Game Review: Game #74, Blues 5 at Maple Leafs 3

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Toronto Maple Leafs vs St. Louis Blues
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25: Alex Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues waits on a shot against Dion Phaneuf #3 and goalie Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on March 25, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

At what point do we stop saying the next game is a “must win?”

Tonight was a must win and the Leafs came out flat, at home, and got dominated. Doesn’t matter who they were playing, the effort was [censored] embarrassing. Full stop. The Blues could be seen with smirks on their faces after whistles in the first 40 minutes. It doesn’t really matter if the Leafs make it interesting in the last 8 games, this is what we got from a fully healthy Leafs team when it still mattered.

No NHL team should give up 23 shots in one period, let alone one with playoff aspirations playing in a crucial game. At home, to boot. An elite, heavy cycle team like St Louis exposed the Leafs’ leaky system like water tracing dye. The system isn’t working, and that’s on Carlyle. On the other hand, even when they were in position to do so, the team couldn’t win a board battle when the game still mattered.

It’d be nice to say it begins and ends with Carlyle. Removing him from his post is the right starting point, but there’s some bigger questions facing this management group in the off season. What alterations need to be made to the core? Who is the right coach for the makeup of this team (clearly not Carlyle)? What is the identity the team is aspiring toward, anyway? Do they aspire to be that heavy forechecking/cycle team like the Blues? They’re a 100 miles away from that. Up tempo, skill/speed, high-scoring team? How can they supplement that, and who is the right coach to oversee it? They certainly need to improve down the middle and on the back end. How are they going to improve a core that is locked into place on long term contracts without much cap space likely to be available? Big questions.

This was Dion Phaneuf’s worst game as a Leaf at a crucial time of the season, and the wolves will be circling. In his defence, he has left games with countless injuries (and recently, illness) this season, and hasn’t missed a game besides his suspension. He gets leaned on like crazy, in terms of minutes and assignments, even though he’s really not of the elite 1D ilk to be able to handle it. Even when he’s himself, he appears to hit a wall after 23 or 24 minutes, at which point he is huffing and puffing and can’t keep up. For an average skater who battles hard physically shift in shift out, a season of wear and tear, big minutes and tough assignments appears to be catching up to him.

While he was the only reason the Leafs were down just 2-1 for the first half of the game, Jonathan Bernier looked a little hesitant to go into butterfly at points in this game. It doesn’t appear his groin is close to 100%. That probably sinks any chance at a sudden turnaround in the final 8 (there wasn’t really a chance anyway).

The most depressing part of the whole thing is that we’re right back at that dismal, mediocre non-playoff team status we’ve been at for years since the lockout. The third collapse in three seasons ensures the Leafs still haven’t won a playoff round since 2004. Only this time it’s without the defence of being early in the rebuild, or a young team on the rise experiencing its very first playoff round.

Essentially, laughingstocks again.

Photo: Extraskater.com
Photo: Extraskater.com

EV fenwick chart for 2014-03-25 Blues 5 at Maple Leafs 3Toronto Maple Leafs vs St. Louis Blues

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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]
  • Shift_Disturber1

    BOOM!!!! Thanks Alec

  • Shift_Disturber1

    I thin we need a different approach and some more players that play a hard game.

  • hometeem

    ty alec

  • dlb eh

    hey, check this out.
    what does Morgan Rielly have in common with a Rottweiler bite, Grey Maynard from the UFC and former strong man champion Magnus Samuelson?
    http://www.amctv.com/shows/game-of-arms/infographic

  • Pent_House

    Nice write-up Alec. I think this was the straw that finally convinced me that Randy needs to go. I was going on about this team identity thing the other way, nice to see you bring it up as well. Definitely Phaneuf’s worst game of the season, and Bernier isn’t healthy. This season is a wrap. Lot’s of questions ahead.

  • dlb eh

    Carlyle’s post game was good i thought, even though there’s fuel for Franson-Phanuef no-likers to hate him for
    that was a tough game to watch tonight.  we have a few timid players.
    watching how effective Bolland can be at 75% shows me how lousy some of the guys are that we’ve gotten used to.  not going to name names, but luckily most aren’t locked up past this year.

  • RickC1983

    Once again down by one, and fucking idiot puts Franson out instead of Gardiner.

  • Komas Taberle

    Thanks Alec. We need a wholesale change non of our core leaders will win anything.
    Deal every one except Kessel, JVR,Rielly and Gardiner

  • rockydundas

    It’s all fine and well that we feel RC should go, but not to bring in a b level coach because no one else is available. Speaking of that, who IS available? Other than Guy Boucher and Peter Laviollete, I have no idea.

  • wendelsfist

    Bernier put up .917 being unhealthy.   A healthy version would perhaps have been a .950 goaltending and get at least a point maybe.