Leafs Notebook – December 11

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Photo: Getty Images

The Sunday game threw off the timing of the Leafs Notebook (along with life, work, and so on), so I apologize for the delay. Hope it was worth the wait at least.

Notes

– It’s nice to see the Leafs have a true first line and to watch them in action. When JVR-Kadri-Kessel are together as a unit, they are capable of dominating and they are also capable of sustained zone time. The only problem I see with this line is that they can get a little too cute at times, which is probably a result of three creative players being able to control play regularly, thus pushing the boundaries of what they can/can’t do. A few times, particularly against Dallas, Kadri tried to pass it back to the defense with saucer passes after long cycles and they got picked off. But you have to take a bit of the bad with all the good that these three will produce together. In their last three games, Kadri has three points while Kessel and JVR each have four.
The saucer pass JVR made to Kessel in Ottawa was unbelievably awesome, too.

– In the first period against Dallas, the Leafs had an offensive zone faceoff, lost it, the puck got wired around the boards, where Ranger pinched and lost on his gamble; just like that the Stars had a 3 on 1 off an O-zone faceoff. That’s just bad hockey. That can’t happen. From the pinch without support, to no support in the first place.

– Was tough to see on replays, but Lehtonen actually appealed to the refs after Trevor Smith’s OT winner because he felt Clarkson interfered with him. Watch Lehtonen point to Clarkson right after the goal:

– Maybe that’s Clarkson’s Wendel Clark impersonation moment?

– Also on that goal worth noting: Gardiner made the exact same kind of shoot-for-a-deflection play as he did against Dallas earlier this season against Nashville.

– In D’Amigo’s first game against Dallas, he drove the net one play and almost scored and created a cycle that eventually found the puck on Franson’s stick before he hit the cross bar. Against Ottawa he drew a penalty, setup Kessel in the slot, and was on in the final minute of a 3-3 game. Against Boston, he drew another penalty and was one of the only players finishing his checks. Those are good flashes in limited minutes from a player trying to carve out a role as a grinder.

– Maybe it was just the way TV made the game look, but it sure seemed like Dallas was a faster team than the Leafs. You can say what you want about last year’s Leafs team, but nobody was ever faster than them. This season’s team is arguably slower and softer. McLaren was on for a direct headshot against D’Amigo in the game against Boston and did absolutely nothing. When it comes to enforcers, I’ve always said I don’t mind one, but if you have one on and he’s watching something like that happen without even skating in the opponent’s direction afterward…. what’s the point?

– Here’s something to ponder: if you were to write down the five most important Leafs before the season started (or even right now), who would it include? Kessel, the goalies (counting them as one), Phaneuf, JVR and one of Kadri/Lupul/or even Bolland at this rate? Four, or possibly even five, of those guys are healthy so there’s no injury excuse that should fly with this team. Yeah, it does hurt to lose depth, but most good teams would be okay if they lost their depth and still had their five most important players. By that token, it makes me not only question the depth in the organization, but also the top guns. You look at the four who are guaranteed to be in the Leaf top five (Kessel, Phaneuf, Reimer/Bernier, and JVR) and have to think, “they really need to add a legitimate 1C or top D-man to round it out.” That’s not news to anyone, but the point still remains that the injury excuse doesn’t fly when pretty well all of your best players are playing.

– This is an extremely minor thing, but against Dallas and Boston Ashton went in and knifed both of their goalies when they had the puck covered. It didn’t result in anything other than some heated exchanges, but it was nice to see Ashton drive the net and give back to other goalies what the Leafs’ tenders have been dealing with for quite some time now.

– It was nice to see Phaneuf float a puck on net nice and low that created a rebound for JVR to eventually bury against Ottawa. He’s reeled in his shot so much and really is no longer launching those bombs that make the back of the glass vibrate. It’s hard for a player to change his game, and he really does deserve recognition for that. What else was impressive on that play was how well Phaneuf walked the line. He basically got the puck on the boards at the blue line, walked it all the way to the middle, looked off Kessel, froze Spezza, and then shot it. Really great stuff all around from Phaneuf on that goal.

– Kadri had an under-the-radar dive to get that power play on the first. He also got tangled up with Smith, leading to the Kessel goal later in the game, and he was physical all night. The game against Ottawa was a great example of what makes him so frustrating to play against as an opponent. He toes that line, but he can also burn the opposition offensively and draw them in to take dumb penalties while off their game. He’s played 19:23, 23:51 and 23:23 since returning this week and is making his case to everybody that he’s the 1C of this team moving forward. He also gave Gunnarsson an unbelievable flip pass in OT. That would have been considered one of the passes of the year if Gunnarsson finished it off, in my opinion.

