The Ides of March
Leafs Lose Again, et tu LA?
I apologize for not working on this last night after the game, but it has almost become unbearable to stay up later in the evening, having to watch both the Leafs and defending champion Kings find ways to lose.
Although I am not as much concerned about the Kings, however I am beginning to worry about Jonathan Quick and the defense, I am much more concerned about the Maple Leafs at this point. With exactly twenty games left, Toronto is in a do or die situation on Saturday against Winnipeg, another non-playoff team.
I will say the same things that Tyler Bozak and coach Randy Carlyle said after last night's game; the Leafs played a solid, STRUCTURED playoff-style game and performed exceptionally well for about 55 minutes. Unfortunately, two big defensive lapses in the final five or so minutes ended up costing them a victory and points in the standings. You also have to give Marc-Andre Fleury some credit as well. Even though Toronto had a 1-0 lead to start the third period, they did not sit on it one bit. The Leafs kept coming at the Penguins goalie, but "the Flower" just stood his ground well like a former Cup winning goalie should. One can also make the case that Fleury stole that game for the Penguins, giving his troops led by Crosby a chance to come back at the end. And like a former champion team, they did.
First of all, I want to clear up some of the things said by the media recently. One of those is about the Leafs "dropping four games in a row". This is why I hate the shootouts in the NHL. Losing in a shootout is NOT a loss! Losing in a 60-minute game or including overtime is a loss. A shootout is or was a stupid ploy used after the strike of 2004-05 to get the fans interested in hockey again. Shootouts should not determine a win or a loss for a team, but somehow, people in and around the NHL seem to think they do. For those that do, shame on you! You should know better...
Second of all, I heard one of the reporters question the stability of the goaltending after last night's gut-wrenching loss to Pittsburgh. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have, in my opinion at least, exceeded ALL expectations. I am not saying they are possible Vezina trophy candidates, but they have given this team a chance to win almost every night. Reimer had been injured for a while, and has bounced back very well. In his absence, Scrivens actually had made a viable case for claiming the #1 job from Reimer, despite a couple of mistakes in a game in Ottawa that ended up costing them a point or two. For anyone to question the goaltending of the Leafs, especially after last night is totally bonkers and should have his head examined. Scrivens had no chance to stop either of those two shots.
Who would imagine, as of this moment, that Toronto's goaltending is comparably as stable and more of a strength compared to the mighty Los Angeles Kings? As an intense follower of both teams, I can mention that statement on this site and actually mean every word of it. The only difference that the Kings' goaltending issues have been almost entirely created by coach Darryl Sutter, who still does not understand that he has two potential #1 goaltenders at his disposal but has done a miserable job up to this point in managing their game time.
There is no reason nor excuse to play Quick three games in four nights. That is just stupid! And unacceptable. Sutter's inability to manager Quick and Bernier correctly may actually end up costing the Kings a berth in the playoffs. Won't be easy for the Kings to defend their title if the team is golfing or coasting through Hollywood during the first round...although I am pretty sure that $7 million man Drew Doughty won't mind that too much. His last two games have been atrocious to say the least. Oh, and he still has not found the back of the net yet either! It was ok for a while, since he had been playing a solid two-way game, but that is no longer the case at the moment.
The Maple Leafs' situation is a little more fragile, but I still think they have an easier chance of turning things around. I know that sounds crazy, and I also may have contradicted myself from an earlier post, but I see it as a simple fix. Korbinian Holzer should not be dressing for the Leafs, period. If the Leafs really want to make the playoffs here, then they must have their best six defenseman on the ice. I cannot understand why Carlyle and the Leafs' brass would continue to award him with ice time over a proven veteran like JM Liles. Not only is Liles a much better option, but he has the experience needed to help this team now. Perhaps the ''powers that be'' just gave Holzer every opportunity to prove himself, however the experiment has failed, especially after Thursday's game.
Dion Phaneuf had another terrible five minutes to finish the game last night. Although Holzer missed his check on Chris Kunitz in the corner, Phaneuf was lost in space as he completely let Scrivens hang out to dry after Sidney Crosby made a great play to Pascal Dupuis for nearly an open netter. Give some credit to Scrivens on the play, he actually may have gotten a piece of it. While the Penguins were about to finally tie up the game at 1-1, both Holzer and Phaneuf were side by side, behind the goal line, while forwards Bozak, Kessel and James van Riemsdyk were at least trying to stop their opponents from scoring. Holy Mackinaw, what a horrible defensive lapse and at the worst time!
