 impressive saves – including a perfect six-stop effort on a five minute penalty kill – helped by a sprinkling of offence from all four lines and five different goal-scorers. Led by the director behind the bench, Randy Carlyle, the Leafs are getting contributions from a variety of different and perhaps unlikely sources, marching forward despite injuries and inconsistent performance to key players.
"It's coaching, but at the same time it's guys taking advantage of opportunities," John-Michael Liles told TSN.ca after Monday's game. "You've got guys stepping up, making plays. It shows not only the depth of the team, but the depth of the organization; you have some injuries and you have guys step in and fill some key roles. That's a big part of our success. At the same time, the coaching staff [is] getting everybody to buy into what type of system were playing and what type of identity we want to have as a team. Everybody's been on the same page which has been great."
Down Joffrey Lupul, their All-Star left winger, since the third game of the year, Carl Gunnarsson, a reliable minute crunching defender, for the past six games and Jake Gardiner for all but two games, the Leafs have only marched forward with others capably filling their roles.
Stepping in for Lupul on the top line, James van Riemsdyk scored his team-leading eighth goal against his former team in Philadelphia, now with 10 points in the last 11 games. Korbinian Holzer had been seizing minutes in Gunnarsson's absence, but when he was ejected for boarding against the Flyers, it was Mark Fraser filling the void with a season-high 18-minute performance. Additionally, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin continue to step to the forefront, combining for four points against the Flyers.
"It's not a bad problem to have when you have guys understanding their roles and contributing in a lot of different ways," Liles said.
Putting the puzzle together, Carlyle has managed to coax performance from both youth and inexperience. Kadri and Frattin are second-year NHL players, at or near the top of the team's scoring list, joined by a trio on defence - Holzer, Fraser and Mike Kostka - who played in the American Hockey League for most of last season.
Carlyle's reaction then to Reimer's injury was perhaps fitting of the way his team has been able to move forward without panic whenever adversity has struck. "Get the next one," he said of his feeling on the bench to Reimer going down. "That's all you can do because you really can't lament what's just gone on. It's like a pitcher gets pulled in baseball, they give him the sign, it's a lefty or a righty, well, we've only got one, get him in there."
1. Reimer's injury
Fortunately for the Leafs, Reimer's 'lower-body injury' does not appear to be significant.
The 24-year-old went down at the four-minute mark of the middle frame and could not lift himself back up, stuck uncomfortably on all fours in the crease amid a hushed home crowd. He was helped off the ice by Liles, unable to put any weight on his left leg. "We don't think it's that serious at this point," Carlyle said of the injury. "Shouldn't miss any extended period of time."
Reimer was expected to undergo more tests on Tuesday, at which point the organization will determine if they need to recall a goaltender from the Marlies, one of Jussi Rynnas or Mark Owuya. Scrivens will fill the void in Reimer's absence. "We'll see what happens with Reims," he said. "Obviously I hope that he's back tomorrow."
2. Scrivens in relief
Playing for just the fifth time this season, Scrivens provided more than adequate relief of Reimer, notably with a 20-save second period. His first reaction to the injury was more concern than thoughts of stepping in. "Obviously I was hoping that he was going to get right back up," the 26-year-old said. "That's my first gut reaction. He was playing a heck of a game so far. We didn't have the greatest start and he held the fort for us in the first period and really earned his money. My first reaction was obviously hoping that he was going to get up. You never want to see a friend and teammate go down." While the injury to Reimer sounds minor at first report, Scrivens will be counted on to mind the gap in his place, however long that may be. A focal point for concern before the season, the Leafs have gotten stability in goal from Reimer to this point, the Manitoba native sitting seventh in save percentage before Monday's game.
3. 5-Minute Major
In what proved to be a turning point in the hockey game, the Leafs were able to kill off in full a five-minute major to Holzer, who planted Tye McGinn from behind. Stepping in for Reimer, Scrivens stopped all six shots with his team down a man, including a save on Brayden Schenn charging hard to the front of the net. "Scrivy went in and stood tall for us," said Carlyle. "He was equal to the task."
4. Bozak's technique on the draw
Tyler Bozak has climbed the ranks of the elite faceoff men in the National Hockey League this year, sitting in a tie for 10th after 13 games (58.7%). The 26-year-old explained the evolution in his work on the draw since joining the Leafs in 2009-2010. "Before I maybe had three moves that I'd do," he told TSN.ca. "I was good at three things and then mediocre at the other things … [But] if you do the same thing every time the guys are going to know what you're doing and be able to beat you so I try to change it up as much as I can. Some of the faceoff moves that I'd use before that I was weaker at I think I've gotten a lot better at now and can win a lot." Without divulging too many secrets, Bozak offered an example of said improvement. "On my forehand I tie up the stick a lot of the time and that was the one thing I was really good at," he explained, "[but] when guys catch on to that they can just lift their stick and get out of the way, so I worked on a lot more just winning it on my forehand clean." Among the most difficult opponents for the fourth-year centre, Bruins ace Patrice Bergeron and former Flyer Mike Richards. Bozak was an uncharacteristic 11-24 (46%) on Monday night.
5. Fourth Line Duty
For the second consecutive game, the Leafs got a impactful effort from their fourth line, the trio of Colton Orr, Jay McClement, and Frazer McLaren. Not only did the unit make its physical presence felt as one would expect, but they chipped in offensively yet again. Orr scored his first of the season – capping a brute, physical shift – depositing a rebound past Ilya Bryzgalov for the Leafs second goal. "I think the guys get a big push from it," said Orr of the unexpected offence. "It makes everybody feel good," Carlyle agreed. "Feel good for those guys because they don't get an opportunity in a lot of situations to provide a lot of offence over the year. We just think that they're deserving of more minutes. We even tried them on the powerplay. That's a reward … At times it's our responsibility as a coaching staff to give those guys what we call 'cookies' and powerplay time is cookie time." It was the second straight game with a point for Orr, who chipped in with an assist on Holzer's second of the season during the Leafs 6-0 win in Montreal on Saturday.
Quote of the Night
"I don't know. It's an interesting question I don't have the answer to."
-Randy Carlyle, on who would have tended goal had Ben Scrivens gotten injured.
+11 – The meaning and value of the statistic is debatable, but after 13 games, Mark Fraser sits tied atop the NHL in the plus-minus category.
Stat Watch II
8 – Games without a point for Mikhail Grabovski. It should be noted that Grabovski plays a very large and important defensive role for the Leafs, charged with facing off against opposing top lines nightly.
Stat Watch III
2 goals, 5 assists - Three-game point streak for Phil Kessel, who is tied atop the Leafs scoring lead alongside Nazem Kadri.
Stat Watch IV
5 assists - Four-game point streak for Cody Franson, who leads the team in scoring from the back-end with eight points.
Stat Watch V
11-11 - The Leafs penalty kill the past three games. After a few stumbles last week, the unit now sits 20th overall with a 79% efficiency mark.
18:11 – Season-high for Fraser.
The Leafs get right back on the road – where they've won six of seven games – visiting the Hurricanes at RBC Center in Carolina on Thursday night.