The Maple Leafs are creative. You have to hand it to them for finding new ways to lose games all the time. In the home opener against Montreal, it was sloppy turnovers and poor special teams leading to a blown late third period lead. On Saturday night, they decided to pack it away early against the Caps before going on a late run at the end to make the score more respectable. Tonight, it was a listless effort physically and emotionally, creating virtually nothing in the way of offense and falling victim to a pair of strange plays.
I was fortunate/unfortunate enough to be at the ACC tonight, and here are a few assorted observations from the game:
- The lack of physical intensity and accountability was ridiculous tonight, especially for a Brian Burke team that claims it wants to be “tough to play against” every single night. On the scoresheet, it says the Leafs were outhit 35-27, but it certainly felt like a more distinct disadvantage than that. Much like last season, many of the Leafs skilled players (i.e. Jason Blake, Mikhail Grabovski, Viktor Stalberg) were getting decked all over the ice by the Sens with little to no retaliation from any of their Leaf teammates. This is the Battle of Ontario for christ’s sake and when your rookie gets knocked out of the game with a possible concussion (more on that later) by an open ice hit, you’d think someone would feel like stepping up to drop the gloves.
- P.S., anybody see what Neil did about 5 minutes into the first period? He ducks away at the last second on a hit from Colton Orr near the Sens bench, and once Orr flies by him, Neil proceeds to grab him and give him a face wash. I’m sure Colton was chirping in Neil’s ear all night about squaring off, but Chris played it smart, knowing that the Leafs were looking for any sort of spark.
- The lack of “tough stuff” runs much deeper than simply not finishing checks or dropping the gloves. Offensively, the Leaf forwards were completely overmatched and outmuscled by the Sens defenders all night. They would try to work the play wide, get easily rubbed out along the boards by the opposing blueliners, and the Sens would execute a clean, efficient breakout play the other way. You could’ve counted on one hand the number of times a Leaf forward actually battled through a tough check to maintain possession of the puck. That lack of puck control absolutely killed the Leafs tonight, and prevented them from getting anything going in the offensive zone. You’ll remember that starting from about the mid-third period, Kaberle himself also noticed this problem, and began carrying the puck inside the zone himself on a number of occasions.
- Grabovski was not particularly effective tonight, registering only one shot on goal and continues to struggle in the faceoff circle, winning only 23% of the draws. On a positive note, it was nice to see him begin to make more of an effort defensively, registering a takeaway and 3 blocked shots.
- Matt Stajan continues with another decent effort tonight. On one hand, he had another nifty powerplay goal set up by a beautiful pass from Kaberle, recorded 4 shots and also won a solid 53% of his faceoffs. On the other hand, it would be nice to see the touted “two-way player” become more physically involved in the game, recording a single hit to go along with no blocked shots or takeaways.
- Beauchemin and Schenn are still having a tough time early on this year, though Francois seems to be making some slow progress. Luke saw his ice-time reduced to just a shade over 15 minutes tonight and made 2 giveaways, one of which was a terrible decision that could’ve buried the Leafs for good late in the third. Beauchemin jumped back up his 27+ minute/night norms, but still seemed hesitant with the puck, attempting to force several hard backhand passes through the neutral zone that were easily broken up, and was a little tentative handling the puck at the offensive blueline.
- Tomas Kaberle? Another exemplary game that shows us he’s back to his elite all-star form from previous years. He controlled Toronto’s entire transition game on his stick tonight, making a beautiful pass on Toronto’s lone goal, and even contributed a few key defensive stops on the Sens’ odd man rushes the other way. Twenty six minutes on the night for the Czech defender.
- I was in the upper bowl for tonight’s game, so it was tough to judge the Sens’ first goal based on the replay on the Jumbotron, but it certainly appeared close. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a cheapie that resulted from White knocking down Gustavsson, and a flurry of unfortunate bounces. As for the penalty shot, I really don’t know about that one. It appeared as if the Leaf defender had caught the Sen forward before highsticking him, so it should’ve been 4 minutes for high sticking.
- Lastly, it was a quietly solid debut for the Monster tonight. Gustavsson played the part of a bonafide #1 goalie (albeit just for 60 minutes), confidently making all the routine saves, and occasionally bailling out his defense corps (see Schenn’s giveaway). His rebound control was much better than in previous games, coming out high for point shots. Hard to really fault any of the goals on him tonight, making 25 of 27 saves in toal. If the Leafs are true to their word about running out the goalie who will give them the best chance to win on Saturday, you gotta figure that Jonas should get the call.
- As for Stalberg, he left the game in the first period after colliding with Senator defenseman Anton Volchenkov. Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star is reporting that Viktor felt “woozy” afterwards, and it is suspected to be a concussion at this time.
The Leafs are now off until Saturday night, when Sidney Crosby and the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins come to town. Oh boy.