Why Leafs Fall in the Fall: Shoot-Outs
I took some time to look through articles and found that none talked about this obvious topic. (Although a couple might've, none were specifically based on it.)
Let's start off by looking at the shoot-out as a general thing first. Starting in 2005, it was created to break game ties. Although there are still lots of people against it, there is also a decent amount of people who enjoy watching shoot-outs. I, myself, enjoy watching a shoot-out, unless it involves the Leafs...
Over the course of the Leafs' regular season (six games), three of those games were decided in the shoot-out. In all of these occasions, the Leafs got killed. The first two shoot-outs were defended by goaltender Vesa Toskala, but he didn't seem to have the ability to lead his team to a win. (I'm not saying it's Toskala's fault...it's the whole team's fault. Let's leave it at that.)
At the third shoot-out (last night), although Vesa Toskala had been the starter goalie, veteran Curtis Joseph was called up to hopefully help the Leafs get a highly desired win. Unfortunately, not even CuJo could stop destiny, and the Leafs suffered another shoot-out loss.
The Leafs need to improve at shoot-outs. They are a GOOD team with GOOD players; they can win it. It's not like they have a bunch of third liners. They have players like Kaberle, Schenn, Antropov, Ponikarovsky, Kubina, Kulemin, Moore. (If I omitted some players, it's not that they suck, I just picked a handful of players right off the top of my head.)
Some of my fellow Toronto fans (not on B/R) argue that the Leafs are only playing dreadfully at shoot-outs because Mats Sundin is out of the lineup.
Okay, people, let me make something clear. The NHL rule-book states: "Three (3) players from each team shall participate in the shootout and they shall proceed in such order as the Coach selects. All players are eligible to participate in the shootout unless they are serving a 10 minute misconduct or have been assessed a game misconduct, gross misconduct or match penalty."
Just by having a really good player on your shoot-out lineup doesn't mean you clinched the win. It just means you have a better chance of improving your winning opportunities.
Remember, not every shooter scores on every single shot he takes. (I'm talking about just shots in general, so don't comment and give me a list of a bunch of guys who have only taken one shot and scored on that one.)
Therefore, it would be unreasonable to say Mats Sundin is the reason for this to be happening. He can only take one shot, and he didn't score on every single attempt last season.
So if Sundin's not the one to blame, then who is? Well, let's look at the net. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Vesa Toskala or Curtis Joseph are bad goalies or bad shoot-out goalies. But they have been lacking some good play this season in shoot-outs.
However, you can't blame a goalie for everything, and in this case, I don't think there's one main reason or person to blame.
My next thought is that the Leafs are getting a little too complicated. CuJo had told the team, "Don't think too much, stick with what you know, and use the moves you know." (There was one more thing CuJo said, but I can't remember it at the moment. Feel free to add it if you know it.)
Let's take last night's game as an example. Kulemin was picked to shoot first. In my opinion, this is one of the worst things you can make a guy like Kulemin do. He has no idea if this is going to come back and haunt him at the end, or if it was meaningless.
For example, if he shoots second, and the second shooter for Anaheim has already shot and missed, he knows that if he messes up, he has nothing to lose. So in my opinion this was a bad move by Ron Wilson. I really don't care how good Kulemin is at scoring, you just CANNOT make him shoot first. That's what veterans are for—to smooth out the ice for the rest.
Kulemin tried to do a forehand-backhand-forehand move, but couldn't quite finish it. I think he's better on his backhander and should've probably tried that since Giguere was a blocker type goalie anyways. Still, it was a nice try by Kulemin.
Teemu Selanne scored for Anaheim by keeping it simple, going up until he reached a decent space between him and CuJo, and did a simple forehand shot which stunned CuJo who was probably expecting a deke.
Next came Kaberle. I hope you're reading this, Tomas Kaberle, because I just want to make something clear: You are a good player, you have a good shot, and you are a defenseman. When you get the chance to take a shoot-out shot, don't go up and try to deke. Instead, stick to what you know and snipe the puck like you could at the All-Star shooting competition.
The next shot was by Corry Perry who did something similar to Selanne, but CuJo made a mistake on this one. CuJo was probably trying to avoid the same thing happening, so he stayed in his net and didn't come out. When a guy like Corry Perry is coming at you, the last thing you want to do is back up into your net and wait for a shot. Perry shot a simple forehand shot and scored.
Both Leafs that failed had tried a deke. I really think that Kaberle could've scored if he had just shot, and then maybe the shoot-out would've been extended and the Leafs would have learned something.
One last thing I'd like to state is that the Leafs should practice shoot-outs more often, or just break-aways in general. They are definitely going to have more shoot-outs in the future in which they will be unprepared for.
Ron Wilson needs to stop experimenting and know which guys can score and which guys can't. He needs to know which guys can take a shot on a goalie who likes to poke check or a goalie who likes to back up and wait for the shot.
It's not entirely the players' faults. It's also Ron Wilson's fault in a way, since he chooses who shoots and who doesn't.
Unless the Leafs start taking shoot-outs more seriously and start working on them, they are just going to sink deeper in the standings. And even if that means a great draft pick, it has the cost of some fans.
(Not me. I'm a die-hard Leafs fan.)
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