Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:11 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:15 pm
By: Adam Gretz
PITTSBURGH -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are losing ground in the playoff race, and they're also starting to lose bodies on the ice.
Just one night after losing forwards Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong, Toronto lost two more players on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh when defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Brown went down on their first shifts of the night and did not return during a 3-2 loss to the Penguins, a game that saw the Maple Leafs blow a two-goal lead, losing for the 11th time in their past 13 games.
Franson did not return after getting hit in the eye with a stick, and Brown left with what was described as a lower body injury.
"We showed signs of enthusiasm and kind of stuck with our game plan," said Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, coaching his third game with the team after replacing Ron Wilson last week. "I thought we were better from a defensive standpoint in the critical areas. I thought our work ethic was stronger, but we ran out of bodies. We lost two bodies in the first ten minutes tonight and taxes it everybody else. Then it showed on some of the ... I would call them questionable decisions. When to pinch, when not to pinch, turnovers, position versus the regroup, all that kind of stuff. It's the little things that are costing us in these situations."
It wasn't hard to see how outmanned the Leafs were on Wednesday night, spending much of the night tied up in their own end of the ice. For the most part, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson did everything he could to keep his team in the game, only allowing two goals, one of which was deflected right in front of him on its way into the net, before giving up what can only be described as a soft goal to Pascal Dupuis early in the third period for the eventual game-winner.
Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf did not want to use the injuries, including the one to Lupul and Armstrong, as an excuse as it should give other players an opportunity to make an impact in the lineup.
"It's an opportunity for guys to step up," said Phaneuf. It gives guys a little more opportunity, but when you lose a guy like [Lupul] and you lose Army in the same game, and we lose two more guys tonight, guys have to step up. Injuries are a part of the game and you can't use it as an excuse.
"Guys have to adapt to it. Every team goes through injury problems. Look over there [at Pittsburgh]. They have one of the top players in the world, if not the top player out, and they're winning hockey games. You've got to adapt, you've got to have guys step up, and guys did step up, but we just made more mistakes than they did tonight."
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Posted on: March 2, 2012 11:49 am
Edited on: March 2, 2012 12:01 pm
At one point this season, things were good in Toronto. Really good. General manager Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson were having some fun with the media it seemed by announcing a new contract extension for Wilson on Christmas Eve.
Now? Not so much. The fans that have actually been patient for years in Toronto began serenading Wilson with "Fire Wilson!" chants at the Air Canada Centre in their most recent home loss, a 5-3 defeat to the Panthers.
"It’s frustrating, but understandable," Wilson said. "Everybody’s frustrated right now."
As good as the month of February was to the Phoenix Coyotes, it was almost as bad to the Maple Leafs. They went 4-9-1 in the month but 1-9-1 in their final 11 games including the current six-game losing streak.
Maybe this better illustrates how tough it has been for them recently. After their Feb. 4 win against the Oilers, the Leafs had a 90.05 percent chance of making the playoffs per Sports Club Stats. As the month of March began? The odds were down to 11.07 percent.
At the heart of the struggles of course has been goaltending, something they hoped was fixed in Toronto with James Reimer's emergence a season ago. Well, he has fallen on rough times too, including being thrown under the bus more or less by Wilson after Toronto's recent 4-2 loss to the Capitals in what was a huge game in the playoff hunt.
“The two goals early in the game were stoppable chances,” said Wilson. “They [the Capitals] got saves at one end, we didn’t. We dug a hole because of that. And we’re kind of always waiting now for something bad to happen. We’ve got to find a way to get over that.
“You can pull a goalie. I thought tonight I’ll call a time out, tell everybody to relax, that we can get out of this hole. Then you start playing tentative hockey. That’s what happens. With all the other stuff that bubbles around at the outside like trade deadlines, those little things that affect players.
“You worry you’ll be the one moved. It affects a young team.”
