Leafs/Sabres Pre-Game: Pogge Looking to Rebound

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    The Maple Leafs have recalled Justin Pogge from the Toronto Marlies for tonight’s game in Buffalo. Toronto looks to rebound from an overtime loss last night at the hands of Bryan McCabe and his Panthers, while the Buffalo Sabres are making a pitch for their fourth straight win at home.

    Toronto has posted a 5-10-3 record since December 22, 2008, and are 3-4-3 in their last 10 (which included their two game winning streak). Buffalo is 5-5-0 in their last 10, but with a home record of 13-9-2, they will prove to be more difficult than first thought, but Toronto currently proves to be much better than Buffalo in one aspect of the game – health.

    With Hecht (blurred vision) listed as doubtful, and Spacek (hip) listed as questionable, the Sabres could be without as many as 6 regulars for tonight’s affair. Tallinder (right shoulder), Numminen (jaw surgery), Sekera (lower body), and Afinogenov (groin) are all on the shelf and have suffered their injuries in the month of January in which the Sabres were 9-4-0, and finished the month off with a 6 game road swing ending on Monday with a 3-2 loss to Anaheim. The Sabres were 3-3-0 on the road swing despite the banged up core.

    Pogge will make his third appearance of the season. He has looked a bit shaky on a couple of the 8 goals he’s let in on two outings, but Toronto’s poor defensive skills proved to be more than the rookie could handle as the Leafs were flatted by the Wild 6-1 late January.

    Two things came to mind while watching Pogge go down with the ship in Minnesota. The first thought was why Ron Wilson refused to pull him after the embarrassing play the rest of the team provided in front of him. He faced just 21 shots, and let in 6. What coach in their right mind would not replace their goaltender? After the game, Ron Wilson said it was “a good experience for him, how he handles getting kicked around like that. We’ll see how he plays in the next couple games with the Marlies. But it will be a good experience for him.” Wait, what? Purposefully leaving him out there to get hammered with goals as his team carelessly throws the puck around and provides no defensive coverage is “good experience”? Perhaps Wilson is hinting once Pogge is up on the big club, they will be overly terrible and he will have to get used to blowouts. I wonder if the same thing was said to Patrick Roy by Mario Tremblay on December 2nd, 1995. You know, good experience.

    The second thing that came to mind was related to Ron Wilson’s style of play. The all-out aggressive fore-checking and no defensive coverage. Wait, that’s not it at all! “Solid defence and high tempo,” says Wilson. “That’s what I believe in.” Oh that’s right. “Solid Defence”. I’m curious when that section of his coaching handbook will be arriving in Toronto, because something is clearly missing in Toronto’s game-plan. “I don’t like to spend a lot of time explaining drills”, says Wilson. That completely answered my question. This is a great approach to coaching. If at first they don’t succeed, cease to coach. “I think every player should be treated the same,” says Wilson. “I’ve always noticed that you got treated different. It’s always bizarre. The guys at the top get all the attention. The guys at the bottom – who need it – don’t get any.” I completely agree with you, Ron. It is bizarre how the guy at the top, uh you, gets all the attention, while the guys at the bottom who need your attention don’t get any, because you “don’t like to spend a lot of time explaining drills”, when they clearly do not get it.

    It comes to a point where you have to wonder just how much of this is on the team and how much is on the coach. Wilson is lucky though; with a team rebuilding, no matter where they finish and what stats they end with, he is safe. Consider it this way. In September, Ron Wilson dug a hole through the Toronto franchise and found the immunity idol. It was likely where he dropped the defense-system portion of his handbook as a decoy.

    Toronto is in first place – for goals against in the entire league. First place! Defense first = most goals against. They’ve let in 186 goals in 51 games. That’s an average of 3.65 goals a game against. With nearly $20 Million committed to their defense core, you have to stop and think how much of it is on their hands compared to the goaltenders. A big rookie goaltender comes in and gets slaughtered in his first challenge (his first game was against Atlanta, second in the league on goals against, it wasn’t really a challenge). Wilson criticizes the defense core for leaving Pogge hanging, but is he not somewhat criticizing himself?

    The defense core is supposed to be Wilson’s specialty, but they have not been playing a system other than “hold both hands on stick at all times” to reduce penalties. I’ll give Wilson credit for that one as the Leafs are one of the lowest penalized teams in the league. They have to be. Could you imagine how many goals would go in if they were not? Toronto is last in the league on the Penalty-Kill with 73.3%.

    Wilson is defense first. The defense are clearly not getting the system and Wilson does not like to spend time explaining things. The goals start to go in. Goaltenders are blamed for their poor play. Wilson blames the defense system. Therefore, Wilson blames himself.

    There are only so many games the Leafs can lose before people start to question the ethics of the coaching staff. Take tonight’s game as a precaution to the goaltenders. If Pogge lets in 3 to 4 goals, and the defensive system was not there for Pogge, consider that damn near a shutout on any other team. If the defense are wandering around aimlessly, and they’ve done the same thing more than once in the same game, do not blame the players, blame the coaching. The players are trying to play a system that is clearly not working.

    But don’t worry, because it’s good experience.

    Micheal A. Aldred
    [email protected]

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