Bruins Return the Favor
Another fantastic hockey game this afternoon in Boston between the Bruins and Kings. World class, championship-style hockey. It is a shame that these two teams will not face each other again this season...unless they meet in the Finals.
First and foremost, this was another frustrating loss for the Los Angeles Kings. LA spent a majority of the time in the Boston zone and much of the rest maintaining the Boston attack and breaking the puck up ice. On top of controlling much of the play throughout the afternoon, the Kings did not do enough to test Boston backup goaltender Chad Johnson and let him and the Bruins off the hook several times with the puck sitting in the crease area and black and gold jerseys scrambling.
Boston had a similar opportunity later in the third that would have iced the game for sure, but the slick defensive play of Anze Kopitar corralled the puck away from harm out of the blue ice behind Jonathan Quick. The loose puck ended up on the blade of Zdeno Chara who blasted a shot on Quick as the rebound slipped to Jeff Carter who sped past Chara and the Bruins defense and snapped a quick shot off the arm of Johnson.
I was a bit surprised that Carter's shot came up higher than usual. His bread and butter is finding a weak spot lower on the goaltender and firing it between the legs before the goalie gets set. Johnson was set and was ready for it.
Outside of that chance, the Kings never really tested Johnson much despite plenty of offensive zone time. Quick on the other hand had to be sharp on some occasions, but I felt that this game should have been won by Los Angeles. To spend that much time setting up attacks and playing in the other team's zone as much as they did and not come away with a single point is just not a very good sign for the Kings. They got a goal from Carter, but then again, who else scores? Kopitar and Mike Richards to their thing in getting things cooking in the offensive end, but nobody else can finish besides Carter.
More concerning is the fact that when the Kings do finally score, they fall asleep and immediately give the other team a goal back. It happened in Nashville in the final seconds resulting in a loss and it happened the other night in Detroit after taking a 1-0 lead which did not last very long at all. In fact, those leads or big game-tying goals are being erased in less than a minute. Those types of shifts are unacceptable for a team like the Kings. The team works hard, gets a goal to tie things up in a tough game in Boston, then Dwight King and Jarret Stoll are caught standing still as Brad Marchand plants a pretty goal past Quick who had no chance.
Boston is a team, like Los Angeles who forces other teams to work hard for sixty minutes, they make the simple plays and look for mistakes to try and capitalize on. They also both feed off success on scoring timely goals. Today, it was the Bruins who scored the timely goals thanks to the Kings standing still and getting caught napping. The opening goal with Drew Doughty, Kopitar, Carter and Quick all back facing one man in Marchand who scored making them all look foolish is the type of play that beats you. And again, it is one stupid mistake like that that ends up beating the Kings. One dumb play.
Simply put, I do not think the Kings are skilled enough to beat the Ducks, Sharks or Blackhawks in a playoff series at the moment. The Kings, right now, look like the Kings of 2010 and 2011; relying way too much on Quick in goal and are constantly concerned about maintaining puck control instead of taking more chances offensively. More so, guys aren't even taking chances, but passing up shots in prime areas looking for the perfect play rather than just shooting the puck. The team keeps everything simple, but do not elect to take the simple shot on goal.
Perhaps a trade for a playmaker like Matt Moulson, whom the Kings never should have gave away in the first place, or Tomas Vanek would help offensively much like Carter's trade did in 2012. I also do not think that keeping all three youngsters Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey or Tanner Pearson in Manchester helps the team much either, but I understand that a certain number of games must be played for those three to remain playing in the Manchester lineup during the Olympic break.
Moreover that sentiment, I was cruising through YouTube for highlights of Friday night's Toronto Marlies-Chicago Wolves game to post, and came across the Manchester Monarchs' 6-0 win highlights against St. John's over the weekend and saw Toffoli score a hat trick, looking for loose pucks in the slot and capitalizing. This is exactly what the Kings need at the moment who continue to fail to capitalize on similar opportunities in front of the net with the other team scrambling. With that being said, I would hate to see the Kings trade Toffoli. Keeping some youth around who are familiar with the Kings' style and structure with the current core of the team is important. But if the Kings are to acquire a player like Moulson or Vanek, one of those three will for sure be involved. If I had to pick one to trade, I would send Vey off and hang onto Toffoli and Pearson. Those two are a little bit stronger and have more offensive upside in my opinion.
The trade for Matt Frattin has brought absolutely nothing in return. Frattin does not score and has not used his speed and skill take over as it did in Toronto when the Leafs gave him a chance. Could there be a chance that Frattin becomes part of the deal involving either Moulson or Vanek? Instead of giving up one of your original three organizational talents, why not see if Frattin could help net you another playmaker? At the ripe age of 26, Frattin still should have some upside. Frattin just does not fit the mold well in Los Angeles. A bad trade and rare mistake by Dean Lombardi. To end that point, the other part of the deal was sent to Edmonton for a low draft pick last week. So obviously, Lombardi has pretty much admitted he lost the Bernier deal, and he has...
