Thoughts on the 4-2 loss to Boston...
It has been a very busy last few days for me. My 7th and 8th grade basketball teams that I help coach at the middle school where I teach out in the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago were playing in a season finale conference tournament, while at the same time Toronto and Los Angeles both played Thursday. I did not get to see much of the games, but the action I got to see pretty much explained everything.
Coming home after a tough double overtime loss in the 7th grade semifinals, (7th grader missed a chance at winning the game in regulation after being fouled on a successful drive into the lane, but missed the impending free throw with 1 second left, poor kid) I heard for the first time, my car beeping telling me that I was nearly out of gasoline. I have never let my fuel gauge reach the level of the thin red line near empty before in my Chevy Tracker.
I guess there is a first time for everything.
Yet, the whole experience was ironic compared to the Leafs' effort that night and the basketball team, based on the fact our 7th graders, who fought back from deficits of five, four and two at the very end, simply did not have anything left in the tank to finish off a come-from-behind victory.
I get home after refueling, and turn on the Leafs-Bruins game, having to endure the Boston network feed only provided by Center Ice. Toronto ended up scoring to make it 3-2 off a pass-deflection from Mikhail Grabovski to Jay McClement in front, beating backup Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin. Expecting a desperate push at the end, the Leafs never got any good chances after the second goal. They looked tired and worn down, and perhaps credit Boston being a team that will wear you down and go into shut down mode at the end.
Ben Scrivens played well in a spot start after James Reimer helped shut the door on the Senators late Wednesday, but allowed a goal in the final minute of the first period and another at the end of the second period. Allowing goals at those times can destroy any chances at winning or earning a single point.
It probably did not help matters much that the Bruins had arguably the easiest schedule thus far, playing in the Northeast division and not having to travel far for its games. Boston also came into the game playing the fewest amount of games in the league at 22, compared to Toronto's 25. Still, it is not a good enough excuse nor a legitimate reason for Toronto's failure to earn a point in Boston.
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs have not beaten the Bruins in Boston since Mikhail Grabovski's 4-3 overtime winner on February 15th, 2011. Moreover, the Leafs last victory over the Bruins at the ACC came a month later in a 5-2 victory on March 19th with Reimer making 35 saves. Yes, there was a shootout victory in Boston on March 31st, 2011, but those don't really count.
Since then, it has been all Boston, already including a pair of losses this season (1-0 at home, and 4-2 on the road)...
Korbinian Holzer: Not NHL Ready at the Moment
Once again, the big 25-year old defensive rookie Korbinian Holzer made a bad play that led to a goal, weakly whipping a loose puck from his goal line along the boards, to nobody in particular, out to the blue line where Boston intercepted it and quickly countered and scored. It is unacceptable to break down defensively and fail to tighten things up in the final minute or seconds of a period. This play was not so much a defensive breakdown, but more of a poor, careless play by Holzer.
Moreover, Holzer just has not been doing his job well at all lately. The big rookie blue liner gets caught overplaying things and finds himself out of position to make the necessary play or decision. I just think Holzer is a weak link on a team that cannot afford many weak links.
In the last five games, Holzer has been a minus three, with 14 hits, and six shots on goal with zero points. The point factor is not such a big deal since the organization is more concerned with his defensive play, but that has not been so great either. In below average performances in Boston and against Pittsburgh, Holzer was a collective minus five and was clearly overmatched by the two Eastern conference strongholds. Both the Penguins and Bruins exploited his every weakness and scored most of their goals when he was on the ice.
Thoughts on shootout loss (or 4-4 tie in my book) against Pittsburgh...
It said on NHL.com..."Leafs look to prove they are playoff contenders against high-scoring Pens"...
After one period, the answer to that question most likely was a resounding, No!
Holzer again was out of position on Pittsburgh's second goal, shoving a Penguin out past the blue line while the Penguins were going the other way and about to put one past Reimer. Toronto had two forwards on top of the play, thus Holzer must let them do their job. Holzer did not do his job and that cost him.
The German-born defenseman is just not good enough to play at this level, at least not yet. We have seen enough of him to know that if the Leafs plan on playing some playoff hockey for the first time in nearly a decade, then it might be time for them to go back to JM Liles or even Mike Komisarek.