– I was at the Leafs-Bruins game, and in warm-ups I took some time to watch Liles, who was playing his first game at home this season. He looked excited out there, flying around, and took some time to flip a few pucks over the glass to kids. The whole thing just sorted of reminded me of Ian White being put up at forward and he in turn tore it up (in 08-09, White had 3 goals and 7 points in 8 games at forward). I link them because they were both similarly kicked to the curb and came back playing for pride. Liles might be overpaid, but considering the Leafs are (were?) willing to retain salary, he wouldn’t have been that overpaid. Yet nobody wanted him. In each of his first two games, he played a little over 17 minutes and looked more like the pre-concussion Liles versus the post-concussion one. This week we’ll start to find out if he was running on adrenaline or is really rounding into form. The Leafs back-end needs all the help it can get and an effective Liles with a chip on his shoulder can only benefit the Leafs as a team.

– I understand Kessel not going into the corners on a regular basis, but there’s a time and a place and he chickened out against Lucic in the final minutes of a one-goal game, resulting in Boston’s dagger goal. That’s just the reality of the situation. He has to suck it up in those situations and do more than avoid the corner and get beat cleanly.

– Thought it was weird that this picture below was circulating the internet and somehow Fraser was being grouped in with Ranger on the goal.

@TommyS_13
@TommyS_13

The Leafs made a bad change and Nichushkin came flying down the neutral zone with speed against Fraser, who played it well enough to force the rookie to drop it to Horcoff. Fraser then put himself between the two players because that’s pretty much a defenseman’s only option on a 3 on 2 (if you commit to either play explicitly, the open guy is guaranteed to make you pay). The goal was all on Ranger, who not only inexplicably stepped up, but he didn’t even put his stick in the passing lane, leaving a wide open lane as possible. On the goal itself, it looked like Horcoff actually stuttered for a second in disbelief as to how wide open it was.

– Interesting that Gardiner was out with Phaneuf over Franson at the end against Boston when the Leafs were pressing to try and get back into the game. One of the things I noticed at the game: When Franson got the puck in the umbrella at the top of the circle, he was looking low for JVR who had his stick out and wanted it, but Chara was cutting off the lane. I point this out because most teams instruct their players to take away the middle lane, meaning a player in Chara’s position usually would have his stick covering the inside instead of the outside. On one play Franson passed it right to Chara, who I guess caught him Franson by surprise by doing this. If teams are going to eliminate that play, the biggest beneficiary should be the player is the player in the slot, who will now be open. This ties into playing two lefties instead of Franson with Phaneuf; maybe the Leafs were just trying to change the dynamics of their setup and have an open man there for a one-timer. Phaneuf looked ready for a one-timer the whole time but the Bruins never let Kessel get comfortable on the half wall, preventing the play from happening.

– Here’s an example of Franson faking the play down low and finding Kadri in the slot, because he actually did it earlier in the week against Dallas:

Watch the ice vision view at around the 50 second mark and notice the little fake Franson makes that causes Eakin to move his stick. Great little play.

***

Quotes

“Newport already has a number for term and price when it comes to Phaneuf. His absence over the next few games means little.”
Darren Dreger commenting on Dion Phaneuf’s impending free agency and what the next two games mean for it.

I don’t think anyone would say the Leafs don’t need Dion should the team play well in the next two games. It has to work both ways. But no matter what, we’ll be seeing people comment one way or the other depending on how the team performs without Phaneuf.

“We have the depth in our organization defensively we just haven’t found the right combination. Not a personnel problem.”
– Claude Loiselle, commenting on the Leafs problems at D.

I thought this was a weird thing to say considering Gunnarsson-Phaneuf has been a pairing all season; Franson has pretty well only played with Gardiner and Rielly (with a small look at being re-paired with Franson), and the final three D spots had been rotating between Ranger, Rielly and Fraser until Liles was finally recalled. If the problem is that they haven’t found the right combinations (I don’t think that’s it, but regardless), why aren’t they shuffling the defense around more to find what works?

“I don’t know that Kulemin doesn’t fit into the Leafs plans. Carlyle’s view of him must be different than ours. He’s useful. He’s a solid defensive forward who has been slotted in that role. There is always trade interest in Kulemin & he’ll be an attractive UFA.”
– Dreger commenting on Kulemin.

