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Can a win over the Sabres provide some momentum?

What I’d really like to do a column about is how absurd I think shoot-outs (overtime, for that matter) are as a way to decide regular-season NHL games.  But I’ve vented about that before, and I sense I’m on a bit of an island on this one, so I’ll let it go.  I just think it messes up the standings, gives teams a false sense of success and as a result, also gives fans—and GM’s—an inaccurate sense of where their team “fits” in the Conference landscape.

But hey, fans evidently still love it and it is here to stay because it creates entertainment.  For me, I’d go back to ties.  If you finish the game 3-3, that’s the final—and each team goes home with a deserved point, not one team with a flimsy bonus point.

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The Leafs came back for what was almost a 3-2 victory, but a late power play goal by the visitors necessitated yet another overtime for the home side.  At least this time they prevailed.  The question, I guess, is: will this provide any momentum heading into their New Year’s day outdoor encounter with the Red Wings?

I have no idea, as Toronto has gone in fits and spurts for weeks, it seems.  But fans will take the win, and hope that this will trigger a run of good play in the weeks ahead.


Soon, however, the Leafs will have to show they can close the deal, as it were, and win games in regulation.  You don’t get to play wide-open four-on four hockey in overtime in the playoffs—or rely on shootout wins for extra points.

19 comments:

  1. I'm in complete agreement with you about the shoot-outs. I imagine the only reason you feel like you're on an island is because most of us have just gotten used to the fact that Bettman is attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to maximize revenue, and has no real concern about what is or is not good hockey.

    I thought the team played OK tonight in the second and third periods. The first period was a problem. I'm not sure why everyone was making such a big deal out of 3 days off. Many of us take 66.6% of that break every week and are still able to perform on Monday morning.

    Bernier was another big part of the problem. The second and third goals were entirely his fault. I wouldn't have blamed him for the first, but following the precedent set by Carlyle after Reimer's last game, a goalie shouldn't let the puck go through him (apparently regardless of how many mistakes were made in front of him). So not only do you have Bernier to blame for all three goals by the revised math, but he was cleanly beaten on two of the three shoot-out attempts. He was just fortunate to have been playing against a team lacking sufficient skill to make anything of it.

    I felt bad for almost hoping for a third weak goal in the first period so we would have a good comparison with Reimer against Detroit (just to expose the double standard; I had no real expectation that anything would happen), but my wife pointed out that being a fan is not just about right now, it also includes wanting the best for the future. As I've said before, I think Reimer has a brighter future and is therefore a greater asset to the Leafs, so I guess my feelings were possibly not as traitorous as I initially thought.

    For a final random thought, I really like the camera behind the net, especially on power plays. I wonder why it isn't used more in Canada. It does seem to be used more frequently by the American networks (based on my limited viewing experience). It occurred to me tonight that maybe I like it because, as a goalie, I find it far easier to understand the way the play is developing since that is the perspective I have always seen the game from. In that case it would probably follow that for non-goalies it would be a particularly useless camera angle. I'm curious what others think.

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    1. Not to defend professional athletes, but the 'days off' issue is perhaps understandable, in the sense that they are accustomed to following a highly structured schedule and training regimen, etc.. When they have three full days off ice, they are likely a bit out of sorts. Throw in the distraction (not that Christmas and what is stands for is inconsequential; I'm just tasking about the impact on high-performance athletes) of celebrating and eating more than usual and, well, we usually expect a slow start to games like this. It will likely be even worse after the Olympic break.

      As for the goaltending situation, those who visit here know my views. It's clear Bernier is the choice of management and it is what it is. I sense the majority of Leaf fans prefer Bernier anyway, based on the frequent Reimer criticisms I come across. Nonis will make a move, likely in the off-season.

      Your point on camera angles is an interesting one. Maybe others who check in will have some thoughts...thanks Oliver.

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  2. Michael,

    No matter how thrilled I am to see members of my family that I haven't seen in a while, I am also glad to have the Leafs back on TV.

