So much for easing Justin Pogge into his second start against the low-scoring Minnesota Wild. With that degree of spotty defensive coverage, even the lowest of low-scoring teams would’ve lit up the Leafs for 5+ goals last night.
Although I should give credit where it’s due. Last night was my first peak at the Wild this season and I was left most impressed. True, the Leafs could not have played more into their hands as they coughed up the puck routinely to facilitate their counter-attack offense, but nonetheless the Wild are a team bereft of household names that plays very effectively within Jacques Lemaire’s system with speed, responsibility and a good eye for detail.
Between the lowered expectations for the ’08/’09 season and the head coach’s ability to emanate confidence, Ron Wilson has sort of taken on the role of the unquestioned leader this season (outside of Don Cherry’s ad hominen attacks). I think we have reason to question this team’s total lack of improvement in the defensive zone. There were a plethora of missed defensive zone assignments last night, a pattern that started to develop and progressively worsen after the Leafs’ surprising start. It’s hard for me to believe this can all be chalked up to a lack of execution by the players in game situations. And if it’s a result of a lack of motivation, that doesn’t reflect too rosily on Wilson either. Yes, they’re young and developing, but one of the goals entering this season was to have these youngsters start to acquire the right habits.
Justin Pogge was hung out to dry on four out of six goals last night. The first odd angled shot should’ve been stopped and the fourth goal was a result of a forgivable lapse of judgment. The breakaway wasn’t played particularly well either. It should be said that he made a few sharp saves in-tight when he actually had a chance to square up to the shooter (I think three of six goals were cross-crease one-timers by a wide open man). Certainly not the result he envisioned, but he’ll learn just as much, if not more, from this one than he would facing few shots in a low-scoring one-goal game.
It’s time for Ron Wilson to take Mikhail Grabovski aside for a little chat. He’s more and more taking on the Sergei Berezin, me-against-the-world persona. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, that doesn’t cut it in a Brian Burke or Ron Wilson-run system. Not to prejudge, but these type of personalities tend to try to do it all themselves when things aren’t going well and Grabovski is certainly holding onto the puck one or two moves too many at the moment.
Meanwhile, Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina continue to be huge disappointments defensively while Jason Blake continues to be surprisingly effective, now leading the team in goals. And Nik Antropov may soon be getting to the point where he decides to drop his stick, pick up the puck, flounce down towards the opposition’s goal, throw the puck into the net and storm off the ice surface.