[Note: I didn't put up a poll for player of the game but if someone can make a case for a player actually deserving it then put it in the comments. Otherwise, "No One Worthy" is going to jump into a tie for the lead]
Last night the Leafs entered the latest installment of the Battle of Ontario while trying to reintegrate two of its top six forwards while missing another key cog in the offence and were playing with two, if not three, defencemen that would not be in the lineup if it wasn't for injuries. On the other side the senators, last year's Stanley Cup finalists, not only entered the game on a seven game winning streak and proud owners of a 12-1 record but they also boasted a completely healthy roster save for Jason Spezza.
Somehow, people are actually shocked that the Leafs lost. Of course most of those people are in the media as they avoid simple logic as they craft ridiculous attacks. Aside from injuries, which is never an acceptable excuse for the Leafs, they do not even make such a simple calculation as David Johnson's which shows that the Leafs had the hardest schedule as of Tuesday morning.
Detractors of the Leafs will be quick to dismiss injuries as a culprit but one only has to look at the Leafs' powerplay. Before Wellwood went down with injury last season the team's top unit of Sundin, Tucker, Wellwood, Kaberle, and McCabe was consistently ranked in the top 5 in the league. Three of that quintet have missed a significant amount of time this year and it shows as the Leafs' powerplay has gone from lethal to middling to masochistic as it has now given up a league-high five shorthanded goals.
The most glaring aspect of the team's loss was the manner in which three 2-on-1s were so horrifically played by Mssrs. Ian White, Andy Wozniewski, and Anton Stralman. Note that those three would ordinarily not have been in the lineup if not for injuries to McCabe, Colaiacovo, and the puzzling absence of Staffan Kronwall. Stralman gets a free past because he is a rookie and the way he tried to play it might work at a lower level than the NHL but at the speed at which the sens play the game you cannot try to shut down the puck carrier and still make it across to interfere with the other player if the pass makes it past you.
As for Ian White and Andy Wozniewski I wonder whether they have ever been taught how to properly play a 2-on-1 because I forget being told that flopping right in-between the opposition's players and neither stopping the pass nor disrupting the shot was the proper protocol. Can anyone enlighten me if they have ever learned anything other than 'take away the pass and let the goalie handle the shooter'? On both goals they overcommitted, took themselves out of the play by flopping to the ice and then watched as the sens scored easy tap-ins. Vesa Toskala IS the solution to the Leafs' goaltending problems but he won't be stopping the kinds of gimmes that the Leafs gave up last night.
Now, I don't know how the Head Coach/Assistant Coach dynamic plays out but I assume that it involves a fair amount of delegation. That would mean that one of these three men - Randy Ladouceur, Dallas Eakins, and Keith Acton - is responsible for the defence and he is failing terribly. So either whichever assistant that is in charge is let go before he irreparably harms the development of Stralman and costs the team the season or the blame lies with Maurice and Leafs fans are stuck wondering if they too could pinch irresponsibly and watch the other team score pretty goals for less than what the incumbents are receiving. Either way, changes are necessary:
Toronto has always had an offensive slant to its game. But we have to break this cycle of playing (sub-par) defensively and scoring enough goals. Defensive pinching is something we'll squeeze from our game.
Ian White and Andy Wozniewski, consider yourselves on notice.
The bright spots on the night were the returning Kyle Wellwood and the debuting Mark Bell. The Windsor Wizard's hands and trickery belied the fact that it was his first game. He was shifty and creative and a change of pace from what the rest of the Leafs' lineup offers. Mark Bell was rambunctious, unafraid to use his size, and ornery. Since Pat Quinn has left the Leafs have slowly become soft. A friend of my repeatedly emphasised this to me last year and this year I have to reluctantly agree. In the past a loss like this to Ottawa would have resulted in the Leafs' physically punishing the senators for having the audacity to beat God's Team. Mark Bell was a throwback to that team and he did it cleanly which was good to see. If he can give the Leafs a little more sandpaper it'll be a good start to his tenure with the team.
The Other End of the Rink
- Sherry, Scarlett Ice
Four minutes into the game, and the Senators had already lit-up Vesa Toskala twice thanks to goals from Chris Phillips and Patrick Eaves. The Senators got goals from 5 different shooters tonight. And who said we didn't have secondary scoring? (Granted that would have been helpful in June, but I digress...)