The Leafs entered into tonights action against the Flyers trailing them by only 4 points in the standings. They have maintained the 7th spot inthe Eastern conference by the strength of what was done last week, and are now hanging on to it by a thread. This was a statement game, if there ever is on in an 82 game schedule. A win would pull the Leafs within 2 points of the struggling flyers, a loss would widen the gap to 6. To say the Flyers have struggled is an understatement, most recently being shut out by the Islanders. The Leafs had been going strong for the better part of the last 2 weeks, and needed to continue piling up wins.
The most disappointing part of this 4-3 loss is the implication going forward. The Leafs can not hope to be a successful playoff team, and play like a shrinking violet against a likely opponent. Philadelphia has really reinforced the idea that if the Leafs do make it to the spring tournament, they still are quite a bit too small to be effective playing “playoff hockey”. This skill set usually entails winning board battles, good defensive zone coverage, solid offensive zone presence. These traits are largely the reason that Toronto has struggled mightily against the Bruins most of this season, the inability to engage in a dominating hockey game, rather opting for a Blitzkreig like attack. To their credit, most teams have fallen against this speedy one and done attack. When playing teams with the combination of size, skill, and experience, the Leafs have largely fallen flat. This reliance has made most of the games they play exciting to watch, but not always yielded results.
Whether it happens in the coming weeks or in the off-season, Brian Burke needs to size this roster up. Games like this are solid proof that once the Buds get into the playoffs, they will be grinded out in a hurry. On to the game,
-This Penalty kill has now hit the level of spectacular, while being assisted by some great goaltending. The Flyers Power Play has struggled, but the chances that they did get were quickly reeled in. It’s still amazing how awful they were that they remain in 29′th in the NHL.
-The Power Play scored a goal, which is a good thing. more on this in the next section.
-The big line was very productive accounting for all of the offense on the night. This will need to be a recurring trend as it appears the third line has decided it no longer wants to score goals.
-The penalty killing is so good, it feels like it deserves another bullet.
-The Leafs really need to end this reliance on transition scoring. Its cute and all, and it’s a lot of fun when it works, but it is’nt working often enough. To lose 4-3 and have the Flyers own 2/3 of total zone time is embarrasing. There needs to be some point when the team enters the offensive zone for it not to end in a faceoff or a rush in the other direction.
-The Power Play scored which is fantastic, but it gave up as many chances as it had. This point goes to the point above, which means that somehow this team needs to learn to cycle the puck in the offensive zone. I know they’ve done it before, just not in the last week or so.
-I have defended and defended and I can’t any longer, this third line flat out sucks. It is no longer depth, but a liability. Tim Connolly has gone invisible. Joey Crabb and Matthew Lombardi both have great work ethics but have no finish. I have not been a proponent of promoting Nazem Kadri, but at this point I don’t see what it could hurt.
-What is the point of having 7 defensemen available when you don’t use them. Jake Gardiner is an electric kid, and will be very special perhaps in the not far distant future, but he looks fatigued. He was caught twice tonight in front of James Reimer, and failed to even acknowledge the man open in the slot. This twice resulted in scores against.
Saturday night marks the honoring of long team modern era Leafs Captain, Mats Sundin. This night should be special for a variety of reasons, none more so that it is a game against the Habs on Hockey Day In Canada. The Leafs would best be aware of who is on the ice for the Canadiens as Scott Gomez is now on fire. Scoring 1 goals in the last 13 months, this is his second longest point streak in two seasons. I’m sorry I could’nt resist