LGD – Game 46: Leafs @ Capitals – Searching for answers

Well, we’re right back to where we started. The Leafs were passed by both Carolina and Washington a night ago, and now gets to play the second of those teams, with both Toronto and the Capitals on the back half of a back-to-back. It’s one of those games you’re pretty sure one team is just going to lay an awful effort on the ice. 

With the tight schedule right now, there aren’t a lot of lineup points to parse over so I’ll keep a short LGD today. All we can hope for is that Jake Gardiner returns to the Leafs lineup. Again, it’s important to mention that while everybody knows the Leafs biggest issue is getting out-shot, Gardiner gets out-shot the least among regular defencemen.

But we can forgive Randy, I guess. After all, Gardiner is super skilled, which begs the question: does Jake Gardiner think he’s better than us?

KEY STATISTICS

  Capitals Maple Leafs
Corsi Close % 48.5% (24th) 42.7% (29th)
5v5 GF/60 2.27 (16th) 2.14 (19th)
5v5 GA/60 2.53 (23rd) 2.39 (21st)
5v5 Diff/60 -0.26 (20th) -0.25 (19th)
PDO 100.0 (15th) 101.4 (5th)
     
  Capitals Maple Leafs
5v4 GF/60 11.19 (1st) 7.23 (6th)
5v4 SF/60 61.6 (3rd) 54.3 (10th)
4v5 GA/60 6.35 (14th) 6.75 (20th)
4v5 SA/60 63.0 (27th) 63.4 (29th)
Penalty Differential -2 (16th) -16 (26th)

Via ExtraSkater and NHL

Both teams are trash at even strength, meaning Toronto have good company.

However, not only have the Leafs failed to win a game indoors this year, they have been out-scored 18-5 by offensive powerhouses New York Rangers (25th in the league in offence) Islanders (13th) and Hurricanes (18th). It’s one of those "if something can gone wrong, it has gone wrong" stretches, and though Mikhail Grabovski failed to score against the Maple Leafs in the first meeting between these two teams, you can smell it coming tonight.

READER MAIL

To do something a little bit different from the LGD, I’m going to point to a couple of comments from the game thread a night ago. Reader leafer2013 writes:

Carlyle will last longer as coach then many think. Carlyle has had past success with his system and not just with the stacked cup team but other years as well.

Whether we like it or not, Carlyle has credibility and it is the team that has something to prove. The team has not proven anything to demand respect. The team has delivered an 18th wheeler collapse and eventually fired their coach. Much of the same team and core also overachieved last season and then again delivered an epic rival collapse. And now this same core and team is in the midst of delivering 2 regulations wins in the 24 games after a hot start.

Carlyle and his system may be problem, but for now the onus is on the players. They are not executing because of poor players or lack of compete or just being plain dumb on the ice. That is for Nonis to figure which regarding the players or assign the blame to Carlyle for poor player selection and ineffective system.

But what we need to remember is that this roster is not good, they over achieved last year and firing the coach for playing to their true talent doesn’t make sense. The team is struggling exactly as we expected but this downtrend is not a logical reason to let him go.

The gist of leafer2013’s point, I think, is that ultimately, the players have to execute. What do you think? I’m a little wary, personally, of putting the onus on players that had a tremendous amount of success in regards to their possession statistics before Carlyle showed up. Part of being a good coach is adaptability—one of the reasons I liked Alain Vigneault in Vancouver was he had success with both a counter-attacking system as well as a possession system. One of the reasons Ron Wilson failed is that he couldn’t win without talent up and down the roster, and injuries would exacerbate problems rather than offer opportunities for solutions. 

Right now what the Leafs are doing is not working, and the feeling for me is that Carlyle has spent the last few months of his life trying to fit that square peg in the round hole. There’s enough natural talent on the Leafs that I feel no system at all would benefit the team more than the current system—guys like Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Jake Gardiner and even Morgan Rielly should be able to fit anywhere. 

If you’re telling a dog to do a backflip and the dog can’t, the problem isn’t with the dog, it’s with either your commands or your expectations. As to the roster, we decided in the summer that Dave Nonis did a good job acquiring "Carlyle-type" players.

Meanwhile, reader Jeremy Ian writes:

Hey Cam, just a minor thought. A consolation for you: feel free to say I told you so. To those who rubbished data analysis in favor of "watching the game" or extolling the virtues of Carlyle’s "shot quality" opportunism, you can fairly say they didn’t understand your prophecies.

But who I feel really bad about? The father and 8-year old daughter waving the "This is my First Leaf Game" sign for the camera. The poor guy. Probably some schmo like me who grew up loving this comedic-tragic team, relocated by the job market to some exurban American space, finally able to take his kid to a game he’d waited years for — what’s he going to tell her?

I feel for those fans, but ultimately, there are Leaf fans that are younger that will be better served in the future if the Leafs continue to stink for a month or two, clean house, and get some better people in charge.

A good question to ask: when the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, do you envision it being with this current Leafs roster, with Randy Carlyle at the helm? I don’t. I think we’ve seen this team’s ceiling, and it was at some point last year, and the offseason just made them worse. The Leafs are going to need to catch a locomotive of good fortune and percentages to even make it to the playoffs now, let alone do anything in them. And then what’s the plan? Most of the current players are signed long-term.

