Same old story for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Get off to a crummy, uninspired start. Fall behind a couple of goals. Wake up in the second period and thrill the crowd, only to let them down again in the final minutes (this time seconds).
But wait, thank God for the shootout!
This goes back to my argument in my Christmas break blog. These shootouts are really taking away the integrity of the game. Once again, the Maple Leafs are not good enough to win a game in regulation, but end up stealing a second point, one of which the team probably did not deserve. Although, the Leafs did come close a couple of times in overtime, but it was Ryan Miller basically stealing a point for the Buffalo Sabres in the end.
The bottom line here, is that neither team deserved to win. Not in regulation nor in overtime, therefore, let the game end in a 3-3 tie after the overtime period and move on and hope to figure it out on another night. Moreover, this was another showing of how fragile minded this Toronto team truly is. It could not save a 4-1 lead in the biggest game in years of game seven in Boston, and still could not manage to hold onto a 3-2 lead in front of its own crowd against the worst team in the league who cannot win on the road at all even after calling a timeout with all eyes and ears focused on what coach Randy Carlyle had to say.
Jonathan Bernier once again destroyed another decent chance at helping this struggling team finally win a game in regulation. His poor, lackluster start, looking like someone who had been walking in his sleep for the past three days allowed a Buffalo team who also cannot win a game without some miracle take place (see the "buttgoal" game from the other night) gain a very quick 2-0 lead. And when you got guys like John Scott scoring against you, for sure there is problems.
In the end, it was just another shaky night for the Toronto goaltenders. It seems to me that neither Bernier nor Reimer want the number one job badly enough. For Bernier, this is even more distressing because the Kings didn't have to trade him. They simply accommodated him and basically did not get much in return for someone who should have a lot more value than Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens, considering that Frattin is a frequent healthy scratch for the Kings and has not scored a lick for the Kings.
The first goal Bernier and his defense were sleeping. The second goal was just inexcusable. And the third goal should have been controlled long before it became a goal scoring chance. Thankfully, none of the three Buffalo shooters could manage to hit the net in the shootout, otherwise this one could still be going or undoubtedly end up as another lost opportunity to grab two points which has been the story since October 30.
The "Jekyll and Hyde" Maple Leafs were perhaps best displayed tonight after witnessing a very sub par opening twenty minutes to a full out onslaught against Miller in the second period. At least the Leafs still have that determination to be able to come back after being down a goal or two early. But needless to say, a team must be able to win some of those games once in a while and not rely on the shootout to earn a second point, which I still believe is an unnecessary second chance win.
Still some bright spots tonight. Jerry D'Amigo seems to be getting better and more comfortable with his role. He made some nifty plays in both zones and created a couple of chances. The young winger also turned in a few solid back checks to help break the puck out of the zone effectively. More of this kind of play is needed.
Peter Holland once again displayed some offensive skills. His goal off a pretty feed from Mason Raymond on his stomach was a thing of beauty. He has also filled in nicely for Tyler Bozak, but still needs to work on winning more of the draws.
Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk finally played with a little more gusto and enthusiasm. These past few weeks have been no picnic for the two talented young playmakers. But most of their troubles have been mostly their own fault. Both have been circling the blue line waiting for outlet passes that simply are not coming and standing by watching the other team dictate the play in Toronto's zone as the defense is overwhelmed. Tonight, they did a little more in the defensive zone, but still not enough. These guys have plenty of speed and skill to effectively slow the other team down and slow their game down a bit. But I also understand that their game needs to be more of a run and gun type of attack to be successful. With Bozak's imminent return, hopefully the two-way game for this line will be more balanced out.
Speaking of Bozak, the 27 year-old center will hopefully be back on Sunday against the Hurricanes, another weaker team who gives the Leafs all sorts of trouble for some reason. Carolina is a team very similar to the Sabres, a mediocre lineup from top to bottom but a strong goaltender in Cam Ward who also gives Toronto fits. Thankfully, this time it will most likely be Justin Peters in goal as Ward is out battling yet another injury.
I am still not happy with the play of Carl Gunnarsson. Once again, the young veteran defenseman was caught out of position several times tonight leading to a number of prime Buffalo scoring chances. And in the end, Gunnarsson was on the ice as the Sabres scored the game tying goal, just being manhandled in front by Matt Mouslon and Steve Ott. If Carlyle really believe that Gunnarsson is one of Toronto's shut down defenseman, then the Leafs really are in trouble on the blue line, but that is pretty much a foregone conclusion for people like me who watch the team every night and for all those in Toronto who follow the team closely as well. If I am wrong about Gunnarsson, please call me out and offer some good counterarguments, because I don't see it. To me, Gunnarsson is one of the softest, and clueless defensemen in the NHL. The guy might as well play with blinders on since he has no idea how to read another team's attack.
On Saturday night, I will be in attendance at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville when the Los Angeles Kings take on the Predators. It will be my first trip to Smashville, so I am looking forward to it. Although I am from Chicago, I have my tickets and hope to get in without a problem. I won't be wearing any Blackhawks red obviously, but Kings black and silver.
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