Toronto Maple Leafs: Recapping the Subpar Week
It was a week that could have been much better for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They started on such a high note on Tuesday, when they captured their fourth straight win in a 2-0 victory over division rival Buffalo Sabres. Those same Sabres pushed the Leafs to the limit three days later and reversed their fortunes with a big 3-2 win over the Blue and White on Friday.
The very next night, the Maple Leafs trudged back to Air Canada Centre and got swept right back out with a 3-0 shutout loss to the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.
This week answered quite a few questions about this Maple Leafs team. Remember that old clip of Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green flipping out about a loss to the Chicago Bears? The line he kept screaming was "The Bears are who we thought they were."
This week shows that Leafs fans can echo that sentiment about their favorite hockey club. The Leafs teased everyone into thinking they were turning the corner to becoming an elite team in the NHL, but they did it by beating Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Detroit and Buffalo just a week after losing three straight.
Don't get me wrong—the Leafs are a good team this year, but they are not the team that we thought they were last week.
Sure, the victory against Detroit was impressive, but the two games before that were almost must-win games, in the sense that everyone would be reaching for the panic button if they lost five in a row.
They are still very young and inexperienced in high-pressure games and will continue to make mistakes. Hopefully those mistakes are cut down as the season progresses and the Leafs become the team we thought they were.
Here is the good, the bad and the ugly for the past week for the Maple Leafs.
The Good: Picked Up the Easy Win
The Maple Leafs knew that the Friday and Saturday back-to-back contest against the Sabres and Rangers was going to be tough.
Having said that, they needed to secure at least two points for themselves this week.
Coming off a big win over Detroit on Saturday, the Leafs rode that high into a dominant first period against the Sabres on Tuesday night.
It turned into a 2-0 shutout victory for Jonas Gustavsson and the Leafs. It really was their one gimme this week, and they made sure to get it.
The Leafs need to have more first periods like that the rest of the way, where they put one or two goals on the board—it seems like it allows the defense to relax a little more and play the puck properly, instead of panicking and making mistakes.
It also helps when the opposing team wasn't getting the best chances on the goalkeeper as well.
What changed in the next two games was the sense of urgency the Sabres had right out of the gate and the way the Rangers allowed the Leafs to make their own mistakes.
As the season continues, the Leafs need to look at that first period against the Sabres on Tuesday and play that way every game.
The Bad: Not Carrying the Momentum, Lost Top Line
The Maple Leafs had a big opportunity to really bury the Sabres.
They were 10 points back of eighth place going into Friday night's game.
The Maple Leafs have yet to show that killer instinct with which they could have put a huge dent into the Sabres playoff chances. Instead, they gave them a fresh breath of life.
The Leafs had all the momentum going for them as well—four straight wins, a shutout and playing in an arena where clearly the visiting fans wanted the win more than the home fans.
But the Leafs failed to carry their momentum to a victory. Even when they pulled back to a 2-2 tie after being down 2-0 early on, they couldn't find a way to get another one the rest of the game.
Momentum is something that doesn't show up in the boxscore. It is isn't something that you can keep a statistic on.
It is something that a team can have and build upon and carry them to a victory.
The Leafs had it, and somewhere between their second goal on Friday and the third period, they lost it.
The Leafs need it back soon, as the rest of January will be tough if they can't find any.
The Maple Leafs also didn't get a single point this week from their top line. Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are nowhere to be found on any scoring sheet this week.
It also looks like they were trying to do too much with the puck in all three games every time they had possession.
The top line can't afford to take too many weeks off at this point of the year. I am a big fan of both these guys and love the way they play, and I know they are playing at and above expectations this year, but at the same time they need to make an appearance once a week, especially against a tough team like the Rangers.
The Ugly: Ron Wilson's Coaching Decisions
The more the Maple Leafs lose, the less I think Ron Wilson knows about hockey.
It seems he is just making stuff up as he goes along.
He had this whole "Win and Stay In" philosophy after Jonas Gustavsson won back-to-back games.
Why not just say, Gustavsson has played a little better than Reimer lately and so he is going to get a few more starts?
Now, when you reach a back-to-back nighter against Buffalo and New York, you have a bit of a problem.
This is what he must have been writing in his journal throughout the week:
On Tuesday, Monster just shut out the Sabres, but we play them again Friday, so I have to play him again under my new philosophy. But wait—if he wins, I have to play him again the next night against the Rangers, but that would be six straight games. If he doesn't beat the Sabres then I can easily make the excuse of putting Reimer in.
The Monster just lost for the first time in four games. I guess that means I will have to play Reimer tomorrow against the Rangers. But the Rangers are the top team in the East, and Monster has been pretty hot lately.
Oh wow diary, I just realized he has beaten them twice this year already! That's amazing how easily I forget things. Hmmm, I guess I'm going to have to change my philosophy again and just say Reimer hasn't looked good lately and we have to go with the hot hand.
Man, it's a good thing I already got my contract extension, right?
Here is what he should have been thinking. Play Reimer against the Sabres on Friday, because they will be watching game film and will find ways to beat Gustavsson after just already playing him three nights ago.
Even if Reimer wins that game, you then put Gustavsson in net to play the Rangers. That way he gets a bit of rest and plays against a team against whom he has been good this season.
It seems like it would make too much sense this way.
Looking Ahead: Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild, Monteal Canadiens
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The Battle of Ontario resumes as The Maple Leafs and Senators play each other for the fourth time this year, but for the first time they've both owned a playoff spot in years.
The Maple Leafs are seven points behind the Senators for second place in the division while the Senators are just one point behind the Bruins for top spot in the division.
The Leafs will need to play a tough, high-scoring game against the best third-period team in the league.
The Minnesota Wild are next on the list, and while they have fallen a little in the standings, the Wild are still a dangerous team.
It will be two tough games against two playoff-contending teams.
The Montreal Canadiens visit for a Saturday night matchup. While the Canadiens are nowhere near their potential this year, the Leafs can't afford to take a night off.
The Canadiens are still trying to make a push and not make this season a lost cause.
Last week, I said the Leafs could probably get four points, but they only got two. This week, I'm thinking of a similar prediction of four points and hoping that this time it comes true.
The Leafs need a strong week before the All-Star Game festivities.