The Toronto Maple Leafs won a sloppy affair over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. One of the characteristics of a great team is that they play tight. They pass up the boards, they make tape-to-tape passes and they do the simple things very well.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have yet to look sharp in their organization of team play. Players are guessing where their teammates are supposed to be and missing. In Saturday's game their were many examples of this kind of play.
The Leafs came out with an overtime win (5-4). They only won because the Canadiens at times were even more inept and disorganized than the Leafs.
Below are a few quick examples:
Kadri is circling above the center line and tapping his stick for the puck. The player on defense keeps the puck like it is his job to carry through center. Kadri circles back and the defense (Gunnarsson) passes—to his defensive partner (Gardiner) and he ignores Kadri still tapping the stick, and the defense is carrying it forward.
Kadri is being held against the boards and makes the spin pass and splits the defense. The defensemen seemed to be silent.
Phaneuf skates up the ice and does the drop and block pass only to have the center shoot it into the skates of the Canadiens.
Shift after shift, period after period of sloppy play. Missed passes and turnovers, sloppy moves into the front and sloppy passing lanes all result in poor results.
Fortunately for Saturday night, the Canadiens were equally sloppy and sometimes worse.
As the cliche goes "they just need to keep it simple out there." They need to make better plays throughout their entire lineup.
The defense and forwards all look like they are skating around after the puck like a bunch of Junior "A" players.
The Leafs often look like a group of ducklings without a mother wandering around aimlessly looking for the puck.
There were some improvements.
The Kessel line looked fairly organized when centered by Dave Steckel. Lombardi would be the more obvious center. Steckel plays the brand of grind it out lunch-pail hockey, and he might win a position on the top line until Connolly returns.
Jack Gardiner and Dion Phaneuf looked adequate at hitting their partners and moving it up the boards, but the rest of the defense seemed to want to carry it over center. Or drop it forward to no one.
The forth line in the first period seemed the most organized and sustained, and drew a penalty in the offensive zone. The third line seemed poorly organized, but this was their first night playing together.
Sloppy mess or cup quest?
The MacRussian line finally seemed to get it together in the third. Their passing in the third started to look like they were beginning to know where everyone was supposed to be. Expect the rust to come off and for them to break out in a bigger way soon.
Discombobulated play dominated the game.
Phaneuf carried it forward a few times and caused the player pile up where the forwards were all lined on the blue line waiting for the pass. By not passing, the momentum was killed, and a chip-in usually resulted in a turnover.
The forecheck sometimes sustained pressure against a flailing Montreal defense. Any organized defense would of crushed the lack of discipline and out of place play.
They must do better on the simple things.
The defense must hit the pass. Sound simple, but they really have to look for the cycling forward to find the winger and hit them. Don't just dump it forward to no where.
The forecheck needs to cycle and move the puck into a passing lane. Then pass. Too many times when they got the lane open they either got picked, or cycled to the back of the net. Pass to the open man and use the speed to keep the defense on their heels.
Take back control in the center ice. It started with the defense dumping forward instead of passing forward. The forwards often had to win battles for the puck instead of receiving it and skating into the zone. Pass forward, skate or pass through.
The Leafs have lots of talent. And once the talent gets organized, they should look more like playoff contenders than basement dwellers.