The Sunday game threw off the timing of the Leafs Notebook (along with life, work, and so on), so I apologize for the delay. Hope it was worth the wait at least.
– It’s nice to see the Leafs have a true first line and to watch them in action. When JVR-Kadri-Kessel are together as a unit, they are capable of dominating and they are also capable of sustained zone time. The only problem I see with this line is that they can get a little too cute at times, which is probably a result of three creative players being able to control play regularly, thus pushing the boundaries of what they can/can’t do. A few times, particularly against Dallas, Kadri tried to pass it back to the defense with saucer passes after long cycles and they got picked off. But you have to take a bit of the bad with all the good that these three will produce together. In their last three games, Kadri has three points while Kessel and JVR each have four.
The saucer pass JVR made to Kessel in Ottawa was unbelievably awesome, too.
– In the first period against Dallas, the Leafs had an offensive zone faceoff, lost it, the puck got wired around the boards, where Ranger pinched and lost on his gamble; just like that the Stars had a 3 on 1 off an O-zone faceoff. That’s just bad hockey. That can’t happen. From the pinch without support, to no support in the first place.
– Was tough to see on replays, but Lehtonen actually appealed to the refs after Trevor Smith’s OT winner because he felt Clarkson interfered with him. Watch Lehtonen point to Clarkson right after the goal:
– Maybe that’s Clarkson’s Wendel Clark impersonation moment?
– Also on that goal worth noting: Gardiner made the exact same kind of shoot-for-a-deflection play as he did against Dallas earlier this season against Nashville.
– In D’Amigo’s first game against Dallas, he drove the net one play and almost scored and created a cycle that eventually found the puck on Franson’s stick before he hit the cross bar. Against Ottawa he drew a penalty, setup Kessel in the slot, and was on in the final minute of a 3-3 game. Against Boston, he drew another penalty and was one of the only players finishing his checks. Those are good flashes in limited minutes from a player trying to carve out a role as a grinder.
– Maybe it was just the way TV made the game look, but it sure seemed like Dallas was a faster team than the Leafs. You can say what you want about last year’s Leafs team, but nobody was ever faster than them. This season’s team is arguably slower and softer. McLaren was on for a direct headshot against D’Amigo in the game against Boston and did absolutely nothing. When it comes to enforcers, I’ve always said I don’t mind one, but if you have one on and he’s watching something like that happen without even skating in the opponent’s direction afterward…. what’s the point?
– Here’s something to ponder: if you were to write down the five most important Leafs before the season started (or even right now), who would it include? Kessel, the goalies (counting them as one), Phaneuf, JVR and one of Kadri/Lupul/or even Bolland at this rate? Four, or possibly even five, of those guys are healthy so there’s no injury excuse that should fly with this team. Yeah, it does hurt to lose depth, but most good teams would be okay if they lost their depth and still had their five most important players. By that token, it makes me not only question the depth in the organization, but also the top guns. You look at the four who are guaranteed to be in the Leaf top five (Kessel, Phaneuf, Reimer/Bernier, and JVR) and have to think, “they really need to add a legitimate 1C or top D-man to round it out.” That’s not news to anyone, but the point still remains that the injury excuse doesn’t fly when pretty well all of your best players are playing.
– This is an extremely minor thing, but against Dallas and Boston Ashton went in and knifed both of their goalies when they had the puck covered. It didn’t result in anything other than some heated exchanges, but it was nice to see Ashton drive the net and give back to other goalies what the Leafs’ tenders have been dealing with for quite some time now.
– It was nice to see Phaneuf float a puck on net nice and low that created a rebound for JVR to eventually bury against Ottawa. He’s reeled in his shot so much and really is no longer launching those bombs that make the back of the glass vibrate. It’s hard for a player to change his game, and he really does deserve recognition for that. What else was impressive on that play was how well Phaneuf walked the line. He basically got the puck on the boards at the blue line, walked it all the way to the middle, looked off Kessel, froze Spezza, and then shot it. Really great stuff all around from Phaneuf on that goal.
