POSTGAME – Sharkbitten

To say that November was a rough month would be an understatement. The "bounces" that were going the Leafs’ way for most of the calendar year began to dry up, every offensive centre in the lineup found a way to disappear in some way shape or form, and the Leafs squeaked away with just two regulation wins and eleven points in thirteen games. To remain a playoff team, the Leafs absolutely need to have a strong December. The issue? Their opponents are strong, including tonight’s San Jose Sharks. It was a battle of the best volume shooters against one of the worst shot bleeders, and at times it showed, ultimately leading to a 4-2 win for the Sharks. 

The Rundown

Toronto jumped out of the gate and dominated the play. By that, i mean they took the first four shot attempts over about a three minute span, and things quickly took a turn for worse after that. Putting fuel on the fire was a powerplay given up by Fraser McLaren, who roughed up Andrew Desjardins in defence of Jerred Smithson who was.. getting up from a clean check. While the Sharks didn’t score on that powerplay, they built momentum up from there, culminating in a Jason Demers shot bouncing off of Mike Brown and Morgan Rielly to give first blood to San Jose. Just four minutes later, with Jay McClement and Mason Raymond in the box, Joe Thornton finished off a gimme set up from Joe Pavelski for an insurance marker. At the intermission, the shot attempt gap looked like something out of a Harlem Globetrotters event, with the ratio in the range of 4:1.

Toronto rallied against the completed shot count, taking 12 of the first sixteen shots of the period. In the process, Mason Raymond picked up his tenth goal of the year on an odd man rush which he chose to keep as an individual effort, firing a wrist shot past Antti Niemi in the period’s opening minutes. Even better, after James van Riemsdyk failed to score his trademark two foot away between-the-legs effort, Tyler Bozak found Phil Kessel for his 15th of the sesaon. Things were looking up, but with those two powerplay goals leveling the scoring, the Leafs appeared to take a breather, giving up 14 of the next 19 shots, including a Brad Stuart tip-in to give the Sharks the lead back. 

The third period was very much a "going through the motions’ period for both teams. Nobody took a penalty, the shots (and attempts were basically equal, and in the closing moments, Logan Couture added an empty net goal to close the game off.

Why The Leafs Lost

It’s incredibly easy to point fingers at the Sharks for being a generally better team, both in ability and systems execution, I would like to raise an eyebrow at the fourth line. While they didn’t particularly play a ton, dressing two enforcers against a team that has quality players across the lineup seems like a bad idea, even if half the Leafs roster didn’t know how to defend themselves. Putting that line out after a TV timeout and letting them go for a long shift? Equally crazy, and ultimately what lead to the Stuart goal. There are times that Randy Carlyle’s thought process boggles my mind, and this was certainly one of them.

Blue Warrior

I feel like it’s the goaltender every single time I’m the one writing the recap, but James Reimer was fantastic tonight. You can’t fault him for the goals allowed, especially the first two (a deflection off Morgan Rielly, and a cross-crease one timer). 

Other Notes

  • Tyler Bozak was in and out of the game, presumably do to injury. With Nazem Kadri out of the lineup tonight (personal), this left the Leafs particularly empty down the middle. I’m sure they hope it’s not too bad.
  • Speaking of Bozak, I have to give credit where credit is due. He had four even strength primary assists on Phil Kessel goals last year, which lead to the conclusions of no chemistry between the two. He’s already tied that mark. I still think their collaboration is overhyped, but it certainly is more efficient this year.
  • David Clarkson is beyond snakebitten, possibly fully consumed by the serpent at this point. Hitting the cross bar from the blue paint in the second period was just icing on the cake.
  • The Leafs are now the second team in the league this year to give up 1000 total shots on net
  • Phil Kessel’s goal was the 200th of his career, 144 of which have come in blue and white.
  • The Leafs play next against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. It’s a home game, on LeafsTV. As always, come here for pre and post-game coverage.

Big thanks to Nick Raimondo (@nrcanada) for the game photo

  • I think when you wrote the Leafs have received the bounces for most of the “calendar year”, you are only referring to this season. They weren’t lucky last season and deserved to be where they were. This year is a different story though. Injuries, tough breaks and bad calls can explain a few of the losses but their overall play also could use some improvement. Not a terrible game tonight though, they are due for some puck luck soon.

