With Wednesday night’s beat down in Beantown still bringing up bruises, it sure looks like the Toronto Maple Leafs are punching above their weight class in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup. Such are the wages of glory. Thankfully, the Leafs have some time to lick their wounds and regroup ahead of Saturday’s matchup. Looks like they’ll need it.
Here are some thoughts to get you through your Friday.
Sharp learning curve costs Leafs
One of the greatest imbalances between the Maple Leafs and Bruins was experience and it showed up in just about every facet of Game 1. On Wednesday, 10 Leaf players made their Stanley Cup Playoff debuts and another five could work their way into the lineup as the series rolls along. By contrast, the Bruins dressed 16 players who featured on their 2011 Cup-winning team. Given that tale of the tape, how did you expect it to go?
This isn’t to excuse the turnovers and sloppy play, only to provide context for why the level of intensity and physical play looked to be so much less than the Bruins. On Wednesday, the Leafs looked a tentative bunch, and in no way ready to sustain the physical and offensive onslaught of a primed, playoff contender. So while the media focuses on the continued dominance at the hands of the Bruins, I’d conjecture that the green Leafs would have been handled pretty roughly by just about any veteran-laden playoff club.
With so many players having been bloodied, I’d expect a much calmer, decisive Leaf team at the TD Gardens on Saturday. They’ll still get out shot, as that is their way, but with opening night jitters past them the compete level should be a lot more even. Cause if it’s not, this series could be over in three games…
By now, the clip of Brad Marchand’s stupid strike three call has made the rounds of the internet, but it highlights a possible weakness in the Bruins armour that the Leafs could exploit.
Had that swing from the newly-castrated Marchand connected with van Riemsdyk, he likely would have faced supplementary discipline on intent alone. He’s no stranger to league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, either. He’s a recidivist and back slider of the worst sort, with a notable history of malicious cheap shots. Had van Riemsdyk been at all injured on the play, Marchand’s actions could have warranted a suspension to rival Raffi Torres’ 25-gamer from last season. This loon is also the Bruins regular season leading scorer and has bone game breaking potential.
You’d have to think following Andrew Ference’s suspension, Bruins Coach Claude Julien will be telling his players to keep their noise clean. But seeing that Marchand has such a short fuse, and recalling Bruins star goaltender Tuukka Rask’s milk crate antics, the Leafs ought to … needle the pair as often as they can. Honour and class totally have a place in the sport, but if the Leafs want to win a playoff series, they’ll need to display more of JvR’s gamesmanship to give them a competitive edge. With any luck Leo Komarov follows in the footsteps of the incessant Esa Tikkanen (say that three times fast) and force the Bruins into a stupid reprisal.
Attrition and wall fodder
Remember when Brian Burke made that ridiculous comment about needing 10 defensemen to play in the playoffs? Man, it’s not really all that funny anymore as both Cody Franson and Mike Kostka missed practice yesterday, ailing from injuries sustained in the first Leaf playoff game in nearly a decade.
Kostka is out with a broken finger, and may not be able to play Saturday (he likely would have been sat anyways). But Franson has had a noticeable limp to his stride and was used sparingly after blocking a shot in the second period, and would be a huge loss for the team. He led the Leafs defense in points this season running the power play while carrying Mark Fraser on his back all game at even strength.
His ascendance from role player to impact player – and the Leafs’ acceptance of him – has been one of the better stories of the 2013 season (thank you, Lebda). The man advantage – truly the Leafs one clear advantage over the Bruins – cannot work as effectively without the rangy defender’s surprisingly effective point shot.
If the injury to Kostka didn’t already ensure it, the potential loss of Franson will necessitate Jake Gardiner being freed from the Press box Penitentiary. Someone will need to feed Phaneuf and Kessel on the first PP unit, and with Liles’ offensive game all but gone since suffering a concussion in January of 2012, it’ll fall to Gardiner.
The smartest man in the room
Wade Redden tallied two points for the Bruins in Game 1 in a feel-good return to the post season, much to the chagrin of me now and me a decade ago. The much maligned Redden was acquired from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline by the Bruins for a paltry fee (a conditional 7th round draft pick in 2014). Redden came to the Bruins as a rare 1000/100 player (1000 regular season and 100 playoff games played) for basically nothing.
It is also worth noting that the Leafs paid an actual 4th round pick in 2014 for the glacial Ryan O’Byrne, who isn’t 100% likely to score ever again in the NHL, let alone two points in a period of playoff hockey. Considering that O’Byrne is a pending UFA and had trouble staying in the top six of both Colorado and Toronto, this trade still seems pretty stupid (even though I predicted it). On a still-rebuilding team, it was a wasteful if cheap move by Dave Nonis.
So with the draft soon upon us, what would you rather have? An expiring contract for a replacement-level defenseman; or a lotto ticket that could win you James Reimer, Matt Frattin, Mikhail Grabovski, Leo Komarov or Carl Gunnarsson? All were drafted in the fourth round or later, and all of them have contributed more to this team’s success than O’Byrne likely ever will. So with all that said, you can probably pencil in ROB will start on Saturday.
Here’s Shanny with the Banhammer on Andrew Ference for his elbow to the head of Mikhail Grabovski. This is only the second worst hit you’ll see in the links today.
Take a look at this scary hit on the Canadiens Lars Eller by the Senators Eric Gryba. It’s way, way too early to tell, but that has career-ending written all over it. It’s pretty gruesome, so… ye know… don’t be eating or caring for children while watching this.