Game Preview: Seeking a rebound in Pittsburgh

Game Preview: Seeking a rebound in Pittsburgh

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All those cliches about needing to respond to an embarrassing loss with a big character effort will apply to tonight’s meeting against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Leafs have played well against the Penguins since the start of last season, going 2-1-1 while scoring 14 goals across the four outings.

The Leafs and Penguins play a similar game, and in the past that has suited the Leaf offense just fine. The Penguins will trade chances as a skilled team with speed, and the Leafs have found it less difficult to find space and generate speed through the neutral zone against Pittsburgh than teams that force them to earn their inches and win board battles.

Most recently, the Leafs got the better of the Penguins in late October with a 4-1 win. That was also coming off a lopsided loss to the Blue Jackets, although not as lopsided as Monday night’s debacle. Will history will repeat itself tonight with a good response from the Leafs?

Carlyle and the players credited a ratcheting up of their physical game as part of their success in the October 26 win. Dave Bolland was key to the victory with two goals and general awesomeness, helping keep Sidney Crosby off the scoresheet the first time in 10 meetings with the Blue and White, but as we well know the Leafs’ Swiss Army Knife is on the shelf for the foreseeable future.

Getting back on track offensively

Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk each have three points in 10 November games. As much talk as there is about this being a predictable regression for the Leafs as of late, this is an unusually slow period for the two dynamic offensive players and surely one that won’t last.

Kessel and JvR both have a good history of production against the Penguins. Kessel has 3 goals and 7 points in his last five meetings with the Penguins, while James van Riemsdyk has six points in four games against the Penguins since joining the Leafs.

For the Leafs in general, there may be some rush opportunities available to them tonight. If not, we should expect this team has taken Carlyle’s simplify mantra to heart. More fancy plays in dangerous areas of the ice and overpassing would be frustrating to see after Monday night.

Gardiner scratched: A case of conflicted identity?

All reports indicate Jake Gardiner is sitting to allow for Paul Ranger’s return to the fold.

Carlyle seems to have his defence compartmentalized in such a way where Mark Fraser is a necessity on the backend as his bruising, stay at home, net-protection presence. The issue for some is that Fraser just hasn’t been right since returning from injury. He’s looked slower and shaky on the puck.

Carlyle appears to have more patience for Fraser than he does Gardiner; he feels the team needs what he brings when he’s playing well, and that Fraser deserves the time to sort it out. No doubt, Fraser was a warrior for the Leafs last season.

Carlyle, meanwhile, saw Gardiner playing firewagon hockey, turning the puck over, getting caught up the ice and making erratic decision with the puck on Monday night and has decided that he needs to watch a game from the press box. Carlyle grows tired on Gardiner quick when he feels he’s lacking discipline in his decision making.

I don’t personally believe the Leafs are in a better position to win tonight having made this decision, but here we are. Gardiner was effective and playing big minutes for this team in the first quarter of the season, but Carlyle was quick to scratch him after a performance in which all Leaf D were torched and no Leaf player, to a man, played well.

It makes one wonder about the conflicted identity theme that has been getting some play in the media as of late. The defence with Rielly and Gardiner on it, with Fraser out and Ranger in (Ranger is pretty active on the pinch, even when he shouldn’t be), combined with the make up of this team’s forwards suggests the very essence of a run and gun team. The aforementioned combination seems to be the best assembly of skill the Leafs can ice on defence, but Carlyle’s vision has never been that of a run and gun outfit, even though the team has often played like one. Last season, the Leafs were a unique blend of a team that thrived off the rush while physically punishing the opposition.

It’s not altogether surprising that Carlyle likes to have a “Mark Fraser type” on his blueline, but Fraser hasn’t been doing his own job effectively. It doesn’t seem fair to Gardiner to pick him out of the pile of poor performances on Monday night.

Tonight’s Lineup

In any event, the pairings look like they’ll stack up as:

Phaneuf – Gunarsson
Rielly – Ranger
Fraser – Franson

Let’s hope the new pairings can sort it out quickly as the Crosby/Kunitz Malkin/Neal double-headed monster is as tough of a matchup as there is in the League.

