– Losing to a young, inexperienced goalie that fought every puck, like in the loss against Nashville, is the kind of loss that really hurts over an 82-game season. Especially because, after the first period, the Leafs were firmly in control of that game but didn’t bury chances or give themselves much of a lead. The Preds got a four minute power play early in the second, they scored, and the game completely shifted.

– Add in losing to a reeling Columbus team that didn’t have Gaborik, Dubinsky or Horton (who they haven’t had all year, obviously). Good teams take care of business against the teams they should beat. At home, those both should have been wins. At the very least, get a point.

– This was a really bad home stand, even though the team went 3-2. They almost blew a 3-0 lead to the Sabres, actually had a strong game against the Islanders, had it handed to them by Nashville, were dominated by Washington while Reimer stood on his head, and then obviously the Columbus debacle.

– In a recent 30 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman noted that Bobby Ryan was told to stay in the middle in the defensive zone versus pressuring puck carriers on the half-wall, with Carlyle’s reasoning being “If the goalie can’t stop it from out there, we’ll get another one.” Against Washington, a few times the puck would come up the boards in the defensive zone to the hashmarks and JVR wouldn’t come down and get it. That kind of puts it into perspective. This in part explains why the Leafs give up a lot of shots; they don’t attempt to pressure puck carriers as much as they try to keep them to the outside and take away prime scoring opportunities. So, personnel aside, on system alone the Leafs are going to concede their fair share of shots because the players are instructed to take away the middle and allow the outside stuff.

– What’s even more interesting about that is, when the Leafs PK finally started to turn for the better, one of the primary reasons – as Greg Cronin told MLHS — was that they started pressuring the puck carrier on the half wall. You would think they would do it during 5v5 play if they believe they found PK success because of it.

– JVR trying to toe-drag at the blue line, losing it, and Columbus going down and scoring is pretty well what Carlyle was talking about in a nutshell when he said the team is getting too cute. Toe drags during zone offense at the blue line stopped working in minor hockey.

– The bigger picture of that is Bobrovsky getting one of the easier NHL shutouts of his career. The Leafs mustered 18 shots on net even though they were down 4-0 before the game was halfway over. You have to get dirty to score goals in this league. Not every goal can be tic-tac-beautiful.

– I counted at least four times in the Columbus game where Gunnarsson either walked the puck to the middle of the ice and passed, or received the puck in the middle and passed. Gunnarsson’s now down to 12 shots in 24 games this season and has one point (an assist). One. I don’t know what’s happened to this guy.

– On Ryan Murray’s goal, which was the result of a pass going from the corner to the far side high slot, it was all on Smithson. Smithson crept down and put his stick in the down low lane, where there was already a Leafs defenseman, instead of covering his point man. That’s basic penalty killing, and covering the far side defenseman on a penalty kill is the easiest position to be in on a penalty kill. It’s just in an inexcusable mistake.

– Last May, we watched a crazy collapse by the Leafs in game 7 as they blew a three-goal lead in the third period. What’s frustrating about that is seeing the Leafs take a 1-0 lead into the third period at home against an okay Washington team and proceeding to sit back on their heels. They got outshot 19-4 in the third. Sure, Ovechkin’s goal was due to a lucky bounce, but when you’re stuck in your own zone for an entire period because you want to sit back on your lead chances are the opposition will eventually get a fortunate bounce. The Leafs sent one guy in deep, showed no desire to grind the Caps down, and really just hung back all game trying not to give up great scoring opportunities. They need to iron out of those habits now, because we all saw what happened last Spring.

– A positive about that Caps game, though, is that the Leafs created quite a few 5v5 scoring opportunities: Phaneuf hit a post, and got robbed in the slot, Kessel got robbed on a cross-ice pass, Clarkson hit the post, the Leafs had a number of odd man rushes, and so on. That’s a good sign for a team that’s been struggling to score 5v5.

– Right after the Isles scored to make it 4-2 Leafs, the Leafs won the draw, Carl Gunnarsson over skated the puck, and Okposo got a great scoring chance. If that goes in, the score is 4-3 and against a better team that would have been very scary.

– Clarkson had an awesome back check on Frans Nielson who cut backdoor off a rush shortly before Kessel made it 5-2. Those are the little things he brings to the table that don’t get much attention.

– I was listening to TSN radio during the second intermission of the Islanders game and Jeff O’Neill was really giving it to the Leafs for not responding well after Kulemin’s hit on Tavares. I went back and re-watched the tape to see. The next shift, the D pinched and got burned for a few odd man rushes, but Trevor Smith had an unbelievable back-check, Bernier made a big save, Holland had a nice dangle and drove the net, Bernier made another big save, the Leafs drew a penalty, and they scored on the power play. That’s a lot of high profile events happening in a row in favour of the Leafs after the Kulemin hit.

