The Toronto Maple Leafs took their 6-1 road record into Carolina on the Thursday night, but for the second time this year they fell to the Hurricanes, this time by a score of 3-1. Greg Millen may have put it best at the end of the game when he said that the Maple Leafs just did not have it on this night, and I completely agree with that assessment. Here are a few things that caught my eye:
Tough situation for the Hurricanes
A lot has been made of all the injuries the Maple Leafs have encountered early in the season and rightly so, but they caught the Carolina Hurricanes in a very favorable situation Thursday night. The Hurricanes were playing their first game at home after a long six game road trip. This always seems to be a tough game for teams in the NHL. Whether it is the realities of everyday home life or a nagging significant other, home teams in this situation have struggled. The Hurricanes were also without their top two defensemen in Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen, while starting goalie Cam Ward had the night off as well. Still the Maple Leafs could not take advantage and they came out flat.
Where was the forecheck?
The game lacked flow for the most part and the Maple Leafs appeared to struggle getting into any rhythm. Although they seemed to lose some of the defensive posture that has made them successful so far this season, the biggest issue I noticed was their lack of forecheck and offensive zone time. They did not test the undermanned defense group of the Hurricanes at all and generated very few scoring chances.
Mikhail Grabovski managed to break his eight game point scoring slump by getting an assist on Nazem Kadri’s power play goal, but other than that his night was a disappointment. Grabovski has been given the task of going head to head with the other team’s top line every night and on most occasions he is up for task. Thursday was not one of those nights. He struggled against Eric Staal, as most others have this year, to the point where Randy Carlyle went away from that matchup mid-way through the second period. These things are going to happen over the course of a season and it was nice to see Carlyle change things around when it wasn’t working.
Alex Semin is a very good hockey player
Alex Semin gets a really bad wrap from the main stream media and I have no clue why. He has been a very good possession player throughout his career and a favorite of advanced stats proponents. He was the best player on the ice Thursday; yes even better than the Staal brothers. A lot of people questioned the move when the Hurricanes signed him in the off-season, but on a one year deal there really was no downside for Carolina and when it is all said and done he will most likely prove to be the best free agent signing of the year. If he continues to play this way he is positioning himself to make a lot of money as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Depth at forward for the Maple Leafs
The Leafs are missing one of their top forwards in Joffrey Lupul and arguably their best forward this season in Matt Frattin, yet they haven’t seemed to miss a beat. For the first time in years this team has true depth at the forward position. Yes, they may be lacking that big first line center, but they are making up for it with three lines that can score. Jay McClement and Leo Komarov are two of the new faces which have helped create this depth and both have been very good moving up and down the lineup. Although it was not the forward group’s best outing (it might have been their worst of the season) it will be interesting to see what Randy Carlyle does with them when he has everyone back healthy.
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