Hurricanes: 4, Leafs: 1 - What Defense?

Poor Mike Kostka never learned to keep his eye on the puck. - John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs dropped a stinker as the Canes came in and showed them what it was to play offense-first, goalie-dependent hockey.

The Leafs outshot the Hurricanes 13-11 at even strength in the first, with a goal coming from Matt Frattin, but the second was all Carolina, 15-4. An even strength goal and a power play goal gave the Canes the lead, and they never looked back - a 5v3 and an even strength goal sealed the game at 4-1. Cam Ward stood on his head more than once to deliver a 41-save win, but the Leafs stopped looking good about midway through the first.

With Carl Gunnarsson out, Jake Gardiner out, and Mike Komisarek out, Mike Kostka racked up 23:22 in TOI and I can't figure out which is worse: his 5:40 of PP time or his 2:39 of PK time. The Leafs' defense is racked by injuries and wasn't good to start with. Mike Kostka dropped to third among defensemen in icetime and Cody Franson saw a full 17:15, but I don't think the Leafs can carry on very long without at least one of their missing defensemen.

In a game where the Leafs controlled the matchups against a good-but-not-great team, Carlyle opted to lean heavily on six forwards that he needs to be as fresh as possible tomorrow. On the first game of a back-to-back, Carlyle played two forward lines 20 minutes. Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, and Nikolai Kulemin all saw 19:44 TOI or higher. The team's leading goal scorer, Nazem "bust" Kadri, saw just 13:29 TOI and the team's only goal scorer, Matt Frattin, played 11:57.

I'm thrilled that the Leafs have built a line of kids and are actively protecting them from tough competition, but at some point it's okay to expose one of the short season's best third lines to more talented players. As an alternative, the Leafs could employ a fourth line that can take a shift's load off the top six and still keep the kids protected. Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren didn't leave the bench from 9:22 through the second to 10:20 in the third. Do they head in to the locker room and think "great job - we made sure that the ferocious Kevin Westgarth was kept in check."? It's one thing to say "it's just the bottom 3, who cares" but when you're working hard to protect 5 players on your team, it's going to have repercussions - especially in a back-to-back.

Thanks to more of the fantastic work Cam Charron is doing, we know that six of the Leafs' twenty chances this game came before the 5:44 mark in the first. Taking your foot off the gas? Or fatigue? I'm not sure we'll ever know, but the Leafs need to play for longer than 10 minutes a game and avoiding things like the 1:44 shift that Kessel/Bozak had in the first is probably a good place to start.

Enough about time on ice. The Leafs' powerplay is atrocious. Kessel gets the puck on the half boards, then tries to walk out in front of the net and take the shot. It's not there. It's never there. They try a little pass to the point, maybe sneak Kostka down to the far half boards - you know, being the offensive threat that he is - but it's just not fooling anyone. The Leafs need to either change the system or experiment with the personnel on the top unit, but the 12.8% effectiveness is not okay.

Reimer looked good, though, so there's that. And hey: maybe management has an eye to next season. Maybe it's just a matter of overplaying certain players, and Kostka is the new Steckel. Doesn't sound awful in a season that's only 48 games long, but maybe it's giving a bit too much credit to certain people. Tomorrow: The Caps.

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