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Can David Clarkson find his rhythm in Toronto?

Certain things aren’t a shock anymore: the Leafs being outshot and out-chanced, for example.  But more often than not this season, despite lopsided “numbers”, the good guys have managed to win their share of games and hang tough in the Eastern Conference standings.  Every time despair sets in and Leaf supporters begin to throw in the towel, the team rebounds with a spurt that can’t be ignored—or simply attributed to overwhelming good fortune.

Tuesday night’s contest in Sunrise (or wherever it is the ill-located Florida franchise is situated) was an extension of the season so far: the Leafs were on the losing end of the shot clock, but with ten minutes to go in the third period, they had their skating legs and the momentum after David Clarkson scored to get the Leafs within a goal. A win was in sight—again.

The Leafs were all over the Panthers, who time and again struggled just to get the puck past their own blueline. Part of it was Toronto’s persistent forechecking pressure; some of it was a Florida squad that just isn’t very good at defensive zone play or isn't used to making plays under pressure when the game is on the line.

The Panthers are a team comprised of a few potential stud youngsters (Bjugstad, Barkov, Gudbranson) and a host of name players who may be past their prime, like Upshall, Campbell, Goc, Jovanosvski, et al but who are still capable NHLers.  That said, despite not having to face many shots, I thought Tim Thomas, the old Leaf-killer, was instrumental in ensuring the Leafs did not complete their comeback.

The one goal the blue and white did get came when Nazem Kadri intercepted a poor clearing attempt by the Panthers, and he then make a nifty little pass to Clarkson who beat Thomas, who had come out to challenge the Toronto winger.

The Leafs came close after that, but the one goal Bernier (who was sharp all night) might want back was the third Florida marker.  Matthias made a terrible clearing attempt inside his own blueline but somehow managed to get the puck back from Franson.  He raced in alone and beat the Leaf netminder on the short side, which for all intent and purposes ended the Leafs’ night.

To me, it looked the Leafs were indeed going to come back in this one, especially after a potential third Florida goal was shown not to have crossed the goal line on review when it was 2-0 early in the third period. The Leafs had lots of jump in the third, but on this night, a win was not in the offing.

**

I don’t want to make a big deal out of one goal, but in a season of ups and downs for new Leaf winger David Clarkson, you can’t help but wonder if, despite the loss, that marker might just kickstart his season again.

Between injuries, a suspension and seemingly never quite fitting comfortably into the Leaf lineup just yet, the ex-Devil with the much-discussed contract could be a difference-maker for a club like the Leafs come playoff time.

The Leafs, most nights at least, have plenty of offense and can really fly when given the room.  But that's not enough at playoff time. Some of us remember when players like Gary Roberts and Shayne Corson (hitting, blocking shots and chipping in on offense) were crucial springtime performers for the Buds more than a decade ago and I still believe Clarkson can provide the kind of impact Carlyle and Nonis were looking for when the Leaf signed him to a long-term deal last July. He has always (to me at least) shown signs of breaking out.  He skates, tries to finish his checks and can be a physical presence.  Yes, he needs to contribute some offense too—and I think he can.

We’ll see where he “fits” when Bolland returns.  My guess is Carlyle will move Clarkson between the second and third lines in the weeks after the Olympic break, in an effort to see where Clarkson may best become the player the Leafs need him to be.


We all know this has not been a banner season for Clarkson so far, but I think the will and determination (and effort) has generally been there.  Just like the Leafs, who looked all but lost a few weeks ago, a few goals and knowing that he is contributing to the team’s success could make Clarkson a very different player—in terms of confidence and production—in the final quarter of the season.

12 comments:

  1. Hi Michael.
    I think Clarkson will be fine. I've often thought he's just been trying too hard to do too much. He was playing well before this injury finally needed attention.
    I was a little concerned the Leafs might come up short tonight. Having Holland, Smith and Ashton still out and Jvr with the flu didn't sound good to me. I wonder if the first line is wearing down a bit. They've been carrying the team so long. It will be great to have some players back and a healthy team for a change, whenever that may be. C.N.

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    1. I think Clarkson will be fine, C.N.- as you noted, he was playing a bit more like himself before his injury.

      One game is just that- one loss.The Leafs can make up some points in their final games before the Olympic break...thanks Colleen.

