The Leafs lost to Boston 4-1 last night, and really, there was a certain feeling of inevitability and familiarity to it: the Leafs - all of them - looked pretty bad, despite playing a Bruins team that's scrounging to find players they can call "defensemen," after losing Chara and Miller to injuries. Here's the game in six:
The funny thing is that the first few minutes actually looked pretty good. David Clarkson had a nice centering pass to Tyler Bozak on an early power play, then laid a big, shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Adam McQuaid that got a penalty after McQuaid ended up falling into the boards. Carl Soderberg scored on the ensuing power play after the puck took a couple of weird bounces, but that PK didn't look awful. Then Clarkson took a slightly more earned hooking penalty, although it was clear to see Matt Bartkowski's arm was pinning the stick in. Smart play by Bartkowski, but the league really should find a way to deal with that kind of embellishment (as in: if a hooking player releases his stick and it stays under the guy's armpit, there should be a holding the stick penalty instead).
And then...the floodgates opened on the second power play. 8 shot attempts in two minutes, and the Bruins pulled away from the Leafs for the night. David Krejci got a small 2-on-1 going against Dion Phaneuf by getting the sharper angle against Phil Kessel's backcheck (Phaneuf was smart to play the pass there, but needed to get to the puck or tie up/lay Krejci out after Bernier made the initial save). Phaneuf was a bit more villain than victim on the third goal against, when he starts puck watching and Gregory Campbell gets open in front of the net. Jake Gardiner gets beat in a footrace on the final goal. Richard Panik's garbage time goal was a great centering pass by Nazem Kadri and a great job by Panik to elevate the puck while in close.
A couple of people described the Leafs' issue as not trying/showing up, or a failure of the roster, and I don't think it's that, so much as it's exactly what we've known for a good two years: the Bruins outcoach the Leafs. The Leafs play an un-thinking game, and a boring breakout (save exclusively for Gardiner/Rielly jumping up into the play). Boston's neutral zone game is simply to put one man at the center of the Leafs' blue line, challenging the puck carrier, then one man along the puck-side boards at the red line, and then one guy near the middle of the Bruins' blue line. Active sticks smother the breakout, and it's insane that the Leafs couldn't compensate. It stifled the breakout effectively and led to a lot of offensive zone time to Boston. The same as it ever was.
Morgan Rielly's zone entry at ~2:22 in the game in six is a good example of the Bruins' setup that stifles a lot of passing and carrying options. It's also a good example of Rielly using speed and skill to get around it (he generated some good opportunities through the game, but failed to really capitalize). Yes, it would be good if the Leafs' players were creative enough to get past this setup every time, but when it's a systemic issue affecting every Leaf line, the coaching needs to get involved.
The Leafs didn't lose because of their roster - just like they didn't lose because of the roster prior to the overhaul in 2013. Boston is 23-5-4 against the Leafs, and has certainly had a better roster for most, if not all of it, but the Leafs continue to look like a team that can't get out of their own zone and can't set up time in the offensive zone. That's a problem.
The Leafs will visit Buffalo on Tuesday - Buffalo just beat the Sharks, so who knows what can happen. Oh, and if you didn't see the opening HNIC tribute or the pre-game ceremony dedicated to Cpl Cirillo and warrant officer Patrice Vincent, you should definitely look them up. Very well done.