I’m about as optimistic a person as they come, but tonight’s loss against a struggling Penguins team just hammers home the message that there simply isn’t enough skill on this roster. It was a pretty bland effort overall as they couldn’t capitalize on key scoring chances and made a few mental mistakes that resulted in the back of their net.
Tomorrow’s headline: Leafs send a flurry of shots at Fleury, but come up short once again. I guess it’s never easy to face Olympic goalies on back to back nights, but this theme of high shot totals with little to show for it is something that we’ve become quite accustomed to this year.
A few quick observations regarding tonight’s game:
– You have to credit the team for at least making that effort in the offensive zone to maintain a strong cycling game to get those shots onto the net, but it’s simply not working. The power play in particular emphasizes just how inept the Leafs are at creating any sort of a different look offensively in order to keep opposing teams on their toes. Opponents are simply playing a wide open box to keep the Leafs circling the puck from the outside and taking shots from distance. They know that no one (with the exception of Kaberle) has either the confidence or the ability to make those seam to seam passes to cutting players (on the few occasions that someone actually decides to make that cut). And even when players are trying to make those tough passes, bout half a foot off the ice, you need skill on the receiving end as well to knock those passes down, which simply didn’t happen tonight.
– Bless Ian White’s ability to change the angle along the blueline in order to get those point shots through or else the situation would be even more dire. I suppose you could try to switch things up a little bit by trying the down low play a little bit more, but without Sundin’s ability to dish those beautiful little saucer passes cross crease (to Tucker), opposing defensemen are closing down those gaps without much of a fuss.
– Speaking of Sundin, the type of game Mats used to play is exactly what the Leafs need right now in order to open up more offensive opportunities. During the cycle plays, you’ll often see Leaf forwards curling out of the corner along the boards, looking to center the puck but opposing defenders are always right on them with a stick in the lane because there isn’t that fear of the Leaf forward being able to reverse and curl back out in front of the net. That was the move that was pretty much patented by Sundin, and boy could they use it now. That ability to keep defenders honest in defending two outlets to the net would simply open up a whole lot more seams to play with.
– Despite a minus 2 rating tonight, I was quite impressed with Luke Schenn’s game. He still boasts moderate at best point totals on the year, but you can see that gradual progression in his confidence with the puck. Coming out of the zone he takes that extra second or two with his head up (that you’ll often see from Kaberle) to calmly make an outlet pass to a cutting forward. Earlier in the year when he was struggling with his confidence and playing time, he’d put his head down and make the easy play off the boards or the dump. In the offensive zone when the Pittsburgh forward cheated high to try and cut off the cross-ice pass, Schenn casually took a few steps in and sent a low, hard point shot on net. Even the little spin-o-rama move was… interesting. Kudos to him for strong back-to-back performances.