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.
December 17 2013 08:24PM
Is there any good news to glean from the Leafs most recent loss to the Florida Panthers? Well, at last check, the New York Islanders were up 2-0 on the Tampa Bay Lightning, which might improve the Maple Leafs' lottery processes.
Throughout the game, the broadcast showed images of Randy Carlyle furiously scribbling away on a whiteboard and nobody on the Leafs bench seemed to really pay attention to him. That's sort of become the theme for Toronto. Randy Carlyle is just flat out of answers. He benched Jake Gardiner for an extended period of time against the Florida Panthers because of one giveaway, yet never feels the need to hold other Maple Leafs players accountable for the same rare moments of lapses.
As it turns out, the giveaway by Gardiner was elementary. The Toronto Maple Leafs demon on Tuesday night again, was familiar. This team can't score, and this team can't score because it was put together by an inept management group that favoured intangibles and birthplace over talent and production. It was 3-1 Florida, but who cares.
December 17 2013 12:29PM
For the first time, the Leafs will play against the division rival Florida Panthers, which acts as the first break in the schedule since the start of the month. After facing San Jose, Dallas, Ottawa, Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh sequentially, the Leafs go up against the weakest link in that chain, despite the Panthers having won five of six.
Basically, the breaks in the schedule are not really breaks. The Leafs are playing their third game in four nights, and against a team that is arguably better than the record indicates. Toronto are still nursing their final playoff spot, three points up on the Ottawa Senators and four up on the New York Rangers, also teams that have turned it around after a slow start.
Still, with five of the next six games at home for the Leafs, they're in a position to take back some points. The worst part of the schedule is over, and the Leafs are still in a playoff position. Hey, positives.
December 16 2013 08:54PM
In the pre-game I discussed how momentum in hockey is fleeting. One minute, an image of Jay McClement and Nik Kulemin smiling on the bench after Kulemin missed an open net to give the Leafs the lead. The next minute, viewers and fans left wondering just which one of them left a clear passing lane to Sidney Crosby wide open.
This was a frustrating game for many reasons. Toronto's played two of their best games of the season in the last week. They were playing a Pittsburgh team without Kristopher Letang, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. They were down to their 11th defenceman on the depth chart, had the bulk of powerplay opportunities and got a very quality start from Jonathan Bernier. These are the types of games that the Leafs should be winning, but again, the lack of offence has come back to bite the team, as they failed to score a single goal at 5-on-5 for the 9th time this season (last year they only did that six times).
It was a 3-1 final in Pittsburgh, not in the Leafs favour.
December 16 2013 12:54PM
Hockey works in a lot of different ways. Last week, the Maple Leafs may have sandwiched their worst game of the season with two of their best. One of the best-kept secrets in hockey is that momentum is mostly illusory. Humans are wired to look for patterns, and take mental leaps to separate processes from results as long as it lines up with a predetermined conclusion with narrative support.
It's hard to predict what happens in hockey when it comes to results, and commentators have tried for years to look at recency, games in the past week, recent games between the same opponents, in an effort to better predict or explain what happens in advance. Most of it is hocus pocus, and a good post at Arctic Ice Hockey summarized this today. No matter what you're told tonight, the result of the last Penguins and Maple Leafs game will have no bearing on what happens tonight.
The second best-kept secret in hockey is that the Pittsburgh Penguins are actually not a very good team.