Leafs 2 v. sens 7: Don't Panic
Results like last night's make for long days. sens' fans will be chirping about the latest beating and getting themselves in a tizzy about how their team is on a roll but as we can tell them first hand, a few good games can turn into a few debacles just as easily as they turned their bad start into three strong efforts. Maybe it was a sign that I just finished the above book before these two games because I feel like panicking but the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy assures me that that won't help the situation.
The rough stuff did not materialize mostly because the Leafs played with none of the heart and grit that gave the Leafs a 4-0 playoff record against their provincial baby brothers and an eternal trump card. The only players that showed up for the game were poor Andrew Raycroft who made a number of great saves and kept us from seeing double digits despite being hung out to dry, Mike Peca who must be wondering what he has gotten himself into, Alexei Ponikarovsky who started using his size and speed to crash the net and was almost unstoppable, and Bates Battaglia who again earned a spot on the top line with his hard work and was rewarded with a goal that came solely from hustle. If the rest of the team could wake up (Paging Mssrs. Sundin, Wellwood, Steen, McCabe, Kaberle) and mimic their effort then maybe the season could get back on track.
3 things that showed that the Blessed, Holier-than-thou sens are just like the rest
- Glen Healy is still finding his way as an analyst but his 'Viewpoint' segment showed something that was obscured by the angle that TSN and Sportsnet used. As Eaves and Tucker were squaring up St. Patty hit Darcy with a headbutt! What a dirty play. I wonder if sens fans will have the 'little friends' to admit that it was dirty or if they will ignore/justify it? My guess is that despite being self-annointed as the cleanest and most team in the history of the NHL that not a single fan will admit that what he did was disgusting. Even their Italian fans will think it was ok.
- With the score 4-2 Jason Spezza had the puck in the Leafs zone with Stajan working hard to cover him only for Spezza to escape and set up the fifth goal and effectively end the game (if it wasn't already over). How did he get loose? By throwing an elbow at Matt and nailing him right in the kisser. The sens are just as dirty as the Leafs or any team in the NHL and their deluded fans will refuse to admit the truth.
- The boards at Scotiabank Place were atrocious. First, they came apart, then pucks were bouncing off edges that were sticking out all game. Sure, a partition fell off at the ACC but this was embarrassing. It was like they didn't know how to put the boards together.
5 things that will leave clumps of hair in your hands
- From a friend: "I've said it many times before (including way before they re-signed him), and I'll likely say it many times more; Bryan McCabe (and his contract) will single-handedly impede the franchise's ability to build a cup contender for the next five years."
If McCabe wasn't coughing up the puck with no one around then he was taking a stupid penalty or he was standing around watching the game.
- Kaberle is killing our inept powerplay. The Leafs went 0-4 in the first when the game was still within reach but he repeatedly lost the puck at the blueline or his dump-ins were lost because the forwards had to stop at the blueline waiting for him.
- Mats has been a ghost the past few games. I have no idea what is wrong with him but he has been far from the player that ended last season on a tear or started this year so strongly. He is settling for a shot from the outside far too often and has not been driving the net with his usual gusto.
- Ian White, for all of his assists and offensive skills, has started to look like a cheaper and smaller version of McCabe. He is frequently making terrible decisions with the puck in his own end and has now added stupid passes in the offensive zone to his repertoire. All he needs to do is stop getting his shots through from the point, hit some more shin pads, and the transformation will be complete.
- The team's inability to do the small things. The Leafs are not clearing the zone (1st goal), marking properly in their zone (3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th goals) or hitting anyone (2nd and 6th goals). It is incredibly frustrating to see NHL players making novice mistakes.
6 things to get you through the day
- Our penalty kill was 7 for 8 and killed of an almost two minute long 5-on-3. Peca and Gill have been great additions to the PK. It is still a work in progress but it is getting better (the Rangers game and Tuesday's game being abberations).
- Ponikarovsky might have realized that he is both big and strong. If he can get going then he gives that line a good dynamic with O'Neill as the finisher, Stajan as the playmaker, and Poni as the grinder. His efforts paid off by setting up O'Neill for a tap-in.
- Goaltending is not an issue. Last year the Leafs were losing games because in addition to their shoddy defensive play Belfour (Bell-Five! Bell-Six!) was letting in a tonne of softies. This year Raycroft has been making the big saves but has been let down by the team. If the team can improve then they can benefit from the strong goaltending they have been receiving.
- The defence is healing up. Pavel Kubina will be back soon. Anyone who doubts the difference that he makes wasn't watching the first three games he played. He takes minutes and pressure from Kaberle and McCabe and allows Gill to play fewer and more effective minutes.
- Check out the results comparison. Even after last night we are still 3 points better than the equivalent games from last year. In fact, we lost the second game and second away game against ottawa 8-0 and 8-2 respectively last year. Baby steps.
- At least we didn't get killed by the Coyotes. Fellow victims include the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues. Heady company indeed.
The light at the end of the tunnel in...
The Final Word
"I'm not going to quit out there. I'm not going to take the easy way out."
Andrew Raycroft, Goalie, showing the kind of fight that one hopes is infectious.