It is entirely possible that I have never seen a less inspiring effort by any NHL team in my entire life than the one the Leafs turned in Thursday night against the Rangers.
Frankly, the only way to know they were the same team as the one that opened the season two weeks ago is that they appeared to be wearing the same blue and white jerseys.
Everything that had been working suddenly didn’t.
Players who had been skating stopped. Top-speed, tape-to-tape passes were non-existent. And Tomas Kaberle stumbled back into his vortex of stupid decision-making.
Why would the Leafs not have been motivated to crush the Rangers in this re-match? From where I stand it makes no sense.
They faced them again less than a week after Sean Avery mistook Mike Komisarek’s ankles for firewood. Wouldn’t this have been a good opportunity to show Avery some payback? When Colton Orr went toe-to-toe with Derek Boogaard in the first period, it was not a portent of fists to come.
The Leafs just withered up and floated around for 60 minutes. It was mystifying and the Toronto offence is now officially struggling with the 2-1 loss. The vultures have been circling Kris Versteeg for a while and, against the Rangers, top-line centre Tyler Bozak was benched by Ron Wilson.
Mike Zigomanis, who works as hard as any Leafs’ forward, found himself between Versteeg and Phil Kessel.
DID IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
It did not. It was a disaster from beginning to end. Top-level teams can play games a variety of different ways. So far, the Leafs have only been playing one up-tempo, sparse-hitting style. It works if you are scoring. It works if other teams don’t figure out how to shut you down, by checking tightly and clogging up the middle.
By the Rangers, they got shut down big time. Holding the Rangers to two goals was another in a string of excellent defensive efforts. Very few shots came from the inside. Almost everything was perimeter. But that must come in combination with some form of scoring. The Leafs didn’t score until the third period against the Islanders. Ditto against the Rangers.
Toronto’s effort against New York causes me to wonder – yet again – about the motivational abilities of head coach Ron Wilson. He may know the game inside out…but do you think he’s a motivator? I don’t see it. And that’s something young, inexperienced, unsure players need.
They need constant reminders that they can do it. On the upside, defenceman Luke Schenn decided to show some offensive flair during the game. It’s not something that should be required from Schenn, but it would be an added benefit if he scored a little bit.
Saturday’s game in Philly is going to be another test for Toronto and, if they don’t give a hell of a lot more effort, it will be their third failure in a row.