With cough, cold and flu season quickly approaching, the Leafs lately are already playing as if they have been bed ridden for the past handful of days.The Leafs, with their terrible play lately, are becoming the NHL's remedy for any team that is struggling lately, or just plain and simple, needs a game to get back on track.
Much like the Buckley's cough syrup slogan "It Tastes Awful, But It Works", The Leafs are becoming NHL teams' remedy to their recent woes. Just one period and you'll feel better about your team it seems, much like one spoonful of that nasty concoction seems to stop a cough.
The Leafs slogan around the NHL is verging on "They Play Awful, And It Works"
Lackluster play, countless turnovers, and a penchant for an inability to capitalize on opportunities, has seen the Leafs lose three of their last four. With no real solution coming quickly in Leaf Land, the Leafs will remain the NHL's whipping boy, and fans unfortunately will have to live through it.
Teams who are struggling prior to playing the Leafs seem to kick it in stride it seems when they play them. The Leafs, if they continue to play this way, will soon be the team that the opposition marks on their calendar.
The Buffalo Sabres for example, without key center Tim Connolly and a recovering Ryan Miller in the net, played one of their better all around games of the season.
If it wasn't for one glaring turnover, the Sabres would have shutout the Leafs for the fifth time this season, a marked only reached by the NHL's cellar dwellers New Jersey and Long Island.
Another example was a previous game against the Sabres who were playing without Ryan Miller. Helped out by turnovers by the Leafs, the Sabres came back from 2-0 down to win the game 3-2 in a shootout. So many wasted opportunities, so much wasted time.
The Leafs recent road trip to Florida was another glaring example of just plain bad play. Many expect to get lit up by Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, however, when the Leafs lost 4-1 to the Panthers, that loss hurt especially. The Panthers, much like the Leafs struggle to score at the best of times, but that night, the Panthers looked like the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980's lighting up goaltender Jonas Gustavsson for four goals that evening.
Lastly, we'll move to the most recent game between the Leafs and Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. The Senators, already reeling from a loss the day before to Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1, just can't seem to score with goalie Pascal Leclaire in between the pipes.
Still having to come to work each day with the reminder of Luke Richardson's daughter's unfortunate death also still wearing on them, the team came out and played a solid overall game against the Leafs. I mean it wasn't a very special game, but it was effective as they capitalized on a few mistakes the Leafs gave them--but that's being nice to the Leafs.
The Senators ended up finishing what the Sabres could not so the night previous, and shut the Leafs out for a fifth time this season.
Granted the Leafs are the youngest team in the NHL with an average age of roughly 26-years-old, it is really the veterans of this team making glaring mistakes, and the younger players playing well and keeping the glaring turnovers to a minimum.
Standouts this season so far have been Nikolai Kulemin, Luke Schenn and Jonas Gustavsson, meanwhile players like Kris Versteeg, Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, Clarke MacArthur and even the gritty Tim Brent have been at least respectable this season for the Leafs.
However, it's the glaring mistakes by the teams' veterans that are setting this team back for years it seems.
Tomas Kaberle lately has not looked like he even wants to play in a Leaf jersey anymore, possibly feeling a little snubbed when Dion Phaneuf was named the captain and not him, since he's the only Leaf to see playoff hockey in Toronto. That's just speculation on my part though. He just seems unwilling to take a big hit, or make the simple play.
Mike Komisarek lately would be the landslide winner of the "Pillsbury Turnover King Trophy", seemingly laying tape to tape passes onto the oppositions sticks. Funny thing about that is, he can't lay tape to tape passes to his own teammates most of the time.
Francois Beauchemin has had a up and down season, but is very prone to the bad pinch or a few brain farts that usually result in a goal. Same goes for veteran defender Brett Lebda, who has been a shadow of his former self in Detroit.
Dion Phaneuf, prior to his leg injury was dead last on the team in plus-minus. Given the statistic isn't a true indication of how ineffective a player is, one thing was for certain though, Phaneuf wasn't playing like the Norris Trophy Candidate he was in Calgary, laying huge open ice hits and scoring at least 45 points a season.
Lastly, last night Colton Orr, who sees about as much ice time as Pink Floyd's opening act sees stage-time, set the Leafs back majorly last night taking a six minute roughing penalty on the Sabres Paul Gaustad.
A penalty that wasn't need resulted in the Sabres going on a four minute power-play and capitalizing about a minute into it. With the way the Leafs kill penalties, taking bad penalties is grounds for an instant demotion and benching in my mind.
With that in mind, not too long afterward, Kris Versteeg, already steaming from a non call about 20 seconds earlier, decided to take matters into his own hands by not only butt ending Nathan Gerbe once, but twice. To make matters worse, the Leafs were already one man down.
Versteeg is still young yes, but he has won a championship and has played on a great team and knows how to win. Taking those penalties with the Leafs current penalty kill is like ingesting cyanide, in other words, game, set, match Federer.
Most of all though, the man with the most NHL experience on this team still sits idly by and lets this happen, coach Ron Wilson. When questioned about his lackluster power-play and their inability to gain the zone he stated "Dumping the puck in? Please, that is our last resort."
That was not sarcasm courtesy of Wilson, it was the truth and really, it was an alarming thing to say to the media. Early in the season when the Leafs were playing well, they fore-checked hard and were extremely effective.
Getting speed through the neutral zone and dumping the puck in seems to be a good way to pressure the opposition--the Leafs should know, as their defense is ripped to shreds by the dump and chase by opposing teams.
You don't necessarily need size to fore-check well, what they need is speed, skill, and a willingness to work for your paycheck and get the puck back at all costs.
That element of the Leafs game has evaporated since the first four games of the season and it does not look like it will be returning anytime soon.
So give me your thoughts. Are the Leafs becoming a push-over? Is it the coach's fault for their lackluster play? Did losing Colby Armstrong six games into the season really have that much of an impact on the Leafs team?
Please feel free to add your thoughts below.