It sure would seem Reimer is affected by a lot right now. He has just one win in his last seven starts. He has surrendered a whopping 26 goals in those seven starts, two of which he didn't even finish. And it's not like Jonas Gustavsson has been the knight in shining armor behind him. Let me put it this way: There is a reason why Burke was open before the trade deadline in saying his team was seeking a goaltender via trades. Obviously it didn't happen.
Nothing like a vote of confidence for your goaltenders, eh?
"Yeah, you do get exasperated, and you get frustrated," Wilson said. "But tomorrow’s a new day. The sun will probably come up. We’ve got to pull up our bootstraps and get going."
If they don't, the playoff drought is going to extend into a seventh straight season, pretty remarkable for a market like Toronto with the assets they have at their disposal.
They have already been leaped in the standings by the once-buried Buffalo Sabres and are just one point ahead of the similarly previously dismissed Tampa Bay Lightning. They're currently five points back of that eighth spot they had been holding for some time.
Now they are as close to the East's basement as they are the playoffs. If that isn't saying something, nothing is.
But hey, there is good news, Toronto. The Leafs do actually have their first-round draft pick this summer.
Posted on: January 31, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: January 31, 2012 10:38 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Pretty much every game is a playoff game for the Toronto Maple Leafs right now.
They entered Tuesday's game in Pittsburgh in a three-way tie with New Jersey and Florida for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, and every possible point is a must. That's why their 5-4 shootout loss against the Penguins was not only costly, but most certianly frustrating. Not only because they didn't gain the two points against one of the many teams they're chasing in the standings, but also because they blew a three-goal third period lead with 10 minutes to play on a night that they completely dominated for the first 50 minutes.
Mikhail Grabovski scored a pair of goals, and thanks to third period tallies from Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak the Leafs opened up a 4-1 lead mid-way through the third period and looked to be well on their way to an important win. And then everything started to collapse. Goals from Steve Sullivan and Joe Vitale brought the Penguins to within one, and then a shot from James Neal deflected off the shoulder of Evgeni Malkin and beat Jonas Gustavsson with just six seconds to play to send the game to overtime and eventually the tiebreaking shootout.
One of the biggest plays of the game, and the one that received plenty of attention after the fact, happened early in the first period when Bozak had what would have been the first goal of the night disallowed for goaltender interference (shown above). If you watch the replay, it's hard to see what, exactly, led to the call.
After the game Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson was asked what explanation he received from the refs.
"We bumped into their goalie, and we didn't," said Wilson. "And then it changed to we pushed their defenseman into the goalie, and that didn't happen either. There's nothing you can do, you play on, but just in hindsight right now it's an important goal that got waved off."
Joffrey Lupul, the player that was called for the interference simply said "bad call," when asked about the play.
"Refs make mistakes too, but I didn't touch the goalie," added Lupul. "I don't know if their defenseman skated into him or not, but as far as I know it was a mistake."
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 26, 2011 11:55 am
Edited on: December 26, 2011 4:32 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Over the past month-and-a-half it's been the season for firing coaches in the NHL.
While we've already seen changes in Washington, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Carolina and Montreal, not to mention St. Louis earlier in the year, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson went to his own personal Twitter account as the NHL went to its holiday break and asked for a certain piece of paper (a contract extension) in his stocking for Christmas.
And that's exactly what he received over the holiday weekend.
It's kind of a bold move for the Maple Leafs organization given that Wilson has been behind the bench for three full seasons and failed to make the playoffs in all of them, while compiling a 101-107-38 record entering this season. Through 35 games in 2011 Toronto owns an 18-13-4 mark and occupies the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference entering Monday's slate of games, three points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets, the team that occupies the No. 9 spot (and first non-playoff spot).
The reaction from Toronto seems to be that the Maple Leafs haven't shown enough under Wilson's watch to justify any sort of a contract extension, and that general manager Brian Burke has put his own neck on the line by once again committing to Wilson.
