Why would opposition fans hate the Leafs? They are the perfect tonic for any struggling team since they inevitably lose games against supposedly inferior opponents as was the case last night. Just to make things fun for Leafs fans they also found a new way to lose the game. Just kidding, it's only new in terms of this season, in terms of the post-lockout NHL it's par for the course for the Leafs to lose in a shootout.
The Leafs found a way to make a team that was 1-7 look like world beaters and they needed a somewhat controversial equaliser (at least if you asked Hedberg: Beware of Moose) with 10 seconds left to send the game to overtime. Strong individual performances continue to accumulate this year as Sundin is now the league leader in points, Antropov continued his long season, Jason Blake is a sparkplug who is fitting in well with Sundin, and Gamache has been a revelation.
Unfortunately, you'll notice that there are no defencemen in that list. As a group they have been atrocious but as individuals they have not been much better. Last night they showed some flashes of actual communication and organization which is mind-boggling. Good defence, much as in the NBA, is dependent on proper rotation, identification of scoring threats, and VERBAL COMMUNICATION. Not enough is made of how the forwards and defence are apparently on completely different wavelengths. The fourth Thrashers' goal came because White ran from his man to try to cover a player that Jason Blake already had under control. Blake peeled off thinking White had him and then when the puck went back to White's original man he predictably chased the disc and left his man alone at the side of the net for an easy tap-in. Bitter Leaf came up with an inspired solution to the Leafs' defensive woes.
Anton Stralman made his debut which hopefully spells the end of Wozniewski. I can only hope that Carlo's returns end White's run as an NHL defenceman. Stralman looked more confident as the game went on. He made some errors but unlike Woz he had the speed and brains to recover quickly.
The sad thing is that the game started so well. Mats scored 13 seconds into the game and the Leafs looked to be rolling. Of course they quickly got into penalty trouble and fell behind Atlanta. As an aside, how come "No Tolerance" in every walk of life quickly descends into "No Common Sense"? If a player touches another with his stick but there is no hinderance at all then why would that be a penalty?
Anway, Hal Gill then decided that since the team already had 5 offensive defencemen he might as well make it an even half dozen as he socred the Leafs second after jumping on a giveaway and ripping a slapshot past Hedberg. You can't hope to stop Hal Gill, just contain him.
Fun Fact: The number 29 PP (Toronto's) faced the number 29 PK (Atlanta's) and the PP actually got a chance because by some miracle the referees found some infractions AGAINST the Leafs that they could call. Mostly the powerplays were useless probably because the Leafs were so out of practice but then three quick passes by Kaberle, Sundin, and Antropov released Blake down the wing. He cut in, was stopped, and Antro popped home the loose puck. Are they sandbagging? Why wouldn't they do this more often?
The shootout went about as expected in that the Leafs lost. Antro continued being awesome and scored, Mats was tackled by Hedberg and missed because apparently open-ice tackles are completely acceptable, and Blake showed the lack of confidence by doing a lazy deke. Toskala showed that maybe it's the Leafs' jersey that makes goalies bad at shootouts as both Kozlov and Kovalchuk toyed with him before scoring.
The Leafs next game is Thursday night against the Penguins. What a great team to face when you can't play defence.
The Other End of the Rink
- The Falconer, Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?
The Thrashers - Maple Leafs game last night was like getting in a time machine and watching a game from the late 1980s. There were multiple end-to-end rushes. A stand up goaltender. Some bad goals, some spectacular "oh my god, how did he keep that out of the net" saves. Defensemen pinching up to join the rush and odd man breaks throughout the game. The outcome see-sawed back and forth until the very end when it was decided by the final shooter in the shoot out. If every hockey game was this much fun to watch they could double the price of tickets and still sell out the place. It felt like my heart was in my throat the whole game.