Last nights match, although tough to bear at some points, was one of the more entertaining games I have seen from the Leafs in a while. There were a lot of positives coming out of the game, but the negatives were the same as they have been for the last few years.
I prefer ending on a good note, so let’s start with the bad:
1) Not my biggest beef with the team, but those extra points will kill us in the long run. No goals in 3 shots in the shootout, maybe they need to spend a little bit more time in practice honing the skill.
2) More stupid penalties. For a team with the worst ranked PK in the league, you would assume that they would understand the fact that taking a penalty drastically reduces their chances of winning every game. Luckily, we only had 5… (sigh)
3) Our PK started out the game on fire for once. It was exactly how I would have pictured it at the start, but then a bad penalty by Phaneuf brought in a 4-on-3 that prevented us from applying pressure the same way. A quick goal, and our PK reverted back to the indecisive coverage (somewhere in between a pressure system and a collapsing one)
4) Was it just me, or were there times you were watching the play assuming that LA had a PP, only to realize it was 5-on-5, and had been for the last 5 minutes in the Leaf’s zone? COVER THE POINTS! We need a complete reworking of our defensive system on the PK and at even strength (…Wilson)
5) Joe Bowen is hitting the sauce a bit too much these days. I think only half the game he was actually commenting on what was going on, on the ice.
6) Connolly just doesn’t fit well at all with Kessel and Lupul. I know it hasn’t been that long, but you can just tell the styles kind of clash. (I think Connolly would have a ton of chemistry with Grabovski if one of them could play the wing)
Ok, well, all in all it is a shorter list of bad than normal. Despite the score, there were a ton of positives in this game as well. Let’s move to the good:
1) Reimer looked absolutely amazing last night. 42 shots against, and LA could have easily scored another 5 goals had it not been for Optimus’ quick glove and transformer like reflexes.
2) If Phaneuf could actually put the puck somewhere in the vicinity of the net on more than 1 shot a game, our PP would actually have a very good chance of improving even more. The cycling is getting better, and the team is getting very confident in their abilities to control the zone on the PP.
3) Like I said before the game, the combination of Kulemin, Grabovski, and Frattin looked great. This was one of the better games I’ve seen Kuli play, and I think it was because he wasn’t the only one taking the body on a regular basis. The constant pressure of all 3 let them capitalize on a number of blown plays by LA, and they could have easily had more than that one (beautiful) goal they got
4) After reserving my judgement on the guy for the first few months, I have made up my mind on Cody Franson. I like him… A lot. He has such a quick release and is starting to use his size on a regular basis. He is one of the least noticeable defence in our zone, which for an offensive defenceman is a very good thing. He is playing like an offensively gifted Aulie from last year (who I think would look great as his defensive partner). If he continues to develop, he could become a top 3 defender on the Leafs in very short time.
5) While he didn’t play a perfect game, it seems like Schenn might just be getting his confidence back. He had his way with anyone that stepped into his corner, and while I wasn’t a fan of the penalty he took, he did very well to draw out the retaliation penalty to even up the calls (although in fairness, if he hadn’t tripped, that may not have been the case)
6) Lupul is making his case for being the best Leaf. While everyone is quick to give the honours to Kessel (and I’m not saying he hasn’t earned the admiration), it is the physical and creative play of Lupul that makes this line work so well. He is strong on the puck, has a great view of the ice, and just seems to always know where Phil is going to end up. Kudos Burke on a great acquisition!
7) Grabovski is returning to form. Anyone have trouble telling the difference between Kessel and Grabo last night when they were streaking in along the boards? Grabovski was flying out there last night and appears to be playing similar to his career year (not that he was playing bad up until now, but that little extra was what made him that much better last year).
8) The only reason we lost last night was our defensive coverage. It was not a lack of effort or goal scoring ability; it was simply the positioning in our defensive zone. This is not to say that if we change the defensive zone play this team will go from 8th seed in the east, to conference champs, but if we give them the proper instruction over the next little while, they could eventually grow into a cup contender with a key acquisition or two.
Solid game boys, with the exception of a few. I am just happy to say that for the first time in 7 years, I see the potential of our team, and with a few minor... uhhh… ‘Managerial’ changes, we could actually walk into games on a regular basis as the favourite to come out on top. Not there yet, but it’s coming.