Toronto Maple Leafs Weekly Report: More Questions Than Answers
Nov 15, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyson Strachan (24) checks Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) during the third period at First Niagara Center. Buffalo beats Toronto 6 to 2. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Just when you thought the Toronto Maple Leafs were starting to show fans that they were capable of playing at a higher level, it all went south with an embarrassing 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night . It would be easy to say it was just a bad game for the Leafs and they just have to move past it, but there is a lot of debate about whether this team can move on.
The Leafs problem is not very complicated. They lack the discipline to put forth the effort that is required to be a competitive team throughout the entire season. People were annoyed when Tim Leiweke said that this team has “terrible character”. Now I am starting to realize what he meant.
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Nov 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi (4) and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (10) celebrate a goal by forward Pascal Dupuis (9) as Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf (3) skates away during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Pittsburgh 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
When this team loses they lose bad – they try to put it in the back burner and move forward, but it happens way too often. It is not like the Leafs have had a couple of bad losses here and there. They have lost four games by more than three goals; only the Sabres, Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets have lost more. Adding to that, when the Leafs allow the first goal in a game, they have a .250% winning percentage. However when they get the first goal, the team has not lost a single game. It speaks to the character of this hockey team, because it seems like if something does not go their way they simply break down and look disinterested for the rest of the game. I have to deal with a lot of Montreal Canadiens fans who trash the team, but one thing I will say about their team is that they do not give up when they are down, something the Leafs need to start doing.
Nov 12, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (81) carries the puck over the blue line against Boston Bruins defenseman Joe Morrow (45) during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Looking back at the three games this week, it seems like only the Leafs could do the impossible. They win a game 6-1 against the Boston Bruins, who usually embarrass them when they play each other. The Leafs played more of a team game and put forth a full 60 minute effort that surprised everybody – granted Boston did not have Zdeno Chara or David Krecji. After that, you lose a close battle against an elite Pittsburgh Penguins team 2-1. Then to end the week, they get dismantled by the Sabres 6-2. To put that game under a microscope, Buffalo scored 21.4% percent of their goals this season in that one game against a Leafs team that simply underestimated their opponent.
Nov 15, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Tyler Ennis (63) scores a goal during the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Coming off a loss the night before, you would expect the Leafs to come out flying which they did in the first period, but Michal Neuvirth kept the Sabres in the game. When Buffalo scored their second goal of the game I just knew the Leafs were in for a rough night. They had been getting a lot of chances, but they were not going in – it seemed like the team gave up in their own end. People have to understand that Buffalo can win games once in a while. They did beat the San Jose Sharks this season so it is not the end of the world, losing to Buffalo. However there is no excuse why the Leafs allowed the Sabres to score six goals against them.
Then to make matters worse, Phil Kessel is called out by Jonas Siegel from TSN, because he refused to talk to him after the game. This brought unnecessary attention to the winger. You can read about it here.
Nov 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist (72) tries to knock in a puck past Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) at the Air Canada Centre. Pittsburgh defeated Toronto 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Should we be upset about losing to Buffalo? Of course! The Leafs looked terrible and it has happened far too often. You have to ask how this team could be this bad? They have an elite goal scorer in Phil Kessel, a decent goaltender in Jonathan Bernier and a promising defensive prospect in Morgan Rielly. Yet they struggle to compete on a consistent basis. That is because there are fundamental elements missing on this team and the coaching staff should not take all the blame. The GM and management have to also take some of the criticism. All this talk about the advanced statistics being the problem with the Leafs just hides the fact the team still needs a number one center and a number one defencemen.
Nov 12, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly (44) looks for a pass against the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston 6-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs advanced stats numbers against the Sabres were pretty good. The only number that was bad was the Leafs PDO, which tracks the simple addition of shooting percentage and save percentage at even strength. On Saturday the Leafs PDO was at 88.74% (it should usually be at 100). Simply put, the Leafs did not get the goaltending and defence needed to beat the Sabres.
This brings me to James Reimer. I have defended Reimer ever since they made the trade for Bernier. However, I do agree that it is hard to defend him when he has an off night. He did not play well against the Sabres especially on the second goal, where he was caught far out of his net trying to get the puck and it ended up on a Sabres stick and in the back of the net. That goal took the confidence out of the rest of the team, because they could not regroup, best exemplified by the sixth goal. I still think Reimer is a good goalie, but he cannot play timid. He needs to show more confidence in himself and play like he did against the Chicago Blackhawks.
All three Leafs forwards were behind the Sabres net on this play. If you are on the power play, having all three forwards behind the goal line is probably something I would not want to do, especially with the Leafs power play being inconsistent this season. As a result, the Sabres got the puck out of the zone. Dion Phaneuf had a chance to make a hit on Zemgus Girgensons, but missed and he was off on a breakaway. The only forward that came back to back-check was Phil Kessel, which was a surprise to me because at that point in the game none of the players gave a damn. It has happened several times this season and because the fans realize this, they decide to throw stuff on the ice to show their frustration.
Oct 8, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Fans gather in Maple Leaf Square outside of the Air Canada Centre prior to the season opening game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
This now brings me to a couple of problems I have with certain Leafs fans. Supporters are going to be frustrated with the effort that the Leafs play with – that is understandable. Saturday night was a perfect example of a terrible performance, but it does not excuse the selected fans that decide to throw things on the ice. It just adds to the problem and it gives Toronto a bad reputation.
This tweet after the game on Saturday actually makes Leafs fans look worse, because even Sabres players are surprised with the way Toronto fans acted. You hear that?! A player on a team that is tanking for Connor McDavid cannot understand why fans have to act like that.
Nov 4, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes left wing Rob Klinkhammer (36) looks for a pass as Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Roman Polak (46) and goalie James Reimer (34) during the first period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
The other issue is even more troubling and embarrassing. There was a situation last season involving Leafs fans on twitter abusing April Reimer. Back when I had my own blog I wrote a post that discussed the inexcusable behaviour from Leafs fans. (I would actually call them trolls rather than fans) Some of those people were back at it again on Saturday night and it brought back those feelings of shame for the participants and sympathy for the people being attacked. I do not understand why people think it is right to go after a player’s wife, especially if she is not responsible for the way the team plays. Also, what does it accomplish? What I think it accomplishes is that it makes those people look terrible and the fact they abuse social media to bash someone personally like that is very sickening. A social media site like Twitter should have the ability to shut down their accounts and ban them from their sites – do they want a reputation for allowing people to do this?
I applaud the fans that wrote all the kind tweets to Reimer’s wife, because it shows that Leafs Nation is full of people that care about the team and hopefully the out-pour in support can negate the negativity of the selected few.
Here are some examples of the tweets, but trust me there were a lot that I left out because they were inappropriate and frankly they do not deserve having me recognize them for something so cruel.
Hopefully it does not come to this again, but there is no guarantee that it won’t.
Nov 8, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; 2013 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees Scott Niedermayer (left) and Brendan Shanahan (center) and Chris Chelios (right) prior to the start of the game between the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs need to do something, because their play has been so up and down this season it cannot continue like this. Brendan Shanahan has to decide whether this team is going to try and compete for the playoffs or go for a better draft pick. The Leafs cannot be mediocre and end up ninth or tenth in the conference, we have seen the end result and it does not end well. After a week like this, it is hard to see where this team is going but Leafs fans can see that there will be bumps along the way for sure.
Right now all we have is more questions than answers.