John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs News & Notes: January 21, 2014

Here’s the Game In Six from last night:

It was another opportunistic night for the Leafs’ offense, scoring on the power play twice and using their speed to create chances on the counterattack.

I loved Jake Gardiner’s game. He had a goal and an assist and was buzzing around the offensive zone all night. When he’s on his game, he looks like he’s ahead of everybody by two strides.

The Leafs still gave up too many shots (41), even if many of those can be attributed to score effects. Luckily, Jonathan Bernier was on his game again, earning first-star honours.

James Mirtle had some interesting quotes from head coach Randy Carlyle after the game:

“Well we’re playing better,” Carlyle said in summarizing the night, a 4-2 win. “But we’re making individual mistakes like turnovers with the puck and that’s showing a little bit of [struggling with the] pressure and a little bit of [being] lackadaisical between the ears. We’re not bearing down hard enough.


“We’ve got to learn how to manage the clock in a game. The end of a period, start of a period, put pucks in, do all those things. We seem to want to make life more difficult for ourselves.”

The comments are especially interesting because there’s plenty of evidence that this propensity to sit back with a lead is a weakness in Carlyle’s own coaching strategy.

As per the Mirtle piece, the Leafs give up the second-most shots in the league when leading. Last year, they were 28th in that statistic, and Carlyle’s Anaheim Ducks teams were 28th over the last four years he was there.

It’s nice that Carlyle recognizes there’s a problem, but the question is: What is he going to do to fix it?

Anthony Petriielli hit the nail on the head in his piece today:

Often the Leafs play not to lose, rather than playing to win. And there is a huge difference between the two.

We saw that tendency play out when Carlyle was playing Jay McClement upwards of 18 minutes a lot of nights. I like McClement, but he has basically no offensive game.

To Carlyle’s credit, things are looking better with McClement back in the fourth-line centre spot, Nikolai Kulemin on the second line and the defense seems to finally be settling in with their pairings. I’m a fan of allowing the lines and pairings to stay as is so the players can cultivate some familiarity. Besides, if they’re working, why change them?

The one change I would implement is switching Carter Ashton and Troy Bodie. Ashton created a breakaway chance using his strength and speed early in the game last night, but only ended up playing just over two minutes. Bodie is fine as a fourth-liner, but I don’t think he’s good enough to be an effective third-line winger.

PPP and Chemmy finally came out with a “new” podcast today. I write “new” because it was actually recorded in late December. Nevertheless, the topics they cover are still relevant.

Checking in with the Toronto Marlies, Spencer Abbott continued his terrific offensive season with a goal and two assists in the Marlies’ 3-2 win over the Rockford IceHogs last night. He’s fourth in AHL scoring, but has only been called up to play one game for the Leafs this season, and that was back in early October.

The unfortunate thing for Abbott is his size (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) probably excludes him from playing on the fourth line (according to Carlyle’s beliefs, anyway), but the Leafs are pretty stacked in the top-nine wing spots. The 25-year-old might need to look elsewhere for a shot in the big league.

In one last item to note, the Russians finally came to their senses and announced Alexander Semin will be included in their Olympic roster. He replaces some injured KHL player nobody’s ever heard of.

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Tags: Carter Ashton Jay McClement Randy Carlyle Toronto Maple Leafs Troy Bodie

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