GDT: Flyers at Leafs (7 p.m., CBC)

GDT: Flyers at Leafs (7 p.m., CBC)

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Photo: Tim Mihalek/AP Photo

If their now-.500 record didn’t spell it out already, the Maple Leafs‘ awful record against playoff teams is a pretty good indicator they took a step backwards this season. I’d have to look back over the game logs, but the 2010-11 Leafs, particularly towards the end of last season, were generally able to elevate their level of play to compete with better teams than they. In particular, there were three memorable wins against Boston (x2) and Philly down the stretch as the Leafs made their improbable playoff push. So far this season, the Leafs are 0-7 against those two opponents, and have a 43.1% win percentage against playoff teams overall, second worst in the East next to the Islanders.

You could say those wins I mentioned against Philly and Boston came after the arrival of Optimus Reim, but I think that’s the type of overly simplistic analysis too many Leafs fans fall back on – blame the goaltending. As the Leafs have evolved into the soft, one-dimensional team they have this season, the likes of Boston, and tonight’s opponent in the Flyers, have had their way with them. Both physical and talented hockey clubs, the Leafs simply haven’t been able to win enough of the one-on-one battles to give themselves a chance. Their games against these clubs have been a good testament to the fact that this sport is still a physical one, as it will always be. Call the modern NHL game faster and more skill-based, you still can’t compete with the best without the ability to win the physical battles and bring multiple dimensions to your attack.

Oh, did those opening paragraphs fail to get you fired up for tonight’s game? If it helps, the Leafs did show a better compete level against the Bruins last week and came as close as they have to beating Boston this season. Carlyle doesn’t have the personnel at his disposal to really make a major difference, but he seems to be getting a little something extra out of his group so far. If he can get the compete level he needs for a full 60 or something close to, the Leafs might have  a shot against the red hot Flyers tonight.

Jonas Gustavsson will get the start in the Leaf net again tonight. We’ve seen a much different approach to goalie management under Carlyle as he is sticking with “the better of two goaltenders,” results be damned. The Ron Wilson goalie rodeo never really worked out, may as well try picking one guy and sticking with him I suppose.

The Flyers will be thin on the blueline without Kimmo Timmonen, Andrej Meszaros and Pavel Kubina. They are 7-2-1 in their last ten, however, and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has been playing his best hockey of his Flyer career in recent games.

The Leafs’ lineup meanwhile looks like a big mess. According to Jonas Siegel, the loss of Joffrey Lupul has Tim Connolly playing on the wing with Bozak and Kessel tonight. Mac in the USSR is back together, while Carter Ashton, Steckel and Crabb are expected to make up the third unit. Three of Matt Lombardi, Matt Frattin, Colby Armstrong and Jay Rosehill will comprise the the fourth line.

On the blueline, Luke Schenn steps in for Cody Franson.

Go Leafs Go, I guess.

***

A repost of the “Maple Leafs in March” Drinking Game courtesy of Anthony Petrielli:

One Gulp…
– The moment that you think about the fact that Tim Connolly is getting paid $4.75million to play here.
- Anytime Dion Phaneuf misses the net with a shot.
- Whenever Kessel tries to toe-drag a defenseman.
- When Clarke MacArthur does a drop pass, to the other team.
- When Kessel sets up Bozak for a scoring chance and he misses the the puck/net/doesn’t even know the puck’s coming altogether.
- Whenever a Leaf player throws a hit (trick drink! Nobody hits on this team).
- Whenever Dave Steckel loses a foot race.

Two Gulps…
– The moment that you think about the fact that Tim Connolly is getting paid $4.75million to play here next year as well.
- When Nikolai Kulemin passes up a shot in the slot so he can pass it to nobody.
- Whenever Randy Carlyle is shown yelling and/or angry. (It’s not his fault this season has gone down the drain. So take one gulp for yourself, and another for him).
- When Matt Lombardi is flying down the ice, skating as fast as he can, and does absolutely nothing with it. (Including but not limited to, not taking the puck hard to the net even though he’s already beat the defenseman, and shooting from the boards with Jason Blake-like precision).
- If you ever actually notice Joey Crabb out there.
- Anytime the commentators talk about how Carlyle’s going to put “defensive structure” into their game.

Three Gulps…
– Anytime Jay Rosehill has a shift (Trick drink! He doesn’t get shifts).
- When either Reimer or Gustavsson try to play the puck.
- Whenever the “Leafs” and “Playoffs” are said in the same sentence.
- Whenever Luke Schenn impersonates a pylon out there.
- Whenever Grabovski gets drilled.
- The next time Colby Armstrong gets hurt.

Chug half a beer…
– Whenever Mike Komisarek dresses.
- Whenever Cody Franson is a healthy scratch.
- When Ron Wilson’s name is mentioned or his face is shown during a broadcast.
- If Don Cherry talks about Mike Zigomanis ever again.
- If Don Cherry talks about Ontario boys on the Leafs ever again.

Chug a full beer…
– As soon as you find out Glen Healey, Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson are commentating the Leafs game on Saturday night (make sure you check, if it’s Bob Cole you should still probably chug a beer, but at least this way it’s in celebratory fashion).
- Anytime Doug MacLean starts talking about trading Phil Kessel for Rick Nash again.
- Whenever the Leafs give up a lead
- Eventually someone on this team will score on their own net. You now know what to do.
- The next Brian Burke excuse.

****Bonus drink: Drink however many beers you have left, as fast as you can, whenever either of the Leafs goalies let’s in a shot in overtime that would have otherwise missed the net completely.#mce_temp_url#

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]

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