Game Preview: The ‘Yotes are Circlin’

Game Preview: The ‘Yotes are Circlin’

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11-15-3 since their 6-1 start, 10 losses in their last 13.. it may not be time to panic yet, with the Leafs still tight to Detroit for third in the division, two games coming up against the Red Wings in the next six games, and 45 games still left on the schedule.

But the urgency and concern was manifest in some the quotes aired in the dressing room after the Florida loss. While the vote of confidence “kiss of death” came from Dave Nonis yesterday, Carlyle does have the benefit of the doubt with the injury factor and a playoff appearance last season, which for all we know could preserve him much longer than we’re imagining. The Leafs play four of their next five games at home and the ACC though and it could get hostile with more efforts like the one versus Florida.

Toronto will look to relieve some pressure by halting the bleeding with a home win over Phoenix tonight.

Not the case this season, but in past years the Coyotes were known for the effectiveness of their defensive system. In 2011-12, they were a 42-win team, top 5 in goals against, and 19th in goals for. A 50-win team in 2009-10, the Yotes were third in goals against and 24th in goals for.

The Coyotes missed the playoffs last season, and so far this season we’ve seen a departure from the low-scoring, tight-checking characteristic of Dave Tippett’s team from previous successful iterations. The Coyotes are a decent 18-10-5 – only good enough to be on the playoff fringe in the West, but with games in hand – with top five offensive production, compensating for their fourth worst goals against total and fourth-worst shots against standing. Ribeiro, Vrbata, Shane Doan, Mikkel Boedker, Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette and Rob Klinkhammer (lol) have given the Coyotes solid scoring depth up front, and they’ve had a lot more help than the Leafs in terms of offense from the defense.

The Coyotes top three D (Yandle, Ekman-Larsson, Morris) have a combined 56 points compared to 39 of the Leafs defence. It’s not that the Leafs don’t have some capable point producers on the backend or that their powerplay is struggling; it’s that the team doesn’t sustain the even-strength offensive zone time required for their defense to get more involved in the offense. Contrast the Leafs’ 31 even strength points from their defencemen with the Coyotes’ 54.

The Coyotes’ 54 puts them near the top, and the Leafs’ 31 puts them 4th last in even strength scoring by defencemen, only four points better than the record-setting-ly offensively inept Buffalo Sabres. Knowing this and coming off two one-goal performances, it shouldn’t even be a consideration to sit John Michael Liles in favour of Mark Fraser.

Speaking of offense, Jerred Smithson (pause for laughs) was recalled yesterday and will center the 4th line with Trevor Smith out an extended period of time due to a broken hand. Many were hoping the horrible shift that may well have cost the Leafs the game vs. San Jose was the precursor to a permanent banishment to the Marlies or Solar Bears, but another injury to a center later and here we are.

Just a guess, but Jonathan Bernier seems likely to start.

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]