I hope the Leafs can resign this guy. I hope he gets a more expanded role offensively, too, because he has the ability. If Kulemin leaves I wouldn’t be surprised to see him tear it up similar to what MacArthur and Grabovski are doing now.

***

5 Things I Think I’d Do

1 – I think I like the lines the Leafs trotted out in practice yesterday and would keep them as they are. They were:

JVR-Kadri-Kessel
Raymond-Smith-Clarkson
Lupul-Holland-Kulemin
McLaren/D’Amigo-McClement-Ashton

I’ve always liked Lupul and Kulemin as a tandem, and think that line gives Holland an opportunity to succeed and show us what he can do. The Smith line has actually been quite good on the cycle and in giving some push back in the offensive zone when need be, so you might as well keep them together to see if they can figure out how to use that zone time to score. The Kadri line is of course awesome, while that fourth line can be very effective if they decide to play D’Amigo with McClement and Ashton. The Leafs are still terribly weak up the middle, but all-in-all that’s not a bad forward group by any means.

2 – I think I’d rather see Gunnarsson with Gardiner as the top pairing on paper, but considering Gardiner said he didn’t like playing the right side and Gunnarsson has mobility issues as is, the Leafs really have no choice but to run Gunnarsson-Franson. After that I’d rather see Gardiner-Liles and Fraser-Rielly (Fraser primarily for PK purposes), but we all know Ranger is getting the first look. It’s starting to look more and more likely that Rielly will be going to the WJC.

3 – I think I’d make more of an effort to give the kids ice-time and use this as a bit of a development time. Clearly Carlyle is riding his veterans to try and get wins, but we’re barely even 30 games into the season and we’ve heard him say a few times now that the team “looked tired” after losses. Guys like Holland, D’Amigo and Ashton can play, but with young guys a coach has to be willing to forgive the inevitable rookie mistakes that are going to happen. Carlyle keeps noting that the NHL isn’t a developmental league, and I want this team to win as much as the next guy, but these kids have to be given a chance to grow, too. Short term pain for long term gain.

4 – If the Leafs are going to run Lupul-Smith-Clarkson as PP2, I think I’d rather see Raymond on the point for it than Gunnarsson. Fluke or not, Raymond is fourth on the team in points; it’s nuts if he’s not seeing any power play time. Meanwhile, Gunnarsson has two points on the season. I don’t think this coaching staff would do something like trust a forward on defense, but I think Raymond is fast enough to recover for most mistakes. With the way the power play is setup as an umbrella, it’s really only one defenseman up top anyway, in this scenario Jake Gardiner.

5 – I think I wouldn’t read into how the Leafs look without Phaneuf too much either way. Obviously I will be interested in seeing it like everybody else is, but two games just isn’t enough to tell me anything noteworthy about what his absence would really be like over an 82-game season. I’m more interested in seeing if the Leafs can find another good pairing somehow amid their defense shuffle. I also recommend not reading too much into HBO 24/7. I have a feeling some quotes, or scenes, or whatever, are going to be picked apart and taken way too seriously. Crack open a few beers, sit back, and enjoy it for the entertainment it’s meant to be.

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Anthony Petrielli has been at MLHS since 2011. He is known for his weekly "Leafs Notebook" feature, and also writes specific analysis pieces. You can contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @APetrielli.
  • Belfour20

    Excellent write up, well thought out as usual.

  • Burtonboy

    Thank you Mr. Petrielli.  I’m really looking forward to Lupuls return . If he comes back anything like he did after injury last yr Holland might get a great opportunity for icetime. That line looks like it could be very good.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great stuff Anthony, generally emphasizing the positives.  The negatives will pour forth from the comments.
    RC should sit the team down and watch “Miracle on Ice” today.  Because they will need to play inspired hockey for the next 2 games.  Hopefully the Kings tired themselves a little last nite as they smacked around the Habs.
    If the Leafs manage 20 shots it will be a victory.

  • wendelsway1

    Good Game Day Morning Gents………thanks for the Notebook, Anthony…..a terrific read as always  :)

  • mcloki

    Morning Gents. Great optimistic read this morning AP. If the Leafs can get any points over their next 3 I’ll be happy. I hope Lupul shows up for the cameras.

  • wendelsway1

    Is livefyre being a bitch for anyone else this morning?

  • Burtonboy

    wendelsway1 Was just wondering that . Dam thing was locked up for me ,had to refresh

  • Mind Bomb

    Good morning Folks,  Sensing a Leaf Win tonight 

    4-2 leafs with an Empty Netter !!! Leafs pound them back to the West

  • Wilbur

    In order:

    Gunnar
    Gardiner
    Liles
    Franson
    Ranger
    Fraser

    Could we possibly be icing the worst group of 6 Dmen in the NHL tonight?

