Leafs 1 v. Hurricanes 4: Too Many Marlies Not Enough Grit
This game featured some new reasons to feel a deep sense of despair along with some tried and true reasons.
- Faceoffs - The Leafs cannot win them. Matt Stajan played 20 minutes and won four of fifteen to follow up on a three of sixteen effort against the Sabres. I guess that is an improvement but faceoffs are crucial on the powerplay, where Matty is playing on the second unit, and to generate offence.
- Stone Hands - The AHL call-ups are doing a great job of playing hard and with energy, for the most part. However, their big failing has been an inability to finish their chances [aside from the Bruins beatdowns]. That is probably a big reason why those guys are in the AHL but watching so many gilt-edged chances go begging in the first period was clearly deflationary.
- Partial Efforts - A big strike against the Leafs has been that in too many games they have only played part of the game. Last night was no different. The Leafs were all over the Hurricanes in the first period and looked good value for their 1-0 lead courtesy of a Bryan McCabe goal on a setup by Alex Steen (who knew he had offensive skills? I did.). However, the second and most of the third period were a mishmash of lazy plays and poor forecheck. This terrible combo was exacerbated by some atrocious refereeing which left the Leafs shorthanded early and often in the second period.
- No Resolve - It has started to become apparent that these Leafs are not the Leafs of old. It was apparent against Ottawa and Wardo pinpointed the exact moment when the Leafs' aura of grit was shattered. They do not have the same sandpaper throughout their lineup as they used to possess. The Leafs used to roll four lines and three pairs of defenceman that lived Conn Smythe's famous axiom: If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice. That aspect of the Leafs has diminished. As with this year's December 30th matchup, last year I found myself and others mentioning that the Leafs under Quinn and before the lockout would never have allowed teams to beat them as they have in some games without having to earn it. This move towards the pack in terms of grit has been a factor in the Leafs' poor performance in many games over the past two season.
The loss drops the Leafs out of the 8th playoff spot and puts an extra measure of pressure on the team as they embark on nine games on the road out of their next twelve. This is gut check time for the Leafs as a poor record over these games will (barring the continued mediocrity of the contenders for 8th) drop them into a gap to large from which to escape. The upside of that is that JFJ will have to make some difficult decisions instead of just standing pat and hoping that things will work themselves out.