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Bernier, Reimer, whatever

Ho hum, another Leaf road victory.  (That's not really smugness, by the way.  Having followed this team since well before their last Cup championship in 1967, I well understand how quickly streaks can turn into slumps...)  By the way, I had no problem with Carlyle going with Bernier in Calgary, on the heels of the Reimer shutout the night before against the Oilers. Bernier has played well this season.  Some Leaf enthusiasts prefer him over Reimer.  I’m a Reimer guy, as most of you know, but the issues that concern me about the current goaltending “arrangement” may not come to a head for a while, so I’m fine with whatever Carlyle wants to do right now—not that he’s consulting with me.

Oh, I remember his often stated “win and you’re in” comments, and based on that, Reimer should have played more by now, but coaches have a right to play whoever they want, whenever they want.  They also have the right to change their mind.

Bernier has often sparkled this season and has earned his time.  While I’m sure Reimer could have handled a back-to-back assignment on the road, why not give Bernier the net on the back end of the doubleheader?

I assume Carlyle will give Reimer the same benefit down the road, if this truly is a fair, level playing field “competition”. 

Meanwhile, it’s all the better if the players can feel comfortable and confident with either guy in net.

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After yet another game where the team is outshot (yet wins), among other statistical failings, it seems inevitable that there will be a headline somewhere that reads: “Leafs at bottom of Corsi rankings; remain in first place in the East…”

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Special teams matter.  We all remember when the power play (and we will have those droughts again this year, lest we forget the not-so-distant past) couldn’t seem to buy a goal and we simply could not kill penalties.  It’s more than just McClement on the PK and more than one guy on the power play. 

The coaching staff may deserve some of the criticism they receive, but it’s also time to give them some credit.  Kadri has thrived under Carlyle.  So have Kessel and Lupul and Bolland, well, just about everyone on the forward lines.  (The ones who didn’t are gone, and not doing much elsewhere, as best I can detect…)

And yes, those special teams are measurably better than they were two years ago.  Carlyle and company must have something to do with that.

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We will all continue to say, “The Leafs can’t keep this up.  They’ve been lucky.  Their goaltending has bailed them out.  They turn the puck over too much.  Their puck possession stats are terrible.  They take way too many penalties. They haven't faced many hot goalies." All largely true.

But it’s also true that they are winning, and sometimes belief in yourself—individually and as a team—triggers the kind of confidence that you can’t buy, and allows a group to overcome what statistics are trying to tell us. Winning begats winning.

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There is a lot more to this team than Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, but they have both earned their recent billing…Nice to see ex-Leaf-in-waiting Joe Colborne play important minutes for the Flames.


17 comments:

  1. Michael,

    The goalie situation can be summed up this way for me. Just because management would like Bernier to win the goalie competition doesn't mean he will. Even I think Randy is smart enough to play the goalie that he thinks will allow the team to win the most playoff games. So we shall see, I thought the other day that if Reimer played well in Edmonton, that he would get the Saturday start in Van city. Bernier also played well in Calgary, but I expect Reimer to get the start on Saturday.

    Ah statistics, the cause of, and solution to all sporting problems. The team is riding great goaltending and outstanding special teams to victory after victory. I would have accepted this as a good thing when Wilson was the coach. Because honestly, it seemed like it would never happen, didn't it? And hey, whatever became of Burkes' prediction that if Wilson was fired he'd be back in the league the very next day?

    Do I think that the Leafs can continue to win while being outplayed? As I recall, they sure did lean heavily on Joseph and Belfour a few years ago. I don't see a whole lot of difference when thinking about the team today. Long term, no team can sustain being outplayed so consistently and continue to win. What we have left to discuss is, what is considered long term statistically? 10, 20, 50 games? Eventually, all math regresses to the mean, given a large enough sample. Who knows, the team may even begin to play better before that happens, making it moot.

    I am interested as a fan to see what the reaction will be when the team plays better than the opposition, and through whatever nefarious means by the other team, loses. As well as when they get outplayed and outclassed by some of the other teams, and lose as well. Will the team rise to the challenge? What will Randy do with the lines? That Orr fellow sure is getting plenty of ice time for a player that is no better at hockey than many of the guys I have played beer league hockey with. None of those guys want him to punch them in the face though, so I guess Orr wins that way. What do we call a goon that no longer fights?

