Thursday, 24 January 2013

Leafs Collapse After Strong First Period Against Islanders

Leafs celebrate after jumping to an early lead, before allowing
five unanswered goals
Another late surge by the Toronto Maple Leafs isn't nearly enough to get back into a game where they gave up five unanswered goals after jumping to an early 3-1 lead. The Leafs would ultimately lose the game by a score of 7-4. A reoccurring theme for the Maple Leafs over the last several seasons is the inability to play a 60 minute game. Tonight was a display of just that. The Leafs were all over New York in the first period, but fell asleep for the next 35 minutes. In their defense, the Leafs did play last night and so fatigue is definitely an issue, but it's not an excuse.

In a season with only 48 games, every game is crucial, more-so than the average season. The teams that manage to hold early leads are the teams that will thrive and the teams that can't will be on the outside looking in, as the Leafs have been since the previous NHL lockout in 2004. At times Toronto has shown some promise early in this season, but tonight's game exposed the majority of the hurtles that the Leafs will have to overcome this season.

One major issue for the season is the goaltending. The Leafs have started the season with two rather inexperienced goaltenders, Ben Scrivens and James Reimer. Scrivens has looked nervous in his first three starts in a Leaf uniform this season, and a few times it has directly resulted in a goal against. He really needs to improve his puck handling skills, but more importantly, he just needs to settle down. All of that aside, I'm still interested to see what he can bring to the table in his next few games, because besides the little mistakes, which become big mistakes when the opposing team scores, he looks like he has the ability to play in the NHL.

As for James Reimer, it isn't fair to judge his performance tonight based on one goal against coming in relief of Scrivens, but the goal that did go in went over his glove which was too low when he came out to challenge. That has been an issue with Reimer in the past and opposing players are well aware of that, so he needs to step up in that regard.

On to the forwards, the core of the line-up looks good, even despite Joffrey Lupul being injured with a fractured arm after Wednesday night's game. Matt Frattin was one of the few Leafs that looked good throughout the game. He was called up to the NHL as a result of the Lupul injury.

Nazem Kadri has also been playing well for the Leafs. Through four games this season he looks really good, but its his long-term play that usually becomes the issue when he is at the NHL level. In the majority of his previous call-ups to the big club, Kadri has looked good for the first half dozen games, but beyond that hasn't played hard and became ineffective on the ice.

The Leafs defense were not up to par tonight. From Dion Phaneuf over skating the puck leading to the first goal, to Carl Gunnarsson not tying up the stick in front of the net that lead to the third goal, things didn't look good for the Leafs beyond the first period. I also wasn't impressed with Cody Franson's play tonight. If he wants to prove that he can be a regular player in the NHL, and I think he can, he needs to play quite a bit better than he did tonight.

The Leafs powerplay unit was stagnant again tonight. The Leafs had another brief two man advantage without any reward tonight. It might be due to the fact that arguably Toronto's best puck moving defenseman, John-Michael Liles, was not on the powerplay, not even the second unit. I am a fan of Mike Kostka's game thus far this season, but I don't believe he should be on the first powerplay unit. Liles is a great playmaker and puck handler. When he was acquired, he was to be our powerplay quarterback, but this season the veteran hasn't seen much ice time on the powerplay. Liles played under five minutes in the first period tonight.

With the loss tonight, the Leafs have a 2-2-0 record. They are back at it on Saturday night as they play the New York Rangers, who have had many of their own struggles early this season.