    I am not a big fan of the shoot-out either. I would be fine if they went back to ties. I can't take credit for this idea. I would be even happier if they gave 3 points for a win in regulation. Then left the teams that can't manage that, to fight over the additional point. Before anyone goes all crazy, I understand that the NHL loves it this way, mediocre teams get extra points to artificially stay in playoff races. While the teams that actually win hockey games stay a reasonable distance ahead of the bottom feeders. Only the NHL has so many teams claiming to be over .500, kinda funny really.

    So here we go with some more bottom feeder talk. The Leafs and the Sabres, wasn't too much world class hockey being played tonight. Do like that Steve Ott fellow, I really thought that was what we were getting when we signed Clarkson. Seems quite reasonable that I am not employed by any team in any capacity, based on my first blush thoughts about his impact. Not sure what that says about Nonis, Poulin, Loiselle, and Fletcher. I really don't blame myself for being excited when he signed here, how did those guys not know better?

    Are the Leafs ever going to be ready to play a hockey game from the drop of the puck in the first period? Is it nappy time for these guys around 7pm? Personally, I think getting a team ready to compete from puck drop is the coaches job. But, I'm no expert, so maybe you have some thoughts on this one.

    I don't really see too much that this team has going for it right now. Getting the extra point against the worst team in the NHL, isn't something to plan a parade over. I do think that Gardiner played really well for the most part today. Kessel, JVR and Kadri are wondrous when they have the puck, and look like Timbits players when they don't. Bernier played well enough to get the win, all I ask of a goalie really. He also improved his shootout record, apparently it isn't so white hot. I am becoming a big fan of Peter Holland, I only pray that he isn't sent down when Bozak returns. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if our coach kept Smithson. I would consider that move pretty typical, actually.

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    1. Ott almost always catches my eye. He seems to be the kind of agitating presence that I want for the Leafs.

      Yes, the coach is part of a team being ready to play. That said, I believe these guys are paid for the full 60 minutes, too. Maybe because they go to OT so much they figure that, since they don't get paid extra for that, they are kind of in a 'work to rule' mode until the game is well underway.

      Holland has caught the attention of a lot of Leaf supporters, I think. Thanks Jim. Looking forward to New Years day.

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  3. The extra point kind of strikes me as the professional equivalent of the participation ribbons that are handed out ad nauseum in the level-playing-field developmental world in which we appear to now live. Everybody wins, except for purists who await the playoffs for such things as overtime to excite the senses in a longer term reward for persevering through all the ties. Though, I guess, many of our younger friends have never really seen that in action, eh?!

    Of course, teams were out of the playoffs much sooner, so I do understand the marketability of such things. And, yes, there were anomalies in the past, like the Leafs making the playoffs with 59 points one year in the old Norris (if I remember correctly), to be balanced against expansion to 12 teams from the original 6, when the new teams battled it out in one conference and the Leafs missed the playoffs in the other with a far better record than most of the expansion teams (you probably remember the details better than I would Michael).

    If I'm being totally honest, that Norris division entry into the playoffs still excited me, and maybe that's the point... get 'em hooked while they're young and play the real game in the playoffs for the purists!

    Just a few musings after another 'uneven' experience with another novelty shootout... at which, Bernier was rather fortunate to come out with the victory... he doesn't seem as well-suited to that particular aspect of the regular season as does Reimer with his unorthodox compete level.

    During the first, I was on the same wavelength as Oliver T... actually wondered if a 3rd goal would result in a hook for Bernier... alas, we haven't got a perfect comparison for the Reimer situation... just a win... so, I'll be satisfied with that for now ;)

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    1. I, too, recall the oddity of that 59-point playoff season, InTimeFor62, though when the bar is that low, the system is broken- as it is now, at least to me. But I get that the NHL (like the NFL has for many decades) wants parity, phony excitement and gadget points to prop up interest. Oh well...

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  4. Hi Michael! I hope you enjoyed Christmas.