Even if all of that is true (and it very well might be) something had to be done (and probably soon) as Wilson was in the final year of his current contract. Having a lame duck coach isn't really an ideal situation for anybody, and the Leafs certainly weren't going to dismiss Wilson at this point given Toronto's start.
And speaking of that start, it's been Toronto's best one in years, and has been driven almost entirely by the team's power play unit, currently clicking at a 21 percent rate, third best in the league, and the scoring of forwards Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, both of whom are in the top-10 in the NHL's scoring race. And that's about it. Scoring depth isn't great once you get beyond Kessel and Lupul, and the goaltending, whether it's been James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson or Ben Scrivens, has struggled.
Unless you believe the Maple Leafs power play is going to continue to be one of the best in the NHL all season, after being one of the worst over the past two years with largely the same cast of characters, and that Kessel and Lupul are going to remain near the top of the points leader board, this has the chance of being a fourth-straight non-playoff season under Wilson if those two areas see any sort of a regression the rest of the way. And I'm not convinced either of those two positive developments will continue all season. They have the look of early season hot streaks and fast starts that aren't going to be sustainable over the long haul of the season.
The Maple Leafs power play, which generates one of the lowest shot rates in the NHL per 60 minutes of power play time, currently owns a shooting percentage in the 18-percent range, by far the best mark in the NHL and significantly higher than what it's managed to shoot at in recent seasons (over the past three years Toronto, as a team, has owned 5-on-4 shooting percentages of 13 percent, 9 percent and 12 percent). The only team to finish a season with a higher power play shooting percentage was the 2008-09 Flyers. The number of shots a team generates on the power play is usually the best indicator of future success, which could be bad news for the Leafs over the remainder of the season.
The playoffs are far from a lock at this point, and even though Wilson has his contract extension right now that's still not a guarantee that he'll be behind the bench next season if his team fails to qualify for the postseason for a fourth straight year with him behind the bench.
More on the NHL's Coaching Carousel
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 2:28 pm
Edited on: November 23, 2011 2:37 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The last time the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins met we watched as Milan Lucic plowed through Ryan Miller, sparking a debate as to whether or not goalies should be "fair game" when they venture out of their crease to play the puck (according to the current NHL rules, they're not). The play even resulted in the topic of goalie protection being a last-minute addition to the agenda of the general managers meetings that were taking place later that week.
When the NHL decided not to suspend Lucic there was a concern that it meant it would now be "open season" on goalies, a fire that the NHL quickly tried to extinguish. It also left us wondering how the Sabres would respond when the two teams faced off again (as they will on Wednesday night), and whether or not they would attempt to dish out their own brand of vigilante justice. In the initial meeting, immediately after Miller was hit, the Sabres did not respond the way one would expect a team to respond after watching their starting goaltender, and arguably their best player, get run over by a member of the opposing team.
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff has said repeatedly that the team wasn't happy with their response and that it won't happen again.
As expected, the NHL has warned both teams about any shenanigans that may take place when the two teams meet on Wednesday, but that doesn't mean something won't go down after the puck drops.
Miller suffered a concussion as a result of the play and has not been back in the lineup since, and had some strong words for Lucic in his post-game interviews saying, "I just stuck around because I wanted to say what a gutless piece of [feces] I think Lucic is."
Lucic is already expecting somebody from Buffalo to take a run at him, and that's probably a safe bet. In recent years the Sabres haven't been a huge fighting team, finishing 23rd, 27th and 25th over the past three years in fighting majors. Through the early part of this season they're eighth, one spot behind Boston, with 10 fighting majors. The leader in the clubhouse at this point is Cody McCormick with four. Patrick Kaleta and Paul Gaustad each have two, while Robyn Regehr and Mike Weber have each dropped the gloves once.
It's also worth asking if the Sabres might try to return the favor and make their presence felt around the Boston net.
