Toronto Maple Leafs 2010-11: Week 9
Sunday, November 29, 2010.
Maple Leafs record: 8-11-3, 19 points
Leading scorer: Clarke MacArthur, 19 games, 7G, 11A, 18 pts
Things still don’t look much better in Leafland. A win at home versus Dallas was followed by 2 terrible efforts against Buffalo and Ottawa. Serious doubts exist that the Leafs have any chance to win games against conference opponents, or to move into a position close enough that playoffs are somewhat realistic. The goaltending is still strong, but the offense and special teams are major areas of concern.
For Tuesday’s game, Lebda and Mitchell sat. Caputi was sent to the Marlies. It would seem Keith Aulie is making a bid for a permanent spot on the blueline. Coach Wilson moved Bozak to the third line, as he is simply not producing on the top line. The new first line consisted of MacArthur-Kadri-Kessel, with call up Joey Crabb getting time with Grabovski and Kulemin. The third line sees Versteeg with Bozak and Sjostrom, and Brent centering Orr and Brown.
It was a good effort against a Lightning team solidly in a playoff spot. Simon Gagne returned to an arsenal that already includes Ryan Malone, Martin St. Louis and Steve Stamkos. Leafs jumped to an early 1-0 lead, as 1:45 in some traffic to the net allowed a Versteeg shot to get by Dan Ellis. Tampa outshot Toronto badly, 17-7 in the first, but Toronto managed 2 penalty kills against a highly rated powerplay. A Luke Schenn goal late in the first was called back when the referee called interference on MacArthur in the crease, which the Leafs thought was debatable. Kulemin was overexuberant and took a boarding call, his second penalty of the second period, and Malone got the Bolts even with a quick wraparound. Kulemin got that goal back on a powerplay, plus a second goal in the third. But Martin St Louis got the Lightning another goal as he got by the Leaf defence. Then with 9 seconds left in the game, St Louis tied it up. Schenn had iced the puck, and Bozak could not win the faceoff. A rush up the ice in overtime resulted in Schenn being deep in his backhand, and the puck turned over into a 2-on-1 for Tampa, with Gagne putting it past Gustavsson. A solid effort was ultimately wasted, but there was a lot of good work ethic.
As Edmonton rolls into town riding a winning streak having beaten Ottawa and Montreal, the Leafs lose an important piece in Mike Brown. Brown shattered a finger on a blocked shot in the game against Tampa, and will likely be out until January. Brown has been an extremely hard-working player, bringing energy and grit to the 3rd line night in and out. On a positive note though, JS Giguere is back to push for the starting goalie job, and Colby Armstrong was to be back in the lineup for Saturday.
And roll Edmonton did, a 5-0 victory. Taylor Hall had 2 goals, Jordan Eberle had 3 points. There may yet be something to this idea of drafting players to build a team. Nik Khabibulin was more than solid keeping the Leafs off the board, while Gustavsson had his first truly terrible night, allowing 2 goals on 6 shots and being pulled for Giguere. The Leafs could not generate anything, and while they outshot Edmonton in each period, there seeemed to be no remedy for the offensive woes. The Edmonton Oilers, playing their 3rd game in 4 nights, laid a beating on the Maple Leafs, and showed which team at this point was further along in it’s rebuild. Friday morning, following the loss, Brian Burke stated by email “No coaching change”.
Almost on cue, the Boston Bruins show up with Tyler Seguin, chosen with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, for a HNIC Saturday game. Word is Dave Nonis had a closed-door meeting with the players, where the team was told there was no help coming via trade any time soon, and that as Burke had said, the coach will not be relieved. Bottom line, the guys in the room now woould have to find a way to turn this around.
The inconsistency displayed by the Maple Leafs is astounding. After Tuesday’s generally well-played game whch ended in serious breakdowns for the overtime loss, and a complete whitewash by an Oiler team that should have been tired and easily-handled, the Leafs turned in a fantastic effort against Boston. Leafs threw 40 shots at Tim Thomas who was brilliant in net for Boston. The Leafs had fewer turnovers, and created a lot of traffic in front of the net, and if it had not been for Thomas, the Leafs might easily had 5 or 6 goals. Giguere also had a busy night, stopping 25 of 27, inluding some dangerous shots. Colby Armstrong returned and was a force, getting hits in along the boards and going to the dirty spots. Kessel struggled with faceoffs, but acquit himself well as a centreman with Armstrong and Versteeg, and scored the shootout winner. Schenn also got in on the hit parade with 3 or 4 that rocked some Bruin players. The Leafs did not quit, and Versteeg finally beat Thomas on a late 6-on-4 powerplay.
Obviously, all is still not right in Leafland. But, 2 solid efforts (Tuesday’s breakdown aside), and the return of Giggy, Colby, and soon perhaps Dion, and maybe there is some light out there. It boils down to solid effort and smart plays, and the Leafs may be able to surprise a team or 2 if they maintain the work ethic.
And it will be a tough week, with a 2 game road trip to Washington and Pittsburgh, then home to Philadelphia and Montreal.