After finding themselves down 3-1 after the first twenty minutes of play, the Leafs finally did get their acts together in the second period, stepping up to make some plays against a team that has had some recent trouble shutting their opposition down.
In fact, if Pittsburgh continues to give teams life in games they should win handily, then do not expect them to be around long come playoff time.
On Saturday, it happened again to the mighty Pens.
The Penguins sport the best two players in the Eastern Conference, perhaps league, but when you let guys like Clarke MacArthur walk right in and fire a shot past your goalie is unacceptable.
Phil Kessel once again showed his immaturity a couple of times, just barelt holding himself back before hammering his stick against the glass and throwing it on the bench. I can understand his frustration, but good Lord, relax and just play your game. If Kessel is more frustrated about his defensive game compared to his offensive swing, then I can accept his outbursts a little more, but I doubt it since he had been stoned a couple of times in close by Marc-Andre Fleury.
Kessel failed to help take a body that resulted in Pittsburgh's first goal, and also lost his stick on the same shift. His stick would later shatter in half in the third period on a shot attempt, but he was able to come back onto the ice, regain his composure and help tie the game up at 4-4 off a Fleury rebound.
After playing solid, two-way hockey at the start of the season, Kessel has been a minus four in his last five games and has started to once again become a defensive liability. It seems as if he has been a little passive from getting involved down low and doing the dirty work around his own net. Coach Randy Carlyle has probably noticed it as well, and Kessel just needs to be readdressed of his defensive responsibilities.
Maple Leafs Week in Review:
I had called this past week a make or break test for the young club. It pulled off an exciting 4-2 comeback victory over the Eastern champs on Monday, and fought hard to earn a 5-4 victory against provincial rivals, Ottawa on Wednesday.
As I mentioned about the Boston loss, the Leafs looked to have ran out of gas and didn't have their legs going at the end. But when it comes to facing a team like the Bruins in the playoffs, the Leafs have very little chance against them in a best of seven series.
The same can also be said about the Penguins, but Toronto did find a way to get their game together and fight back against a soft Pittsburgh defense.
Perhaps if Toronto came out of the gate with their physical trademark at the beginning, the Pens would have never taken control of the game with an early 3-1 lead. Nobody dropped the gloves to get things started for the Maple Leafs. An early fight seems to be a recipe for success for the Leafs. I'm not much an advocate for fighting in hockey, I actually despise it, but it seems that there is a place for it in Toronto's success this far; a shame that did happen.
I cannot say enough about Jay McClement. His presence on the third line has helped this team in a lot of ways. McClement's leadership on the penalty kill has also led to big success rates, as the unit killed off all of Pittsburgh's man advantages and held them to just three or four shots, including shutting down a shortened 5-on-3 advantage. At the same time, Toronto scored twice on the power play. When a team wins the special team aspect against the Penguins, that team should win the game. Unfortunately, the Leafs were only able to get even after being down by two goals much of the game.
Toronto's penalty killing has been strength compared to seasons past. The rate has now climbed to 7th in the NHL at 84.3%. Much of that success can be attributed to McClement and some solid goaltending.
I should also mention the strong defensive zone play of Carl Gunnarsson. Since he has returned, the 26-year old defenseman has been an even plus-minus with four points and has also blocked numerous shots. Gunnarsson twice blocked a pair of painful shots in Saturday's game in helping shut down the Penguins attack. It is good to have him back in the lineup, especially with Holzer struggling so much to pick up the pace at the NHL level.
Looking at the week ahead, the Maple Leafs will play three games starting Tuesday in Winnipeg, where the Leafs have already managed a 3-2 victory at back on February 7th. Then, the team will return home on Thursday to face the Penguins again in a rematch from Saturday then host the Jets on Saturday.
More points up for grab, especially the four available against the Jets, a team looking up at Toronto in the standings but not far behind.
In closing, our 7th grade team ended up losing the third place game by one point again, this time against our conference rivals...also the host school!
The 8th grade team never showed up for their semifinal game getting blown out by the host school and also dropped the 3rd place game, but we always play everybody in those consolation games, as we should. At least both teams won their respective six-team division...just fell a little short in the 12-team conference season ending tournament.
Now it is time for spring soccer season with the defending conference champion girls team!