  • Burtonboy

    Wilbur Frankly Wilbur its been pretty much a mess all yr . Much like last yr when Carlyle insisted on Holzer and Kostka in the top 4. As long as he insists on having Fraser and Ranger to a lesser extent I expect this team will remain mired in the mud.

  • mcloki

    It’s been terrible for the last couple days. Very twitchy. The site goes down 3-4 times a night. Site is becoming unreadable. To many ads, videos, animated gifts.

  • Burtonboy

    Yaknowwhat I’m curious to see what Kulemin does with Lupul and Holland

  • Burtonboy

    Yaknowwhat Burtonboy Wilbur  I would start by sitting Fraser for one thing

  • Mind Bomb

    Burtonboy Yaknowwhat   He plays well with who ever you partner him with. 2nd line, 3rd line. with MCL, with Raymond with whoever, the one consistant we have on this team is Kulie

  • theacs1966

    mcloki If  you’re  using Chrome, I have one word for you, Adblock.

  • theacs1966

    mcloki Maybe at night it goes down for repairs?

  • Burtonboy

    theacs1966 mcloki I use add block and it still locks up from time to time . Not as bad as what mcloki is experiencing though

  • theacs1966

    Burtonboy theacs1966 mcloki Ya, I have a few problems now and then but since I don’t pay for the site, I don’t ask for my money back.

  • Wilbur

    Yaknowwhat Burtonboy Wilbur He was not “great” for us last year. He was steady as a place holder and brought some grit and shot blocking. Of course, after game one of the playoffs he was pulled and sat.

  • Belfour20

    Burtonboy Wilbur Let me ask you guys something, So what do you do with our D-Core? Who do you take out and who do you put in? The kid just getting his feet wet and is a -11? Franson and Gardiner who are turnover machines? Gunnar who is as slow as molasses? Call up more kids in the AHL who are also not ready? 

    We’re fucked with this low cap and their isnt many options to play with, you just play what got you there last year and pray that they find their game again. 

    Right now Reilly and Fraser are both costing as games, So I guess it doesnt matter who you put in, but Reilly doesnt kill penalties yet so that might be the reason he’s sitting more often than not. Then again nobody on this team is killing penalties atm.

  • Mind Bomb

    Yaknowwhat Burtonboy Wilbur  They should have sent him to the A on a conditioning Stint, I would not give up on Fraser, he is a decent 3rd pairing D man. He should not have been thrown in half healed at the NHL level

  • theacs1966

    Yaknowwhat Burtonboy Wilbur Who is logging the most minutes in the Marlies?  Holzer?  Bring him up, but him in the 2nd pair to start.  The minor league coaches seem to trust him.  I know, last year, but that was last year, he’s big and can play lots of minutes.  Either that to McWilliams.

  • Wilbur

    Belfour20 Burtonboy Wilbur I don’t have the answer. I’m simply pointing out that on paper our D tonight looks disgustingly horrible.

  • Burtonboy

    Yaknowwhat Burtonboy Wilbur He was slow anyway and injury has made him even slower. I agree he was good when he and Franson played 3 rd pair minutes but as soon as Carlyle moved them up they struggled. Ideally Franson and Fraser are nothing more then 3rd pair d .

  • Mind Bomb

    Yaknowwhat Mind Bomb Burtonboy  I am not sure, I think Kulie wants to be a leaf, I think he will be reasonable and sign a fair contract, with the cap going up we and the fact he wont get much of a raise will help sign him

  • theacs1966

    Wilbur Yaknowwhat Burtonboy Who?  Koska or Fraser?  because both were hurt.

  • Wilbur

    Burtonboy Yaknowwhat Wilbur Exactly. He was “great” playing against other team’s fourth liners in a limited role. He’s an AHLer.

  • Belfour20

    Wilbur Belfour20 Burtonboy It’s looked porous all season long. I think Nonis is letting this group at least play the winter classic before he gets rid of some of these scrubs.

  • theacs1966

    Yaknowwhat theacs1966 Burtonboy Wilbur So long as Holzer isn’t on the first pairing.  Someone else will have to do that, he can fill in for that person for 3 games.  I’d only bring McWilliams if it was our 5-6D that went down.

  • Wilbur

    theacs1966 Wilbur Yaknowwhat Burtonboy Either way our best hockey was played with neither in the line-up. Really, should we even be debating this? How many fans of other teams are arguing over the relative merits of a Mark Fraser? This is maybe the worst group of D men (without Dion) since Mike Murphy was coaching.

