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.
December 14 2013 01:14PM
I didn't think it would take this quick for such an obvious rift to develop between Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis, but you can sort of tell what's happening based on some of the things Darren Dreger says on the radio. This morning, Dreger re-assured listeners that Morgan Rielly's exodus from the lineup was a coaching decision, and that Carlyle had better get used to Peter Holland.
One of the best Twitter accounts in Toronto has been @Hope_Smoke, who listens to the radio so the rest of us don't have to. The sense I'm getting is that management and coaching disagree on some of the personnel. Nonis may have assumed David Clarkson would get more powerplay time than he has. Nonis wants Jake Gardiner in the lineup every night. Nonis is probably behind the apparent decision to sit Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger tonight.
Have you opened your Badvent calendar today? It's the Leafs and the Blackhawks tonight, on lousy ice tonight at the Air Canada Centre due to a support staff strike.
December 13 2013 11:12AM
I don't want to beat the deadest horse in the world, but Mark Fraser is not an NHL defenceman. Another noon hour came and went without Fraser finding his way onto the waiver wire, which may not be too surprising, but I think Fraser has played well enough to earn himself at least a healthy scratch, and the opportunity for John-Michael Liles to get some games.
It's beating the horse. With Fraser on the ice the Leafs have just 40.3% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts [Extra Skater], and have been out-scored 4-12. The numbers don't really improve when you restrict the sample to 5-on-5 score tied or 5-on-5 score close, and he is really driving down the play of one Paul Ranger, who I think is a fine defenceman on his own, but locked into a brutal third pairing.
I uploaded a brief video of the problem with Mark Fraser.
December 12 2013 09:28PM
Thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs Twitter account for sparing me the trouble of having to find an appropriate picture for this mess.
That's all it was. Less than 24 hours after their best performance on the season, despite a loss, to Los Angeles, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Toronto in St. Louis and it's coming more clear that the team has no ability to play against the big dogs in the league. Los Angeles was an anomaly, and it's not outside the realm of plausibility that the real Kings a night ago had simply gone to the Loose Moose and switched places with a beer league team, figuring they wouldn't need to bother showing up against the Leafs.
Fatigue is one thing. Going from your best game in quite some time, to the absolute worst since the pre-Brian Burke era, is quite another. The Leafs came out flat and left flatter, with the score made respectable thanks to three great saves made by their starting goalie in the first ten minutes, four goal-posts by St. Louis, and a fluke bounce off Alex Pietrangelo. 6-3 was the final, and to quote Joe Bowen from back when the score was 2-0: "it's not even that close."