    I am writing while listening to SOMETHING racing around in the garage. I don't know what it is but, by the sounds of it, there's more than one of them! It's definitely not the local barn cat I feed.

    At the end of the regular season last year I worked out where the teams would be if shoot-outs were eliminated and we went back to one point for a tie game. The teams that made the playoffs and their positions were almost exactly the same- almost the same points and playoff position other than Ottawa who , with less ROW, was positioned lower and the Jets just squeaked in with a higher ROW. The shoot-out serves no purpose at all. It doesn't change a thing. It's a skills competition.

    I think you are in the majority, Michael. I have yet to see a fan young or older that I've talked to or on any site that wants to keep the shoot-out in the game. Not one! There are several, though, who support three points awarded for a regulation win or a three against three overtime. This supposed support for the shoot-out seems to be based on the fact that fans stay for it and cheer on their team. I wouldn't be headed for the door either, but it hardly means I wouldn't be happy to see it gone. I'd stay to watch a ping-pong game too if it meant the Leafs could gain an extra point for the win but that doesn't mean I want it in the game. Colleen N.

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    1. Hi Colleen,

      The three points in regulation approach (Jim also mentioned it above) would be an alternative. While I was always satisfied with ties (for me, the outcome is what it is) I get why a win being worth three points could work. (Soccer went this way many years ago, though I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that it was to make games more interesting, so there would be more goals generated and less of an incentive to go for ties. I still think it's awful that World Cup games are settled by penalty kicks...)

      Yes, I watch the shoot outs. I'm sure everyone does. I just find them wholly unsatisfactory and not part of the game I love. Thanks Colleen.

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  5. I like the shootout. I grew up watching boring soccer games before the 3-point system was introduced and was often left wanting after the game was over. I'm not crazy about the parity business though and how the NHL has managed to make things artificially close but I think that the shootout still provides a fair way for the teams to separate themselves from each other. I remember Reimer not being able to win a shootout last year and I'm watching Bernier go through the same thing this year. I wonder if Carlyle should replace Bernier with Reimer once the game goes into a shootout to maximize our chances just like he does by choosing JVR and Lupul (who's 4 for 4 this year) as shooters, but alas, there seems to be some kind of 'code' against doing that. I think that the overtime 4-on-4 favours speedy teams and the shootout favours experienced goalies and skilled shooters and that, given the situation, just like teams sometimes acquire experts at winning face-offs or PK experts they should think more seriously about fielding players that are suitable to take those extra points in overtime and shootouts.

    I do think that this game should give Leafs some momentum even though it was the worst team in the league that they beat. It was nonetheless a hot team that had some recent success (and one that we traditionally have had troubles with) and it was a come-back win. I'm really happy with Franson's game as of late and I also liked Raymond's ability to gain the zone and cause trouble for the opposition with his speed. I don't think Kessel is 100 % right now and I 'm looking forward to Bozak coming back so that Kadri (who doesn't seem ready for the 1st center role) and Holland can get some more sheltered minutes. I have a feeling it will be a while before Reimer gets another chance to play and I think it has everything to do with his reaction to being pulled and I think that's unfortunate but ok. I'm not so sure Bernier is ready to take the starter's job just yet though. We're way overdue for a regulation win and 60 minutes of good hockey from the Leafs. The next game is as good an opportunity as any - another bad team that has traditionally been giving us problems. If the captain can shut down Eric Staal and everyone else pulls their weight we win.

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    1. I can appreciate your views on the shoot-out leafdreamer...I just don't see it as a way that one team shows itself as better than the other. Entertaining, for sure. But for me, it's not hockey but I'm pretty old-fashioned in a lot of ways. I know many fans love it.

      I anticipate Bernie will play through the Winter Classic and beyond. This has been the un-spoken plan from the get-go, regardless of any supposed Reimer reaction.

      I, too, anticipate Kessel fitting in well with Bozak and Kadri emerging on a strong second line.

