Leafs Fall Victim to Vinny’s Magic

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    This evening’s 3-2 loss was another tough one to swallow for a Maple Leafs team that largely outfought the Tampa Bay Lightning throughout the course of the game. There appeared to be only one real area where the Maple Leafs fell short in this one… star power. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Vincent Lecavalier pulled off a few moments of magic which proved decisive. Backstopped by a stingy Mike Smith, the Lightning were sturdy defensively, but on top of their 39 shots on target, the Leafs missed the 6×4 on an inexcusable 19 occasions (believe it or not, only 2 were off the stick of Jason Blake).

    Unfortunately, sky-high missed shot totals isn’t a new story around these parts. For the last several years, the Maple Leafs have always lacked offensive prowess on paper. An offense-by-committee approach seemed effective, and it was the Leafs’ play on the defensive side of the puck that was their primary shortcoming. But a lot of what was perceived as a team-wide effort was largely the discreet doing of Mats Sundin. Even when Sundin wasn’t scoring goals of his own, he was providing opportunity to not only his line-mates but the forward corps as a whole. The opponents’ defensive focus centered almost entirely around the Big Swede, leaving the supporting cast with more of a lease on life.

    But no use crying over spilled milk, or in this case, dithering, card-playing Swedes. It was another case of the Leafs doing everything but winning. With a limited offensive arsenal, it’s going to take either a heroic effort from Vesa Toskala or a few underproducers to get their names on the score-sheet in order to end up on the winning side of the score-line. Matt Stajan stepped up tonight, but other underachievers (cough, Steen) need to start showing themselves.

    Mike Van Ryn is on an absolute tear as of late (four points in his last four games played). It’s tough to say if Van Ryn is a part of the plans beyond this season, but his stock is certainly rising and, looking back at that McCabe deal, Fletcher is acquiring a rosy aroma. If he’s moved come the trade deadline, Fletcher should be able to recover that fourth round pick and then some. For now, he’s proving a nice Kaberle replacement while the Czech is MIA.

    A thought on Luke Schenn – he seems to have this “it” quality about him. In the few instances that he makes mistakes, he either recovers or a teammate is there to bail him out. Perhaps it’s luck, or maybe it’s awareness. He does opt for wrist shots as opposed to wind-up slappers, which helps limit mistakes in the offensive zone. In any case, he’s the anti-McCabe/Todd Gill /Larry Murphy. This is why I’m not worried about him staying with the big boys (by the way, too many media types seem to believe that Schenn’s development ends as soon as he becomes an official NHL player. It’s simply been deemed – I think rightly – that Schenn’s place for development is at the professional level).

    Some other post-game thoughts:

    *Nik Kulemin still seems lost in the open play. His offensive instincts remain promising and he’s an effective shoot-out tool, but I’m not yet sold on him as a consistent player… obviously, it’s only 9 games in and he’s 22. I’m just saying.

    *The Antropov – Stajan – Ponikarovsky line seems to have been a successful experiment. We’ll have to see where it goes from here, but I’d like to see Steen tried in that center ice position at some point.

    *Mitchell saw increased minutes and really seized the moment this time.

    *Kaberle’s positioning seems to be especially poor at the moment. He was at fault for the first Lecavalier marker. With the play of Van Ryn and the log jam of defenders in the press box, he seems as expendable as ever in my eyes. Probably not Kaberle at this point, but a defenseman simply has to go. The Leafs have three defenseman scratched nightly and Wilson needs a forward spare so he can bench Blake again.

    *One area of very noticeable improvement as of late has been the performance in the face-off circle:
    John Mitchell won 80% of his draws, Jamal Mayers 75%, Dominic Moore 65% (and many of them important), Matt Stajan 50%, Steen 50% and Grabovski 43%.

    *Grabovski’s looking as dangerous as ever offensively, but unfortunately equally as dangerous defensively (-2). He needs especially defensively-conscientious players on his wings it seems.

    *It was another honest effort in which the Leafs refused to quit after going two goals down. I don’t think we can reasonably ask for a whole lot more.