Up front, Peter Holland will reenter the lineup with Joffrey Lupul on the shelf for at least two weeks. Preparing for the likes of Sid, Neal, Kunitz and Malkin, Carlyle’s approach is to insulate Holland with McClement and Kulemin on the third line, based on the practice units.

Jonathan Bernier will start for the Leafs in his first career start against the Penguins. Marc Andre Fleury goes for the Penguins.

Projected Lineup  
Left WingCenterRight Wing
JvRBozakKessel
RaymondKadriClarkson
McClementHollandKulemin
McLarenSmithsonOrr
Left DefenseRight Defense
PhaneufGunnarsson
FraserFranson
RiellyRanger
Gardiner scratched
Goalies
Starter: Bernier
Reimer
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]
233 comments
theacs1966
theacs1966

So, one of the facepunchers is out!

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

I need to get rid of this bookmark for a while. I was actually exchanging posts with someone who said the organization is screwed because it gives away prospects like John Mitchell, Carlo Coliaccovo and Joe Colborne. Why do I bother ....

peterbleafs
peterbleafs

I think if we field that lineup we may well be pooched this game.  Our 4th line is far too slow.

Jay_Berg
Jay_Berg

Funny people talk about the penguins lack of depth when we are in the exact same boat. Our bottom 6 has a combined 3 goals this season including a completely scoreless 4th line.

Basically if we don't get PP opportunities we don't have a chance.

PEIleafnation
PEIleafnation

man the windy rainy night here in PEI...but almost leaf time!

peterbleafs
peterbleafs

Oh we are playing Pittsburgh, no wonder I am afraid to watch the game!  But now that I know I will watch it anyways.  Fingers crossed the Leafs got the mono out of their system last game.

dontcallmeshirley
dontcallmeshirley

Stay out of the box .... exploit their bottom six.... bother their goalie, Syd, and Malk. I like our chances

AdamPoirier
AdamPoirier

@Jmessih Agreed that they're guilty of those things but I truly believe it's the tone and the system that is running rampant through that locker room. Carlyle finally said it after Columbus whooped us. It's too cute. No one out there seems to want to sacrifice anything for the win let alone for a loose puck. I don't know about everyone else but I"d MUCH rather watch a young, energetic, passionate team of rookies get destroyed nightly than I would watch overpaid, careless, cash whores sit around and coast.

The Leafs have the talent but for some reason, either the system in place, or the motivation in the dressing room, it appears that the team doesn't care. All these things: Skating by checks, Not playing physically, Not coming up with loose pucks... they're all indicative of that issue. Fraser and Orr are paid to bring exactly that intensity tothe ice so yes, maybe they're slightly *more* at fault... but they're definitely just a small part of a bigger issue.

AdamPoirier
AdamPoirier

Totally agree that the idea of starting them both with the current system and style of play is ridiculous, but to criticize Orr and Fraser for 'skating by checks', 'conceding goals', and being 'hemmed in' is unfair. This is a team that largely is failing on all of the fronts that you mentioned. This isn't an isolated issue, it's Carlyle's entire system that is focusing on finesse rather than grit. I had to hold myself back from screaming at the TV when I started hearing those comments about the number of shots not mattering, nor time of possession.

The best example of this was our latest game against Boston. Watching the Bruins use a 1-2-2 to pen the Leafs into their own zone was a work of art. There was nothing fancy, simply dump and chase with alot of physical pressure. I'm not saying that the Leafs should adopt this system, I"m saying that the physical 1-2-2 works and highlighted how seldom the Leafs play with any grit, emotion, or dedication.

Pinning those traits solely on Orr and Fraser is wrong though.

Mcost61
Mcost61

Rostislav Klesla of Phoenix Coyotes clears waivers

I thought he was decent a few years ago

Jay31
Jay31

@Jay_Berg Kane is sick, lol at the Jets for wanting to move him

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Shift_Disturber1 Well, he probably will ask for a trade.  He basically asked for a trade when he signed the offer sheet.  He made it quite clear he wanted to leave Nashville, and was too impatient to wait for free agency. 