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  6. I'll echo everyone else here in saying that I too noticed that Carlyle stuck with Bernier in spite of his shaky performance, which never really got that much better even if he played most of the second and third without giving up anything. Also, the shootout doesn't do it for me either. My better half acutally asked me if the Leafs lost, because all she heard was the living room go quiet as I turned the TV off to go to bed. I had to explain that I simply cannot get excited about a shootout win.

    A win is a win, and I'll take it for sure. I realize there's one game left tomorrow evening, but I'm still feeling holiday festive and I frankly am more anxious to see the alumni game on New Year's Eve. Sittler, McDonald, Williams, Salming, Vaive, Palmateer (with apologies to those from the early 90s and later, these guys are the heroes from my first hockey memories and bring back a lot of nostalgia.)

    I did a little research after reading the above comments, and found that maybe the worst injustice in the standings may have been in the 69-70 season, when the expansion teams were all still in one division. The Canadiens missed the playoffs with 92 points in 76 games, while the Oakland Seals squeeked in with 58! So maybe every era has its injustices. Fair or not, there was nothing like the old Norris Division games and I still resent the NHL taking the character out of that, giving mundane geographical division names and sending the Leafs into an entirely different conference from their old rivals.

    A quick aside to answer Oliver - I think they avoid the camera view from behind the net because fans simply aren't used to it and have trouble following. My son is a goalie, and he has skated out as a forward on a couple occasions. I find it remarkable how good his vision of the ice is in spite of his lack of experience as a skater, but then, like you, he has been watching a full view of the play in front of him his entire life. I do believe that goalies see more than anyone from their vantage point.

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    1. Great post, thanks Pete. I, too, find celebrating after a shoot-out win just not the same. It's not really a well deserved victory, in my view.

      As for the '70s Leaf heroes, I sense you're not alone in that being the favourite part of the anticipation of the Winter Classic festivities.

      Re points ad standings, agreed, since expansion in '67, there shave been some obviously unfair outcomes when it comes to "division" alignment, points and making the playoffs. The current extra point give-away is just another example.

      To your last point, goalies have a perspective that others simply don't have, and most never develop. They have an ability to see the "whole" game develop and unfold. Thanks Pete.

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  7. I'll add my voice to those who dislike regular season OT and the shoot out. Like you, Michael, I think a tie is a tie. It's a peculiar notion that there HAS to be a winner, isn't it? Sometimes a tie is the just reward.
    I think a tie would've been just about right last night. Two underperforming teams missing lots of chances, being sloppy in their own zones, occasionally playing well. If the shoot-out Sabres hadn't had Hands of Kulemin, Buffalo would've won.
    I'm baffled by the Leafs lack of preparation to play. Carlyle can say it's not the coach's responsibility all he likes, but it is. His comments on Ranger yesterday - used to be an offensive Dman, but we'd like him to be more defensive - said it all for me. The coaching staff have a system that doesn't play to the strengths of our players. The SP/RH syndrome (square pegs/round holes). I feel an antagonism between coach and players that usually means a change is gonna come...

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    1. If the apparent antagonism (I have to say apparent; I don't really know) between the coach and some players is there, it's obviously an issue. Yes, it's one thing to work with a player on their weaknesses, but if we are trying to do complete make-overs on players, whether it Ranger, Jake Gardiner or anyone else, that often spells trouble.

      Players need to work on their overall game, for sure. They can't just work on the parts of the game they like or are naturally good at. But there is a happy medium and right now, it seems as though Carlyle is hitting a brick wall on a number of levels. Guys aren't ready to play (that's partly on the players, too, of course, it should be said); players are not in the best roles at times, it seems; the goaltending thing is a mess (in my view- just name Bernier the guy, we know the brass wants that, why pretend).

      There just seems to be a general void in terms of chemistry and leadership. Can it be repaired/improved upon enough to see the team rebound in the second half? Thanks Gerund.

