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article imageOp-Ed: Maple Leafs return home with a bruised ego

By Dave Pitman     Dec 14, 2013 in Sports
Toronto - “Brain-dead” probably wasn't the way the Toronto Maple Leafs would have wanted their game in St. Louis to be described before puck-drop Thursday night, but that’s exactly what head coach Randy Carlyle said Post-Game.
"Tonight it looked like we were totally brain-dead in a lot of areas," said Randy Carlyle following the loss, "I don't know any other way to describe it. We didn't win enough of the down-low confrontations, they had a lot of freedom … look where they scored the goals from."
Coming off arguably their best-played game of the year against Los Angeles Wednesday where the Leafs finally turned the tables and poured on the shots, Toronto failed to show any intensity in St. Louis. That’s a pretty polite way to say they were bad. They were very bad. The Blues Forwards had their way with the Leafs defense and it was ugly to watch. James Reimer was pulled in the first period after giving up 3 goals on 15 shots, though it's tough to blame them all on Reimer.
The Maple Leafs goaltending has been nothing but reliable and consistent all year, bailing them out of far too many games. This kind of play is not typical of Maple Leaf hockey… A Toronto issue in recent years has been a lack of goaltending that can steal wins, wins that aren't deserved. This year, however, most of the Leafs wins have come this way. In fact, it’s now so common to be outshot that it’s become normal to Leaf Culture. Others will argue against, countering how bad the Leafs are outshot every game and Leaf fans will actually reply with the theory that the Leafs somehow use this as a strategy to win games.
Before Dave Bolland went down to injury in Vancouver, the Maple Leafs were 8-4 in games they were outshot in. That’s 12 out of 14 games played at the start of the season were the Leafs had been out-shot. That’s’ Angels in the outfield type numbers. That's a bad team that’s being helped by some hockey-playing angels, all because a young orphan boy wished upon a star. But maybe that orphan boy was adopted to a loving family… that would mean our angels stopped coming to the Leafs games. And the lack of shots and defensive responsibility has finally caught up…
So let's be clear; the defense is bad. It’s been bad since the start of the season, masked by the net-minders outstanding play. The Leafs have been outshot in 29 of their first 33 games. That’s just four games this season the Leafs have been able to shoot the puck more than their opponents. Losing depth players like Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak have only exposed this team defensively even more. With four regular players in the lineup who are known as "Offensive defensemen", (Phaneuf, Franson, Gardiner, Reilly) the lack of actual defense must mean they are providing some scoring, right? Wrong.
"To put it in perspective, 21 NHL defensemen have scored more goals as individuals than the Leafs' blue-liners have scored as a group." Writes Mike Brophy on Dec 7th.
Cody Franson has hit the score sheet since that day. He lifted himself to 26th in NHL defensemen by scoring just his first goal of the season last Wednesday. The next best is Dion Phaneuf at 41st in NHL Defensive scoring.
With such little offensive production, the Maple Leafs Blue line will need to figure out its identity, and quick. They sport the leagues worst shots against numbers (36.6) and are 8th worst in Goals Against (2.85).
A large amount of conversation has been over the play of Paul Ranger and Mark Fraser. Fraser, last years solid defender/enforcer played a large part in the Maple Leafs success, finishing the year with a brilliant +/- rating of +18. His numbers have dropped off quite a bit this year at -8. Paul Ranger has not looked comfortable since the start of year, but is consistently played by Randy Carlyle. Many believe that Carlyle is in favor of Ranger for his veteran presence, but Carlyle himself has recently begun to tighten the chain around him.
"Bad decision," said Carlyle post game on Wednesday when asked about a play Ranger made where he was caught out of position and led to the eventual game winning goal, "In a 1-1 hockey game with 10 minutes left, it's an ill-advised pinch," he finished.
Though under-performing, the Blue-line can't take all the blame; Newly acquired David Clarkson has not played up to expectation thus far. With just 6 points in 23 games, Clarkson has failed to live up to his lucrative contract he signed this off season for seven years at $5.25-million a season. Secondary scoring is another issue for the Leafs, one that Clarkson was brought in to help with.
As the Maple Leafs continue their tough December schedule hosting the NHL’s best Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, rumors and speculation buzz around the team. But as Pierre Lebrun of TSN reports, Dave Nonis is not ready to make a panic trade at this point. Because Bernier and Reimer stole some games for the Maple Leafs early in the season, they are able to try and sort their play out before it gets out of hand. The strength of schedule eases in January, and Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak are hoped to be healthy. The Leafs penalty kill, ranked 2nd in the league last season but has fallen to a disastrous 27th, a unit that both Bolland and Bozak should be on but have not been able to aid.
Facing the defending Stanley Cup Champions, The Chicago Blackhawks, The Maple Leafs are in for a very tough night. Jonathan Bernier is likely to get the start while Dion Phaneuf makes his return to the lineup after a two-game suspension. Rookie goaltender Antti Raanta will counter for the Blackhawks. David Clarkson is scheduled for a disciplinary hearing via telephone at 9 a.m. Saturday for a hit he put on Vladmir Sobotka. In their last ten games, Chicago is 7-2-1 while Toronto is 2-6-2.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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