    The team as a whole is living a charmed life right now. And finally, we maybe should sign that Raymond guy to a longer term deal. How many games before I am allowed to complain about the fact that Clarkson is getting five million a year for what seems like forever?

    Still enjoying the book.

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    1. Too many good points in your post to respond to in detail, Jim. Agreed, a team can't play this way forever and win. Things do 'regress to the mean' over time (though what does "over time" mean?), but there are always exceptions, it seems.

      Colton Orr will seemingly always have a spot on a Carlyle team. I do wonder if Raymond's contribution will flatten out. Clarkson?

      Lots of wins, but still lots of questions, too. Thanks Jim.

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  2. There's nothing more important to winning than believing you can. It was a tired group tonight with just 20 hours between games so I think having a fresh goalie in was probably a good idea. It looks like Carter Ashton's hit will be reviewed. Hopefully Kulemin will be ready for Saturday if there's a suspension. C.N.

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    1. In my experience working with coaches and athletes, I do believe that "self belief" matters. Negatives multiply, but so do positives. Right now, the Leafs seem to believe they can win, even when they are off their game. That's enough sometimes- with effort, and a little luck thrown in. Thanks C.N.

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  3. Great title, Michael. I have been a Reimer backer since he first played for the Leafs but the bottom line for me as a Leaf fan is that both goalies are playing lights out hockey and both are stealing wins. I am comfortable with either goalie in the nets and I feel that Carlyle will play whomever he feels will give us the best chance to win on a given night. It is certainly wonderful to see the Leafs with difference makers in goal after a long drought of less than mediocre netminding.

    I totally agree with you that the coaching staff deserves kudos for the stellar work of the special teams. The coaching staff, and Carlyle in particular, has taken a lot of heat from some members of the mainstream media and some blog sites particularly for his personnel decisions. While I am not one to rubber stamp a coaches performance and have found reason from time to time to find fault Carlyle, I find the vitriolic criticism from some quarters disturbing. The team has been a winner under Carlyle and he certainly deserves a great deal of credit for that fact.

    I am happy for Joe Colborne but I only wish he had shown the drive and desire that I saw last night more consistently here. I hope he continues to make the best of his opportunity in Calgary.

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    1. If Carlyle can find a way to keep both goaltenders engaged and "happy", then who knows how this may go, Pete Cam? Right now, there is an energy that they are both bringing to their teammates, and that is a good thing. Can it last before "issues" emerge? We'll see.

      The coaching staff has to be doing something right. As I've said here from the get go, it's not like Carlyle doesn't know the game. So did Wilson, obviously- he was one of the winningest coaches around. But while we, as fans, have the right to pick at decisions, we need to recognize these guys know more than we do. Stats can inform a coaching staff and help to guide them to a degree, but they also know the individuals who are asked to take on certain jobs and whether they are doing their job the way the coaches want it done. They see these guys every day in practice. I'll put my money on a coach who has won a Cup most of the time. Thanks Pete.

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  4. As much as I've also been a Reimer supporter, I had no problem with Bernier getting last night's start. With two hot goalies, I see no reason to push one to play both nights of a back-to-back. I will cry foul, however, if Bernier plays Saturday.

    I noted what you said about the Leafs' special teams. It has clearly become a strength, as has the goaltending. A team has to play to its strengths, and I don't know how much of a problem I have with seeing them getting bailed out by this. I do think they will need to shore up their defensive play as March comes around and teams are tightening things up. The offensive chances for the Leafs will diminish, and they will need to start winning the so-called shots on goal and scoring chance tallies to go deep in the playoffs. It wasn't just Bernier who won the game for the Leafs last night. I keep thinking about JVR's shorthanded goal with four seconds left in the period on a pedestrian shot on net. Gifts like that will not happen in the playoffs against good teams.

    Right now the Leafs are playing with the gift of great goaltending no matter who is starting. There's no accounting for how confident that makes the players in front of them, knowing that they will get bailed out more often than not. There is no longer the fear of a bad goal slipping through, deflating what may have been an energized group on any given night. So taking into account what they know is working for them, they know what they need to do moving forward to take it to the next level. I don't know quite what to make of last night really, I will resist the urge to use the excuse of being tired, but they did look as though they couldn't keep up, in spite of being a speed team themselves. I would like to see them use tape of games like this one to identify where improvements are needed.