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  8. Hi Michael,

    I'm with you on shootouts. At the risk of being laughed off the site, I'd like to see either a five minute or ten minute overtime. If at the end of overtime neither team has scored, then neither team gets a point. For a team that really needs the win and the two points, that should motivate them to open it up and try to score. Of course, it should also open up good scoring chances for their opponent. I'll be the first to admit I don't think it's an idea that's going to gain much traction.

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    1. There are likely a number of ideas floating around out there, Cameron, and all have some merit, including yours. For me, the simplest "answer" (which will never happen) is that we simply go back to what used to work just fine in the old days. If a game ends in a tie, it ends in a tie.

      Penalty shots used to be a true rarity and were therefore generally memorable. Now, we get the relative equivalent of maybe a dozen penalty shots on any given night in the NHL.

      At some point the current system will be tweaked, but it will only get worse- something like three-on-three-hockey. Oh well. Thanks Cameron.

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  9. Shortly after recovering from the shock of realizing I spent my Saturday night watching a Raptors game (which ultimately meant I had one of my more enjoyable Saturday nights in the last few months) I came on here to read the new comments and feel compelled to jump into the shoot-out debate.

    To preface my comments, I'm in complete agreement with Michael that a tie is a tie and that should be it. But since that doesn't seem to be a realistic option, my secondary preference would be an indefinite period of overtime, just as in the playoffs. To make this option feasible there would need to be some modification of the rules governing who is eligible to play on any given night, but that shouldn't be too difficult to get around. Imagine back to back games where the first one goes to triple OT. The second game could feature a top line of Bodie - McKegg - Biggs (please forgive my ignorance, I just picked three forwards from the Marlies, but don't watch them enough to know where they are on the depth chart).

    Of course, this would be a big problem if the Leafs were in San Jose with a game the next night and the Marlies were in St. John's. But doesn't that mean that when OT starts the Leafs better just win?

    I also initially misread Cameron's post and thought it was suggesting a tied game should result in NO points awarded to either team. I wasn't immediately repelled by that idea. I would think you would need at least a 20 minute OT period if you were going to do that, but it would be an interesting place to start a discussion.

    I think the biggest thing to take from these crazy ideas is that although they might be fun to talk about, the "a tie is a tie" approach probably makes the most sense.

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  10. Hi Michael

    I don't really mind the shootout at all. It may be a skills competition of sort but the penalty shot is also a part of the game and it is not exactly a coin flip as there is skill involved. The notion of a 20 minute overtime would in theory cause more injuries to teams. I don't think the players union would allow that.

    Wasn't it Jeremy Roenick who said a tie is like kissing your sister. Basketball and Baseball don't have ties either as the culture of North American sports fans seem to find closure in games with decisive winners and losers. The 3 point system may be the middle point and best method that allows teams to try and win in regulation. In this case we would really see the truly better teams distance themselves from the others.

    I am always a little surprised to see players like Kessl, the Sedins, who otherwise during the game are prolific goal scorers, struggle somewhat during shootouts. Even more surprised that players pull off a Sundin on Hasek and simply try blasting a slap shot during the shootout.

    This brings me to the Olympics, I think Canada will probably need to take the career shootout records of goalies into consideration when selecting the starting goalie. As the shootout always seems to play a vital part in the outcome of the games and seedings of the teams no less.

    I don't think backup goalies who have superior numbers in the shootout are thrusted into the games as they are just too cold and need to get used to their nets when they come into a game. It may be wiser to simply leave the guy who has been playing the net all night in there, thus we don't see too many goalie changes solely for the shootout.

    As for the Reimer, he has certainly improved from last year in the shootout. This may be something he has worked on and his experience is allowing him let the play come to him rather than attemping the Bernier like poke check on Crosby of all players. I'm sure Bernier will give better in due time as well.

    Lupul is money in the shootout!

    Kadri has an arsenal of moves which we saw him use in the shootout in junior, I'd like to see him given more chances by the coach. But its the old saying, you gotta earn it,

    I guess.

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    1. Thanks BlueANDwhite- good to hear your views on this one.

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