Not a Bad Way to Go Down
One night the Maple Leafs got the call in overtime against a New York team.
The next game, the New York team got the OT penalty call against the Leafs.
Seems more of the evening out process of a long NHL season - some nights you get the calls, some night the other guys do - than blatant unfairness, and if you think the Leafs lost to the Islanders on Monday night because they were screwed by the officiating staff, you were watching a different game.
The game I saw was highly entertaining, very physical and an intriguing contrast in styles between two teams expected to be also-rans by many this season. The Leafs pushed the play, and the Islanders counter-punched, relying on smart play by their defence to steer away many Leaf attacks and then on Dwayne Roloson to stay in the game against a more aggressive opponent the way the Leafs used to rely on Curtis Joseph during the more successful portions of the Pat Quinn years.
While the Leafs pushed and pushed, they didn't break down defensively, and after giving up only 20 shots are now No. 1 in the league in fewest shots allowed. The Isles didn't get many chances, but they were opportunistic, both on the first period breakdown that left Matt Moulson wide open and in OT when John Tavares took advantage of Brett Lebda's interference penalty to end the game.
Tavares - as if the talented Oakville sniper needs any help - let a wicked shot go that helpfully ricocheted off the body of Leaf defenceman Francois Beauchemin and ended up under the crossbar, a goal-scorer's goal, to be sure.
Should Lebda have been in the box? Well, it wasn't as blatant a foul as Marc Staal's interference penalty Friday night in Manhattan against the Rangers, but it was certainly one all goalies would tell you they'd want made. It was borderline, but Roloson was definitely interfered with, and the call was made. To be honest, I'm always a little surprised when a goalie interference call is made if only because of the extensive interference all goaltenders are subjected to as a matter of routine in today's NHL.
By that point, the Leafs had enjoyed a million chances to win the game in regulation and OT, so putting it all down to a referee's decision on Lebda is silly.
Ron Wilson can rant and rave all he wants, but it appeared both of the goals that were waved off by the officials were done so correctly. The amazing part was that the officials caught Kris Versteeg's high stick even though he barely nudged the puck. Eagle eyes, indeed. If he knocks it down with a high stick first, it doesn't matter if he then shoots it in the net. Whistle is blown.
Any way you cut it, nine of a possible 10 points in the first five games of the season is a start of which Wilson could only have dreamed just a month ago. The lack of offensive finish that so many wondered about showed up against the Isles, or was that Roloson's superb netminding? Some of both, probably.
What mattered the most was that even in defeat the Leafs demonstrated a committment to a solid defensive posture that will stand them in good stead as the season progresses if they can maintain it.