December 21 2013 08:55PM
By listening to Glenn Healy all game, I learned a whole lot about how goaltending works. If your team goes down early thanks to some lousy defensive structures, it's okay to blame the goalie and pull him, because that will spark the team!
All throughout the Hockey Night broadcast of the Toronto and Detroit game, viewers were hit over the head with this bizarre narrative that Randy Carlyle pulling James Reimer after the first period "sparked" the Leafs to a degree. Anybody with a basic understanding of hockey analytics have heard about score effects: a team that is trailing is more likely to generate more shots on net, so despite going into the first break down 3-1, the Leafs weren't out of it, especially against a shallow Detroit team down to its third goalie and dressing three real NHL defencemen.
Toronto came back to make it 4-3, but then gave up the tying goal, generated the better chances in overtime (as they often do when they're allowed to use their speed) but it was all for naught. Daniel Alfredsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored the goals in the shootout and the Red Wings came away with a 5-4 victory.
December 21 2013 01:16PM
It's fitting that the next time these two teams play will be outside in the freezing Michigan cold, because these two teams are icy right now, in that over the last month or so, have probably been the two most disappointing teams in the league.
The Red Wings have gone 3-5-2 since the start of December, and the Leafs are at 4-6-0 in the month, after entering it already on a 4-game losing streak. Now, you know that previous games results don't carry over to the next game, and I know that previous games results don't carry over to the next game, but casual fans don't like to hear that, and advertisers don't like to hear that either.
Officially, however, this is just another hockey game, played between the 4th and 5th placed teams in the Eastern Conference division that will send five teams to the playoffs in all likelihood. It's an Original Six clash! Former Norris Division, and Central Division foes! Two teams that used to be in the friggin' Western Conference. The last time these two teams played as divisional opponents was March 18, 1998. Norm Maracle stopped 20 of 22 shots and Kris Draper scored twice in a 5-2 win for Detroit.
December 19 2013 08:48PM
The Leafs major problems this year: a lack of depth scoring and a bevy of shots against. After the first period, the Leafs were leading 1-0 on a goal from Troy Bodie, and held a high-octane (seriously!) Phoenix team to just five shots through 20 minutes.
James Reimer ripped into his team after the performance against Florida, and rightfully so, and the Maple Leafs came out with a much better effort against Phoenix Thursday night, snapping a two-game losing streak. It probably doesn't matter that the Leafs blew another third period lead. Two points is two points, and perhaps the Barilkosphere will calm down for the next few days.
There's still the matter of the single regulation win in the last 16 games, but after the late tying goal, the Leafs got through a high-event overtime period and wound up winning in a shootout that included the greatest troll move ever pulled by one Mike Smith. 2-1 Maple Leafs win.
December 19 2013 01:01PM
I don't know what it will take for the Toronto Maple Leafs to break out of this funk. All I can really say is that the current course doesn't feel right. The prolonged slump (we're over a month now) is currently leading the general manager of the organization to spout out excuses over the radio.
No, the team probably won't play at a 63-point pace from now until the end of the season. That sort of record is reserved for lottery teams and teams stuck in perpetual rebuild modes. The Leafs are still a team whose true talent probably puts them somewhere around .500. Hopefully, we never do get a chance to find out just how bad this slump can get, and alarm bells start going off, forwards start giving defencemen shorter options on passes and the Leafs change from a defensive zone strategy that doesn't lead to players getting wide open in the slot. It's possible to win in the NHL even if your team is getting out-shot, but it's a lot harder if you try to make your fast players play slow and your slow players play fast.
Hence the title. I'm just waiting on the epiphany. The urgency should have set in sometime in April last year when the team won just two of its final six and got massively out-shot. Then came the Boston series, the Leafs were a much better team, and then that progress was wasted. Thankfully, this game against Phoenix doesn't look so bad as it did a month ago. At one point the Coyotes were 13-4-2, but they've gone 5-6-3 since. Regression hurts a lot of clubs, as we'll see below.
December 18 2013 01:28PM
I've gotten into some discussions recently about whether the Leafs' injuries provide a valid excuse for their recent record. The popular one is that the Leafs slide began at the start of November, after David Bolland went down to injury in Vancouver with the Leafs record at 10-4-0. Since? Toronto has gone just 7-12-3 with just three wins in regulation, and their lineup has been further exasperated with the removal of Tyler Bozak and the constant sufferings of Joffrey Lupul.
Well, not really. There's been somewhat of a pattern in the Leafs' injuries this season that make it fairly likely that one guy being out would account for a disproportionate share of team victories.