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  2. I hope you're right about Clarkson. Tonight was not a good night for him, despite the goal. I'm sure it's unfair, but his arrival seems to have upset the team chemistry we had going. Don't have a clue if this is true, but it looked like it.
    Having said that, we also saw why this year's team isn't a lock for anything. Having a golden chance to really get close to Tampa ands feed on one of the league's weaker teams, they served up a stinker - probably the worst game this year. And that's saying something!
    I kept looking for the on-ice leadership that wouldn't tolerate such a lacklustre effort - something we've been looking for all year - and it wasn't there. I'm not surprised Bernier declined to speak with the media after the game. What can he say that he hasn't said before about being left to fend for himself for much of the game?
    We have a maddeningly frustrating team this year, which is why I'm cautious about getting all rosy-glassed about our recent win streak. No team can give up the kind of shot differential we do and realistically expect to make any significant playoff run. As I've often said this year, I'm looking foreword to seeing how they respond to this dud on Thursday.

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    1. Hi Gerund- response games, statement games...the Leafs always have something to prove, eh?

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  3. Hi Michael
    This was a stinker but we were right in it until late.in the third there thanks to some confident goaltending. As for Gerund, did Clarkson disrupt the chemistry? I don't think so, the whole team looked flat tonight. Maybe the pressure of the Dads looking over them had something to do with it. Perhaps being overconfident after beating the Panthers a few games.ago.. But the lack of powerplay chances for the Leafs, especially a potential penalty that was not called on Clarkson after the Leaf goal may have changed the outcome. Florida did score a pp goal tonight nonetheless.

    I thought we had the chances though with Phaneuf on the breakaway, JVR with the puck in his feet with an open net, Bodie missing the open corner of the net and then some. We are accustomed to seeing this team bury their chances more often this season but not so tonight.

    I think a lot of teams LA, Vancouver, Montreal, Detroit, Phoenix have all gone through games where they couldn't buy a goal. For the most part, the Leafs have not had this problem with their snipers needing only minimal chances to score. Tonight we saw how it prevented us from getting points. This is an aspect of this team compared to the other teams around the league where we can change the outcome of a game instantly with a goal. I think this is what makes us a very dangerous opponent. We have seen it throughout the season being out shot, having little puck possession, and with stellar goaltending and timely goals coming away with the win. If I am another playoff team, I wouldn't want to face the Leafs especially in the first round as goal scoring can dry up in a hurry. But luckily we have it. Timely scoring is one of our greatest strengths.

    As for Clarkson, I don't he needs to be on pace to score 30 goals on this team. Kuleman, Raymond, Holland and soon to join the lineup Bolland are all secondary scorers who need to chip in here and there. We have a strong enough top 5 forwards and some D men who can carry the load. So Clarkson has to do the other things right on this team to still be effective. Taking the body, controlling the boards, forechecking and being difficult to play against. I think Clarkson will be fine as we have seen the effort from him most nights, maybe without the results on the scoreboard as we like. Maybe as some have said perhaps he is trying too hard to do it all himself. Trying to prove the worth of his contract to the rest of us.

    At this moment I see the defence as a weakness for this club and the number of unnecessary turnovers and inability to clear pucks out, I'll advised pinches leading to odd man rushes every game almost. The addition of a play-it-safe player in Gleason has made a huge impact already. I think if we can add another similar veteran stay at home defenceman would do wonders for this club. We have too many of the Gardiner, Franson, Gunnerson type of defencemen who take untimely chances that result in poor decisions and chances against.

    I think the presence of another veteran leader especially on defencemen is instrumental in helping to develop the younger players on this team.

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    1. While any team, as you say BlueANDwhite, is subject to scoring droughts, there's no doubt the Leafs can find the net. Last night was just one of those nights.

      If Clarkson does the things you mention, he'll be fine.

      Whether the Leafs can acquire another D-man, I don't know. But Gleason's arrival has already stabilized things, it seems. One more could not hurt! Thanks BlueANDwhite.

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  4. I had my usual long winded rambling poor grammar response all ready to go. Then I read it and realized there is not a single thing in it about the Leafs or last nights game that hasn't been said ad naseum since I started enjoying this forum never mind before my time. so..onwards.

