Leafs 4 v. Rangers 5 (SO): Sweating the Small Things
I read last night that "Victory masks mistakes" so it stands to reason that losses unmask them and Saturday's game was a perfect example. The Leafs generally played a pretty good game outside of the now traditional second period penalty parade that led to a period of domination by the Rangers. It was a little worrisome that the Leafs' energy level dropped to a point where they looked significantly slower than New York. Of course the Leafs flipped the script so to speak in the third period by completely dominating the Rangers and outshooting them 16-4.
Among the small things that played a part in the Leafs losing the game:
- Stajan went 2 for 10 on faceoffs. Especially when a team is getting pinned in their own zone centremen need to win draws to gain puck possession to clear the zone.
- Rebound clearance. Too often the Leafs were trying to clear the puck instead of clearing the man. This was most evident on the Rangers fourth goal where John Pohl fanned and let Jason Ward hammer in the rebound.
- Penalty kill. This is actually a big thing but the small part that sabotaged the effectiveness that was building in the last few games was that the Leafs were losing races to the puck. This led to increased pressure which in turn brought about a terrible 2 for 4 performance from the PK.
- Shooting. Based on a league high average of shots you would think that the Leafs do this very well. However, they are getting an inordinate amount of shots blocked, especially from the blueline, and are just plain missing the net. In the third period it started feeling like they might never hit the net again. I blame the increased curve for making them miss the net so much but getting about 20 shots blocked a game is inexcusable.
- The Shootout. The Leafs's trouble with this new fangled contraption are well documented by Wardo and I share his brother's mortal fear of the end of overtime. No matter who is playing well and what they have done in the game they will inevitably be terrible in this individual show down. Last year it cost the Leafs a playoff spot and at 1-3 early in the year it looks like it has the potential to be another spanner this season.
There were some good aspects to the game. O'Neill scored another goal which can only help his confidence. Andrew Raycroft was solid again. Not spectacular but good enough to give the Leafs a chance to win.
A very depressing installment of...
The Final Word
Mats Sundin lost control of the puck, Alexei Ponikarovsky second-guessed himself, and the Leafs were talking like last night's 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Rangers felt more like a win. It's official: These shootouts are beginning to play mind games with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, stating the obvious.