Thursday, May 28, 2015
Authors Posts by Alec Brownscombe

Alec Brownscombe

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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]

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David Clarkson
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23: Benoit Pouliot #67 of the New York Rangers checks David Clarkson #71 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Madison Square Garden on December 23, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With the HBO 24/7 sideshow and the 2014 Winter Classic spectacle now behind them, the Toronto Maple Leafs look to continue a three-game winning streak versus the New York Rangers.

As those who could tolerate  the Fox Sports commentators and the poor camera angles can attest to, the Marlies staged a late comeback effort to win 4-3 in shootout over the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Hockeytown Winter Festival Outdoor game. The Marlies sit 17-10-3 at the 30-game pole and now lead the North Division by three points over Hamilton with three games in hand.

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 27: Zemgus Gergensons #28 of the Buffalo Sabres softens the landing for Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 27, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Better than one point or zero, but all we can do is exhale and move on after this one. This was way too much of an adventure for a must win game against Buffalo. Still with just 1 regulation win in the last 19, this was the fourth straight Leafs game decided in a shootout. The Leafs led in the third period in three of them.

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Pregame coles notes:

– 3 regulation wins in the last 25 games for the Leafs. That has to change tonight.
– Jonathan Bernier starts for the Leafs after stopping 39 of 40 shots vs. the Rangers.
– No real changes to the lineup from Monday’s loss to the Rangers: Paul Ranger stays in beside Morgan Rielly, Liles and Fraser sit.
– Randy Carlyle says he likes the strength and “power” to Ranger’s game, meaning “Power Ranger” can now be a thing.
– No Cody Hodgson for the Sabres, who is out for another couple of weeks after hurting himself blocking a shot.
– Ryan Miller starts in net. He sports a 31-15-1 record and .922 save percentage in his career vs. Toronto.
– Sabres rookie Zemgus Girgensons has three goals and three assists in his past nine games.
– Buffalo remains the worst team in the league but have gone 4-4-2 in their last ten. Mostly because their goals against are down lately. Ryan Miller is heating up ((2-0-0, 1.45, .959 in last 2 GP).
– The Sabres are averaging a hideous 1.68 goals per game. The last team to finish below 2 per game on average was the Lightning in 1997-98 with a 1.84 GF/G.
Ted Nolan has stated his intention to put John Scott in front of Jonathan Bernier on the powerplay tonight. Bernier will have to peer around him and tune out all the guttural grunting.

TORONTO, ON- SEPTEMBER 22 - Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk would get a goal tender interference penalty for running over Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller as Buffalo Sabres defenseman Chad Ruhwedel looks on in the third period as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 in preseason action at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, September 22, 2013. Steve Russell/Toronto Star

Back to work for the Leafs tonight, as they will hit the half way point of the season against Buffalo and Carolina this weekend (Friday/Sunday, with a rare Saturday off) before heading to the Big House for the Winter Classic on New Years Day.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23: Jonathan Bernier #45 and Peter Holland #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs dive to block a shot by J.T. Miller #10 of the New York Rangers during the second period at Madison Square Garden on December 23, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Leafs are doing their best Mighty Ducks impersonation for the HBO cameras, taking three straight games to shootout. Except these shootouts don’t have Goldberg, knucklepucks, Gunnar Stahl, triple dekes, and shouldn’t decide NHL games.

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Toronto Maple Leafs' James van Riemsdyk (21) shoots the puck past New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30), of Sweden, to score during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

While the Leafs did well to battle back and take a 4-3 lead in their eventual shootout loss to Detroit on Saturday, once again they failed to shut down a game when they needed to.