As I mentioned above, there was a concern in the immediate aftermath of the NHL's decision to not punish Lucic that it is now open season on goaltenders, and we've already seen a taste of that in the week-and-a-half since Miller was sidelined. In Buffalo's very next game Jhonas Enroth was hit by Montreal's Erik Cole skating through the crease.
On Tuesday night we watched as Toronto goaltender Jonas Gustavsson left his crease to play a puck behind the net, and was then hit from behind by Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone, resulting in no penalty (click here to watch). When Gustavsson pleaded his case to the official that watched the play unfold right in front of him, the referee simply pointed at the spot on the ice where the Leafs goalie was hit.
Whatever happens, this is probably the most anticipated game on Wednesday's schedule.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: November 10, 2011 3:10 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 3:23 pm
One thing is becoming increasingly clear with each passing game in Toronto: the Maple Leafs miss James Reimer in net. What's becoming increasly unclear is when he will return and what he's even suffering from.
You know it's bad when his own mom isn't sure what exactly is going on. How do we know? Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star asked her.
“We’re beginning to be a little more concerned than we were at first,” Reimer's mother told Feschuk. “At first, when (the Maple Leafs) said it was just going to be a day-to-day whiplash kind of thing, you just wait it out. But definitely our concerns are getting a little stronger as time that passes. We’re definitely hoping there are going to be some answers coming out of the team shortly, what they’re doing or what they’re planning to do.”
“That’s the frustrating part for us -- not knowing what it is, and why they’re not calling it a concussion when they say ‘concussion-like symptoms,’” Marlene Reimer said. “Like, how is that not a concussion? ... The initial test showed him to be clear of a concussion. But as it goes on, it’s kind of mystifying. He’s okay some days. And some days he’s definitely not okay.”
Read the full story for more.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (or Toronto), Leafs coach Ron Wilson shared his displeasure with a member of the media calling Reimer's mom. But with how quiet they have been about the injury, the hungry Toronto media would find a way to get some answers.
On the ice, the fans are growing more and more anxious about Reimer's return. That's because Jonas Gustavsson has been ... not very good. He was booed mercilessly before being pulled in Toronto's 5-1 loss to Florida on Tuesday. There has been a lot of discussion about the Leafs trying to get a third goalie on the roster.
The belief is that GM Brian Burke, especially if Reimer continues to sit out, will look for another goalie. Either way, Reimer playing or not, it would be wise for Toronto to get a quality backup. Gustavsson has about worn out his welcome and Ben Scrivens hasn't inspired a lot of confidence either.
Among the names you are most likely to hear for possibilities in that backup spot are Marty Turco and the one I will continue to mention, Scott Clemmensen in Florida.
In the meantime, Mama Reimer will continue to wonder how exactly her son is doing.
Posted on: November 4, 2011 4:07 pm
On Friday Reimer did not take part in the practice, the training staff still wanting Reimer working out off the ice.
"He kind of hit a plateau in his recovery so the trainers decided not to ask him to go on the ice," coach Ron Wilson said. "With the other two goalies playing well, if he's not going to face a lot of shots [in practice] it's better for him to just workout off the ice.
"I'm just coaching the next game. I'm not concerned about that. I'm not a doctor or a trainer. We've got healthy guys and they're doing the job so we'll give James plenty of time to recover. There's no rush to get him back."
Here's where we play the game of Guess What's Really Going On.
Wilson would only call Reimer's injury as an "upper-body injury." Ever since Reimer took a blow to the head against the Canadiens in a game on Oct. 22, the team has maintained that Reimer didn't suffer a concussion, just that he has some "concussion-like symptoms."
The team can insist all it wants that there isn't a concussion at play here, but it won't stop the speculating, especially when you hear things such as the recovery hitting a plateau.
