Curious Case of Casual Connolly

Tim Connolly is still under contract for another season. He was supposed to be the answer between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, the first line placeholder until a better option appeared. He was injured in the preseason and lost the spot to Tyler Bozak.

He didn’t help his cause with a steadilty eroding defensive game, earning him decreased minutes until late in the season where a brief resurgence earned him seven points in the final dozen games.

This one play stuck out in particular as I was at the game and got to see it from a few different perspectives.

This was the Washington Capitals first goal by Marcus Johansson against the Leafs on February 25, 2012:

Initially I thought the goal was Dion Phaneuf’s fault. Johansson was his man as he entered the corner, and he didn’t step in his way, something out of character of Phaneuf where he looks for every opportunity to lace up players with a big hit.

After watching the goal a few times, I concluded Tim Connolly was the main culprit. Here’s why.

Alex Ovechkin crosses the line while very Leaf player on the ice is watching Ovi. Matthew Lombardi skated from the face off dot in the Capitals zone and coasted into the Leafs zone. Meanwhile, no one is watching Matthieu Perrault.

Phaneuf and Matt Frattin then engage Ovechkin, while Lombardi skates right behind Frattin.

Connolly is entering the zone, not mindful of the trailer, Marcus Johansson. The mistake couldn’t get any worse, right?

It does.

Ovechkin side steps a major collision, but is knocked off the puck which goes behind Frattin (a play that is notable differnce in Ovi that has made him less effective as a scorer).

The trailer, Johansson picks up the puck and goes wide down the wing. Phaneuf curls and sees him—this is where the breakdown occurs. In an instant, Dion is watching MJ90 and took a quick peek in Connolly’s direction.

Connolly was coasting watching the puck carrier. He had stopped skating entering the zone without another stride, all momentum.

In that split second he has to decide if he’s engaging MJ90 who is coming in wide, or stopping in front of the net, the coverage area of center, Connolly.

Dion did the responsible thing and stopped in front of his own net, especially with Ovechkin and Perrault appearing from the soft side out front. Connolly lets them both skate by.

Phaneuf doesn’t get to MJ90, which is why I initially thought he had blown his coverage and the goaltending couldn’t bail out the play.

The little acknowledgement of where Connolly was on the ice, affected the decision to stop in front. Better communication would have helped "I got him" etc.

James Reimer didn’t exactly play that well either, unable to push off and get there with the speed MJ90 had generated without anything in his way to slow it down. Tough call for the goalie.

That play was blown as soon as Dion saw Connolly coasting. That split second register forced a decision, and he committed to it. The consequence was space and the puck carrier had easy access to pick up speed for a great scoring chance .. and capitalized.

Here he’s coasting back into the play as the center as well, although deserves credit to get back into the play after it broke down in the offensive zone, but he stopped skating.

It’s not an isolated incident. Here he loses the puck in the offensive zone, stops skating and allows Lucic to get to the net hard.

He’s much more successful coming off the perimeter and getting to the net, fighting through battles, or just arriving on time. 

That last goal was a prime example of the distribution capability and the potential when hooked up with Phil Kessel that earned him a 2-yr $9M contract as a free agent.

He streaks down the wing and makes a skilled pass through the middle – yet stays on the perimeter and travels behind the net. The fact he retrieves a loose puck and scores is about as skilled a play as the fluke goal against the Senators.

There’s no question he can find distribution option and execute as well as find his way to the goal.

So the question becomes, does Tim Connolly have enough offensive creativity – while limiting the coachable mistakes – to be a contributor?

We made a decision at McKeen’s and he didn’t get a write up as a fantasy player in the Yearbook. We felt he wasn’t worth the risk. We felt that Tyler Bozak will eventually be the pivot once again, another placeholder duty.

At this point the Leafs should be creating a way to move him.