I went back and counted up the number of times the Leafs have forfeited a third period lead. Here’s the list:

GameDescriptionPlayers on Ice
CarolinaLeading 2-0 going into third, lost 3-2 in regulation.4, 12, 19, 43, 44, 45; 3, 12, 36, 42, 45, 81; 3, 12, 36, 45, 63 (PK)
New JerseyLeading 1-0, coughed up lead with 4:45 to go. Won shootout.3, 11, 21, 36, 45 (PK)
MinnesotaLeading 1-0, coughed up lead with 4:17 to go. Lost shootout.12, 15, 21, 44, 45, 81
WashingtonLeading 1-0, coughed up lead with 4:10 to go. Won shootout.3, 11, 21, 34, 36, 41
PittsburghLeading 5-3 entering third period. Coughed up lead by 13:19. Lost in shootout. 3, 36, 42, 45 (PK); 12, 15, 36, 41, 43, 45
DallasLeading 2-1, coughed up lead with 2:46 remaining. Won in OT. 2, 3, 12, 23, 45 (PK)
OttawaLeading 3-1 going into third, coughed up lead by 9:30 of the 3rd period. Won in Shootout.
4, 12, 23, 34, 41, 51; 2, 4, 23, 29, 34 (PK)
PhoenixLeading 1-0, coughed up lead with 4:52 to go. Won in Shootout.3, 11, 34, 36, 41, 71
DetroitLeading 4-3, coughed up lead with 6:16 to go. Lost in shootout.21, 26, 43, 44, 45, 81

Those are some valuable points the Leafs won’t get back. The only reason the Leafs aren’t out of a playoff position right now is because they’re competent in the shootout, but the lack of ROW could hurt them down the road, too, in terms of tie breakers.

Only one of those third period collapses came with Bozak and Bolland in the lineup (the Carolina loss). Bozak had played parts of the Pittsburgh game but left for the third period. With Bozak and Bolland hurt, the result is often that Jay McClement plays a lot when Carlyle looks to protect a lead. The pecking order in terms of Carlyle’s trust in his centers late in games seems to go, in order: Bolland, Bozak, McClement, Kadri, Holland.

Whatever the reason – the missing personnel at center, system, psychological scarring from May 13 – the Leafs are “receiving” too much late in games, and it’s costing them points and ROWs that could come back to haunt them in April.

Christmas Eve Eve in New York

Tonight, the Leafs look to enter the brief Christmas break on the right note with a win in New York. The Rangers are the one of the opponents on the outside of the playoff picture but within strikable distance of the Leafs as we approach the half way point of the season.

After scoring just a goal a game in three straight, the Leafs had an offensive outburst vs. Detroit, and yet the Leafs’ top line remained absent outside of an assist for JvR and Kessel on the powerplay. The trio of Kadri, Kessel and JvR needs to be better tonight. Those two powerplay assists are the trio’s only two points in the last four games and they’re a combined -14 over that span.

Jonathan Bernier is expected to start and Colton Orr is expected to return to the 4th line.

The Rangers, playing in a back to back scenario, will start Cam Talbot in net. That’s not necessarily a good thing for the Leafs; Talbot’s 7-2 with two shutouts and a .936 save percentage.

In a far more entertaining second episode of 24/7, both clubs are mired in the frustration of losing too many games, with the respective head coaches serving as the central characters. A furious Mike Babcock sends an HBO cameraman scurrying out of the Wings dressing room. During Randy Carlyle’s outburst, the Toronto cameraman has the foresight to tape through a half-closed door rather than standing in the middle of the maelstrom.

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HBO 24/7: Maple Leafs - Red Wings
HBO 24/7: Maple Leafs - Red Wings

MLHS hopes those affected by the power outages are doing OK – if you’re one, stop wasting your remaining cell battery and get off MLHS.

This second episode of HBO 24/7 will juxtapose the Leafs’ brutal losses to St. Louis and Florida with one of the best wins of the season vs. Chicago.

Here is a link to a YouTube video. I’m not sure if it’s a legal copy, so I won’t embed here.

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The Maple Leafs enter this game trailing the Red Wings for third place in the Division (remember – the funny new format means top 3 teams from each division make the playoffs) by just two points. The teams are both middle of the pack-ish in goals for and against. Both teams have been plodding along on the wrong side of .500 the last 10 games.

