In an 82-game season, it’s important to understand your team is going to hit their fair share of highs and lows. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, it seems like the vast majority of games have been lows.
One of the lowest lows occurred on Saturday night. Just when you think this team is going to break out and string some wins together, they get shellacked at home like they did over the weekend, losing 7-1 to the New York Rangers.
Jonathan Bernier, who has had a terrific season, was pulled after allowing five goals on 32 shots with about four minutes left in the second period. Bernier was figuratively thrown to the lions as the Rangers continually beat the Leafs’ defense to loose pucks and attacked the net with wave after wave after wave of chances.
It’s obviously a very disappointing loss, but there’s no use dwelling on it as a team. They’ll have to bounce back Tuesday night against the New York Islanders. If not, this season could go totally off the rails quickly.
Mirtle writes that the Leafs’ issues are deep-rooted and it will take more than a quick fix to turn things around. Even though they’ve still managed to collect some points over the past month-and-a-half or so, most of those have come via the shootout or because of the dominant goaltending of Bernier and James Reimer.
Hope In The Big Smoke opines that the Leafs could give their floundering secondary scoring issues a boost by…well, playing their secondary scorers more. Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul have struggled, but they still give the Leafs a better chance to score when they’re on the ice than Jay McClement’s checking line, which has regularly been given more ice time than Kadri’s.
I also agree with the idea Peter Holland and Jerry D’Amigo should be off the fourth line and put into more prominent roles. When those two have actually been given minutes, they’ve produced. They also provide some much-needed youthful exuberance to this squad.
As HITBS also mentions, the real question will be whether or not Randy Carlyle realizes the changes he needs to make, or if he’ll just stubbornly continue running this team into the ground because “that’s how he does things”. If he doesn’t adapt, Carlyle could soon find a pink slip on his desk.
Continuing on the topic of the team’s forwards, J.P. Nikota published a piece yesterday morning for Pension Plan Puppets on how Carlyle should deploy McClement. Basically, the conclusion is when the Leafs are losing or the game is tied and they need a goal, McClement is not your man. However, if the Leafs are up and simply need to suppress shots, McClement is probably the best option.
Going back to Carlyle’s coaching philosophy, he still played McClement nearly 20 minutes on Saturday despite the team trailing almost the entire game. That’s not the right strategy.
Let’s move on from this depression-inducing Leafs talk and on to a much more fun and wacky prospect: Picking Team Canada’s entry in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The American team was released on New Year’s Day and we all had a ball dissecting those picks; now it’s Canada’s turn.
The team is officially released tomorrow at 11 a.m. ET, and everybody seems to be furiously discussing the prospects of this team as we approach the 11th hour. (Get it?) Darryl Metcalf published his picks on his Extra Skater blog and I have to say, I’m pretty much in agreement with them. Let’s take a stab at picking the line combinations for Metcalf’s picks because, well, why not?
As a side note, Metcalf also picked Bernier as the third-string goalie, which probably won’t happen but it’s probably the correct choice. Do you like the look of this team?
TSN Insider Bob McKenzie also released his own educated guesses for the team’s roster on Twitter. It’s pretty similar to Metcalf’s picks, except McKenzie picks Rick Nash and Jamie Benn over Marleau and Thornton. It’s important to remember these aren’t McKenzie’s personal picks, but who he thinks Team Canada’s brass is leaning towards. Let the debate rage on.
The Leafs play their next home game against the Islanders Tuesday night. See the game by getting your Maple Leafs tickets here.