Custom Search

Injuries just part of what Leafs have to deal with; Toronto earns a good point in Cap town

We all remember that, a few springs ago when the usually injury-averse Mats Sundin was hurt in the playoffs, the Leafs played some of their best hockey that season in getting to the semi-finals against the Carolina Hurricanes.

A number of individuals, including Alyn McCauley, “stepped up”, as we like to say, and were instrumental in not only filling in for Sundin, but making his absence largely un-noticeable.  The team played that well.

In fact, it could probably be argued that the Leafs played better while the captain was out in 2003—clearly not because they were more talented without the sublimely-skilled Swede, but because other players performed, for a variety of reasons, better than we had suspected they could.

When he returned, the Leafs succumbed to the underdog ‘Canes, a disappointment for Leaf fans, to be sure.

Should Sundin have stayed out longer?  Well, that’s not the way professional sports work.  It was Sundin’s job to come back and play if he could.  He did his job, and did it well.

Injuries are something every pro team has to deal with.  Until Colby Armstrong went down recently, the Leafs had escaped pre-season and the early days of the regular season essentially unscathed.  Meanwhile, other clubs in the East, including Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Philadelphia, New York and the Devils have been facing injuries to key players.

Now, it’s the Leafs’ turn.

Armstrong will miss a few more weeks, as will Phaneuf.  I have little doubt that other players will pick up the slack.  That’s generally what teams do.  And this has been a hard-working group.

Sometimes teams can handle things for a few games, some can actually deal with major long-term injuries to key players and not fall back in the standings.

What I don’t know is whether the Leafs will—or can— handle this well temporarily, or longer-term.


Despite a second-period letdown, the Leafs played with a lot of energy in a back-to-back game, on the road.  In a broader sense, this was a classic case of a game that should have ended in a tie.  Two teams play for 60 minutes and both deserve one point.  The road team fights hard, deserves their point.  And that’s all Washington deserved, too.  These “extra” points are hurting the game in terms of credibility, as I’ve posted previously. Why do we persist with overtime and the shootout? 

Some observations from the Washington encounter:

·     Wilson has done what he can to keep the guys on their toes.  He benched Kessel early this season in one game, then did the same with Bozak.  He is moving guys around, trying different combinations.

·     Depth and scoring ability are issues for the Leafs, certainly.  We knew they would be challenged to score, though they have generally been better defensively and in goal.  The third-period goals were a welcome relief.

·     There are limited moves Wilson can make, beyond shuffling his lines around.  Wednesday night he put Mitchell back in, after giving Hanson a couple of games as the fourth-line center.  As important as I believe the center position is, and a fourth-line guy can be very valuable, those moves haven't been making a big difference.  Neither player had been very noticeable in their limited opportunities, when they have played, until the third period last night.  Mitchell held on to the puck and make a good play to set up Kaberle for Toronto’s second goal.  It’s a difficult job, to be a fourth-line player when you get little ice. Somehow you have to make an difference when you do get out there—without giving up a goal against.  If your team is struggling, the pressure on the fourth-line center is such that it is probably a bit like trying to play with a piano on your back.  But someone has to take advantage and really earn the gig going forward.

·     The penalty-kill and power-play units have not matched their pre-season prowess, and that will be a concern going forward if those numbers don’t change.

·     Grabovski is under scrutiny, and he knows it.  I focused on him as he was coming back into his own zone in the second period, just before the Caps made it 2-1. I was thinking, “turn your head and look, someone must be coming in late”.  Lo and behold, Chimera was there and re-directed a pass out behind Gustavsson.  Was Grabovski being lazy, not competing, or just not thinking?  Whatever, Kaberle wasn’t hard on the guy in behind the net, and that soft/slow-to-react combination led to a potentially back-breaking road goal against a good team.

·     Interestingly, for all the criticism directed at Grabovski (and I’m among those who has long said he is not a second-line center), he is a + 7 through 12 games.  The mistake on the second goal was glaring Wednesday night, but generally speaking, despite his lack of goal production, he hasn’t hurt the team defensively.

·     At least for one night, the time spent in practice screening the goalie paid dividends.  On Kaberle’s goal, Brown had nudged Neuvirth, and stayed in front of the crease as Kaberle’s shot went by.  On the Bozak power-play marker, the Leafs were camped on the doorstep again.

·     Versteeg’s effort to break away and score the tying goal may become very big for him going forward, a potential confidence-booster.  A great feed from Komisarek made it happen.

·     Gustavsson kept the Leafs in it when they were down, and kept playing well when they got the lead.  The Cap game was a case where his save percentage was not great, but he made big saves when it mattered.

·     Brent, after not playing much as the game went on, made a huge shot block on Ovechkin while killing that four-on-three in overtime.

·     Beauchemin played the big minutes, but it was good to see Komisarek’s ice time jump, too.  As I mentioned in my previous post, Komisarek is in a position to really re-establish his value during Phaneuf’s absence.

No comments:

Post a Comment