I am going to start with something good tonight.
First of all, I really enjoyed the Boston Bruins-Los Angeles Kings game. I always like it when those two teams get together.
This game had a little bit of everything; two recent Stanley Cup Champions going head to head, hard hits, determined fore checking, pretty goals, some big saves at both ends (mostly Jonathan Quick though on this particular night) and a lot of heart and passion for the game. A true, world class game of hockey at Staples Center.
Even better, captain Dustin Brown scored a goal, which was pretty much the nail in the coffin. I guess the Kings can only find way to score goals against the elite goaltenders in the NHL like Tuukka Rask, Roberto Luongo, Carey Price and Antti Niemi to name a few. But against the Darcy Kuempers, Kari Ramos, and Marek Mazanecs of the world, forget it! Those guys are just too tough to beat I guess.
Boston did look like the quicker, more confident team early on, but Jeff Carter's goal following his own rebound after Anze Kopitar led the initial attack on Rask seemed to get the Kings going. The beast of the East Bruins did not look all that nasty and mean to start the second period, as the Kings took advantage of Boston's sloppy play in their own end and scored two quick goals to chase Rask from the game.
Justin Williams' one bad giveaway in the neutral zone allowed the Bruins fourth line to get on a board, but the hosts weathered the storm well and Brown's 9th goal of the season iced the victory.
Just when I was beginning to think that veteran blue liners Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr were perhaps a step slower than their competition as of late, both were excellent tonight and led the Kings defensive core while fleeter of foot youngsters Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov struggled against the hard checking Bruins. Muzzin did turn the table a bit as the night went on, and delivered some thunderous checks of his own. However, tonight was perhaps Voynov's worst game since the 5-1 loss at Tampa Bay early in October.
Simply put, the Kings were the better team tonight, but playing in Boston on January 20th should be even better.
Closing on the Kings, games like tonight are examples why no one should worry or be concerned about this team. The Kings seem to elevate their game when facing the NHL's other top clubs (only great exception is Chicago of course!). Excluding the two flat losses to the Hawks in Chicago, the Kings have now knocked off Boston (4-2), NY Rangers (1-0 at MSG), Montreal (6-0 on road), Vancouver thrice (5-1, 3-2, 3-1), St. Louis (3-2, 0-5 bad game), Anaheim (3-2 shootout win at Honda Center), San Jose (4-3, 4-1, 2-3 shootout loss in SJ)...So why worry about this team? The Kings are definitely built for the playoffs, as long as they do not have face Chicago right away or at all...
Now to the Maple Leafs...
And good Lord! I just could not watch any more of this game after the opening twenty minutes. Even when Joffrey Lupul scored to cut the deficit to one, the Leafs were destined to the seventh layer of hell.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for Toronto, it did. The blue and white looked like a bunch of youth soccer players, bumping heads not knowing what to do in their own side of the ice. Simply put, right now this team has a pee-wee hockey mentality and playing at a pee-wee hockey level. This team flat out quit tonight, therefore there was no more reason to watch one minute more after the first intermission.
I tried offering some solutions to fixing problems in my last blog, and either way, Dave Nonis is going to have to make some decisions he does not necessarily want to do. It really is not a good idea to commit long term to so many "core players" after blowing a huge lead in a decisive playoff game especially with a team that has not won anything or proven anything yet. Teams like the Bruins, Blackhawks and Kings have committed to their core players long term, maybe because they have all won the Stanley Cup the last three years. Toronto has not even come close to winning the cup, not this team. 1967 was a long time ago...but perhaps those guys can still play the game better than the current Leafs.
I am also starting to think that losing that game 7 in the final minutes and then seconds was not good for this team, and if that is the case, then this collection of players will never be strong enough. Those moments do two things to players; man up and take it to the next level, or keep feeling sorry for yourselves and allow that to be the only "highlight" albeit a negative one for the remainder of your career. Right now I am thinking about Joffrey Lupul's statement after losing that game...
"That game will haunt me for the rest of my life..."
Perhaps, that will be the only thing remaining in his memory as he leaves Toronto after his five-year contract is up, or if he gets moved (or even bought out).
Randy Carlyle mentioned after the 7-1 loss to the Rangers that it was back to the drawing board. I wonder what he thinks now. When the Leafs were losing last season, and the one before, they did not quit. They always seemed to have some fight in them. They also did not lose many games back to back. In the past three games, all against teams equally struggling to win games in regulation, not only have the Maple Leafs been beaten, but have looked absolutely horrible and not at all on the same page. You cannot play hockey like that, period. These are the results.
Moving down centerman Peter Holland makes no sense to me, especially with the team bringing back up Carter Ashton. Ashton last played a game when he made a stupid play sending the puck out over the boards with nobody near him for a delay of game against Boston, who promptly scored twice after the fact and completely changed the complexion of what had been a decent start for the Leafs that night. Ashton did no better for the Leafs tonight, and I am still trying to figure out what he brings to the table. He is not a scorer, not a playmaker, and he really doesn't like to play much of a physical game either. For example, tonight Ashton was a minus 2, 1 shot, 1 block, 1 hit, and lost 3 of 4 face offs and only played 3:42... so what is the point of bringing him up at all? The young winger has mustered one measly assist all season in 19 games. At least I see Peter Holland working down low on the defensive boards, trying to help his beleaguered defense and has also scored some pretty goals since coming over from the Ducks. Was this Carlyle's move, or the organizations? Could Carlyle be in some hot water here?
Mark Fraser was also back in the lineup, and again looked like a player who had lost all confidence in himself. At least he can throw his body around a bit. That is about all he can do after a plus 18 season for Toronto a year ago. What happened Mark? You're guess is as good as mine.
Cody Franson looks to me like he doesn't want to play anymore. Perhaps he doesn't want to play for Toronto any longer? Not sure. Maybe sit his butt in the press box for a game or two. See if he changes his mind. If not, find a change of scenery.
I felt bad for James Reimer tonight. He actually battled a bit tonight. This was not his fault at all.
Oh boy, another game tomorrow night in Washington. Maybe President Obama will be in attendance and officially declare a state of emergency on Toronto's behalf. The good news here is that the Capitals are another team who hate to play defense as well. If Toronto shows up, maybe we can witness a shootout since the Caps have been involved in about fifty of them already this season. At least the fans will get their monies worth with that.
Good God is this bad!
Hang in there my fellow Leaf Nation brethren!