I still think that Randy Carlyle is a great fit behind the bench for this team. He demands that players be responsible and has brought structure and some maturity to this team. Unfortunately, it seems to be the same players who continue to show immaturity.
When Phil Kessel throws a hissy fit, throwing his sticks around, banging the glass partitions, throwing water bottles on the bench; I can see why this dynamic fellow was the last guy picked in the All Star Game in Ottawa. Such actions at this point in the season are ridiculous, but where is your captain to address the situation?
I hate to bad mouth people, especially when I am not part of the team nor a player or coach, but I really question the leadership of Dion Phaneuf as I have for these three seasons with him wearing the "C". The men who made the decision to name him captain are gone and fired. And what is worse, your captain cannot be the one to make dumb mistakes on the ice when the game is on the line. Phaneuf, who's defensive positioning was terrible, was on the ice for all three goals against in the final minutes of last night's defeat, and I find that simply inexcusable. You look around the NHL and see every teams' captains: Toews in Chicago, Brown in LA, Chara in Boston, Doan in Phoenix to name a few; those guys all have the same things in common - they are accountable on and off the ice and they do not make glaring mistakes or commit defensive lapses when the game is on the line. Phaneuf is the complete opposite of those guys I mentioned and others like them.
One of the readers out there commented on Phaneuf the other day after my post on the ugly loss to the Jets and mentioned the idea of possibly moving Phaneuf or other defensemen. Right now, we need to see if this team can pull it together in the final twenty games, and if they indeed slip out of the top eight again, Phaneuf should be stripped of his "C". If he doesn't like it then get rid of him somehow.
I was thinking hard last night of a player who could be a possible fit for the captaincy, and I came up with Tyler Bozak. However, if the Leafs trade him, then scratch that idea. Moreover, it is just another reason that trading Bozak would be a mistake and shows more signs of ill-judgment from the organization in assessing their talent.
But, the simple fix right now is to send Holzer back down to the Marlies where he can polish his game up a bit. At this point though, I am not sure if he can handle playing the NHL. Perhaps a move to the "defensive-minded" Western conference is a better fit for him, say Nashville or Minnesota for example. The East is much more offensive, paying more attention to speed and skill, while defensive responsibilities take a back seat. The teams who balance it well, like Boston and Pittsburgh, are the ones who seem to have most success and should not surprise anyone if either of the two are in the Finals this summer.
Iginla's best fit is in Boston...makes sense for both parties involved. He also gets a chance to finally win the Cup. He won't have that opportunity in Toronto, obviously.
In my last post, I made the suggestion of trading for Jarome Iginla, yet I was totally unaware of an incident that took place between him and Phaneuf as teammates still in Calgary in 2010. According to Courtney Wagner's report in the Leader-Post that winter, Phaneuf had thrown a fit of his own after a practice and was throwing stuff around the locker room. Iginla, as the leader of the team, closed the doors on the rest of the players and put the young defenseman in his place.
There have been other rumors flying around that the two did not get along at all well, and that Phaneuf had been a clubhouse cancer. Well, no wonder he came to Toronto so easily at the time. When Phaneuf had been dealt from the Flames to Toronto on January 31, 2010, I was shocked that the Leafs were able to pry such a valuable, young defenseman from a playoff-battled team without giving up that much.
Now I can see even clearer.
Toronto needs to keep their assets together for now, and with Joffrey Lupul looking able to return to action Saturday night against the Jets, the team should be able to put Thursday's loss behind them and take out their repressed energy on Winnipeg, a team the Leafs SHOULD handle.
Adding or moving guys at the moment would cloud judgment into the off-season where it will be important to address which following changes or additions are necessary. And if they do slip from the top eight, then I feel that nobody on the current roster is safe except for the goalies. Right now, the goalies are part of what is going right for this club.
Once again, it is back to paying attention to smaller details and making the little plays happen. And that starts with the man wearing the "C" on his chest...
And for the LA Kings...it's time to get it going again. Teams should be rolling the out the red carpe for you, not the other way around by God!
The next three games against the Sharks and Coyotes is payback time! If not then this team is in trouble. It's the same deal for the Maple Leafs. If they find a way to lose at home to the Jets, then trouble is brewing for them as well.
Step up or go home!
On a last note, to my buddy "Howling Coyote" who just started blogging on the Phoenix Coyotes; the Dogs did not "dethrone" the Kings the other night...they will have to do that in a best-of-seven playoff series. When someone does beat Los Angeles in the playoffs in a month from now, (if they make it that is) then you can say they were dethroned! That time has not come, at least not yet.