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    1. I think you're right, Pete, that they have things to work on so that when the intensity picks up next March (and into the playoffs) they are well equipped to handle whatever they may encounter.

      Other teams won't always have lousy goaltending. We won't always get great netminding. Kesell won't score on every other shot, etc. Eventually turnovers will kill us.

      You also correctly point out that they know (and Carlyle and his staff know) what they need to improve on. There is plenty of time to get things right by playoff time. If they can grab a strong playoff seed along the way, great. Thanks Pete.

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  5. I'm not sure about everyone else but I tend to watch the Leafs play rather than watch the game as a whole. Of course that means I see the mistakes they make but less of the ones the other teams are making. Logically, if the Leafs are constantly scoring on odd man rushes, either the Leafs are doing something right or the other teams are making a lot of mistakes and the Leafs certainly know how to capitalize on those errors.

    Have we ever seen a team criticized so much when they are winning? The coaches know that shots against and puck possession are a problem and it's something that they are working on, but they've also worked very hard on their special teams and deserve some credit. With injuries, new players settling in, lines changing constantly and an inexperienced Defense corps, it's understandable and it's not going to get fixed any time soon. Randy is trying a lot of different players on the penalty kill and this should help each player's defensive play and ( you would think) at some point carry over to their 5 on 5 play.

    For now Leafs have great goal-tending,which many say are winning some of the games for us( another criticism), which is exactly what they are supposed to do and why they have them in the first place.The Leafs have talented forwards who consistently find the net, top-notch special teams and Phaneuf taking care of the opposing teams top players. And they have SPEED. To put it simply, they are keeping the puck out of their net and putting in the other team's net. This is why they're winning. I'm not nearly so concerned about one statistic which will improve over time and the course of a full season. If puck possession (shots-on-goal) is the only issue we can find to complain about they are doing well . A win is a win. I'll just enjoy it and hope it continues. Thanks, Michael. C.N.

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    1. Last season, C.N., I often wrote here at VLM that it was an year of experimenting for Carlyle. That is, he was trying to win every night, of course, but he was also looking to the future to see which guys could do what, who could handle certain difficult assignments.

      I sense now that, while he is still trying to mix and match and figure some personnel realities out, he is closer to having what he wants on the roster. He sees who can take on the tough jobs and he also sees the flaws and the breakdowns, but these things are not "fixed" overnight, as you say.

      Nonetheless, they are winning. Even if they go on a 5-game losing streak, they will be well-positioned when they go on a roll again. Sometimes we really do just have to take "yes" for an answer. Thanks C.N.

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  6. Lots of food for thoughts today.

    The “win and you’re in” comment were I think made to appease the never ending questions from the media given the perception at the time of the two capable goaltenders. As we all know, that the Toronto media needs something to write about and that was the story of the day, weeks leading up to the start of the season. As anyone with any knowledge knows, there are many considerations when determining a starting line-up rather than this “win and you’re in” approach which are at the end - a desperate attempt of getting a win or two on team that is losing consistently. Winning teams never have perceived non-personal personnel/team related problems. There will always be various issues that needs to be addressed but nothing like the silly comment made and Carlyle appears to be a no nonsense person when it comes to team matters.

    Which leads me to the topic du jour and your mentioning of Phaneuf.

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  7. 2 0f 2

    I know a lot have been bantered about lately including many suggesting that we "must" sing him. No doubt, he has been very good, bordering on being elite lately but I also know that a lot of us have been very poor historians. Some of us have said in the past that he was overpaid but now speaks of signing him to a long term deal similar to the Kessel's deal.

    Phaneuf at the end of the day IMO is "miscast" on the Leafs. He is a good, sometime great defenceman that is playing an elite role while being paid as one and will likely demand the same for the upcoming contract negotiation. A position that is reinforced merely because of the status of the team he is playing on. Phaneuf is more of a "hybrid" defenceman. One that has offensive or defensive talents. He is good at both but does not excel in either. A good defenceman but not elite. There have been arguments that Phanuef is a actually a proto-typical defenceman that is capable of playing in all situations and is tailored to today's NHL thus making him elite. I would argue this is more situational. A good defenceman but not necessarily one that the Leafs truly need to move forward. The Leafs do have multitude of good-great offensive talented defencemen but lack the minute eating shut down tough defenceman. The only one on the team that is truly defensive and have has NHL experience is Fraser.