      • Not really Steve. They deserved what they got aside from the unfortunate loss to Boston. They tended to carry the play on most nights even while being outshot. When healthy, this year’s personnel is probably stronger than last year as well, it’s just a matter of getting a consistent roster going with some chemistry.

        • STAN

          On what basis do you conclude that this roster is stronger than last season?

          Bolland, Raymond and Bernier are nice additions and marginal upgrades I suppose, but the Leafs could sure use the grit and hustle of MacArthur, Komarov and even Frattin.

          • Jeremy Ian

            I’ve been thinking about this all season and, if you break the team up into four groups, I would argue that this season’s roster is better than lasts.

            Top 6 forwards. Mostly the same as last season. Top line of JVR, Kes and Boz. Second line seems to be Lupul and Kadri with a rotating winger (BLANK seems to be playing with them the most). If Lupul stays healthy for most of the season (which he didn’t last) I would say its this group is better.

            Defense. Addition by subtraction. No Korbinian Holzer. No Mike Kostka. Also, Gardiner isn’t stuck in the minors.

            Goal. upgrade from last year.

            The only place I think the leafs are weaker is in their bottom 6 forwards. Face Puncher1 + Face Puncher2 and Face Offguy are eating up 6 minutes a game, not fighting and getting caught (or last night started) in their own end.

            (Side note: I die a little inside when Carlyle sends them out for offensive zone faceoffs, but I’m not sure if starting them in the defensive zone is much better)

            Third line last season was Grabs, Mac and Kulemin (sometime Komarov). I’m going to argue that they were/are better/more effective than this year’s rotating cast of third liners (Seriously, who is on this teams third line? Clarkson, McClement, Kulemin, Bolland, Raymond, Ashton, Smith?).

            I really wish Dallas Eakins was still with the Marlies and we could bring him up to replace Carlyle.

  • Jeremy Ian

    I agree with you Jeffler — Carlyle’s decision-making is perplexing, to be diplomatic.

    Not sure we can truly compare last year’s and this year’s team. This year’s team is still a cypher, which is one reason why we keep comparing piece-this to piece-that.

    In one way, I agree with Carlyle — this team has no identity yet. Of course, this is perhaps the coach’s most important job; to embody the promise of a team so its members can see versions of themselves to aspire to. That’s leadership. I don’t see it. What I see are for the most part are some talented guys adding up to less than the sum of their parts.

    Then there’s the 4th line. It’s now clear that it’s a dragging anchor. That dust-up of FML after the totally legitimate Smithson hit was mindless. Send them all to the Marlies and bring up some of the hungry young players. They’ll make some mistakes, but they will learn. The current 4th line is unlearning.

  • Last year’s team I would have to agree was lucky, to a degree. I wasn’t up in arms about Grabo leaving the team like everyone else was.

    Though I see my error in that logic now. We could use grabo more than ever right now. Personnel aside, and tell me if I’m the only one who thinks this, but they just aren’t playing to as high of a quality as they were last year to use Carlyles terminology.

    Specifically, breakouts have been covered by various sports media as one of the places they are lacking. I would tend to agree with that. I feel though if the forwards would move back just a bit so the defense doesn’t have to make those high risk plays that the breakout would be a bit more consistent. Hopefully it would be at least.

    Randy’s obviously enjoys the simple plays a lot more, concurrently he also enjoys using the boards to his advantage. The Leafs’ board play this year has been cringe-worthy at best. I can’t tell you how many times, when the opposing team dumps the puck into our zone and their forwards chase after the puck that they beat our defenders to the puck! Even though they were something like 10+ feet behind them a few seconds ago. Same with the offense zone dump ins, just vice-versa. I mean, if you’re going to play a dump and chase style at least go after the puck with a purpose, and play aggressive along the boards with support.

    One could argue the talent level between this year and the ladder, but when it all boils down this team is talented enough to play good hockey. And even when they don’t play their best game they have the offense to make up for that (see: the firsy 7 games or so).

    Something needs to change. SOMETHING!!!