Well, that sucked. Tough end to the game and it highlights just how focused the Leafs have to be to beat one of the top teams in the East. The second goal came when Wallin let McAmmond walk past him and Schenn couldn't catch him. The third goal came after the Leafs got swamped and Poni took a good penalty. The Devils passing was good but Gustavsson kneeled on his way from post-to-post. I noticed him do it a few times before and it was just enough to let the shot through. The Leafs had a chance to clear the zone and it just got stopped by Ilya Kovalchuk.
On the fourth goal the Leafs again lost a battle against the boards. The initial shot was screened and going back across Gustavsson's body so I hesitate to blame him for the rebound. Lee Stempniak didn't cover his man and there's the game. The sad part is that the Leafs wasted 56 minutes worth of good hockey. Even when the Devils were pressing to start the third period they seemed much more in control. Not to mention, Rickard Wallin's goal now comes in a losing cause when it could have been the winner.
We'll see how the team reacts tomorrow night. That will play a big part in how I feel about this game. Right now, I think that there are enough young players here that you can look at the first 56 minutes and think that they are learning something. But if they come out flat tomorrow night it's much harder to cushion the blow.
Some quick thoughts because, having written this part after the jump at 130am, frankly it's hard to get too worked up right now about the mistakes that the Leafs made at the end of the game.
Corsi - Once again, the Leafs were hammered at even strength. In fact, the only player that has a positive rating was Dion Phaneuf. He also played over 27 minutes and finished even on the night.
EV Face-Offs - Luke Schenn and Francois Beauchemin were Ron Wilson's go-to pairing for defensive zone face-offs.
Shift Charts - It is hard not to lay a portion of the blame on Ron Wilson. Frustratingly, after the tying goal he did not call a timeout. One of the big complaints about Paul Maurice was how often he'd sit and watch his team lose control of the game without trying to break up the opposition's momentum.
After the tying goal Wilson ran out the following players: Alexei Ponikarovsky, Carl Gunnarsson, Luke Schenn, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak. I was going to criticise those choices but he put out 4 of his top 7 plus-minus players. Tyler Bozak was the only centre on the positive side of the face-off ledger (56%) and Phil Kessel who had two assists on the night and was even. I initially thought about Fredrik Sjostrom as an alternat to Kessel but he had just been killing the penalty. That's where the timeout would have come in handy.
However, on the bright side, four of those players were under 24 years of age ( Schenn 20, Gunnarsson 23, Bozak 23, Kessel 22) and represent the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were being put in that situation to learn how to handle it. Player development is one of the principal goals of this season. Players will not learn in one game. They need to repeatedly be exposed to a variety of pressure situations so that they learn how to handle them. Of those four, Gunnarsson and Bozak have played fewer than 30 NHL games while Luke Schenn is just in his second year and Phil Kessel is the only one with any real experience. This was always going to be the case. Even if the Leafs decided to keep all of their picks and tank for a few years the players drafted would need to learn how to handle these situations. Let's keep that in mind. Now, if they are making the same mistakes next February or the February after then we've got some serious problems. Until then, remember that this is all part of the process.