– Kadri had an under-the-radar dive to get that power play on the first. He also got tangled up with Smith, leading to the Kessel goal later in the game, and he was physical all night. The game against Ottawa was a great example of what makes him so frustrating to play against as an opponent. He toes that line, but he can also burn the opposition offensively and draw them in to take dumb penalties while off their game. He’s played 19:23, 23:51 and 23:23 since returning this week and is making his case to everybody that he’s the 1C of this team moving forward. He also gave Gunnarsson an unbelievable flip pass in OT. That would have been considered one of the passes of the year if Gunnarsson finished it off, in my opinion.
– I was at the Leafs-Bruins game, and in warm-ups I took some time to watch Liles, who was playing his first game at home this season. He looked excited out there, flying around, and took some time to flip a few pucks over the glass to kids. The whole thing just sorted of reminded me of Ian White being put up at forward and he in turn tore it up (in 08-09, White had 3 goals and 7 points in 8 games at forward). I link them because they were both similarly kicked to the curb and came back playing for pride. Liles might be overpaid, but considering the Leafs are (were?) willing to retain salary, he wouldn’t have been that overpaid. Yet nobody wanted him. In each of his first two games, he played a little over 17 minutes and looked more like the pre-concussion Liles versus the post-concussion one. This week we’ll start to find out if he was running on adrenaline or is really rounding into form. The Leafs back-end needs all the help it can get and an effective Liles with a chip on his shoulder can only benefit the Leafs as a team.
– I understand Kessel not going into the corners on a regular basis, but there’s a time and a place and he chickened out against Lucic in the final minutes of a one-goal game, resulting in Boston’s dagger goal. That’s just the reality of the situation. He has to suck it up in those situations and do more than avoid the corner and get beat cleanly.
– Thought it was weird that this picture below was circulating the internet and somehow Fraser was being grouped in with Ranger on the goal.
The Leafs made a bad change and Nichushkin came flying down the neutral zone with speed against Fraser, who played it well enough to force the rookie to drop it to Horcoff. Fraser then put himself between the two players because that’s pretty much a defenseman’s only option on a 3 on 2 (if you commit to either play explicitly, the open guy is guaranteed to make you pay). The goal was all on Ranger, who not only inexplicably stepped up, but he didn’t even put his stick in the passing lane, leaving a wide open lane as possible. On the goal itself, it looked like Horcoff actually stuttered for a second in disbelief as to how wide open it was.
– Interesting that Gardiner was out with Phaneuf over Franson at the end against Boston when the Leafs were pressing to try and get back into the game. One of the things I noticed at the game: When Franson got the puck in the umbrella at the top of the circle, he was looking low for JVR who had his stick out and wanted it, but Chara was cutting off the lane. I point this out because most teams instruct their players to take away the middle lane, meaning a player in Chara’s position usually would have his stick covering the inside instead of the outside. On one play Franson passed it right to Chara, who I guess caught him Franson by surprise by doing this. If teams are going to eliminate that play, the biggest beneficiary should be the player is the player in the slot, who will now be open. This ties into playing two lefties instead of Franson with Phaneuf; maybe the Leafs were just trying to change the dynamics of their setup and have an open man there for a one-timer. Phaneuf looked ready for a one-timer the whole time but the Bruins never let Kessel get comfortable on the half wall, preventing the play from happening.
– Here’s an example of Franson faking the play down low and finding Kadri in the slot, because he actually did it earlier in the week against Dallas:
Watch the ice vision view at around the 50 second mark and notice the little fake Franson makes that causes Eakin to move his stick. Great little play.
“Newport already has a number for term and price when it comes to Phaneuf. His absence over the next few games means little.”
– Darren Dreger commenting on Dion Phaneuf’s impending free agency and what the next two games mean for it.