Jay_Berg
Jay_Berg

Slow, unskilled, can't cycle, dont hit.

I really hate our 4th line lol

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Jay_Berg Technically Raymond, Bolland and Kulemin are our 3rd line.  They've combined for 13 goals, I believe. 

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

Yep. It hasn't been the fourth line's four minutes a night that's caused us to score less.

.JVR.
.JVR.

@Murph2417 

I love how everybody makes such a big deal about who is playing on the fourth line.

The fact of the matter is, other than Smithson, who gets PK time, nobody on the fourth line is gonna play much more than 5 minutes anyways.  

If the team loses, it's not cause the fourth line, just like the team will never win because of the fourth line.  

Sure, I'd rather see somebody like Ashton, Broll and even Smith playing instead of McLaren, with Orr already in the lineup, but I'm not gonna get worked up about it!

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Jay31 @Jay_Berg It's an awkward spot for the team with him.  He's growing up a little bit now, and you can see he wants a bit more of a leadership role, but all of the guys in that room have looked at him as a child for the last 3-4 years.  He has very little respect because of all his past antics. That, and he's a bit of a lone wolf on the ice - it's not clear if it's because he has no quality linemates (Jokinen and Setoguchi this year), or because he's just not very smart in terms of playmaking and using others.  That, and he hates the coach. 

Jay_Berg
Jay_Berg

I don't think they have a problem with his abilities. They have a problem with him being a D-bag...

Jay_Berg
Jay_Berg

We need a centre or defence

Jay_Berg
Jay_Berg

I'm talking about our current lineup

Jay_Berg
Jay_Berg

The fact that we have a 4th line that is completely useless does have a negative impact, especially on our ability to score 5 on 5.

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Jay_Berg I don't know if that example really made my point clearly enough, but basically, this is a guy that was blown away by the media coverage and required fan interaction in Winnipeg, and didn't like it at all. 

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Jay_Berg He wants just the opposite.  He hates the spotlight.  He wants to live like a rock star without getting recognized.  My sister used to serve him at the restaurant she worked at, and he would ask for discreet service.  He also hates dealing with fans. I think he's come a long way in this regard, but the perception that he wants the spotlight is definitely inaccurate.  He does want a bigger role on his team though, that's for sure.  

Jay31
Jay31

@Jay_Berg I could see NYR. Maybe even VAN? He's from there i believe

Jay_Berg
Jay_Berg

Do you think other teams will be cautious though?

Seems that he wants the spotlight and to play in a big market. However if that happens don't you think it'll just further enable his antics?

This smells like a NYR pickup....

Jay_Berg
Jay_Berg

Holland is currently centring the third line which is fine but he's playing with McClement and Kulemin who are no threat offensively.

peterbleafs
peterbleafs

@Cloud09 @Jay_Berg Not sure where HOlland is, but Id put him on the 3rd line and move Kulemin to the 4th, then at least we have some speed and a bit of talent.

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Jay_Berg Fair enough.  Just saying, when healthy, there is scoring ability in our bottom six - the same can't be said for Pittsburgh, which is probably where the criticism comes from.  They're starting to look like SJS  did for a long time, but has now actively worked to rectify. 

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Leafsmaniac @dontcallmeshirley @Murph2417 You are wrong. They are pretty sheltered. Orr and McLaren are a combined minus 3, and we know they're never on the ice for goals for, and they don't get PK or PP time, so they clearly aren't being scored on very much.  Of course, they also aren't being used very much. 

dontcallmeshirley
dontcallmeshirley

@Murph2417 @dontcallmeshirley lol, fair enough! My point is this, the 4th line is a relatively minor concern with respect to whether this team gets in the play-offs or not . If the other 3 lines at least competed "consistently" like the 4th line, regardless of minutes, the record ( and the shot clock) would reflect it.