September 13 2012 06:18PM
Jake Gardiner was on the ice for 62 even strength goals against last season, and Lord help us if we don't go through each and every one to try and pin the blame on somebody else.
Eight goals to look at, today. We are not, as I expected at the outset, watching plays and noting a Staplesean mis-step by a single player that leads to a goal. What we are watching is the capsizing of five Toronto Maple Leafs in this train wreck of a defensive system. Through Part I and Part II, we have noted two goals against that were the direct result of Jake Gardiner's play.
Goal one today I guess you could say is the direct result of a play made by Jake Gardiner:
It took me a while to note exactly where Gardiner was in this play, because his biggest fault came a little over two minutes earlier, when he tripped Nathan Horton. Horton went down pretty easily.
This next one is also Boston, in James Reimer's first game back. The first of the games that showed Ron Wilson's "planned destruction" of Reimer, according to Don Cherry. Gardiner is out here with Cody Franson and the big line, late in the game, down 3-1:
I've watched this three or four times and can't figure out what's going on. Some part of me thinks that Gardiner tripped in Franson's skate, some part of me thinks that Horton would have been better passing it to Johnny Boychuk, but mostly I think that Tyler Bozak has no clue how to play inside his own blue line. He has a chance to clear, then gets stuck behind Franson.
Conclusion: Tyler Bozak is not a hockey player, he is bad A.I. designed by Electronic Arts.
I looked back prior to the start of this goal. Gardiner permits Brandon Prust to easily exit the zone and he fires a hard pass cross-ice to Sean Avery, and that's where the clip begins:
Gardiner takes the initiative and follows Michael Del Zotto into the corner, switching sides with Luke Schenn, as we've seen before. Schenn leaves Prust alone, choosing to cover the high slot, which I guess is the right play. But he closes in to prevent a wrap-around just as Gardiner does. Joe Colborne is blissfully unaware that his man is now Artem Anisimov, off the bench, one of the better snipers in the league.
I think some blame can be credited to Gardiner for a very soft pinch against Prust in the first place. That permit New York to move the puck forward in the first place.
This one is against Buffalo:
Part of me wants to believe Gardiner just doesn't trust Schenn. The other part makes me think Gardiner made a really dumb play in a close game against a divisional opponent.
That is the moment. Phil Kessel falling over is the moment that the Toronto Maple Leafs, and all the hope the 2011 team represented, collapsed. It was December 16, and I was watching it all unfold. I didn't know the ramifications at the time, but this is the first time where there is no semblance of offensive structure. Kessel gains the line, looks for support and has nobody. Forwards are skating backwards. Defencemen are skating forwards, and by the time Thomas Vanek collects the puck, he has over twenty feet of space to work with.
Ever get the feeling that you have no idea what you were doing a little over a year ago? I thought I had left to go to my parents' for the Christmas break the day after the Buffalo game, but that can't be right, because I know I took scoring chances for this Vancouver-Toronto game, a day later, at my old Kamloops apartment.
Somebody ask Luke Schenn if he knows where Chris Higgins was a little over a year ago. The rest of the 'D' looks structured, but on the failed exit, it looks like Schenn thinks Higgins is going to go behind the net and start a cycle. He guessed wrong.
I looked a little further behind. Gardiner hit Tim Connolly with a beautiful, crisp outlet. Connolly returns the favour by falling in the offensive zone and allowing the Sedins to break out 3-on-2-and-Joey-Crabb. Crabb falls over and, well, you know how Justin Bourne always stresses gap control?
Alex Burrows, with the puck, has three options. Pass it to Daniel Sedin, who could hit Kevin Bieksa going to the net, or cut out the middleman and pass it to Kevin Bieksa who is primed to go right to the net. He cuts out both middlemen, going to the top of the slot himself. It is also a beautiful shot.
Last one today, I promise. This one was the real "silencer" on the night. Gardiner has a very good shift here actually, weaving through two guys and getting the puck deep for Tyler Bozak, who throws the puck in front for Kessel but misses:
Gardiner hustles back, but this goal here is just a case of a pressing team leaving themselves open and Jannik Hansen making a good play to get around Dion Phaneuf.
So what are we learning here? That Jake Gardiner is a good little player on a bad hockey team?