In the meantime, the Leafs have been relying on Jonas Gustavsson to take the lion's share of the minutes. We wondered if it was cause for concern, and the answer is yes, it was. But the Leafs haven't slowed down with the Monster in the cage, sitting tied for the NHL lead in points.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:44 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 10:33 pm
Before the season, there was a lot of lip service given to the Stanley Cup hangover. While I could see the thinking behind it, I wasn't sure I believed it would really have a negligible effect.
While it could be pure coincidence, I'm beginning to believe in the power -- or more appropriately pain -- of the hangover. That's because the Boston Bruins are 3-7 to start the season after being swept in a home-and-home by the not-long-ago struggling Canadiens (by the way, that's three straight wins since the Habs axed assistant Perry Pearn). For those keeping track at home, that's good enough to be last in not only the Northeast Division, but the Eastern Conference.
“Honestly, this is so frustrating,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said after Saturday's 4-2 loss in Montreal. “I don’t know. It’s like we can’t buy a break right now and we just keep getting deeper. We need to turn this around.”
Maybe this is a team that used up all of its breaks last season.
But I didn't see this hangover coming this harsh to start the season. I mean, this is the kind I'd get in college when I'd sleep through breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I was a believer in Boston last season, picking them to win the Cup before the playoffs began. I'm a sucker for plus/minus stats for teams, and nobody was better than Boston in that category a season ago. I took that as a sign of quality balance and partly the product of Tim Thomas' career year.
Thomas hasn't been the problem this year, even if he's not living up to the standard of a year ago. But nobody, and I repeat nobody, expected that season again. It was record-setting as far as save percentage goes, the best in NHL history. That's tough to repeat.
No, instead it's been the offense. It's a group that doesn't seem to possess any elite scorers, but as the playoffs showed, there are numerous guys who are good enough. They have just 22 goals in 10 games. Defensively, there 25 goals allowed is the second lowest total in the East behind only Buffalo.
Claude Julien has tried to fix the issue. There has been line mixing. The team's best player has been sophomore Tyler Seguin, who has four goals and six points. Only five players have at least five points through 10 games.
For his part, GM Peter Chiarelli is not panicking yet. Why would he? This current roster is almost exactly the same as the one that won the championship a few months ago. Obviously it is good enough. But Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com reported that Chiarelli might be working the phones already, trying to perhaps find a player to come in and inject some life into Boston.
“I’m always working the phones, but I am a little more diligent these days," Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Thursday.
This is the part where we normally remind you that we're only 10 games into the season. There is still a lot of time for the B's to wake up and defend their Cup in earnest. But it's also worth noting that the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference are looking better this season.
They can't afford to sleep in too long until the headache goes away.
Any be-Leafers now?
When do you start believing in what the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing? Ron Wilson's crew is 7-3-1 begin the year. The last three games, including Saturday's OT win over the Penguins, have been with starting goaltender James Reimer injured. They did get tripped up by the Sens on Sunday night in a great game.
We chuckled at the uber optimism Leafs fans were feeling with the quick start and statements such as Phil Kessel is headed for Wayne Gretzky numbers. Now there is a bigger sample size of 10 games and Kessel has 10 goals with eight assists. It's still a small sample size, however it's easier to take big projections. Don't expect Gretzky numbers, but it could be a monster season nonetheless.
Speaking of monsters, Jonas Gustavsson has fared certainly well enough in Reimer's absence. With Reimer sidelined for a little bit, this was Gustavsson's chance to show he could handle the backup duties himself. So far so good. He was good enough on Saturday for Ron Wilson -- one of the few coaches on Twitter -- to pronoune him the starter for Sunday night's game against Ottawa, a loss.
"Great win. Monster was huge and gets start tomorrow. Komo keeps getting better. Dion and Phil are the best at their positions in NHL!"
If nothing else, let's just say it's time to take Toronto a little more seriously.
Raise your hand if you saw the Senators winning six games by Thanksgiving before the season began.
