March 14 2013 08:36PM
Excellent photo via Abelimages and NHL Interactive via Getty
Most of the times I've written a game recap this season, I've taken to this space to write how, despite the victory, the Leafs played the game with underlying problems. Those don't go over well.
Nobody, when the team is winning, wants to read about the team not doing enough to win, or not winning the right way, or winning in a way that they shouldn't keep winning.
Thursday night it was the reverse. The Toronto Maple Leafs played well enough to win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their first two periods, they played the best game defensively I've seen all season, limiting the Penguins shots, scoring chances, and preventing every Penguins line that didn't have Sidney Crosby on it from establishing itself in the offensive zone. Tyler Bozak put the Leafs ahead on a pretty goal set up by a pretty pass from Cody Franson who got the puck on a pretty bit of patience from Phil Kessel. That wasn't enough. For the second straight game, the Penguins scored three goals in the final 8 minutes, and won the game 3-1.
Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
March 14 2013 03:23PM
The Toronto Maple Leafs have made a minor trade today, sending forward Nicolas Deschamps to the Washington Capitals in exchange for defenceman Kevin Marshall. Normally, one shouldn't look too much into what amounts to a minor league trade, but there's a lot of factors that have me wondering if there's more roster shuffling to come for Toronto, at both the NHL and AHL levels. But first off, a bit of background on what's changing hands.
March 14 2013 02:40PM
Three games of giving up four or more goals, and to stem the bleeding, the Leafs have brought John-Michael Liles into the lineup to replace Mike Kostka. I think a lot of fans would want more, but there are better things to do than respond to player personnel issues in the middle of a losing streak. The Leafs do have the tools to recalibrate and optimize their lineup to win more games, and I'd rather they do that than pick up players to fill certain roles via the trade market.
The opponent tonight is Pittsburgh, not the best team to meet in the middle of a slump. The Leafs will also start backup goaltender Ben Scrivens, not the best guy to start considering James Reimer has played the Penguins pretty well this season. The Leafs are 1-0-1 against Pittsburgh despite getting out-chanced 36-20 in two appearances. Lot of that is thanks to goaltending.
March 14 2013 12:04PM
So John-Michael Liles will roll back into the lineup tonight, which changes up Randy Carlyle's defensive pairings for the first time since the Leafs first game against Ottawa, when Ben Scrivens recorded his first ever NHL shutout. That was Game 15.
There have been tweaks, but for the last twelve games on the schedule, Carlyle has started his defensive units as such:
Dion Phaneuf - Korbinian Holzer
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Kostka
Mark Fraser - Cody Franson
Three left shots and three right shots. The two defencemen in the press box eating popcorn and salary cap dollars, Mike Komisarek* and John-Michael Liles, are both left shots (*-UPDATE - It's been pointed out that Komisarek is actually a right shot. He doesn't play enough for me to notice these things). Carlyle evidently hates the idea of a defenceman playing on his off side, despite Phaneuf playing excellent on his right side alongside Carl Gunnarsson last season, and despite Phaneuf playing excellent on the right side of left-shooting Keith Aulie back during the spring of 2011.
Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
March 13 2013 10:41PM
Get ready for two cliches over the next few games - "The Toronto Marlies take on Lake Erie", and "your defence wins you important hockey games". Blame the AHL schedules for the first one, and credit the Marlies for the second, because while the team remains in low scoring times, they've found a way to make the situation even worse on their opponents, as they did tonight with a 2-1 win over the Monsters.