  • Burtonboy

    Yaknowwhat Wilbur Burtonboy I would rather someone who can skate . My future d might look something like this 

    Rielly  – Phaneuf 

    Gardiner – Grandberg 

    Percy  – McWilliam / Holzer

  • Cameron19

    Mind Bomb Yaknowwhat Burtonboy I think he will want to make more money, and sign with either the Penguins so he can be in an offensive role again and put up points, or go back to the KHL.

  • Wilbur

    Mind Bomb Yaknowwhat Burtonboy I’m not sold on him wanting to be a Leaf. If he believes he can still score 20 per year in the right situation he may just want to go somewhere where they will give him that chance.

  • theacs1966

    Belfour20 Wilbur Burtonboy It’s the team Defence that has been bad.  The D-core too, but it has been the whole team.  We won’t have a choice but to play a chip and chase one man deep trap type game if we wan’t any hope of winning the next 2 games.  Keep the score close and let our PP go to work, Franson and Gardiner should be our number one PP anyway.

  • theacs1966

    TheCanucksnaphook Just Kessel.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 I’m usually wrong about these things, but I would bet he is a Penguin later this season.

  • Belfour20

    theacs1966 Belfour20 Wilbur Burtonboy  Well thats the one thing thats good about this suspension, it forces RC to actually try new things with the team, we’ll see if they work out.

  • theacs1966

    TheCanucksnaphook theacs1966 Bad attitude too.

  • Mind Bomb

    Cameron19 Mind Bomb Yaknowwhat Burtonboy

    That would be sad Cam, he was drafted here, developed and put up with shitty teams, and now that the Horizon is bright he Bolts. I hope not

  • Cameron19

    Yaknowwhat Wilbur Mind Bomb Burtonboy He hasn’t been in an offensive role for 3 seasons now. The only time he got the chance was with Kadri for 5 games last year, and he put up like 6 points in that span, lol.

  • Mind Bomb

    Cameron19 Yaknowwhat Wilbur Mind Bomb Burtonboy  Aye he played good with Kadri, seems to be a theme, with Kulie lol

  • Burtonboy

    Cameron19 Hopefully that combo of Lupul – Holland  – Kulie sticks tonight

  • theacs1966

    Burtonboy Yaknowwhat Wilbur I think Holzer is destined to be a number seven D and call up.   That’s if he doean’t fuck off to the KHL.

  • MaxwellHowe

    TheCanucksnaphook It was felt you were pushing for a change of scenery, so you plus a handful of less prestigious regulars were packaged to a Blackhawks blogsite.  The returns are negligible.

  • theacs1966

    Belfour20 theacs1966 Wilbur Burtonboy Liles being up will help too.  Vet presence should calm people down, he can move the puck up and be on the 2nd PP.  He was ripping it up on the PP in the AHL.

  • Cameron19

    Yaknowwhat Cameron19 Wilbur Mind Bomb Burtonboy Don’t recall that ever happening. He’s been on the checking line since before Wilson was fired, with very limited opportunities on the 2nd line – almost of all which saw a burst in production, before he was required on the checking line again.  This guy can score, and he will go somewhere else to prove it, because that’s where the money is.  Just like Grabo, who everyone said was garbage offensively after last year. On pace for 70 points now….

  • Belfour20

    theacs1966 Belfour20 Wilbur Burtonboy Liles should have always been on the PP in my opinion, such a waste to have him in the AHL. I love RC but some of his decisions piss me off.

  • Cameron19

    Yaknowwhat Burtonboy Wilbur He has tons of options.

  • Mind Bomb

    Cameron19 Yaknowwhat Wilbur Mind Bomb Burtonboy

    Anthony’s Comment above : I hope the Leafs can resign this guy. I hope he gets a more expanded role offensively, too, because he has the ability. If Kulemin leaves I wouldn’t be surprised to see him tear it up similar to what http://mapleleafshotstove.com/roster/clarke-macarthur/ and http://mapleleafshotstove.com/roster/mikhail-grabovski/ are doing now.

    And another one : Maybe it was just the way TV made the game look, but it sure seemed like Dallas was a faster team than the Leafs. You can say what you want about last year’s Leafs team, but nobody was ever faster than them. This season’s team is arguably slower and softer.

    When are we going to learn that continually getting rid of our Good players and replacing with Kids and waiver cast offs, is hurting us

  • theacs1966

    Belfour20 theacs1966 Wilbur Burtonboy Poor cap management too.