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Maple Leafs 2 v. Penguins 5: Mental Shortcomings Exposed

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For whatever reason, the Penguins looked downright lousy last year vs. Toronto, losing their last three meetings, including the final one that resulted in Michel Therrien’s firing.

- Tony, The Confluence

It's certainly not rocket science to figure out why the Maple Leafs won three of four games against the Penguins last year. Last year they outworked the Penguins all over the ice for 60 minutes. Last night, they'd have been lucky to have been considered on top of the game for 6 minutes. The fact that they weren't able to dominate the defending Stanley Cup champions - a team that's only lost 15 games in their last 50 (a .700 win percentage) - should not come as a shock to anyone with half of a clue but the way in which they lost most certainly was considering the kind of coach Ron Wilson professes to be.

I am not sure what the most painful aspect of this loss was: the uneven performance, the numerous mental errors, Toskala's continued inability to venture outside of the blue ice, or the 3 hours I spent dreaming of seeing Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson on the ice.

The less said about the first period the better but then I would have to apply that to the rest of the game and this recap would meet an early demise. It's not so much that the Leafs only got two shots - that's always a fun thing to see - because the Leafs have done the same to other teams but that that kind of effort could come after three days of practice. Actually, the entire game was stunning considering the Leafs just spent three full days learning that the effort they put forth against the senators was in no way acceptable. Three days were spent drilling into the players' heads that:

  1. We don't carry the puck into the middle of the ice (Jason Blake - 1-0 Pens)
  2. We stop dump-ins and don't sit on our goal-lines on shots from the point (Vesa Toskala - 2-0 Pens)
  3. When you go to the net good things happen. (Jay Rosehill - 2-1 Pens)
  4. When your team has just cut the lead t one goal because your fourth-liner got his first career goal don't go take the dumbest of penalties.
  5. If one player is watching Malkin circle the zone we don't need two more to help him watch.
  6. Also, just because Crosby goes behind the net doesn't make him invisible. (Every Leaf on the ice - 3-1 Pens)
  7. Again, just because Crosby goes behind the net doesn't make him invisible. Also, don't fear the white ice. (Vesa and the PKers - 4-1)
  8. When you shoot low and go to the net good things happen. (Niklas Hagman - 4-2)
  9. If we've just scored it makes sense to not gift a goal as soon as possible.
  10. Don't make soft passes that are easily picked off.
  11. One more time, the white ice isn't white lava. (Mitchell and Vesa - Pens 5-2)

Now, some of those things can be fixed by buying one player on the team a TTC pass and a giving him a note that reads "502 - Exhibition" so that he knows how to get to his new home. The others can hopefully come from greater familiarity with each other. The compressed and busy exhibition schedule did no favour to the Maple Leafs' attempts to create some semblance of offensive chemistry or the greenshoots of understanding among the defence. What won't come is a sense of urgency among the players.

Burke spoke about not being afraid to send excess salary to the Marlies and seeing Bozak, Hanson, and Gunnarsson head down there caused some consternation among the faithful. I made the argument that it gave the Leafs real depth for the inevitable injury crisis because veterans on the Marlies have to come up through re-call waivers while the kids are waiver-exempt but if Burke wants to send the message that no one's position is safe he'd send Toskala down as soon as Gustavsson is healthy for a conditioning stint. That allows for Vesa and MacDonald to swap spots without having to go through waivers. It'll allow Vesa to continue trying to work out the numerous holes in his game while showing that the Leafs are actually willing to dump non-performers.

It's not time to start summary executions yet but more performances like this will get the Fire Ron Wilson crowd (current membership: Bruce "Malkin to the Kings" Garrioch, Damien Cox, and FireRonWilson) murmuring louder and louder. Burke will definitely make some changes before it comes to that because he's been pretty clear on the fact that he's still not comfortable with the make up of the team. I wonder how many more listless performances it will take though...

ps. One Final Note - I think we can all agree that Scott Hartnell's a piece of shit for biting Kris Letang but Don Cherry makes a good point about putting your stanky glove in another player's mouth. Also, I hope Letang is able to remove the sand from his vital areas after the disgusting embellishment after Rosehill tapped him in the stomach with his stick.