Leafs Stall in Motor City

Let's try do this without the rhetoric, without playing the blame game and without the need for a scapegoat...

It was a pretty good hockey game, in which the Leafs fared well in spurts, against a vastly superior club whose special teams proved to be the difference. Their hope, their best bet for a successful sweep lay in unearthing tactical advantage based on the variables that emerged before, and throughout the game.

No Datsyuk, no Franzen, and as the game wore on, no Howard, and a wounded Brian Rafalski after a questionable Boyce hit should have led to a significant tactical advantage for the Leafs. In theory, it works. So much for theories...this is pro hockey, and it's often down to capitalizing on the unpredictable. While all these factors may have had some bearing on the outcome, ultimately it was a couple of systems breakdowns, and a very deep opponent that sent the Leafs home with four of six points this past week.

Zetterberg in close on a screened Reimer equals a Detroit goal more often than not. Holmstrom owning the blue paint produces a similar result, as it did last night at the Joe Louis Arena. Dion thought Aulie had him; Aulie thought Dion had him, and the momentary lapse manifested on the scoreboard.

Luke Schenn attempted to disrupt Hudler on the third Detroit goal which came off an errant Kulemin turnover, but inadvertently redirected the shot that fooled Reimer, who successfully tracked several of those high glove-bound shots all night.

Bertuzzi, relegated to a lesser role after faring poorly early in the game, added the empty netter when a blocked Luke Schenn point shot found him with the puck on his stick and heading through the neutral zone where he potted the easy marker to put the game away.

The Leaf goals were both very, very good goals that were the products of a higher level of effort and determination than your average garden-variety.Nazem Kadri is showing a knack for launching missiles through impossibly congested areas with surgical precision. His second goal as a Leaf was much prettier than his first, but both showed a growing penchant for sniping. This young man has a lot more to offer over the next couple of seasons, and the callup is finally showing dividends. He's starting to look ready...

Joffrey Lupul scored the ultimate Red Wing garbage goal where the goalie's effectiveness is compromised enough to produce a result without landing in the box. He was at the top of the crease wreaking havoc like his name was Holmstrom when he was pushed on top of Jimmy Howard before gathering the puck with a sweeping motion and hooking it into the open net.

Howard sustained an injury on the play, and as the Wings' bench protested, claiming goalie interference, the puck was dropped at centre, and thirty eight seconds later, the Wings re-claimed the lead.

While the home team got the jump on the Leafs early in the first, the visitors managed to settle in and push back enough to make a game of it. They never stopped battling, and didn't allow the fatigue of a three game roadie become a factor. They simply gave a superior team a couple windows and the crafty Red Wings exploited those opportunities, where the Leafs were unable to do so. Five powerplay opportunities produced no result. In short, special teams decided this one.

Still, no blame can be laid here. Nobody quit, and even after the game, nobody was ready to quit, even thought the odds do not favour their chances as they now sit 7 points out of eighth place after Buffalo shut out New Jersey. "...Big loss for our team in the standings but we have to respond," according to captain Dion Phaneuf. Any time a team takes four of six possible on the points you'd view it as a positive, but the sentiment was not reflected by any of the Leafs themselves: “ Close is not good enough”, the captain added.

If Coach Wilson was ready to call it a season, he sure wasn't ready to concede to it publicly: “This was still a helluva trip...there's still plenty of time; we've got to go back home and regroup, and just keep playing the way we are.”

An emerging trend with this Leaf team is the resolve they show by digging in and bouncing back after a tough loss. They will leave nothing on the bench and nothing in the dressing room as they battle the Sabres on Tuesday night. The Leafs have defeated the team currently with a death grip on that eighth spot in both of their last two meetings. This one will have playoff fervour from the second the puck is dropped.

While I didn't like the decision to play Lebda over Lashoff, who has been quietly effective and reliable,
the guy coaching obviously felt the former Red Wing offered some advantage. You have to believe that Lebda has worn out his welcome and will likely be a fixture with the Marlies in the season to come.

It will be interesting to see if Burke views this current circumstance as one in which a look at some of the more promising Marlies with the big club is warranted, specifically, Joe Colborne, when Mike Zigomanis is re-inserted into the lineup. I suspect the big boss will make that determination following the Tuesday game.

Follow me on Twitter: @ODurkin

2 Comments

Owen Durkin's picture

I like the way the way they competed, actually. The shots were pretty even, they battled pretty hard, but they were simply out-played by a team with the savvy to capitalize on any error big or small. It was a one-goal game all night, lost on an errant turnover by a reliable two way guy, on a shot tipped by a very responsible defenseman on a goalie that has been lights out. This could have gotten as ugly as the game vs. CHI, but the Leafs found some composure and remained in the game all night. With no contribution from special teams on five opps, youre not beating DET very often...