One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Leafs 5 v. Flyers 2 - Saturday February 24th
Too often the Leafs find a way to lose games against teams like this year's Flyers. After trading away Forsberg this was a team playing the schedule out with an eye towards next season. However, on Saturday night the good guys were able to overcome any complacency (of course the next two games were a different story) to quite handily put the league's cellar dwellars to the sword. The line of Steen-O'Neill-Stajan were at their best cycling the puck well and creating numerous scoring chances. Steen and O'Neill led the way with a goal and an assist in a game in which the result was never in doubt. The win leaves the Leafs with a 3-0 lead in the season series.
I defy any Leaf fans to tell me that the first two periods of this game did not give them post-traumatic stress flashbacks of the two games in March of last year which effectively killed the Leafs' playoff hopes. Against a team that borders on incompetent 5-on-5 a key to the game is to stay out of the box. When the powerplay is their one weapon and your penalty killing is 26th in the NHL it behooves a team to play disciplined.
Instead, as Raking Leafs notes, the Leafs played the part of the Montreal Canadiens in getting dominated physically while Les Habitants showed that they still possessed a bit of mettle. The third period saw Maurice juggle the lines in an attempt to revive the Leafs' flagging hopes. It worked.
The game returned to the form of the five previous games between the two storied franchises as Toronto asserted their size advantage and dictated the pace of the game. Lo and behold, the Leafs were rewarded as first Jeremy Williams and then Alex Steen tallied to bring the score to 5-4. Unfortunately, the rally ended there as Aebischer shook off the Swiss Goalie Disease to shut the door and a late, blatant high-stick on Mats was missed by all four officials.
The Leafs are running out of gas. The great stretch to start off the year has petered out into some terrible mix of MASH and Slap Shot.
This game came right out of the Bruin's book 'How to Make Leaf Fans Kick Kittens'. The Leafs came out with jump and drew three penalties in the first period and scored on none of them (Where are thou Tucker?). The Sabres promptly went down the ice and score on a rebound as the normally reliable Devereaux lost his man on the backcheck. Two bad bounces later the Leafs are down 3-0.
Finally, Ponikarovsky scores a goal and the Leafs are coming on! Unfortunately, their hands are still...somewhere in Montreal...so the chances go wanting. Then a boneheaded move by Ponikarovsky (hey, weren't you just the hero?) led to a scrambled play, another crappy bounce, and a 4-1 lead for the Sabres. 4 goals on 11 shots only tells half the story. The Leafs' shitty defensive play tells the other half. McCabe got the Alfie treatment from the home crowd which was a long time coming.
Maurice is hamstrung by the injuries to Wellwood, Tucker, and Peca. It wasn't a problem when the team was giving their all every night but that counted on contributions from guys that have never been counted upon to produce night in and night out. They were bound to hit a wall and they have done that. Unfortunately, Maurice can't institute a similar policy to that long-ago replacement coach. He cannot punish poor performance with a spot in the press box because who will he call upon?
Yanic Perreault our (Leafs) nation turns it's lonely eyes to you.