Friday, November 29, 2013

10 Minute Misconduct: Leafs Mettle Tested

frazer mclaren colton orr suck leafs
It is a dark time for the Maple Leafs. Although the playoffs drought has been destroyed, the opposition has driven the Toronto forces from their lofty Eastern Conference perch and hammered them across the conference. Evading the dreaded regression monster, a group of heroes led by James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier have established hope on the ice. The evil lord Carlyle, obsessed with allowing the most shots ever, has dispatched thousands of forwards onto the far reaches of the bench to allow more ice time for Tyler Bozak....

1. As if being blasted 6-0 by the Columbus Blue Jackets (who, by the way, had only three wins in their previous 12 games) wasn't bad enough, the Leafs followed that up by blowing a 4-1 lead that was punctuated with the team failing to register a single shot in the entire third period and overtime. The flaws that the Leafs have had on full display all season are finally catching up with them and it isn't pretty.

2. Toronto is now 28th in the league in shots per game with 26.1 and dead last in shots against per game  with 36.1. The Leafs are about as good at creating and preventing chances as the Buffalo Sabres, a team headed straight for the draft lottery. The Leafs were once able to mask these deficiencies with elite goaltending and special teams, but both are starting to show cracks.

3. The second best short-handed unit last season, the Leafs have dropped all the way to 20th in the league this season after starting the year strong. A suspect penalty kill is made even worse because the Leafs are one of the most undisciplined teams in the league, averaging 16.3 minutes a game in penalties, bested (worsted?) only by the Flyers. That figure isn't inflated by their proclivity for punching either; the Leafs have taken 113 minor penalties on the year, second worst only next to Ottawa. Forcing a below average unit to kill that many short-handed minutes a night is a killer; not only does it give the opposition ample opportunity to score, but it keeps the best offensive players glued to the bench.

4. Luckily, the power play is still clicking, sitting second in the league. It better stay that way, because the Leafs aren't very good at scoring five-on-five, sitting 18th in the league with 41 tallies. Unfortunately, the Leafs don't get many opportunities with the man advantage; the Leafs have gone to the power play only 77 times this season, 27th in the league and only once more than Buffalo. The Leafs aren't being jobbed by the refs  either, they simply don't have the puck enough to force the opposition into taking penalties.

5. The easy argument is that this is just a poor stretch by the team, made worse by the rash of injuries, most notably down the middle of the ice. This minor blip, however, has started after the Leafs' hot 6-1 start to the season. For more games than not, the Leafs had played poorly. That 6-1 start has made the Leafs' record look better than it really is. After those six games the Leafs have gone 8-8-2. Toronto is barely holding on.

6. It's a good thing the Eastern Conference is so terrible, because even after sputtering for weeks the Leafs are still in a playoff position, sitting sixth, five points up on Carolina. Man, what a terrible conference.

7. The man most responsible for this mess is Randy Carlyle. The Leafs often looked gassed in the third period, and he can't seem to comprehend that it might be because he basically rolls three lines after giving Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr their customary five useless minutes in the first two periods. His defensive system allows the opposition to play the Leafs like an accordion, and he can't figure out that his system is causing the Leafs to do a terrible job of breaking out of the zone. In most cases when the Leafs get hemmed in and are desperate to stop the onslaught they get the puck and chip it into the neutral zone, where it is picked up by the opposition and promptly fired back in for the whole process to start all over. That's how a team can get so badly outshot night after night. Hey, they have a defenceman who is pretty good at avoiding the forecheck and breaking the puck out with his skating...

8. Oh, are we talking about Jake Gardiner? Add in the fact that he inexplicably scratches Gardiner (he of 20:15 average time on ice) and keeps in a guy like Mark Fraser (he of 14:26 average time on ice) who might be the worst Leaf defender at breaking it out of the zone, and you begin to understand why Carlyle is a mole taking down the Leafs from the inside. And let's not forget his love-in with Bozak, who is averaging 21:28 minutes a night, which is SEVENTH in the entire league. Bozak plays more minutes than Claude Giroux, Alex Ovechkin, Martin St. Louis, Pavel Datsyuk, John Tavares, and a whole host of other far superior players. Hell, on his own team he's playing more minutes than far superior players.

9. Here are a list of players who have been unable to play for Randy Carlyle at some point in their careers: Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, and Bobby Ryan. Not to mention Joffrey Lupul, and now Jake Gardiner. The three non-Leafs have a combined 61 points in 74 games this season. Aren't you glad Carlyle has so much say in the Leafs' decision making?

10. The Leafs need to figure out a way to fix their problems quick, because December is a killer month. The Leafs take on the Sharks, Stars, Bruins, Kings, Blues, Blackhawks, Penguins, Coyotes, Red Wings, and Rangers. The only easy match-ups are against the Senators (who always play the Leafs hard), Panthers, and Sabres. It's a good thing the HBO cameras will be there to capture it all...

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