    Clarkson. I'm not sure what say here. I wasn't a massive fan of the signing due about a $1m/year overpayment and the term. The term is going to be the killer in 4-5 years on this deal. But for now, can he bring more than he has? One would have to think so. I never expected a ton of scoring as he wasn't a true scorer in NJ either. But I thought we would see more. I agree with Colleen that he is just trying to do too much instead of playing his game. I think sitting out the first 10 games really really hurt him mentally and he wanted to sooooo hard to show he belonged and was worth his contract. That hardly ever works well.

    One poster the other day mentioned he looks like he is out of control when he skates with his stick over his head in one hand swinging wildly. After that comment I watched closer and the poster nailed it. To me that is a sign of trying too hard playing totally out of control.

    He might bring something more to the table in the playoffs and the Oly break might help him regroup. Without the break I would say little chance he brings much more this season as he is not in a good spot mentally at all in my opinion. After an off season to regroup mentally and settle down so he can play his game I do expect more from him next season.

    I am willing to give him another year to show what he can bring. If a 2nd season ends up similar... well, we can tar and feather him then I guess:)

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  5. I appreciate your candour regarding your comment in the first paragraph, Pep. But if I only posted thoughts I'd never written before here, I'd rarely post, so don't worry. Lots of us repeat ourselves (and points in general) here.

    I really like your point on Clarkson, that it may take a second season for him to fully settle into a confident role here. I've seen that happen with players before, after a trade or free-agent signing. They try so hard and by Year Two, they just play like themselves, So patience will be key, though that's difficult in this market, I realize. Thanks Pep.

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  6. I often find myself making excuses in my head as I watch the Leafs lay an egg when swinging through Florida. Team must just be out of focus, too much time on the beach, sun fried their brains, thinking about golf tomorrow... But then I have to remind myself that if every team treated a road trip to Miami and Tampa this way, these two Florida teams would be perennial NHL powerhouses, which they most certainly are not. Games like this defy logic really. Well, we discussed before not getting too carried away with a hot streak, so I'll remind myself to flush this one as I hope the team does.

    Clarkson is not a rookie of course, and therefore not quite entitled to the patience and understanding that young players sometimes need. You had brought up the handling of Rielly this year and whether he belongs with the Leafs yet. As much as I agreed that he probably should have been kept back another year, they have slowly given him rope, and I don't think they are going to ruin him like so many prospects before him. The team philosophy has evolved for the better in recent years. I bring this up because in spite of his veteran status, Clarkson stepped into a hornet's nest when he inked a deal with the Leafs. In my own observation, he has tried to do too much, not so much in terms of scoring, but he has tried to fly all over the ice Eddie Shack style rather than play within a team concept. He wants to make the huge hit, force the turnover, and make the other team turn their heads every time he steps on the ice for a shift.

    Moving forward, healthy (knock on wood), suspension status cleared up (again...), I do hope the coaching staff corrals him a little bit. I'd like to see Carlyle taking him aside at practice like we've seen him do with Gardiner, slowing him down a little bit, getting back to basics, and patiently shaping him to be the player he was signed to be. I do think it can happen, it has to happen really considering the cost of signing him.

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    1. Well said, Pete. I guess it's a different kind of "patience" with a veteran player like Clarkson.

      And yes, I think we can simply flush last night's game....

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  7. My son mentioned the Clarkson-stick-over-the-head thing too, every time he circles the net. It could result in quite a few high-sticking penalties. I seldom saw him play before the signing so I don't know if this is a new thing for him or not. I didn't notice which line he was on but if it was the 2nd, that was a bad decision.
    He chirps at the refs more than the opposition so he seldom draws a penalty. They won't be called. He so wants to be the answer to every problem and is very conscious of the contract that is hanging over his head. That's something Toronto fans just won't let him forget. He showed signs of settling down so I'm still hopeful. The timing for this latest injury couldn't have been worse. He had too much time to think. He won't have that if the Leafs make the playoffs. We may yet see the true Clarkson.

    As for the game last night, the 1st line was very well covered. ( Kessel had three guys on him most of the night), The Leafs needed the 2nd and 3rd lines to step up and get involved in the game, but they didn't. They were not using each other or supporting the play as a team. It's not hard for any team to win when there is only one line to worry about. C.N.

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