It was said that these last five games of the month of January would put to rest one way or the other the question of whether the Toronto Maple Leafs would have a chance at the post-season. Since their second four-game winning streak of the season, the Leafs have won just one game and lost three. If you are still unsure about the Leafs playoff chances, the answer is definitely not.
If there is one thing that the Leafs do consistently, it is that they play inconsistently.
The Leafs came out after a three day rest period with perhaps their most lifeless performance of the season, getting shut out by the New York Rangers 7-0. That game was so hard to watch as a Leafs fan that I shut it off after Marian Gaborik completed his hat trick mid way through the second period while the score was still 5-0.
The next day, the Leafs faced the Anaheim Ducks in the second half of back-to-back games. Thinking that the team would be dejected as well as exhausted, I did not expect much.
But lo and behold, the buds came up with a gutsy performance and defeated the visiting Ducks, 5-2.
Dion Phaneuf laid out Duck winger Matt Beleskey for one of the best hits I've seen from him all season. Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and Mikhail Grabovski each had two points in the game while Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 26 saves. All in all it was a decent performance and one that lifted the spirits of Leaf players and fans alike after a three game loosing streak and that drubbing at the hands of the Rangers.
So which team would show up against superstar Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals? Would it be the Doctor Jekylls that played well against the Ducks or the Mister Hydes that reared their ugly faces against the Rangers?
Apparently, it was somewhere in between.
While not as bad as the performance in New York, this game versus the Capitals exposed many of the same glaring issues that have plagued the Leafs all season.
Too often the Leafs were chasing the puck. Instead of rushing the net, Leaf forwards skated past it. I lost count the number of times during the game that all three Leafs forwards went behind the net on the rush.
In comparison, it looked that Washington were skilled and patient enough to know to have at least one player stop in front of the net. Something as basic as having traffic in front of the opposition’s goal seems to elude the Leafs for vast stretches of game-time.
The Leafs had plenty of scoring opportunities against the Capitals but for the most part, could not capitalize.
For the umpteenth time an opposing goaltender had a superlative game. Its has become so common place that you get the idea that its not the play of the goalies so much as it is the Leafs' inability to put the puck into the open portions of the goal.
Time and again, Leaf shots went right into the breadbasket of Washington net minder Braden Holtby. Either that or they just miss entirely or simply got blocked. In fact, the Capitols blocked 27 shots to the Leafs 10.
That is more glaring of an issue than driving due west at sunset.
Leaf fans should not be upset with the outcome of this game. Washington is a superior team and no other result was really likely.
Consider the two breakaways that occurred during the game, one by each team.
Bozak had one in the second period. Looking like a peewee player, he made a tentative move to his backhand that fooled no one and lifted the puck safely into the mid-section of Holtby.
Contrast that to Matt Hendricks attempt in the third period. Looking more like a seasoned veteran than a 29-year-old second year man, Hendricks put on a double move that undressed Giguere and iced the victory for the Capitols.
It’s just a matter of talent, as we all know. Washington has some and the Leafs need some.
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