I am still very impressed with the Boston Bruins and today they proved why they are the best team in the Eastern Conference. They play a tough game in Chicago in the late morning on Sunday and do everything right except earn a second point then return home to face Los Angeles in another afternoon game and hold tough and earn a 3-2 win. That is what a championship team does. They still have what it takes. I am not sure if teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins can do the same or even better than that. Boston is still the class of the East and the team to beat. Whoever gets to the end of the road; Chicago, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis...will without a doubt have a date with the Bruins before all is done.
Maple Leafs Begin "Midwestern" Trip in Phoenix
The first of four games against Western Conference opponents not on the Pacific coast begins tonight in the desert against another team struggling to win games.
Mike Smith has had a frustrating season thus far in front of a team normally known for stingy defensive play. Those things have not been happening in Arizona this season and the team has also had difficulty scoring goals.
Look for Jonathan Bernier to get the start and hopefully continue playing solid in goal for the Leafs. Facing some familiar Western teams should be good for the 25 year-old on maintaining his focus and keeping his momentum going as the team's number one goaltender.
This trip is also very important for the team after earning eight points in the last four games. Playing on the road against Western teams, with three of the four struggling at the moment forces the Leafs to play smart hockey and pay attention to some of the smaller details rather than just running and gunning. Phoenix, Dallas and Winnipeg are all struggling for a reason. Turning those games into wild shootouts will help them more than Toronto. The Leafs must stay within a certain structure and play solid in all three zones.
Watching these games turn into crazy 5-4, 4-3 back and forth games is not what I want to see nor would Randy Carlyle. Toronto needs to keep these teams down and force them to make the mistakes and not vice versa. On top of that, Bernier and James Reimer both need to be sharp as well. If not, then this stretch of games could spell the end of the run in 2014.
UPDATED 10:40 PM
Leafs Hold off Coyotes 4-2
Well, I guess a win is a win, and Toronto will take them any way they come.
Jonathan Bernier once again faced forty or so shots on goal, however many of which were not high quality scoring chances. Bernier probably turned aside four or five solid chances while allowing just the two goals on some pretty passing plays from the Coyotes who played as flat as a piece of paper for much of the night...not that it disappoint the home crowd too much since Jobing.com Arena was filled with a lot of blue and white.
Toronto fore-checked the Coyotes hard in the first period and forced several turnovers in front of Mike Smith and capitalized twice. The Leafs added to their lead when Carl Gunnarsson drove in front of the net and hammered home a rebound off a targeted shot from Dion Phaneuf at the point. After that, the Leafs were very fortunate to end the second period with any kind of lead, let alone a 3-0 advantage heading into the games' final twenty minutes.
After the Gunnarsson tally, Toronto reverted to its poor play similar to the night against the Rangers on January 4th. The Leafs became spectators and dodged numerous bullets. It was either players watching Bernier kicking pucks away from trouble or the Coyotes misfiring on a plethora of passes.
Phoenix got on the board finally on a power play opportunity, as the Leafs just could not manage to get the puck out of the zone. Nazem Kadri restored the three goal lead with a power play tally that glanced off the side of a Coyote defender in past Smith. Kadri then forced a pass through the box instead of killing clock time on another man advantage which turned into an odd man rush the other way and a second Phoenix goal making his goal even bigger.
In the end, Bernier was able to hold down the fort and the Leafs played a strong enough road game to earn the victory.
I knew Phoenix was a struggling hockey club, but after seeing them in action tonight for the first time in a while, they are really in trouble. If they don't snap out of this soon, they will for sure be buried in the Pacific Division with the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators starting to pick up their game. What is worse, I have Mike Smith on my fantasy team and his effort tonight along with the poor play in front of him by his teammates really kills me. But I would rather see the Maple Leafs win of course!
Cody Franson once again was a liability defensively as was Jake Gardiner. They both can make up for their lapses offensively, which they both contributed again tonight, but some of their decisions are just brutal. Franson again made a similar play, despite being tugged on a bit by a Coyote fore-checker. Constantly throwing pucks back into the slot for the other team to take back and fire it back on your net is lazy and inexcusable. Gardiner also made some silly blind passes in his own zone that led to some extra time for his team to chase the puck and regain control. These types of plays are stupid and simply unnecessary.
So, the way I see it, Toronto caught a break thanks to the Coyotes playing such a sloppy, out of synch game. The Leafs top forwards helped make some big plays and the team came away with an opportunistic win.
I fully expect James Reimer to get the start tomorrow night in Colorado, who will play with perhaps a little more speed and skill than the Coyotes tonight. Should be another fun game to watch tomorrow assuming that the Leafs can get their legs back under them. They were very fortunate tonight.