This post is long and covers all five games of the current Leafs slide which, coincidentally, also covers my delinquent posting period. By making this long post I hope to appease the hockey blogging gods and deliver the Leafs a win because fans influence the team! These games and my rollercoaster of emotions nicely fit into the 5 Stages of Depression which are really the 5 Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News. While that article says that you cannot work through it in 5 stages 5 games fit into 5 stages too easily for me to quibble. The catastrophic news in this case is that the Leafs are flawed. To the snickerers from the invincible sens or 2007 Stanley Cup Champs Sabres or the CHeaters (this will be explained later) I knew that they were flawed before the season started so are your teams. I just realized the extent to which they need help over the last fortnight.
Denial - Game Recap Saturday November 25, 2006: Leafs 1 v. Bruins 3
Anger - Game Recap Tuesday November 28, 2006: Leafs 1 v. Bruins 4
Note: I wrote most of this section last Wednesday. You will notice that it flows quickly from Denial to Anger.
I thought that the previous Bruins-Leafs game was brutal but these two made me want to throw in the towel. It was not that the Leafs played badly because for the most part they carried the play, especially in the second game where they made it their mission to hit anything clad in yellow and gold. Rather, it was the Bruins mind-numbing tactics that were supposed to go the way of the dinosaur post-lockout that left a bad taste in my mouth.
The Bruins showed that New Jersey does not hold a monopoly on stultifying hockey. Since the Bruins slow start was attributed to trying to play hockey Boston's coach Dave Lewis decided to adopt the tactics of the team's that ousted his talented Red Wings from the playoffs and cost him his cushier job.
Winners of 7 of their last 9 and one of the few teams to shut down the Leafs' high powered offence, the Bruins have shown that they are adept at the tactic of the perenially underskilled: preventing hockey from breaking out. Like the relegation fighters in soccer that park 11 men behind the ball the Bruins strive to eliminate all but the tightest passing and shooting lanes. Sadly, the Leafs do not have enough top-end skill players to be able to exploit their minute angles.
As if to enrage me as much as possible, the Leafs were in control of the second game until Hal Gill decided that playing a two-on-two didn't make sense unless he was flying over to the puck carrier thereby leaving Glen Murray wide open to blast a slapshot over Raycroft's glove. To the idiots (Marc Savard) that advocate going high as the solution to beating Raycroft: He is a butterfly goalie. That is the solution to beating all of them. Needless to say, I moved quickly to Bargaining.
Bargaining - Game Recap Thursday November 30, 2006: Leafs 0 v. Thrashers 5
At this stage I was bargaining with the Hockey Gods for a single freaking goal. The game was there for the taking for the first two periods. This was a team that the Leafs had beaten in 8 straight games over three years. This was a team that features one of the highest scoring offences in the NHL and yet was held to 2 goals or fewer in each of those games. Surely if the Hockey Gods could give them one goal the boys in blue could do the rest?
Bargain denied. Instead, the Leafs were given more mental errors that led to more opposition goals. As soon as Hossa scored early in the third I knew that the game was done. The Leafs offence again showed no signs of life and was never really threatening aside from two gilt-edged chances by Jeff O'Neill. As soon as he missed both I knew that my entreaties would be tossed aside.
Depression - Game Recap Saturday December 2, 2006: Leafs 3 v. CHeaters 4 (SO)
The link for the game is currently unavailable.
This game could have gone so differently. The Leafs have had the CHeaters number this year in terms of performance and on the balance of play this game was no different. The Leafs dominated most of the game and were once again stymied by a hot goalie. Mats Sundin seemed to put the Leafs in the driver's seat with a Henri Richard-like goal (CHeaters fans know the goal, 1971 finals against the Hawks). Unfortunately, the Leafs habit of not stepping on the opposition's throat reared it's ugly head once more.
While I was in the car I learned that Ian White's panicky throw the puck away when pressured move had morphed into throw the puck over the boards and get a penalty. I have always liked this rule, mostly because it got Sabres fans all riled up after the Canes eliminated them. The fact that it led to my team's downfall led to more depression. Of course, once it went to a shootout I knew that the Habs would win even if they scraped the ice properly (which they didn't during the October 28 shootout) which they didn't again. Hence, the CH on the front of the shirt apparently now stands for CHeaters.
While the first incident was mentioned by the Leafs it didn't really get picked up by the media. This one did. Can you guess why? Because the Leafs lost so papers could run with their "Leafs are whiners" story angles when a quick glance at the highlights from that October game would have shown the detour that the Montreal Zamboni driver took when he got to the slot in from of the Habs net.
Also, Bouillon's punch to Darcy Tucker's face was dirty. CHeaters' fans can spin it any way they want but it was dirty. Tucker's hit was borderline because Bouillon was off-balance but it was not from behind as some have alleged (including the man himself). Sure, Tucker should have dropped the gloves and fought Bouillon instead of shoving him but Tucker didn't punch him in the face (the video shows this, why do people lie about what they saw?) and Bouillon gave him a punch much dirtier than the soft cross-check that got Kubina suspended for the first game of the year but apparently the league doesn't hand out suspensions anymore.
This is PPP's feeling of depression.
Acceptance - Game Recap Tuesday December 5, 2006: Leafs 2 v. Thrashers 5
At no point past the first period did I believe that the Leafs would win. When Tucker potted his league leading 12th powerplay goal (not as easy as some fans think) I cheered. When Peca slotted a sick wrist shot past Hedberg I felt my depression ease. Turns out that I was headed to the acceptance phase.
As the Thrashers were gifted powerplay after powerplay I knew it was just a matter of time before they got a goal and I knew it would be the end for the Leafs. Obviously, you will have to take my word for it but I have no reason to lie. Much like the sens game last night against the Caps there were three straight Revlon calls against the Leafs. I'll write more about how stupid some of the penalties are but needless to say I was trying not to swear out loud.
Once that first goal was scored on the Leafs you could see that they had accepted their fate as well. It was just a matter of time before the mental errors that had been avoided arose once again. Ian White picked up two DoG penalties on his throw the puck over the boards play. After the third one I thought he might cry. Man up buddy and take an extra stride to control the puck and TAKE THE DAMN HIT! Alex Steen wasted what looked to be one of his best overall games (defensively he has been great this year, offensively he has been offensive) by shying away from a hit in what turned out to be the first act in a Keystone Kops routine that led to the winning goal. Ian White then tried to pick the puck out of his skates to try to start a rush the other way instead of barging in and gaining possession. This let Metropolit (T.O. native killing the Leafs. Sound familiar?) gain the puck and get it out front to a lonely Kozlov who was alone because Hal Gill inexplicably found himself behind the net. White finished the play off with a diving deflection that turned an imminent Raycroft save into a goal. Oh, and Hossa somehow got a breakaway while the Leafs took a nap. Dammit.
Well, I hope this little journey serves as a suitable penance for the Hockey Gods. My boy Antro is out for 3-4 weeks, Carlo is on the way back, and Aubin is in net. Tonight is as good a night as any to get going. Go Leafs!
Update: I forgot to add that the catastrophic news that I received during this journey is that the Leafs are a fatally flawed team that needs to play both hard and mistake-free hockey. They have shown that they CAN do this but I've learned that they only do it when it pleases them.