Maple Leafs 2 @ Winnipeg Jets 5
Oh boy, where should I start with this one...?
After witnessing the first two periods, I was about to give most of the credit to Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, and then build a rant up against the officials from this one, but since the Maple Leafs completely fell apart in the third period, I will just chalk this one up towards being a lousy game on Toronto's half.
Win or lose, watching the Maple Leafs is a pretty exciting event for me. Even though I am in Chicago and must watch either on Center Ice, or online at NHL.com, I am always ready for Leafs hockey. Unfortunately, having to endure tonight's game was just as bad as having my wisdom teeth pulled out in 2000 just before I left for college.
Despite the Leafs' ability to come from behind, this game was lost in the second period when Toronto had a five-on-three advantage for nearly two full minutes trailing 2-1.
I have said a few times before, that when captain Dion Phaneuf plays poorly, the outcome of the game is usually the same. While on the must-score advantage, Phaneuf selfishly tried to shoot long-range slap shots into a slew of navy and white bodies in front of Pavelec. Consequently, both of his shots never made it through as Winnipeg cleared the puck without trouble.
Toronto did have a couple chances on the power play, but James van Riemsdyk was stopped with an excellent glove save by Pavelec sliding post to post. Phil Kessel also tried walking in from the right circle, but his pass across the crease was broken up by a sliding block by veteran defender Ron Hainsey.
I was a little disappointed that the Leafs did not come that close to scoring on the advantage. With all the playmaking ability on the ice at the time, none of the players on the ice seemed to really take control of all the open space and create something out of it.
Secondly, I hadn't really noticed that most of these Jets players are basically a collective bunch of cast-offs that other teams no longer wanted or wanted to keep on their payroll.
For example, the Jets' first goal was scored on an "excuse me" deflection by Nik Antropov, who played for the Leafs when this whole playoff drought started. Not to mention Kyle Wellwood, getting an assist on the play, could never crack the lineup during his days in Toronto.
I am sure Chicago could use big Dustin Byfuglien, who played another great game for the Jets, setting up a pair of nifty goals. And don't forget about Andrew Ladd, who also helped Chicago lift the Cup in Philly back in 2010.
But my God, so many of these players are either from Atlanta, which was pretty much a Mickey Mouse organization, or from teams who just had no room for them; guys like Blake Wheeler (Boston), Olli Jokinen (NYR, Calgary, etc?) Antti Miettinen (Minnesota), Derek Meech (Detroit), Eric Tangradi (Pittsburgh)...
Most of these guys simply could not hold a job with the club they came from, and yet Toronto has a hard time with them. I don't get it.
Still, even early on, it was quite noticeable that the Maple Leafs were out of synch and did not look sharp. When the Leafs had chances, Pavelec came up big with the glove, which was as slick as Robbie Alomar's at second base during the Blue Jays' World Series years.
He did help Winnipeg steal the game, which was most evident when he came up big early in the third, slamming the door on Mikhail Grabovski with his right pad, as Toronto was buzzing for a chance to dig back into the game. Blake Wheeler led the counter-attack the other way, finally finishing off a play that saw Leafs goalie James Reimer guessing where the puck was as he was diving to and fro.
Pavelec outplayed Reimer in goal and that was pretty much it. Give credit to the Jets, who also made more plays and capitalized on most of them.
Pavelec's biggest save of the night came on Mike Kostka on a power play, as Nazem Kadri made a great pass hitting Kostka on the tape as he streaked down the slot all alone. His high, hard wrister was snared by the outstretched glove hand of Pavelec. That save, coupled with Toronto's inability to make a play on the 5-on-3 advantage, was all anyone needed to know how tonight's game would turn out.
Toronto will need to try and get back into the win column on Thursday as it returns home for a rematch against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who shocked Boston with three unanswered goals late in the third period to rally back with a thrilling 3-2 win in Tuesday's Eastern Conference showdown.
Refs Still Guessing Out There; Almost as Bad as NFL Refs
I am not one who is going to whine and moan about officials hampering my teams' chances at winning a game, but the officiating tonight was pretty bad.
With all of the small and noticeable infractions on the ice, Toronto only had two power plays, one a two-man advantage, and another in the first on an obvious trip against Derek Meech.
