When discussing any sport, most commentators will inevitably mention certain "intangibles" that can make or break a team—words like "youth" and "inexperience" (or, conversely, words like "experience," "veteran presence," etc.) generally fall into this category. Unfortunately, these elements are fairly abstract and cannot be accurately or quantitatively measured.
Playing for their playoff lives, the Toronto Maple Leafs traveled to the Joe Louis Arena Saturday to take on the Detroit Red Wings. The end result was not pretty—the Buds were hammered by the hometown team to the tune of 4-2.
Do not be fooled by the final score—the game was not nearly as close as it may seem. The Leafs were outplayed in every way possible. Toronto's face-off percentage was abysmal, they barely registered any shots on Joey MacDonald after Jim Howard was injured, and aside from Dion Phaneuf laying out a nice open-ice hit, the team lacked any sort of intensity.
As a lifelong Leafs fan I was troubled, not by the end result, but by the way the team seemed to refuse to adjust. Detroit was not any bigger, stronger or faster than the Leafs—they just played better hockey. Whenever the Red Wings seemed to start losing control of the game, they grabbed the puck and began to control the tempo, setting up offensive chances and moving the puck around.
By contrast, Toronto looked like they couldn't hold onto the puck if it was glued to their sticks. Seemingly every time a blue jersey got a hold of the puck and headed up ice, two red jerseys would swoop in and take the puck back.
All game Toronto only sent in one player to get the puck, and Detroit responded by double and triple-teaming the puck carrier. The end result was a Toronto team that looked lost, and only played the middle of the ice as opposed to sending multiple skaters into the corners and extending the ice.
When the Leafs did finally manage to hold onto the puck for longer than five seconds, one of two things inevitably happened: they would either try and dump it into the Detroit end to gain possession (a tactic that failed countless times, for reasons stated above), or they would pass the puck to Kessel and hope he would go in by himself and score (check the score sheet—it didn't work).
Toronto couldn't have set up a coherent offense if their lives had depended on it, and Detroit made them pay for it by dampening their hopes of a playoff berth.
Even the offense they did manage to generate was flukey: Lupul was lucky he didn't get a goaltender-interference call and Kadri is lucky he didn't get hammered into the boards before he could shoot. Man-up situations brought absolutely no relief to the Leafs, as their power play didn't differ enough from their 5-on-5 play to throw the Red Wings off. Rather, Detroit just kept playing keep away during their penalty killing.
In the end, Detroit made LeafsNation aware of two harsh realities: The Leafs are definitely NOT a playoff team, and there is still a lot of work to be done before the Leafs can call themselves anything else.