A heedless penalty from Alexei Ponikarovsky in the closing stages of the third period and a predictable Vesa Toskala pratfall in the subsequent overtime period undid a strong effort from the Maple Leafs that was deserving of the two points tonight.
Luke Schenn will no doubt draw the ire of his head coach after he got a little bit cocky offensively at the wrong place in the wrong time. It wasn’t the spin-o-rama move so much as it was his failure to get the shot through on goal. None of it should’ve mattered, though, and give Luke credit for hustling back and taking away Bryan McCabe’s passing option. Schenn will no doubt be cursing Toskala for his inability to bail him out after all of Schenn’s defensive heroics as of late.
The Leafs had plenty of opportunities to put the game safely away but couldn’t kill off the game due to a combination of poor luck and missed chances. Nonetheless, a 3-1 lead probably should’ve been enough to escape with two points after 60 minutes if not for some rookie mistakes, a lapse in discipline after a penalty-less 58 minutes and another Toskala faux pas. It’s unfortunate more than anything to see a good effort gone to waste and is no doubt deflating for the likes of Niklas Hagman, Dominic Moore and Jason Blake, the Leafs’ top performers tonight.
Give-aways were a point of emphasis for Ron Wilson in his post-gamer. And I would add the inability to clear the zone despite numerous chances to do so. Luke Schenn appears to be the only Leaf defenseman capable of efficiently clearing the zone at the moment. The Leafs committed nine turnovers tonight, which isn’t overly terrible, but they seem to come in the most blatant and painful fashion. Mikhail Grabovski has clearly been called out for his unwillingness to dump a puck in deep and insistence on fooling around just inside the blue-line be it excessive stick-handling or grimace-inducing blind drop passes. He’s digging himself a deeper and deeper hole as he continues to try to do too much instead of making the smart and simple plays. It’s funny how the offense usually comes when you do the small things properly.
Conversely, the Leafs did a fantastic job of forcing cough-ups out of the Panthers’ defense (17 total giveaways from the Cats). I’m sure a lot of those turnovers can be attributed to the dynamic trio of Jason Blake, Dominic Moore and Alex Ponikarovsky, who do a great job of hounding the opposition on the forecheck with speed and determination. This line has great speed, an understated skill level and an alacrity for driving the net for rebounds.
Nik Hagman reappeared tonight after a lengthy slump to score possibly the best Leaf goal so far this season. I don’t think there’s any question that Hagman’s the most offensively-gifted player on the roster, but, as he has done all his career, he struggles with consistency.
I heard Doug McLean the other day on the FAN say Brian Burke thinks Vesa Toskala is his goaltender going forward. Surely this is an attempt to drive up his market value…. right?