I don’t want to start to bring out the "I Told You So" post, but the panic button has been pressed and at this point Leafs management have to be thinking that the roster they assembled isn’t air-tight and has deep flaws. You can’t even say the goaltending has been great anymore. Both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier have been pretty average since about the start of December and that’s led to a lot of losses. I’m sure everybody’s seeing what I am: the team doesn’t win unless the goalie plays lights-out, and there are only so many times a goalie can play lights out in a given game.

Last time the Leafs and Capitals played, James Reimer saw 50 shots and stopped 49 of them, and Toronto won in a shootout. The Leafs have just a 4-15-2 record when their goalie hasn’t put up a .920 or better save percentage in a single game. We’ll see what happens tonight. Both teams need these points and are in a similar boat: competing for a playoff spot with not a lot of regulation wins to their credit.

SCOREBOARD WATCHING

Dallas @ NY Rangers – The Stars were in Jersey last night and (ugh) lost to the Devils, and come back against a resurgent Rangers team tonight. The Rangers are currently tied with the Leafs in points and games played, but have five more regulation or overtime wins, so they just need to match the Leafs record to stay ahead of them. CHEER FOR: Dallas.

Carolina @ Columbus – Also in the rearview mirror but gaining: the Blue Jackets are just five points behind the Leafs with two games in hand. CHEER FOR: Somebody to win in regulation, preferably Columbus.

SNOREBOARD WATCHING

St. Louis is a tough team with a great defensive system and they have a tonne of success this year. Vancouver want desperately to be a tough team with a great defensive system and have siphoned away a lot of points recently. This game will be a late start (10 pm) and while it’s between two Western playoff teams, neither team tries to push the pace at all and will help you get to sleep if you need something to do tomorrow morning.

The Leafs and the Sabres Capitals are underway at 7:00 PM on Leafs TV, but if you want to avoid the four old white men on the broadcast, I recommend tuning to the French broadcast on RDS if it’s an option. Get your lineups at Daily Faceoff.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Yeah, I am starting to agree that some creative destruction is in order. It’s always hard to improve from the middle: when you don’t quite have the assets to climb over the succeeders ahead of you, but you don’t suck enough to acquire some future assets. It takes a special kind of coach. Ok enough on that dead horse. But who can resist at this stage. Have to take your fury out on something far away from home.

    One of the things that’s always bothered me about the it’s Carlyle vs it’s the Players debate is: aren’t they on the same team?

    “Whether we like it or not, Carlyle has credibility and it is the team that has something to prove. The team has not proven anything to demand respect.”

    Maybe leafer2013 is telling us about something so fundamental that the coach and the players are conjugated apart?

    As for overachievement, why complain about that? It’s a lot easier to watch than what we have now. I’d hardly call that failure; it’s just not very sustainable.

    Anyway, thanks for getting back on the saddle.

  • Jeremy Ian

    I’ve said it for a while but this team needs to add more grit and toughness in the line up and sitting the skilled players until things change. Last year, the team was hitting and fighting and this opened up space for players like Kessel and Kadri.

    But this year is it a country club. We saw JVR happy to be losing to the NYR. The players need to get angry cross check a player like Lupul did. Or run a goalie, make a hit or start a scrum after each stoppage. These actions get the competitive juices flowing which gets the player and team skating. The team is just going through the motions but are never in the game.

  • CDubs

    Hey Cam, thanks for the post – do you agree with leafer2013 in that Carlyle still has a long rope with management, even if things continue as they are (possibly until the end of the season)? I’ve got to think that Nonis isnt completely blind to possession/shot attempt stats and can see that the system isnt working. Also I caught some talk on this site or possibly PPP arguing that Holland’s demotion could have been done by Nonis in response to Carlyle severely reducing his minutes recently for some reason . I’m just not certain that management is loving how people like Gardiner are being used, or the insistence on giving Orr and McClaren a regular, albeit fourth line, shift. Thanks!

  • STAN

    I agree with Jeremy Ian that major moves need to be made, but I’ll ask this?

    Even IF you decided to move Phaneuf, who would want him for seven seasons at an average hit of $7M? Maybe one or two GMs, but I doubt they’d offer much in return. He has been a deteriorating asset since season three in Calgary. It was no fluke that his fellow players voted him most overrated player in the league. TWICE.

    Ditto for David Clarkson and even Phil Kessel. Pretty much unmovable now.

    So with his OWN future fairly secure (a tidy new five-year deal) Nonis has locked this team into perpetual mediocrity.

    • STAN

      i watched dion very carefully in calgary. what i can tell you is that the dion benefitted from facing the lightweights and power play situations. the heavy lifting was left to regher and others. the dion faced favourable competition, and dutter boasted him to media that ate it up. the year he was nominated for the norris was the slickest marketing/pr stickhandling outside of politics.

      without a significant trade or two the leafs lineup is pencilled in for the foreseeable future, several long term signings with little flexability. the bottom four or five forwards might change but the top units are set in stone.

      the money used to sign the alledged captain could have filled the void on the blueline, honestly the sky wasnt falling if they moved shoes or let him walk at years end. dan girardi is a ufa, del zotto is available, mark giodano could be pryed from the flames in exchange for burkies boys.