– Really feel for Trevor Smith as he put up five points in four games yet he was a healthy scratch against Washington and Columbus. It wasn’t just the points with Smith, though; he had a fantastic backcheck to break up a 2v1 against the Islanders, was playing dependable minutes for the Leafs, and he provided a spark when the team was down. Guys like that deserve better.

– Bernier should have stopped the second Craig Smith goal (short side high, to refresh your memory), but he got the shot opportunity because Ranger tried to rip the puck around the boards with a backhand, even though he put his head up beforehand and saw a Predator in his way. That’s just not smart hockey. How many times do players rip backhanders along the boards passed opponents behind the net? I imagine that play was the last straw leading to his healthy scratch.

– Interesting strategy on the Caps PP, completely eliminating Ovechkin. The last few years the Leafs didn’t make that effort to take away guys like Ovie and Kovalchuk, and watching them tee-up cannons was painful to do. The Caps were terrible at adjusting to that scheme, so it worked out. Kudos to the Leafs for forcing Washington to beat them without Ovechkin.

– The Leafs should also thank Adam Oates for Mike Green not being on that PP. Carlson has 28 career goals and Green has a 31 goal season to his name, yet it was Carlson teeing off.

– Had to smile at a pass Fraser made to Rielly on the point in the offensive zone against Washington. It was ahead of Rielly and he couldn’t handle it. Why was it ahead? Because Fraser made the pass quickly and it was where the right-handed Franson’s stick would be.

– Rielly played both RD and LD in Moose Jaw, which is something we’ve noted here a million times, so it’s really no surprise that he has easily shifted over to the other side of the ice. Gardiner played the left side in college because he was paired with Edmonton’s Justin Schultz, who is right handed. It’s hard to learn something completely new in the NHL, but if you’re already used to something and can handle playing against NHLers, Rielly should be able to translate.

– One thought on Gardiner not playing the right side well: he has a very upright stride, meaning his back is straight and he’s very proper when he skates. Rielly, on the other hand, is somewhat hunched over, giving him a lower center of gravity and making turning directions a little more fluid. When you’re on your off-side, the biggest issue is seeing the entire ice because you can’t face up ice as you’re receiving cross ice passes. Rielly’s hunched=over style of skating helps him with that.

– Phil Kessel doesn’t get caught on breakaways by players like Alex Urbom. When a strange play like that happens, it’s usually a sign that’s something is up. Later in the game, Kessel chipped it by Urbom before beating him out for an icing with ease, so it’s not like Urbom is an underrated skater who is on par with Kessel. At the beginning of the season, Kessel was really engaged in digging pucks out of the corners, going to the net hard and winning some battles, but lately he’s been more selective and playing like a power play specialist. Whatever his bump or bruise is, hopefully it’s not going to be a long-term problem.

– Lupul-Kadri-Clarkson combined for 10 shots on net against Washington. It’s only one game, so there’s nothing to go crazy over, but that line played like it had the potential to be the 1B line to Kessel’s 1A line that many thought it could be in the off season. Very encouraging first game. The second game, on the other hand, was a lost cause for everyone and makes it tough to take anything away from that.

– On the note of that Kadri line: they had some out-of-sync odd man rushes. On one rush, Kadri cut in and Lupul set himself up and called for a one-timer, but Kadri floated a wrister in on Holtby. On another, pretty well the exact same play happened except it was Clarkson electing not to pass to Kadri this time. Kadri led another odd man rush where he threw it on net as well. We’ll see if the passing picks up between those three as time goes on. At one point, Kadri did throw a saucer pass to Clarkson, who then hit the post. Against Columbus, Clarkson tried to hit Kadri as the trailer and completely missed him.

– Last season, Pete DeBoer said the big improvement in Clarkson’s game was being able to pass among their best players and distribute the puck, but so far he has struggled to make good passes and create offense outside of driving the net.

– Maybe it’s just coincidence and I’m reading too much into it, but it’s interesting that the Capitals had two pretty random shootout shooters (Fehr and Brouwer), and both were righties. Backstrom was Washington’s only shooter that wasn’t a righty, but he’s their best player in the shootout and that is a no-brainer for them. It was Reimer’s first shootout of the season, so it’s something I’ll monitor moving forward.

– All in all, this was just a very tough week to find positives. Morgan Rielly was a bright spot, but he too had his glaring error (which is to be expected). Phaneuf did well against Tavares and Ovechkin, and at least showed a little something by hammering Anisimov.