Winnipeg's first goal came on a power play after Mark Fraser attempted to hip check Tangradi against the boards. However, Fraser missed most of the contact, attempting to slow hTangradi down using his rear end, yet was still called for interference when he barely touched the guy. Just seemed like a pretty soft call from what I saw.
Dion Phaneuf should have drawn a penalty after Andrew Ladd tripped him up sending him down awkwardly into the boards. Phaneuf then got up, retrieved his stick and bumped into Ladd as he was trying to get back into position. Ladd took exception to the "bump", which wasn't much and they both dropped the gloves simultaneously. Somehow, Phaneuf got an extra two-minutes for instigating. If anyone instigated the fight, it was Ladd who after tripping up Phaneuf, stood over him and must have muttered something as he looked down at the captain, wincing in pain on the ice. And if both players drop the gloves at the same time, then how in the world could someone be called for instigating? They must be guessing out there, and for Toronto's sake, they guessed wrong for the most part.
Even the Toronto commentators got mad at the end, when Nazem Kadri tried to swing in from the left circle and had gotten past Winnipeg's defense. His attempt on goal only managed to slide harmlessly through the top of the crease because he was initially hooked from behind by Antti Miettinen. As if Miettinen was not satisfied with the original hook, the second hook ended up doing the trick, hauling Kadri down to the ice, slamming into the side boards. With the entire play taking place literally two feet in front of one of the referees, it's ridiculous that neither infraction was whistled down, especially with Kadri's team down 3-1 at the time.
So refs, tonight you get a D-...the Maple Leafs' poor play in the finish of the game helped save you guys from failing altogether.
Time to pull the plug on Holzer; for now
Once again, the young German defenseman had another tough night. He did register a point, but it came on a meaningless goal by Phil Kessel with the Leafs down by four.
Holzer was easily shoved out of the way by Nik Antropov, who knocked in the first goal of the game. Okay, so Antropov has a little more size and mass compared to Holzer, but you still need to learn how to box out in front of the cage, and Holzer failed to do anything of the sort.
His biggest gaffe of the evening came on Winnipeg's fourth goal, which proved to be the nail in the coffin (Winnipeg's fifth goal, this one on Ben Scrivens in relief, was just a machete to the jugular). After a very bad, errant cross-ice pass from Matt Frattin got picked off by Evander Kane, Holzer attempted to stop a speedy Kane by meeting him at the blue line. I am not sure what he had in mind, perhaps to hit the guy and knock him down, but Holzer just stuck his stick out and let Kane fly right by him as he beat Reimer sending him to the showers. Holzer looked like a young Pee Wee hockey player who didn't know how to defend. Oops!
With JM Liles vying for playing time, I say it is about time the Maple Leafs send Holzer back down to the Marlies to play with even level competition in the AHL. Liles is a playmaking defenseman, who the Leafs can use at the moment. He is also a veteran which this teams seems to need all of a sudden. Pairing Liles with Phaneuf is just stronger than Holzer at the moment. Especially when the team is trying to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in over eight years.
Could (should) Maple Leafs be targeting Jarome Iginla?
Jarome Iginla has been a staple of Canadian NHL teams since the late 90s. He is a leader on and off the ice, one who could really help the Leafs now and into the next couple of years.
At 35 years old, Iginla still has his playmaking capabilities, scoring at least 32 or more goals in every season since 2002, but the Leafs will need him for something a little more important and that is leadership.
The idea of having Iginla reunited with Dion Phaneuf, and helping him build up his credibility as a solid NHL captain is captivating; not to mention the world of good his experience and wisdom of the league will bring to the rest of the youngsters on the team.
So, with the possibility of the Leafs trading center Tyler Bozak, the organization can start there and build talks around him. It probably won't take too much to land the veteran, perhaps Bozak and a 3rd or 4th round pick could get it done. Toronto could also use a bit more depth on the right wing, especially if Joffrey Lupul continues to be a walking injury waiting to happen.
I am just kicking the tires, but I can see this deal making sense for both teams. Obviously, some money issues will arise, since Iginla's salary is in the $7 million range compared to Bozak's $1.5 million current salary. Bozak will probably demand about 4 to 5 million this offseason, which Calgary will be able to afford with Iginla coming off the books. Toronto would also have to dump some salary back to Calgary if both sides could strike a deal.
What do you think?