Holzer down, Gardiner up; What to whine about now?
James Mirtle wrote the other day about how the first Pascal Dupuis goal in the crushing 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh last Thursday was the back breaker when it came to Korbinian Holzer’s time with the Leafs this season. Holzer challenged Chris Kunitz on the boards and Kunitz came out cleanly with the puck to start the play that led to the goal. I remember thinking at the time, “Holzer struggles with his outlet pass, he struggles positionally, what are we doing here if Holzer can’t even win a battle on the boards?”
Unfortunately for Holzer that was just one of many recent goals against he’s had a hand in. That said, despite the demotion, I’m not going to write off Holzer as a Leaf asset. I think he could be what Mark Fraser is now if he learns from this experience, gets some confidence back in the AHL (presumably will still be down there for their playoff run), and gets his next crack in a more manageable situation.
I never bought that Carlyle’s management of the blueline had anything to do with Nonis’ activities on the trade market or whatever was rumoured. Carlyle wanted a certain identity on his blueline, a tough nosed group with each defencemen playing their “proper” side. He wanted the Leaf blueline to be scary to cross and the Leaf net to be a tough place to hang out around. To Holzer’s credit I thought he did a particularly good job of clearing bodies from around his net, and landed a couple of good hits on forwards streaking down his wing, but struggled with much of the rest of his game. What we’re learning is that Carlyle could really use a top-4-worthy right-handed defenceman with experience who can help him put together the group he envisions back there.
Overall, there has been much hate on Carlyle for his experimentation with Holzer (and before him, Kostka) on the top pairing to begin with, but you have to like that he’s showing a willingness to adapt after a downturn in results. The team is in decent shape relative to expectations at 15-12-2, Kostka has been scratched two games in a row and Holzer is now with the Marlies. Might be time to shut up with the incessant Carlyle bitching.
Gardiner needs to play only three more games until he’s not waiver exempt, meaning this roster decision is final for the rest of the season. I’d assume Carl Gunnarsson will be Dion’s partner moving forward, granted the pairing did not get off to the best of starts on Saturday. Gardiner should add a missing dynamic with his ability to engage in the rush. More than anything, you have to be excited about the prospect of what Gardiner can bring to a suddenly slumping powerplay (0 goals in last 19 opportunities). Now that Gardiner has been freed, what would your D pairings look like?