I don’t think anyone would say the Leafs don’t need Dion should the team play well in the next two games. It has to work both ways. But no matter what, we’ll be seeing people comment one way or the other depending on how the team performs without Phaneuf.
“We have the depth in our organization defensively we just haven’t found the right combination. Not a personnel problem.”
– Claude Loiselle, commenting on the Leafs problems at D.
I thought this was a weird thing to say considering Gunnarsson-Phaneuf has been a pairing all season; Franson has pretty well only played with Gardiner and Rielly (with a small look at being re-paired with Franson), and the final three D spots had been rotating between Ranger, Rielly and Fraser until Liles was finally recalled. If the problem is that they haven’t found the right combinations (I don’t think that’s it, but regardless), why aren’t they shuffling the defense around more to find what works?
“I don’t know that Kulemin doesn’t fit into the Leafs plans. Carlyle’s view of him must be different than ours. He’s useful. He’s a solid defensive forward who has been slotted in that role. There is always trade interest in Kulemin & he’ll be an attractive UFA.”
– Dreger commenting on Kulemin.
I hope the Leafs can resign this guy. I hope he gets a more expanded role offensively, too, because he has the ability. If Kulemin leaves I wouldn’t be surprised to see him tear it up similar to what MacArthur and Grabovski are doing now.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
1 – I think I like the lines the Leafs trotted out in practice yesterday and would keep them as they are. They were:
I’ve always liked Lupul and Kulemin as a tandem, and think that line gives Holland an opportunity to succeed and show us what he can do. The Smith line has actually been quite good on the cycle and in giving some push back in the offensive zone when need be, so you might as well keep them together to see if they can figure out how to use that zone time to score. The Kadri line is of course awesome, while that fourth line can be very effective if they decide to play D’Amigo with McClement and Ashton. The Leafs are still terribly weak up the middle, but all-in-all that’s not a bad forward group by any means.
2 – I think I’d rather see Gunnarsson with Gardiner as the top pairing on paper, but considering Gardiner said he didn’t like playing the right side and Gunnarsson has mobility issues as is, the Leafs really have no choice but to run Gunnarsson-Franson. After that I’d rather see Gardiner-Liles and Fraser-Rielly (Fraser primarily for PK purposes), but we all know Ranger is getting the first look. It’s starting to look more and more likely that Rielly will be going to the WJC.
3 – I think I’d make more of an effort to give the kids ice-time and use this as a bit of a development time. Clearly Carlyle is riding his veterans to try and get wins, but we’re barely even 30 games into the season and we’ve heard him say a few times now that the team “looked tired” after losses. Guys like Holland, D’Amigo and Ashton can play, but with young guys a coach has to be willing to forgive the inevitable rookie mistakes that are going to happen. Carlyle keeps noting that the NHL isn’t a developmental league, and I want this team to win as much as the next guy, but these kids have to be given a chance to grow, too. Short term pain for long term gain.
4 – If the Leafs are going to run Lupul-Smith-Clarkson as PP2, I think I’d rather see Raymond on the point for it than Gunnarsson. Fluke or not, Raymond is fourth on the team in points; it’s nuts if he’s not seeing any power play time. Meanwhile, Gunnarsson has two points on the season. I don’t think this coaching staff would do something like trust a forward on defense, but I think Raymond is fast enough to recover for most mistakes. With the way the power play is setup as an umbrella, it’s really only one defenseman up top anyway, in this scenario Jake Gardiner.
5 – I think I wouldn’t read into how the Leafs look without Phaneuf too much either way. Obviously I will be interested in seeing it like everybody else is, but two games just isn’t enough to tell me anything noteworthy about what his absence would really be like over an 82-game season. I’m more interested in seeing if the Leafs can find another good pairing somehow amid their defense shuffle. I also recommend not reading too much into HBO 24/7. I have a feeling some quotes, or scenes, or whatever, are going to be picked apart and taken way too seriously. Crack open a few beers, sit back, and enjoy it for the entertainment it’s meant to be.