In a vital game against the beatable Sharks, who went 1-3-1 in their last 5 games and were 3-6-1 in their last 10, the Leafs showed up two periods too late. The collective hand of Leafs Nation has officially smacked the panic button as the Leafs are about to lose their grip on eighth place. The Jets will surpass the Leafs with a win over Tampa, and currently lead 4-0. More after the jump.
1 — The Leafs are 29-25-7 and we crashed the net early. Sadly, it wasn—t intentional.
2 — Our boys played a tight first period, didn—t get outworked, had good speed and created chances. I wish we saw more of the same for the remainder of the game. Problem was it wasn—t a well played period of hockey by either side. Sloppy hockey early.
3 – Leafs lacked puck possession and offensive zone time in the second, and predictably took three penalties, one resulting in a goal against in the form of Marleau’s second goal. The Sharks owned the boards at both ends of the rink and killed the Leafs with 80% of possession. All the Leafs could muster was either an icing or a dump in with little hope or effort in retrieving the puck. As a result the puck was constantly coming back at them. The second period lost the Leafs the game.
4 – The team lacked much fight through two periods tonight and that was more concerning than anything. At the start of the third, Mike Brown dropped the gloves for an always spirited bout and it seemed to finally inject some life to the home side. Was it more to do with the Leafs picking up the urgency down two in the third, facing the potential loss of their playoff spot? Maybe, but it seemed to wake up the bench, so credit to Mike Brown. He’s been the only one to provide a physical spark with any consistency this season.
5 – Shortly after, Jake Gardiner, after a nice curl and find by none other than Phil Kessel, fired a nice shot hard and low and got a nice bounce (or two) to get the Leafs back in this one four minutes into the third.
Speaking of Gardiner, he hardly left the ice in the third. He led all Leafs in ice time, scored the lone Leaf goal, and yes, this is still his first season in the league. If Howson demanded Gardiner in a Carter package, I don’t blame Burke for telling Howson to go fly a kite. But, in terms of value, I don’t equate Jack Johnson to a kid with Gardiner’s ability and potential. I would be surprised if Howson did.
6 – Matthew Lombardi could have tied the game about three times over in the third period. He was barreling down on a stick-less Dan Boyle, had him at his mercy, and opted to pull up for a shot into Niemi’s crest. He had another puck fall to him out front of Niemi alone and opted to chip it into the Shark logo. If he could ever get his touch and patience back with the puck, he’s starting to find the opportunities.
7 – It really was the same old story, and it’s getting alarming, if it wasn’t already. This team lacks a good energy line and has a one page play book. It had no spark for two periods, and has no ability to fall back on physical play and a good cycle to help them find their way into a game. If the Jeff Carter acquisition by the Kings means Dustin Brown is available (not necessarily, given he’s the captain and they’re looking to make a run), that’s something Burke simply has to pursue. Steve Ott and Travis Moen (and I’m talking maybe both – the third line needs a makeover) could help too. The big question in that case is what to do with Connolly and/or Lombardi.
8 – All that said, it was a valiant fight back in the third, and it was amazing the Leafs didn’t find a way to get a second puck behind Niemi. They were fighting puck luck and a good goaltender. I guess you can’t start playing in the third, down 2-0, against a strong team desperate for a win, and expect good results. Who knew.
9 – The Carter acquisition by Los Angeles will be on everyone’s lips following yet another loss, the Leafs’ sixth in eight games (1-6-1). Howson got a minimal return on an asset that, while risky in terms of contract length, has number one centre, 35+ goal ability. Where Burke plans on finding his #1c of the future is anybody’s guess; his aversion for the contractual commitment definitely was the sticking point.
10 – To follow that up, Carter doesn’t solve all of this team’s fatal flaws. Goaltending and team toughness are even bigger issues at this stage. But with no top line offensive talent in the system, you do start wondering what the future plan is for that number one center spot and how many of these opportunities Burke is going to let pass by. The big man certainly has more patience than I do.
Lastly, it doesn’t matter if Burke can’t fix all of this team’s problems in one or two trades before the deadline – he can’t – but he has to make a move now regardless. He has to shake things up and bring in a fresh face. His team is slumping at the total wrong time of the season. It’s time to give it a good shot in the ass, before it’s too late.