Gameday Wrapup: Leafs vs. Isles

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Frustrating game to watch for the Leafs tonight.  Weak forecheck, very little physical play, and again, poor play from Francois Beauchemin in his own end costing a game winning goal.  Toss in a few more questionable calls from Hair-y Fraser and co.  and yet another strong performance from Dwayne Roloson and the Leafs didn’t really give themselves much of a chance to win this one.

The first period was boring to watch until a late flurry from both teams resulted in a couple of good chances.  Phil Kessel should have been awarded a penalty shot, in my opinion, but the Isles were given a two minute penalty instead.  After the Leafs failed to score, Jon Sim came out of the box with half  a minute to play in the period and was robbed by a solid challenge from Gustavsson, who turned in a pretty solid effort for the 3rd straight game.

The Leafs’ Achilles’ heel as of late has been short mental breakdowns that end up costing them in the long run.  Tonight, it was a 90 second spaceout that allowed the Islanders to take a 2-0 lead and lock up the win.  While Toronto hadn’t played great through the first 30 minutes, when Trent Hunter’s shot from the side boards somehow snaked its way into the net, apparently the Leafs’ D took that as a cue to take the next couple of shifts off.  Sure enough, less than 90 seconds later, after the Monster made a rookie blunder and challenged a bit too early on Blake Comeau’s drive to the net, Beauchemin was left watching as yet another game winning goal was scored by an undefended player in front of the net.  Even Kessel was back further than Flat-foot Francois, and came within inches of breaking up the pass before Tavares scored his first goal in 2 weeks.

Nik Hagman broke a 5 game scoring drought less than 2 minutes into the 3rd, and I made the mistake I always do, of actually thinking that things would work out in the end – that the Leafs would wake up and pummel these little bastards.  Instead, Dwayne Roloson put on his best Martin Brodeur performance, stopping 13 of 14 shots in the 3rd, including a great pad save on Lee Stempniak with about two minutes to go. Of course, if Poni had buried his chance at a wide open net just a few seconds earlier, Stemps wouldn’t have had another chance to show us just how inept he is at putting the puck in the net.

These are the games that I can’t stand.  I don’t mind getting blown out by Boston, I don’t even mind losing 8 in a row to Ryan Miller – these things happen, in every sport, some nights it’s just not your night, and some times certain teams just have your number.  But when you get a chance to play a team thats lost 7 of its last 10 games, and isn’t even a team that anyone really considers in the playoff hunt, and you come out and play like the Leafs did tonight, that’s when I get frustrated.

I don’t know what’s changed for the Buds since they went on that nice little string of wins in the middle of December, but they better get back to the way they were playing if they want to have any shot at staying within striking distance of that 8th spot.  That means taking the body, roughing it up a bit, crashing the net and hammering opposing defense on every forecheck until they’re too scared to handle the puck and turn it over.  It’s a tried and true formula for teams that don’t have super star power like Washington or Pittsburgh, and I don’t think we need to debate whether or not the Leafs have that.   Let’s hope Santa brings the Leafs some wins this weekend, or this short little slide could turn into a mid-season debacle.

My Three Stars
1. Blake Comeau – 1 G, 1 A
2. John Tavares – 1 G, 2 shots
3. Dwayne Roloson – 26 saves