NEW YORK – David Quinn’s pulse quickened each time one of his guilty players glided to the penalty box, and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ superstar-stacked power-play unit hopped the boards to pepper the rookie head coach’s inexperienced second-string goalie with cold, black rubber.
Of the season-high 56 shots the visitors fired toward Alexandar Georgiev’s net, 23 arrived on the Leafs’ four action-packed man-advantages.
The rebuilding Rangers, who slipped out the back door of Madison Square Garden with a 4-1 victory Sunday, only had one power play of their own.
“In a game like this, with that power play, that can make a big difference,” Quinn said.
“It makes my heart race. It makes you say, ‘Don’t take another penalty,’ but that didn’t happen. I think Georgie was feelin’ it right from the get-go.”
Georgiev celebrated his 23rd birthday with the busiest regulation victory (55 saves) by a goaltender in Rangers history.
It should’ve been a b-day spanking for the Bulgarian backup, who stood tall against a 30-11 onslaught of high-danger chances.
“That’s a scary, scary team. They have high-end talent, they can beat you one-on-one, but, boy, I thought we did a good job clearing the net-front out,” Quinn said.
“This is going to sound insane: I thought we actually defended real well tonight. You look at that shot total [56-30], and I look like a complete idiot.”
Join the club.
We all feel like idiots trying to make sense of the ineffectiveness of Toronto’s power play. Three 30-goal centremen, a winger who’s putting up primary assists like Magic Johnson in his prime, and the NHL’s second-highest-scoring defenceman keep drawing blanks.
A quintet that looks so enticing on paper ends up crumpled in a waste basket night after night. It’s a head-scratcher.
During a productive February for Toronto — coming into Manhattan with points in six straight and undefeated in regulation since the Jake Muzzin acquisition — hockey’s most dangerous even-strength team (165 goals) has struggled mightily and curiously 5-on-4.
It’s worsening by the month. The Leafs stormed out with the league’s second-best power play in October (32.3%) and registered the seventh-best in November (24.3%). In December, they were 20th (16.%), January 25th (11.8%), and after another 0-fer, they’re 29th in February (5.6%).
Toronto is a miserable 4-for-43 (9.3 per cent) with the man-advantage since Dec. 20 and had difficulty even gaining the zone during Saturday’s overtime win in Montreal.
Hockey Night in Canada’s cameras caught head coach Mike Babcock and power-play chief Jim Hiller engaged in a heated discussion on their Bell Centre bench as the PP went 0-for-3.
“It wasn’t very good,” Babcock said. “We’ve got five really good players [on the first unit]. Jim does a good job with his scheme. Right now, we’re pressing, and we’re not executing — not on the face-off circle, not on the breakout, not in-zone.”
Hiller led a pre-game meeting Sunday with the power-play group. Everyone aired their suggestions and concerns, got on the same page, and Babcock was pleased with the reset.
“If you think about our group, you’d be excited to play on it. So, get out there and be excited,” said Babcock, encouraged by the overnight improvement.
“It would be pretty hard to look at [Sunday’s] power play and say it wasn’t good. I think it’ll be good for our guys to go through to understand they had good looks and good opportunities.”
He’s not wrong.
But it’s incredible we’ve reached the point where Toronto’s bone-dry power-play is content with moral victories.
“We know how much skill we have in this group. It’s just more about calming down. I think we did that tonight,” Mitch Marner said. “We calmed down when we had the puck in our hands. On the breakouts we calmed down as well. We just read the play a little better. That’s what we’ve got to continue doing on this road trip.”
John Tavares (eight shots, no luck) felt the puck movement was sharper and the cogs were more in sync.
“With the skill we have, we expect to score on at least one of those chances if not more,” Tavares said. “I mean, 55 saves, I don’t think there’s really much else to be said. We did a lot. We just didn’t finish our chances.”
The Maple Leafs threw everything they could get their sticks on Sunday and only once could solve Georgiev, a wise starter choice by Quinn considering Henrik Lundqvist’s career save percentage (.897) versus Toronto is worse than against any other opponent in the East.
As was the case Saturday in Montreal, the Maple Leafs dug themselves a hole in the first shift of the game.
Kasperi Kapanen tied the game when he picked off a brutal cross-ice pass by Rangers defenceman Tony DeAngelo and burst 120 feet up the gut, beating Georgiev post-and-in on a night where only the perfect puck could solve the kid.
“Lately it hasn’t been bouncing my way so I just kind of thought I’d shoot blocker side as hard as I can,” Kapanen said. “Thankfully, it went in.”
Jimmy Vesey restored the Rangers’ lead off a lovely rush, and Georgiev did the rest.
“Their goaltender stole the show,” Kadri shrugged, after a personal 12-shot performance. “I’m just gonna keep shooting ’em, and hopefully they fall when it really counts.”
Rangers D-man Adam McQuaid added a third-period insurance goal, and Kevin Hayes iced it with an empty-netter.
With four games remaining on this, their longest road trip of the season, the Maple Leafs travel to Denver ahead of Tuesday’s game versus the Avalanche.
A fine time for Toronto’s painfully debated special teams to start acting, well, special.