Guys, I got power play time! Did you see me out there? - Bruce Bennett
The Toronto Maple Leafs' personnel choices put them down 2-1, but the goons got benched and the skill players stormed back to win 4-2.
The Leafs opened the scoring on a centering pass by Nazem Kadri that ricocheted off the inside of Johan Hedberg's stick and through the five-hole. The Devils responded with a pair of Marek Zidlicky goals, one on blown in-zone coverage by the fourth line, and one after a 2-on-1 following a Frazer McLaren giveaway at the offensive blueline. The Leafs looked much, much better in the third, as Jay McClement forced a turnover in the offensive zone, then back handed it short side on Hedberg. Clarke MacArthur scored a goal five-hole on Hedberg when he was left all alone in front of the net on the power play, and Phil Kessel iced the game on a 2v1 with James van Riemsdyk. This game in six has some great highlights:
The Leafs got outshot 28 to 18 at even strength, which doesn't even include the two sick post shots, so we have to talk about Reimer. He had a phenomenal game, only getting scored on when he was screened by half the team, or when he was hung out to dry on a 2v1. That save at 4:38. Oh my lateral movement. Last night's game only got fun to watch in the third. The team looked slow in the first two periods and the Devils were taking advantage. James Reimer, quite simply, won the team a game last night.
Nazem Kadri continues to look like a creative, high-skill player. I love his chemistry with MacArthur, who also had a strong game (It was also revealed during the broadcast last night that MacArthur may have come back from his finger injury a little too quickly). Watch that pass at 3:50 in the Game In Six. I'm in love with it. The Kadri-to-MacArthur connection on his power play goal highlighted the Devils' terrible defense, as MacArthur was left all alone for two quick stuff attempts.
Now, as a fan, I love any game where the Leafs come away with two points, especially as the Devils would have passed the Leafs in the standings if they had won, and focusing on the great play mentioned above is fun and important. But I also think games like last night's are a great, great example of why the phrase "judge the process, not the results" is relevant in the sport of hockey. I mean, which one of those goals made you think "Johan Hedberg: NHL Goaltender"? Three 5-hole goals and a short side tally? It's like a Vesa Toskala hat trick with a Jonas kicker. And just like you wouldn't try compliment Andrew Raycroft for his win totals, it doesn't make sense to say "Carlyle's winning, so why criticize?" or "A win's a win."
So I'm going to talk about usage for a second. Of all forwards in the NHL with more than 10 games played, the Leafs currently have the two lowest (one of which was Brown), and four of the lowest 16 players in even strength time on ice. On the other end of the ice, the Leafs' top line of JVR, Bozak, and Kessel, are all in the top 25 in ES TOI (JVR is likely at 25 because of the games where Lupul had the top line spot). What does this mean? The Toronto Maple Leafs are basically playing hockey with 9 forwards, while the rest of the league is playing with 12.
I fail to understand how Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren are helping this team by taking up a roster slot. Meanwhile, Jay McClement, who has spent time on our fourth line this season, scored a goal last night. Carlyle's personnel decisions are hobbling this team. They were directly responsible for two goals last night, once when the wingers failed to cover the pinching Zidlicky, who got all the way to the faceoff dot before getting a stick waved at him, and by truning over the puck at the blue line. It's appalling how badly we need to shelter them - I'm not even sure why they went out for a defensive zone faceoff after Kadri's line had a 14 second shift (a guess: Carlyle wanted Steckel taking the draw rather than Kadri). The team is better when the fourth line is stapled to the bench. Better players get the OZone starts, better players take the faceoffs, better players put up points.
Before last night's game, Grabovski was listed as the 40th highest forward in the NHL for ES TOI/60. After last night he dropped to 48th, for reasons that I don't quite understand, despite the Leafs rolling just three lines. 8 teams have no forwards with more ES TOI/60 than Grabovski (CBJ, MTL, DET, OTT, PHI, PHX, and SJS - NYR is the only team with more players in the top 50, at 5, with WPG and NYI tying at 4). So his point production is down largely not for any ES TOI cut - in fact, he's only down 18.6 seconds in ES TOI/GP, on average, although he only played 13 minutes in all situations last night - but because of his defensive deployment.
I love the idea of having an effective shut down line with ugly O-zone starts, but Grabovski and the top three are being relied on too heavily at even strength because the Leafs don't have a second shutdown line, since the fourth line is completely inept at hockey and requires even more than the 65% OZone starts they're getting.
Right now, the Leafs are being propelled by the phenomenal play of Kadri and Reimer. I hope it continues, but it shouldn't mean that Carlyle is immune from criticism. In fact, it should probably be a mark against him - and I didn't even mention the defense. #FreeGrabbo