To begin this seventh week of STAT BOX STORIES action, I decided to set up a NHL 12 match-up between two Canadian franchises; one, the Vancouver Canucks, who were the most recent team from north of the border to have a chance at raising Lord Stanley’s Cup, and the second, the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the Original Six teams which has fallen on hard times as of late trying to compete in the Eastern Conference. Though the Leafs are back into the mix this season so far—trailing only the Bruins in the Northeast Division—they face a decent ratings deficit in the game this year compared to the reigning Western Conference Champions.
In this battle of teams in second place in the Northeast and Northwest Divisions this season, I decided to control the home team Maple Leafs trying to establish themselves among the Canadian hockey fanbase as a legitimate threat to surprise in the playoffs this season.
Despite the one-sided final score in this game—and the severely one-sided shots on goal through the first two periods—the game ended up being closer than anyone would’ve have thought at the second intermission.
Just over two minutes passed in the first period before the scoring began; Tyler Bozak was able to split the defense as he broke into Vancouver’s zone and snapped a shot past Roberto Luongo to open up the scoring. For the rest of the period, very little happened; Toronto out-shot Vancouver 5-to-1 in the first 20 minutes, but no further scoring occurred and no penalties were called.
In the second period, the Maple Leafs again managed a 5-to-1 advantage in shots on goal. Though it took five-and-a-half minutes into the middle frame, Nikolai Kulemin’s solid deke of Luongo put Toronto up by a 2-0 margin on the power play after Vancouver’s David Booth was called for slashing. Just over two minutes later, defenseman John-Michael Liles took aim from the point and buried a slap shot just under the crossbar to put the score at 3-0 and threaten the blowout.
After the two teams combined for only 12 shots over the first two periods, the third period saw a dramatic increase in scoring opportunities. Vancouver exploded for 14 shots—seven times what they mustered through the opening 40 minutes—while Toronto was nearly as proficient with 13 shots on goal. Despite the number of shots taken, little happened until 13 minutes passed in the period; Toronto’s Luke Schenn was given a 5-minute Major and Game Misconduct for Checking from Behind on a hard hit behind the net, gifting Vancouver a man advantage which would run for the entire duration.
One minute later, Christopher Higgins netted a power play goal for the Canucks and the score was suddenly 3-1; still a comfortable advantage, but less so than before. Two minutes after that, Ryan Kesler converted a masterful one-timer shot for the Canucks’ second goal of the power play and a sudden 3-2 score. After dominating the run of play for much of the game, I was beginning to lose my grip on what should have been a certain win in the waning moments of the contest.
Only 24 seconds later, however, Philippe Dupuis broke loose on a short-handed breakaway opportunity and deked Luongo to re-establish a two-goal advantage for the Maple Leafs and take the air out of Vancouver’s comeback. The scoring of the game was completed with a Phil Kessel shot into the empty net with only 6 seconds remaining, finishing up the 5-2 victory for Toronto.
Statistically, the final team shots on goal—only a 23-16 advantage for Toronto—betrays just how one-sided the game began. The Time on Attack is a much better representation of the Maple Leafs’ grip on the game, as they were in Vancouver’s zone for 7:54 compared to the 2:23 spent by the Canucks in Toronto’s end. Though Vancouver took fewer penalty minutes—Toronto being charged a total of 15 between the Major and the Game Misconduct—each team converted power play opportunities.
Finally, the three Stars of the Game came down to the goal-scorers for Toronto who also managed assists: Liles, Kessel, and Kulemin. Clarke MacArthur of the Leafs also managed a multiple-point game with assists on both of the second period tallies for Toronto, keeping him in the running but just out of the final game stars listing.
All in all, I was happy with my defensive effort in terms of keeping the CPU’s offense quiet for the early moments of the game for the second week in a row; last week, I managed to get through the first period without allowing a shot, while this week the CPU managed only two through the first two periods. However, my decision to put a questionable check on a Canucks player in the latter moments of the third period nearly cost me the game as Vancouver was able to take five minutes of guaranteed power play time to put two goals on the board. After weathering that shellshock, my ability to come back and put more goals in on Luongo helped me feel better about that final frame overall. Next week, I’ll be looking for an even more consistent effort as I try to play strong for the full 60 minutes.
That wraps up today’s entry for STAT BOX STORIES; be sure to come back tomorrow for a FIFA 12 showdown on the pitch as Aston Villa hosts Liverpool!