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 17: David Clarkson #71 of the Toronto Maple Leafs battles for the puck with Tomas Kopecky #82 of the Florida Panthers during NHL game action December 17, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Despite losses in two of three, the Leafs looked to be fighting their way out of a slump with some good efforts against some good competition in San Jose, Los Angeles and Chicago. A 50/50 game to the Pittsburgh Penguins was kind of a writeoff defeat. A loss as sloppy as this one to the Florida Panthers, though, suggests the tailspin is still very much in progress.

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An interesting picture (that's Smithson in the Panthers jersey).

There is talk Jonathan Bernier will start tonight, which doesn’t make any sense.

It would be five starts out of six for Bernier and in a back to back to boot – note: Bernier was also officially credited with the St. Louis loss – meaning Bernier would be the first of the two to get an extended run of starts for no reason related to actual performance.

Bernier has been below .900 in 7 of his last 10 games. Reimer won his last full game in a shootout after facing 50 shots against Ottawa. SItting him out in a back to back would be a slap in the face. Not sure if it’s related to the St. Louis loss, but the Leafs getting ran over in the first period and leaving players wide open in the slot all period would seem to excuse the goalie from any fault.

We’ll see who is in the net come game time before jumping to further conclusions.

The Panthers are not a push over as they were earlier in the season. They’re rested and have been waiting in Toronto. They’re winners of 5 of their last 6. Starter Scott Clemmensen has been solid in his last two games – wins over Montreal and Washington. Brad Boyes and Jimmy Hayes will each be good for a goal.

Jerry D’Amigo is unlikely to play, but we won’t know who will play in his place until game time. Same deal for any changes on the blueline (even though there shouldn’t be).

The Leafs need this one.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 16: Chris Conner #23 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his first period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the game at Consol Energy Center on December 16, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

After the first period, this was a 50/50 game that the Leafs didn’t end up on the right end of. Toronto will be ruing some missed scoring chances and blown powerplay opportunities on the plane ride home.

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A great win over the League champs can quickly be forgotten if the Leafs don’t take it as a turnaround point amid a poor December. They’re now through  the toughest part of their schedule and have to get back to accumulating points with 15 of their next 16 games against Eastern opponents.

The top 4 of this Penguins team’s defence has been decimated (i.e. entirely eliminated) by injuries (Martin, Letang, Orpik, Scuderi), and their fifth D, Derek Engelland, is waiting to be suspended. James Neal is suspended, as well. Evgeni Malkin is out after crashing into the boards leg first against Detroit. For tonight’s game, check out the NHL betting odds.

Despite all the lineup depletion, the Pens enter tonight winners of three straight (five of their last six). The Penguins historically have persevered better than expected when faced with significant injuries, although these are particularly daunting.

Malkin being out should help the Leafs focus their shutdown efforts a little more on #87. McClement, playing alongside Kulemin and D’Amigo, played 10 of his 14 and a half even strength minutes against Jonathan Toews, Parick Sharp and Marian Hossa while starting 80% of his shifts in the defensive zone. That line scored twice and won the possession battle.

For the Leafs, the lineup remains the same because why wouldn’t it?

JVR-Kadri-Kessel
Raymond-Holland-Lupul
D’Amigo-McClement-Kulemin
McLaren-Smith-Bodie

Gunnarsson-Phaneuf
Gardiner-Franson
Rielly-Liles

Bernier

TORONTO , ON - DECEMBER 14: The Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Peter Holland's #24 goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during NHL game action December 14, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

That the Leafs’ offensive outbreak and first regulation win since November 19 (12 games) came against the League’s top team could be pivotal in restoring some confidence in the Leafs’ game. This was a great win, keyed by better lineup decisions by Randy Carlyle, secondary offensive contributions, and some rookie scoring. Two goals for Peter Holland, two for Joffrey Lupul, a goal and assist for Jerry D’Amigo and Nikolai Kulemin, Phil Kessel’s 17th of the season, four assists for Mason Raymond… The Leafs’ first win over Chicago since 2003 was an emphatic one.

They outshot them, too.