Custom Search

Leaf (almost) no-name blueline showing some sandpaper, a bit like ’93; pending NHL coaching changes?

One of the positive signs early this season has been the physical play of the Maple Leaf defense corps.  Despite the loss in Boston, the Leafs have seen only game really get out of hand (in Philadelphia) and other than that game, they have kept goals against down.

In my mind they are not a star-studded backline but a solid group of backliners who are a nice mix of young/emerging and pretty experienced defenders.

The are a bit of a no-name defense, though I realize Phaneuf has a marquee name, as a former end of season All-Star one year with the Flames.  But Phaneuf is not a superstar.  If he was, I doubt Sutter would have moved him for what he got in return. But he is a rugged player, intense, and brings some good qualities to the Toronto blueline.  He has been taking a few too many chances of late, but long-term he should be a solid all-around defender.  (Whether he is a good leader is a separate issue and won’t be revealed for quite some time.)

What I like about this group of seven defensemen is they remind me a bit of the group Cliff Fletcher brought together to play for Pat Burns in 1993 and ’94. None of Ellett, Macoun, Gill, Rouse, Lefebvre and Mironov were considered elite “D” men, but together, they were responsible, smart, tidy in their own end and tough to play against.  They could all play physically, particularly Macoun and Rouse, but everyone could clear the front of the net.

The defense group was a huge part of the Leaf success as they made it to the semi-finals two years in a row.

I’m not suggesting this Leaf team is headed in that direction (though, as I’ve mentioned a few times lately, this Eastern Conference is flat out not a strong group of teams).  They have too many spots to fill on the forward lines.  But in terms of the defensemen, I like the physical dimension this group brings most nights.

Schenn doesn’t run around looking to make wild hits, but he can take a guy out along the boards very well and eliminate that guy from the play.  He is on his way to slowly but surely becoming an imposing physical presence.   Beauchemin is not a big guy but isn’t afraid to take the body.  Komisarek did not start the season on fire, but is still a physical defender and is a +2 on the season.


In a post late last season, I suggested Kessel would break out against the Bruins this season.  Last year, he was either snake bit or largely ineffective against the Bruins, especially in Boston.  These games are personal for Kessel, and he had a number of chances Thursday night but nothing went in for him.  He also set up some plays that could have been goals, no question.

Chara is part of his challenge, but once he nets one, more goals will follow against the Bruins.

Kulemin had a couple of opportunities to make a play on the second Bruin goal.  In fairness, it was a scrambly situation and the Leafs were a step (Bozak next to the goal scorer)—or a better bounce—away from getting the puck out before Seguin scored.

Don’t know precisely why, but again against the Bruins, a lot of Maple Leaf shots were blocked by the Bruins.  That’s at least three games in the last four that they have struggled to gets puck on the net—much less in it.

Tim Thomas is (once again) the new Dominik Hasek in goal.  He does anything to stop the puck.  Thomas struggled last season, and the Bruins couldn’t give him away during the pre-season to shed salary, but he may be their most important player right now, along with Chara.  That’s how quickly things can change in a goalie’s life.

On the night Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch, I asked the question:  Will head coach John MacLean be blamed for the Devils inconsistent start?  He just may.  Lamoriello is not terribly patient—we need only check his history and timing when canning coaches.  (His “firing” record displays that, compared with what the similarly successful Red Wings have done in the same period of time with their coaches.  We could ask Ftorek, Constantine, Julien and others about that.) He just may take the job over himself, again.  That way he could deal “directly” with Kovalchuk. 

Maclean was a tremendous player with Jersey for a long time and a solid organization man for years, as well.  A couple of victories could change everything, of course, but a new building and not enough wins—or fans—and something may have to give.    

My guess is Dale Tallon will also want to bring in his own guy in Florida.  Peter DeBoer was a highly successful Junior coach, but the Panthers, despite a roster overhaul, still play like the Panthers.  And they’re boring, too.

Everyone else is safe at this point.  Ottawa may well get things turned around and Melnyk doesn’t want to make any moves.  And it would be shocking to see Lindy Ruff moved in Buffalo.  He’s been there forever.  But they do need to play better, soon.



No comments:

Post a Comment