Game in 10: Game 80, Sabres (6) vs. Leafs (5) [OT]
With tonight’s loss, the Leafs are 34-36-10. Writing a Game in 10 at this point – and after a night like that – feels like what I’d imagine trying to re-animate a dead cat with a car battery feels like. Disappointing, redundant, and bathed in some foul odour from the burnt hair family of odours.
At least it was kind of entertaining.
I defer to some @APetrielli Twitter wisdom, delivered after Marcus Foligno’s nuclear-level first period hit on Carl Gunnarson: “You know, when Burke came here I wasn’t happy because I expected the world. I just thought I’d never see this team get pushed around. Welp.”
What really – well, sucks – is that after that initial hit, the Leafs did demonstrate the sort of pushback…they could have used six or seven weeks ago. Instead of feeling like a sign of good things to come, watching them roar to a 3-0 first period lead with tenacious, strong play was more frustrating than it was inspiring.
Far too many nights this season, the Leafs have simply not even slightly resembled the sort of on-ice product Brian Burke has very vocally intended to deliver. Using youth as an excuse is one thing, using a lack of talent is another – but neither of those are an excuse for a lack of effort, ever. That they’re only showing it when the games don’t matter has crossed from being a running Leaf-joke into something that is downright unacceptable.
Your Game in 10:
1. All of nine seconds into the game, Marcus Foligno absolutely devastated Carl Gunnarson. Gunnarson played one more “wobbly” (-Bowen) shift and retired to the quiet room, ne’er to return. Foligno’s 11 points (6 goals!) in 12 NHL games aside, what’s particularly galling about watching him deliver a hit like that is his pedigree: this is exactly the sort of young, high-impact (literally!) forward often cited as a “Brian Burke-calibre” player, and tonight he was on the wrong team. That may be a shortsighted complaint, but when was the last time a young Leaf forward took the NHL with that kind of fire? Even with the patient premise of a youth-driven rebuild, you kind of have to wish it would have happened for us by now, four years in. (Foligno was taken 4th round, in 2009, FYI).
2. Tyler Bozak‘s first goal was the direct result of Phil Kessel‘s efforts. Buffalo lost a faceoff in the Leaf zone because when the puck jumped loose and Kessel went for it, both Sabres’ defense backed off out of respect for his speed. His initial play off the rush only produced a weak shot, but he drew all the Sabres’ defensive attention – which allowed Bozak and Frattin the necessary room to enter the low slot and bury Phil’s chip pass.
3. With about nine minutes left in the first, Kessel also stickhandled around three or so Buffalo Sabres while STANDING STILL. But you’re right, internet: he’s soft, one-dimensional, and those 81 points in 80 games are just plain unacceptable. And by “just plain unacceptable”, I actually mean, “perfectly fine, and you should think before you speak.” Or, per Mr. Millen – “”You can criticize Phil Kessel all you like. But this guy’s fifth in the league in scoring. You can’t argue with that.”
4. For all the promise of a rebuilt defense corps, the post-lockout Toronto Maple Leafs remain totally lousy at clearing the front of their net. This is a symptom of a larger, more disturbing problem – not that the Leafs can’t clear the area, but that other teams still feel no intimidation whatsoever when going there. If they did, Brian Gionta would have thought twice before ruining James Reimer‘s season in mid-October. I mean, the second period ended with Sulzer literally lying on Ben Scrivens. If I’m a big, highly-paid, “truculent” Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman, I’m grabbing that guy by the scruff and pulling him off my last remaining young goaltender.
IRATE FAN ADDENDUM: Seems appropriate here to relate the Sabres’ fifth goal – although I’m not sure you’d call that a “crease battle” so much as a “slot war.”
But it’s hard to really criticize the Leafs’ defense there. Let’s not kid ourselves, folks – if that’s not a definitive “Don’t blow the whistle, because if Buffalo loses the playoff race is less exciting” non-call, then I really, legitimately, do not know what it is.
5. Matt Frattin (Or, as I guess we have to start calling him, Matt [censored]-ing Frattin) had a Gordie Howe Hat TrickTM in the opening period. Rosehill may have tuned McNabb, but make no mistake, Marcus Foligno absolutely schooled Matt Frattin in the ancient art of “right crosses that really sting.” Foligno had already demolished Gunnarson and just interfered with Tyler Bozak when Frattin decided to step up and put a stop to what I believe they call Foligno’s “running around out there.” Frattin was playing on a skilled line tonight and demonstrated something the skilled lines have grossly lacked all season: basic jam. Normally, the Leafs would have to wait for a fourth line shift after a hit like that so Mike Brown could hop over the boards and beg a Buffalo thug to fight. Instead, the Leafs’ de facto first line left winger threw down his gloves with Foligno in a definitive statement of “You know what? Enough.” Good on him.
6. (Half-Serious Disclaimer). Even 80 games into what must be an exhausting rookie season, Jake Gardiner is a brilliant skater, astute playmaker, and oftentimes sublime goal scorer – but not particularly threatening or dominating as a defenseman. After three consecutive summers of the same trade theory horsecrap, is the conversation re: just turning him into our long-sought #1 centre actually worth having?
7. “Emergency” callup Joe Colborne (his 2 points in 19 previous games actually being more of a Marlies emergency, I think) spent most of the night looking like the player he’s supposedly been for Dallas Eakins the last few weeks. (SPOILER: As in, not very good). His struggles are still largely related to not looking comfortable with his own size, a detriment he’s yet to figure out as opposed to a, say, Carter Ashton-type player who is starting to really use his body to protect the puck and push off opposing players. Colborne’s ceiling as an NHL prospect/player will remain limited until he realizes just what sort of natural advantage his size offers him. Worth noting, though – he did have an assist on The Jake Gardiner Show the Leafs’ fifth goal.
8. Dion Phaneuf messed up on Ennis’ second period power play goal, and he knew it. The puck went to the right side of the Leafs’ zone and both Phaneuf (LD) and Komisarek (RD) went careening that way (WHY?) without so much as a glance back, where Ennis was left alone. Phaneuf immediately slammed his stick on the ice after the goal in self-loathing. It’s those kinds of basic coverage mistakes (for example, “Gee, someone should probably pay attention to that side of the rink”) that have sunk the Leafs in their own zone this year. You know, the kinds of things a good penalty killer is supposed to be extra aware of.
9. This never happens, but I happen to be totally ignorant about it agree with Kypreos’ second intermission assertion that Allaire goalies Scrivens holding his glove hand at such a high resting position is downright bizarre. If Allaire’s such a proponent of playing percentages and maximizing a goalies’ size so the puck can “hit” him, I’m extra confused. Basic physics says that’s not what that glove hand technique does. But unlike Kypreos, I’m not going to pretend I’m smarter than Allaire, because the Leaf goalies have been doing it all season so there must be some very worthwhile reason.
10. Look on the bright side. Can you imagine how you’d feel if the Leafs were in a playoff race neck and neck with Buffalo, and blew 3-0 and 4-2 leads enroute to an overtime loss because of a mind-numbing delay of game penalty after an infuriatingly controversial non-call late in the third? What you’re feeling now is nothing compared to how bad it could have been. Heyo!