Forget Thanksgiving, the Sens have won six games in their last six outings after a great comeback win over the Rangers on Saturday and then a solid win over the Maple Leafs on Sunday. Things seem to be coming together quickly.
It doesn't come as much of a surprise, but Jason Spezza has been his usual spectacular self. He has 15 points through 12 games (7-8=15). But also joining him in the better-than-a-point-per-game pace are Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson, who has an NHL-high 12 assists.
Before the season, a lot of folks had the Senators as the preseason favorites for the Nail Yakupov (top draft prospect) sweepstakes. While they still could be, they are at least giving the fans some fun along the way.
A Star is born
Has anybody noticed what Kari Lehtonen is doing in Dallas? Judging by the attendance, the majority of the Metroplex hasn't.
The Stars are 8-3-0 after Saturday's 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. In those 11 games, Lehtonen is 8-1. He carries a goals against average of 1.75. He has been simply stellar for a team now being led not by Brad Richards, but instead by a bevy of young guns and veteran defenseman Sheldon Souray.
Lehtonen is at that magical age in sports when they are supposedly at their peak, 27. After playing in 69 games a season ago, he looks ready to carry the load again this season.
Just another quality goalie from Finland. Ho hum.
As for the attendance? Well Saturday night only 11.740 were announced to be in the stands to witness the win. I understood the reasons for low attendance numbers earlier this season, baseball's Rangers were fighting for the World Series and, well, the Stars lost their big star in the offseason. But with this kind of start and the Rangers now done, I hoped to see more than 11,740 in the crowd. Baby steps, I guess. Baby steps. If the Stars keep winning, they will come.
The Washington Capitals took on the Vancouver Canucks in the Saturday night cap and it didn't last long for Tomas Vokoun. The Capitals goalie gave up three first-period goals, two of them being on Canucks power plays, and was pulled by coach Bruce Boudreau to start the second.
The reason? Boudreau wanted to give the team a spark. Well, his Caps did come back to the tie game, but it all got away from them again in a 7-4 loss. (On a side note, a four-goal performance won't do much to change the Canucks fans' feelings about Roberto Luongo either.)
Some are seeing it as a deal. Boudreau said Vokoun wasn't particularly sharp. Vokoun said he felt fine.
But I'd like to point out that Vokoun had played every game since Michal Neuvirth was given the opening-night start. If nothing else, Vokoun deserved a break.
We're going streaking!
As already mentioned, the Ottawa Senators now have a six-game winning streak going. But they're not alone.
The San Jose Sharks have also won five in a row. More impressively, all five of those games were on the road, including Saturday's shootout win over the Islanders and a win on Friday over the Red Wings.
Speaking of Detroit, it has lost four games in row since beginning the year 5-0. Maybe that 7-1 beatdown at the hands of the Capitals sent them into a funk?
The Islanders are also in an early tailspin. Make that five losses in a row for them after Saturday's loss to San Jose.
Last but certainly not least, the Edmonton Oilers are very quietly in first place in the Northwest Division, surpassing the Colorado Avalanche. That's because the Oilers have won five games in a row after weekend wins over the Avalanche on Friday and Blues on Sunday. The Kids in the Hall are getting a lot of attention for that, but Nikolai Khabibuln has been spectacular.
Quote of the weekend
Let's just say he appreciated the marbles his team showed by scoring twice in the final four minutes for the win.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Boston Bruins, Brad Richards, Brian Burke, Brian Stubits, Bruce Boudreau, Buffalo Sabres, Claude Julien, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Erik Karlsson, Florida Panthers, Hot Stove, James Reimer, Jason Spezza, Jonas Gustavsson, Kari Lehtonen, Kevin Dineen, Michal Neuvirth, Milan Michalek, Montreal Canadiens, Nail Yakupov, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ottawa Senators, Perry Pearn, Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins, Roberto Luongo, Ron Wilson, San Jose Sharks, Sheldon Souray, St. Louis Blues, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tyler Seguin, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Weekend Wrap