“We’re far, far too cute. We just refuse continually to direct pucks and we’re not getting that second and third opportunity, that flurry of shots. And the opposition that we play against are doing it to us. They take one shot on net and they get two or three whacks at it where we seemed to be one and out. We’re very selective on when we want to shoot the puck. We’ve got to simplify, put the pucks toward the net. I would say we have some thick heads.”
– Randy Carlyle, on his team’s shot selection.

There are times when you simply have to put pucks on net and outwork teams to win rebound battles and retrieve the pucks, but the Leafs really haven’t done that so far this season. The Columbus game was case and point. It’s been disappointing to say the least.

“We think Holland can be a top 3 centre. Maybe a 1. He has tremendous upside and put up good numbers in the AHL”
Dave Nonis, on Peter Holland.

It’s hard to put a finger on the Leafs plan at center because there are quite a few moving parts right now. See more below.

“Maybe a little bit of a wake-up call for us. We’re getting a little too comfortable.”
Tyler Bozak, after getting spanked by Columbus at home.

When you continually get away with murder – like the Washington game — it’s going to lead to complacency.


5 Things I’d Do

1. The Satellite Hotstove reported the Leafs have begun talking with Dave Bolland’s camp. I think I have no problem with resigning him (pending it being a reasonable cap hit and term, obviously), but signing Bolland has to mean the end of Bozak down the road because Bozak-Kadri-Bolland isn’t a Cup contending center group unless Kadri emerges as a high end 1C and it becomes Kadri-Bolland-Bozak. Cap wise, that just doesn’t make sense, and I think the Leafs have begun looking at centers to replace Bozak eventually starting with the Holland acquisition and continuing with the Brayden Schenn rumours.

2 – The Satellite Hotstove also reported Claude Loiselle was seen watching Carolina against Boston to presumably watch Tim Gleason (played in his sixth game of the season) because he has been rumoured to be going to the Leafs in exchange for John-Michael Liles. Gleason is 30 and has two years left on his deal after this season at a $4M cap hit for each of the next two seasons. The move may be tempting for a few reasons: JML and Gleason are roughly in the same boat of being overpaid players who aren’t a fit for their current teams, and Gleason is a defensive defenseman who can try and help balance out the offensive bent on the Leafs defence. I still don’t think I do it. Gardiner needs to play in the top four and Gleason isn’t better than Gunnarsson. The Leafs would have a bottom pairing defenseman making $4M. Unless management thinks Gleason is a substantially better safety blanket and mentor for Rielly, can push Gardiner and Gunnarsson for minutes, and they’re able to move one of Ranger or Fraser to facilitate it, it’s a no for me. I will admit I’ve liked Gleason as a player for a long time and think Gunnarsson/Gleason/Phaneuf gives the Leafs some solid defensive options to pair with Gardiner/Franson/Rielly, but it’s a pricey proposition.

3 – I think the Leafs have to run with Gunnarsson-Phaneuf, Gardiner-Franson and Fraser-Rielly for a little bit here and try to establish some pairings and consistency with the unit. I think Ranger is more skilled than Fraser, but HopeSmoke hit the nail on the head when he tweeted about Fraser knowing his limitations and playing within them. Unlike Ranger, Fraser isn’t going to join the rush, or cut into the offensive zone looking for a scoring opportunity, or make a questionable pinch to try and make a play, or really do anything of the offensive-minded nature that forces Rielly of all people to cover for him. It really looked like Rielly had the green light to join the rush and play offensively against the Caps, while Fraser’s role was just to hang back and play defense. Fraser’s not perfect, but he should play over Ranger if he allows Rielly to do his thing, protects him a bit defensively and in the corners/in front of the net, and brings his usual awesome penalty killing to the table. Really, the Leafs’ best bet is to run their top 5 D, spot Fraser/Ranger some ice time here or there, and in Fraser’s case give him a ton of penalty killing time.

4 – I think Rielly is the Leafs best prospect in an extremely long time, and it’s kind of going under the radar. He’s already on pace for roughly 30 points; that’s with being in and out of the line-up and not getting consistent power play time while averaging a little over 17 minutes a night. To put that in perspective, Gardiner had 30 points in his rookie season at 21 (Rielly is 19) averaging 21:35 a night, and he was on the top power play unit at the end of that season after the Leafs went off the rails. Ultimately, it’s probably for the best that the Rielly hype isn’t where it should be, but this  kid is a stud in the making.

5 – I think  I’d run JVR-Bozak-Kessel, Lupul-Kadri-Clarkson, Raymond-Holland-Kulemin and Smith-McClement-Orr up front. I like the scoring touch Smith brings to the line-up, and with Bozak back he can take over Smithson’s role as the right handed faceoff man and penalty killer, which really reduces his importance. I like what Smithson has done and he’ll probably be up with the Leafs all season, but I think Smith can chip in the odd goal playing with McClement and that he deserves to play. My guess is that Smithson plays instead, though.