A combination of terrible goaltending and suspect defensive coverage undid the Maple Leafs tonight as they sat on an early 3-0 lead thinking they would ride it to the finish line, failing to take into the account the fact that, with a goaltender that’s seriously struggling between the pipes, leads can disappear on the turn of a dime, let alone over the course of 40 minutes. The end result is one which will please neither side of tanking/playoff spectrum.
I’m unfortunately going to come out with the following proclamation after observing the Finn flop his way through the final two periods tonight: Vesa Toskala has lost it. The Kovalchuk goal wasn’t his fault, and the Bryan Little goal was somewhat forgivable, but the following two were beyond the pale. On the tying goal with five minutes to go in the third, Ian White had forced Rich Peverley to the outside and there was absolutely no reason for Toskala to go chasing him down. In stark contrast, in a very similar situation in which Alexei Ponikarovsky slid the puck out front to Matt Stajan, Kari Lehtonen reacted perfectly and shut down Stajan in the goalmouth. If that were Toskala, he would’ve been sprawling into the corner. There were two lapses that led to Peverley’s overtime goal, one of which was Ian White ala last season chasing down the puck carrier instead of marking the incoming forward on his side, the other was Toskala’s ugly rebound.
Justin Pogge’s been very hot as of late since returning to the Toronto Marlies from his brief stint with the Maple Leafs (5-2-0, 1.64 GAA, .934 SV% in 7 GP). Perhaps the Leafs are best to leave Toskala between the posts as we near the trade deadline so that Brian Burke can continue to work at maximizing the return in a potential deal. As Gus suggests, his trade value is unlikely to be diminished in what has been a designated re-building year in T.O. There isn’t a viable option to finish out the year currently occupying the end of the Leafs’ bench. It’s time to re-insert Pogge into the crease for a good string of starts for a true evaluation determining whether or not he’s going to be the Leafs’ man… one thing now seems for certain, Vesa Toskala isn’t.
How about that Rich Peverley? Hat-tip to Gus Katsaros who suggested the Leafs should’ve looked into him when he was up for grabs on waivers. It seems to me that in a re-building stage there’s absolutely no reason not to take up that type of possibility.
In addition to White, Tomas Kaberle struggled mightily on the defensive size of the puck, as he cavalierly made his way back into the defensive zone after giving the puck away and getting caught up ice, resulting in a goal. Additionally, the dimunitive Bryan Little handily outmuscled him on the one-on-one in the second period, resulting in Little’s goal.
On the positive side of things, Luke Schenn was monsterous in 24+ minutes of ice-time tonight. I could virtually hear Pierre McGuire playing with himself as Luke Schenn physically demolished the opposition. What a play on Ilya Kovalchuk’s breakaway opportunity just as I was calling for Schenn to take him down. He did appear to have one lapse on Kovalchuk’s empty net finish to the tie game… while no camera angle showed exactly how Kovalchuk got so open, he was Schenn’s man. Nik Hagman and Dominic Moore continued to be awesome.
Leafs Wilt Once Again
For the second night in a row, Toronto saw a big lead evaporate. This time, the Buds did not manage to sneak by with a late powerplay game-winner. While you all deal with the shock and surprise (kidding) of seeing your Toronto Maple Leafs blow another game, here are a few quick hits from this Friday night tilt:
-Quick puck movement and increased foot speed are always prevalent when the Leafs are clearly clicking. This seems to be symptomatic of a young team that can get rolling on a burst of confidence, and wane just as easily when the shadows of doubt settle in. This pendular swing in play was neatly captured in tonight’s game as a strong first period quickly fell into unsure and frantic play by the team in blue and white.
-Kaberle has definitely been playing with noticeable offensive flair recently. The first goal was the result of a smoothly functioning powerplay centred around Tomas (along with some loose coverage by the Thrashers in front of Johan Hedberg). However, he has also continued his questionable defensive play. Poor coverage on Atlanta’s most dangerous player in Ilya Kovalchuk lead to the first goal. This was later followed by a meek attempt to contain Bryan Little on the second Atlanta tally.
-The second goal was another sign of a positive change of pace for Jiri Tlusty. Scot mentioned after yesterday’s game that perhaps the lustreless AHL has finally pushed Tlusty to perform at the level we all know he can. He has displayed keen puck-handling skills, but more importantly has shown some tenacity on the puck and a surplus of hustle that was apparent on the recovery of his own shoot-in on the second Leafs goal.
-The newly minted line of Hagman-Grabovski-Antropov had a very skilled passing-play goal that you would expect of that combination of players (nicely complemented by more loose own-end coverage by Atlanta). That type of slick play was a trademark of the Hagman-Grabovski duo for the majority of the early part of the season. It has been noticeably absent in the recent stretch of Leaf losses (obviously excluding the games of Mikhail’s suspension).
-Dominic Moore and Jason Blake continued their game of ferocious puck pursuit and overall speed with relative success. Tlusty fit in well for yet another match, and the line had some shifts with noticeable pressure in the offensive zone, including the second Toronto goal.
All in all, the Leafs were guilty of backing off far too much. Ron Wilson put it simply in the post-game interviews: “We are not a good team”. While the message is blunt in its delivery, the truth is very much evident for anyone to see. Wilson was insinuating that our squad cannot afford to take their foot off the gas pedal at any point if they are to win many games. This would require a constantly Herculean effort. Surprisingly, this was the case for the early portion of this season’s schedule. Not so surprisingly, it was impossible to maintain. This inevitable lapse into inconsistency due to the sheer lack of talent on this team has lead to its ongoing fall in the standings and losses such as the one tonight.
As always, interested to hear your thoughts.