It sure is depressing coming back to the sub freezing temperatures of Chicago, especially from Los Angeles. The same can be said for the Maple Leafs’ current California trip, which has usually been rather successful in the last few seasons.
Monday night at Staples Center was truly a great experience however. My seats were just a few rows behind Darryl Evans, Nick Nickson, Bob Miller, Jim Fox and even Greg Millen from Toronto’s Sportsnet Ontario. I even got a chance to meet Mr. Millen as we were in line for a bite to eat amongst several other fans. I have also been listening to Evans and Nickson on the Kings site for years going back to my college playing days up in Michigan. Game radio was streamed for free back then way before NHL Gamecenter and Center Ice came into the picture.
While most of the place was decked out in blue and white and several “go Leafs go” chants could be heard throughout the duration of the game, there was not much to cheer for after Anze Kopitar scored the game’s lone “true” goal, which took a full minute and a half for everyone to realize that the puck had actually nailed the top camera of inside the net and out.
However, the Leafs really did play a solid game. Leafs main blogger Mike Augello criticized the team for not playing a two way game at all Monday evening at Staples. I beg to differ. After allowing that first goal and running around a bit in the early stages of the opening period, the Leafs took control and out possessed one of the best teams in the NHL when it comes to puck possession. Basically, Toronto did everything right except put the puck in the net.
Perhaps the best chance the Leafs had at solving Martin Jones (I would also say the defining moment of the game), was when James van Riemsdyk drove in from the left slot in pursuit off a rebound late in the second period. What looked like a for sure goal, somehow did not even come close to the goal line as van Riemsdyk ended up colliding with a sliding Jones across the crease. But if you look closely, it appeared as it Mike Richards (one of Toronto’s potential trade targets) stuck out the blade of his stick and stopped the puck from entering the crease and goal line. Wouldn’t it be great to see a Leafs forward, or better yet a center, make such a big time play like that in a 1-0 game?
From the Kings side of things, this had to be one of the clubs’ sloppiest games after the first ten minutes or so of play. They could not skate. They could not complete a pass. They couldn’t even muster a solid shot on goal. Actually, nobody could get much of any offense going at all until the Leafs realty started to put some heat on LA in the latter stages of the second period.
This game was won in large part due to the leadership and experience of guys like Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty. These guys are tough hockey players. They may not be the best skaters or playmakers, but they sure do know how to play without the puck, which has been Toronto’s biggest struggle under the helm of Dion Phaneuf and company. The one thing the Kings really do well is that they can win games and barely contribute on the offensive end. If they aren’t going to get much going, then they for sure make sure their opponent doesn’t. That is usually the case, especially during their mini-dynasty since 2012 and even seasons before that. Right now, the Kings look anything but a championship team let alone a playoff team at the moment. But the tremendous amount of leadership and experience the Kings have trumps anything the Leafs have at this time. I can count about seven or eight guys who could easily serve as the team’s captain. How many guys can we count in Toronto? Outside of perhaps veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas and maybe Joffrey Lupul, no one else comes close to the thought of possibly wearing the C, not even Phaneuf.
So moving on from the game Monday night…
The 4-0 loss at the hands of the Ducks in Anaheim last night has set the Leafs back into a new low. Everyone seems happy in the Toronto media that the Leafs are now holding their opponents to under 30 shots and even outshooting teams. Big deal. The team has their heads so far up their butts, they have forgotten what has made them relatively successful. This team will not and should not be required to play a style like the Boston Bruins, LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and Nashville Predators. For one, they do not have the personnel for that style of hockey. Like I read from someone earlier, the Leafs best defense is their offense. And for God sakes, who cares about shot totals. It is the quality of the shots the opposition is getting. If Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer were facing 50 shots from the blue line without much traffic, then that is a good thing. If a team allows 20 shots in a game, and they are all prime scoring chances, then that is a much bigger deal.
While the shot totals against have been low, the Leafs are still allowing the same amount of prime chances. The only exception was the Kings game. I believe the Kings had two maybe three really good chances against Bernier, but then again the Kings are in a huge rut and are playing without their two young studs in Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson who both pretty much lead the team in scoring. So really, in the grand scheme of things, nothing really has changed in the Leafs defensive game, but I will say the team has played a lot better controlling the puck and slowing things down a bit. However, the team has slowed down altogether and no longer have been using their speed and attack skill which is the only good thing this group can do. Moreover, the Leafs rely on guys like David Clarkson, Leo Komarov, Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik, David Booth and some Marlie call ups to provide some grit and hustle. Clarkson has been worthless since October, Komarov has been injured, Santorelli has been excellent and has been pressed into top six duty since the top guys have not stepped up their game, and Winnik and Booth both have been as expected. So to add the grittiness and hustle, there just isn’t that much depth for this team to be expected to play like a Western Conference super power. Thanks to management, these last two games in LA and Anaheim is the result and how can things get any better tonight in San Jose?
All I was asking for, as was most of Leafs Nation I would imagine was to see forwards like Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk get back and help out a bit more in their own end and stop cherry picking. Now Kessel looks like a chicken with his head cut off and has absolutely refrained from driving hard to the net and not even getting decent shots off anymore. So, I would think everyone should enjoy watching #81 in blue and white for the next two months or so, because I highly doubt he will be back in Toronto next season if he isn’t moved at the deadline or sooner. His body language is awful, and the way he handled the media this past week or so, he is definitely not a guy you want to continue to build around. Perhaps someday he will be a very useful support player, like Justin Williams in LA or David Krecji in Boston (still those two guys are pretty reliable guys as far as leadership and experience. Maybe Kessel will be more comparable to a Chris Kunitz or Vinny Lecavalier?). But he is not a leader and never will be, nor is he a guy that can be counted on to help your team through a rough patch. These last several games have been the easiest determining factors on what to do and expect from Kessel going forward. It is a shame because I have really enjoyed watching him play with the Maple Leafs, and the guy never misses a game. But going forward, if Brendan Shanahan is really serious about shaking up this team for the better, Phil Kessel is not a part of the future plans.
We still have almost half a hockey season left, but the rest is really up to Shanahan, Dubas and company to start reshaping this team. Hanging onto Jake Gardiner and Nazem Kadri would be wise. They must have some guys to build with, perhaps not around. Serious changes will have to be made, especially who takes over on the bench in the long run. I doubt it will be Peter Horachek (aka Ralph Kramden, Mr. Calm and Cool behind that bench these last few games…a hamena, hamena, hamena as Jackie Gleason used to mimick when he would be befuddled on stage in sight of a nervous situation).
Things are really a mess at the moment, and we got Dave Nonis and Brian Burke to thank for it.
As far as the Kings are concerned, the 5-3 loss on home ice to a weak and old Devils team has brought them down to a new low as well. Shame on them for getting their ass kicked in by a bunch of old men! Good thing Jaromir Jagr didn't play, otherwise it would have been 7-3.
This team is really in trouble of even making the playoffs now without both Pearson and Toffoli. But the team does finally bring up Nick Shore, who has been playing great hockey in Manchester and Darryl Sutter refuses to play him. Either it is Sutter's call or a contingency. To throw him up in the press box in favor of guys like Jordan Nolan and Andy Andreoff is absurd. When will this team place some faith in its younger assets and stop worrying about putting a solid team on the ice at the AHL level? Look at how long it took them to finally give regular ice time to Toffoli, Pearson and Vey who really never got a fair shake. Silly. This is not the same team last last year or the one before. With contracts needed for Kopitar and the aforementioned Toffoli and Pearson, there will be several changes in LA this summer too.