Same Old Story, Different Night
Once again, the Boston Bruins continue to show why they are the team to beat in the East, and of course the Toronto Maple Leafs know this sentiment all to well.
As a matter of fact, just give the Boston Bruins the Atlantic Division crown right now. There is no way the Maple Leafs will keep them from achieving that feat, neither will any of the other division opponents, who are all equally struggling to win games thus far.
Peter Holland and the rest of the Leafs were crashing the Boston goal throughout the first period, and for a change, it was the mighty Bruins who struggled to match Toronto's tenacity. Unfortunately, all of the Maple Leafs' momentum and flow of the game were instantly killed thanks to another silly penalty. This time it was Carter Ashton who precariously tossed the puck out over the glass with all kinds of time and space to turn face and make a play. As usual, the opportunistic Bruins take advantage and score a pretty goal to tie the game at 1-1.
Moments later, Carl Gunnarsson gets called for a rather soft infraction, in which Jonathan Bernier is beaten again by a slop shot from the point screened in front by Zdeno Chara as Leaf defenseman Cody Franson stood helplessly by.
During the past week, the Maple Leaf defensive core had seemed to have gotten its game back on track. Jake Gardiner had been a man on a mission taking better care of the puck and even led some solid attacks including the game winner against Dallas Thursday. Dion Phaneuf has also been playing with a lot of emotion and has provided some solid leadership. Gunnarsson, Franson and Mark Fraser have also settled down and have made plays in the defensive zone. But tonight was a different story. Franson again proved to be almost useless on the ice. Outside of some strong offensive shifts, Franson was no better than a tall orange street pylon. Gunnarsson was caught chasing the puck around and carelessly giving it away in both ends of the ice. Even Dion Phaneuf got beat several times, including near the end when Milan Lucic undressed the captain completely and fed Jarome Iginla in front for the tap in behind Jonathan Bernier.
Continuing on with the defense, it was good to see John-Michael Liles back in a Leafs uniform. He wasn't that noticeable tonight, but maybe that was a good thing since he won't be messing up as much as the younger guys. Liles can be trusted to at least add some veteran leadership on a young but learning blue line. In fact, I would rather have Liles paired with Phaneuf and pair Gunnarsson with Franson. Paul Ranger can be paired with Mark Fraser or Morgan Rielly, who continues to be held out of the lineup for whatever reason. Rielly needs to play. The only way he will get better is by playing, and with guys like Gunnarsson, Franson, Ranger or whoever playing in front of him, how could he hurt the team any more than those guys have been? Again, if the blue line seems a little crowded at the moment with Liles being recalled, why not throw Gardiner on the third or fourth line as a winger. With the poor play and ineffectiveness of Ashton, McLaren and the injured tough guy Colton Orr, it sure could not hurt trying him out there. He might even excel at the wing position and still be able to play more of a checking game with McClement and Kulemin.
The Toronto penalty kill has really taken some thumps recently, and this continues to be a thorn in the side of coach Randy Carlyle as well. Without Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak, two of the team's best penalty killers, obviously, the PK will suffer a bit, but Carlyle still must be able to find the right combination surrounding Jay McClement. To me, James van Riemsdyk and Nikolai Kulemin would be the best choices to take Bolland and Bozak's spots. Perhaps the speedy winger Jerry D'Amigo or Peter Holland could take advantage of some extra ice time and also give them another incentive to stay in the lineup, especially over guys like Ashton and Frazer McLaren who do not help the team at all in any aspect of the game.
In the end, special teams quickly and effectively destroyed any chance of the Leafs earning a single point against a team in which points are extremely hard to come by. Where I point the fingers at the Toronto PK and plays like the one not made by Ashton, there is no doubt that the officials tonight were also a knife to the heart for Toronto.
In the first period alone, Boston had gotten away with several obvious infractions. After Nazem Kadri had been whistled off for a very soft and hardly noticeable hook, David Clarkson was cross checked from behind in front of the net. Shortly thereafter, D'Amigo tried to come across the blue line but was bear hugged by a Bruin as he dragged the Leaf winger into the zone. And near the end of the period, Dennis Seidenberg grabbed a hold of Kadri as we skated across the Boston line and was finished it off by tripping Kadri down to the ice. None of which infractions were noticed and/or quickly dismissed by the on ice refs. All those non calls were very unfortunate because Toronto had maintained a lot of the momentum throughout the first twenty minutes of play and could have turned a couple of those extra man advantages into a 2-0 or even 3-0 lead.