    As above with Reimer and Bernier, there are more considerations to be made when it comes to Phaneuf. Is he a good player? He is at times, a great player but not the player that is slotted in both the line up or pay structure. Would I like to have him? Definitely but on a second pairing or 1B situation and definitely not with the salary commanded given the cap situation. Consideration must be made to what he offers, what the team needs and at what cost.

    What he offers is a good offensively and defensively capable player that is currently playing more minutes than optimum because the team have no alternative. What he offers is a great second pairing defenceman one capable of providing the best 18-22 minutes of ice time. One that would make the Leafs so much more when playing against the opposition's second line. What he cannot be is first line player without support while commanding elite money. He cannot play the minutes or defending against top tier players consistently. The argument shifts then to 'get him the player to play with' - That type of player is elite and that type commands elite salary that the Leafs cannot afford to pay. If reports are true, we are looking at $7millions for 7 years. I am confident that the 4-7 years, we will react with the same regret 2 years later when he signed his last contract dropping from 60 points season without any defensive accumen to one that was pushed out of town.

    I don't think people would disagree that we need another defensive defenceman that plays tough minutes and that we already have many great offensive defensemen. I would argue that offensively, Phanuef is below Gardiner, Reilly and Franson. Although these 3 are not at the moment have demonstrated the ability to play consistently well defensively against top lines. That being the case, they have yet given long term opportunities.

    Factoring the cost and returns. What we likely expecting is a likely a 7x7 as reported. That's elite money and terms for someone I consider not elite. That leaves a trade or walking away. I would think that by trading away Phaneuf, multiple assets would be the return whether that being a player or draft picks will be in the details so risking Phaneuf walking would be a mistake. Can we afford him to be traded and replace? Offensively definitely. The opportunities would open up for the remaining offensively talented defencemen. Defensively, maybe but the returns and in turns the flexibility will be able to afford much needed defensive help at a level that is both affordable and long term viability.

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    1. You've provided a 'take a step back' analysis of where Phaneuf fits here, Lukas, and that is certainly needed before decisions are made about handing out huge dollars and term.

      Most of us would agree that he is a very good NHL defenseman. What that translates into when it comes to this particular Leaf roster, how close they are to "winning" and the cap is difficult to assess.

      I don't see them moving the captain in a trade even if he is not signed by the deadline, but who knows? They need elite players but they will also need cap space. There are roster flaws to fix. Where will Phaneuf fit? Right now, we don't know, but my guess is they will re-sign him. That was a very good - and frank - assessment, thanks Lukas.

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    2. I don't want to speculate what Nonis will or won't do and will leave it to the many talking heads but a leaf fan however, I am always full of opinions. I am not a Phanuef hater and really like to resign him but to a more appropriate role and salary. It is difficult to assess objectively when things go from one extreme to another. Nonis will no doubt is capable but it sure is fun to banter about.

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  8. Only in Leafland could we have two goalies both playing lights out, and we find a reason to complain! I'm loving it so far, and I'd even say that Bernier was the right choice against Calgary because his "no rebound" style was needed against a team that crashes the front of the net like the Flames did last night. More than once I found myself thinking that if Reimer had been playing, there'd be a point-shot puck lying in the crease just waiting to be pounced on by one of the Flames' forwards. By the same token, James' style worked well against the Oilers. Now, if we can just cut down those shots against...
    There's a lot to like so far this year, and I think you're right in giving the coaching staff credit. As I've said from pre-season, this team just feels different from previous years. Part of it is expecting to win, for sure, and I think there's also a determination we haven't seen in a while.
    There's lots to enjoy these days - Ranger rounding into form, Rielly finding his way, the contributions of Bolland and Raymond, the explosiveness of Kessel and JvR... One other thing I like these days is Orr's game. At the moment he's actually an effective forechecker - how many times did a Flame Dman rush the pass last night when Orr was approaching? And his disinclination to fight in the Oilers' game was a real mark of progress, I thought.
    Like you, Michael, I've been through many an up and down as a Leaf fan over the decades (I'm refraining from saying over half a century...). I'm not getting my parade garb out of the closet just yet. But it's been quite a while since I've felt this positive about our team!

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    1. You're so right, Gerund O', it's a bit early to plan the parade, but it's nice to see so many hopeful signs. And hey, if there wasn't a need to improve, what would be the point in having the regular season?

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