On the contrary, in the second period the refs were quick to call everything and anything against the Leafs, while David Clarkson had his stick viciously slashed out of his hand by a Bruin as Clarkson had his back turned ready to receive a pass. The sound of the wood splintering in two was deafening even on the TV screen, yet somehow, that infringement was missed as well. We all know as fans that the officiating in the NHL just stinks. We have way too many refs just guessing out there, and that is just unacceptable. Tonight, I really feel that the refs took the Leafs out of this game. Still, the Boston Bruins special teams is just much more potent than Toronto's at this point, and that made all the difference.
Moreover, the Leafs are still making bad decisions at bad times, and ultimately it has been costing them. A terrible line change against Dallas led to the tying goal; poor defensive responsibilities late in games and blowing another two-goal lead last night in Ottawa sure does not help the situation that the team is in.
Yet, it does not take away from how the Buds continue to battle each night. And that is what all these recent games have become, a battle in which the Leafs have become besieged in its own zone for much of the game, but still finding ways to earn points.
Sunday against the Bruins, the Leafs came out hard and attacked the Bruins hard, crashing the net and trying to make things happen. In fact, Boston was the team on its heels early on, and if the Leafs could have gotten at least one more goal, or perhaps a couple power plays on Boston penalties that the refs missed, tonight could have been a different story. However, similar to the game in Boston earlier this season, it was the Bruins getting away with all sorts of stuff, while Toronto just couldn't get a break and ended up not being strong enough to kill off the Boston advantages.
Jonathan Bernier got the start after James Reimer's shootout win and facing 50 shots in Ottawa the night before. Bernier looked sharp early, but the third goal against on a hard low shot from Boston rookie Kevan Miller should have been stopped as it went straight through the legs. Once again, Bernier gives up another soft goal at a bad time and ends up being the difference maker.
Looking Ahead to Wednesday!
With the Los Angeles Kings coming to town Wednesday evening, one would except for Bernier to get the start against his former teammates. But with the solid play of Reimer Saturday night and his ability to hold the fort and give his team another chance to win a game, he should be the one in goal on Wednesday. And with Martin Jones playing so well behind Ben Scrivens, neither of the two former goaltenders for their respective teams may be in net that night. With the Kings playing in Montreal the night before, I would think that Darryl Sutter will go with Scrivens against a better team at the moment. But following a shutout, Sutter may go ahead and stick with Jones in Montreal giving Scrivens the game in Toronto.
It will also be interesting to see if the Maple Leafs will be playing without captain Dion Phaneuf on Wednesday. The hit to the head on Kevan Miller in the dying seconds of Sunday's game could prove to be costly for #3. A hit like that, which wasn't even called a penalty (more proof that the officials tonight were nothing short of awful) could easily garner some sort of suspension. I am still amazed at the number of obvious infractions and dangerous plays that were not called in this game tonight, including the number of off-sides plays missed by the linesmen as well. Stevie Wonder could have done a much better job than those guys out there tonight, even by himself!
Back to previewing Wednesdays big tilt, the more I see Martin Jones play, the more I like him. As another goaltender buried behind Jonathan Quick in LA, the Kings should take advantage of Quick's injury time as much as possible and keep adding more games to Jones' resume. Jones could prove to be another huge trade chip for a team in need of goaltending (Edmonton, Florida, NY Islanders, Calgary) in order to land another speedy playmaker to help a goal-starved yet hardworking lineup. So for all those teams who missed out on Bernier, here is another chance to land another solid, young King netminder. More on this idea later in the week...
With that all being said, I will be looking forward to Wednesday evening as the Maple Leafs next do battle against the 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Kings. My plane from Chicago leaves Tuesday evening for Toronto City Airport. Should be a great night and hopefully another great game. If anyone would like a chance to meet and talk Leaf (and/or Kings) hockey just let me know and we can set up meeting spot.