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Leafs win on the Island, but are you concerned with our defensive play in recent games?

Hey, let’s be honest:  it’s nice to be able to nitpick about the Leafs after another win, eh?  I mean, it’s almost no fun talking about these guys anymore.  Over the past nine years, we’ve been able to complain about bad trades, signings that didn’t pan out, questionable coaching, guys we couldn't sign, poor goaltending, wonky defensive play, a lack of team toughness, not having enough ‘top-six’ forwards, etc.. 

It’s a long list so I’ll stop there.

But now the team is winning and we’re saying the same thing just about every night.  We're getting pretty good goaltending (very good some nights) and seeing a strong work ethic, some tough checking, and enough offense to win games—especially from someone named Kadri.

What can we complain about, really?

Before I get to that, I’m not going to go on at length about Kadri.  Most of you no doubt saw the Islander game.  You know what Kadri did.  That was a virtuoso performance by the young center.  He could have had even more points, based on his playmaking that was on display as well on the Island.  (I will only say this as a modest qualifier—while I like just about everything about Kadri’s game, that Islander team sure does a lot of stick-checking.  Lazy play was in evidence on the Phaneuf OT winner and on a couple of the Kadri markers.  Yes, Kadri is a shifty guy, but he was treated like Gordie Howe by the Islanders.  They were backing off all night.  If our guys checked like that, we’d want to send every one of those “soft” players out of town tomorrow.  But good for Kadri…)

Kudos to Colton Orr.  He was a presence on the van Riemsdyk goal, parked as he was around the net- a familiar spot for him this season. Phaneuf scored the aforementioned winner, after one of his "off" efforts the night before.  (We wouldn’t have been happy losing back-to-back games going into the short break in this hectic schedule—and if it weren’t for a goalpost, we would have dropped this one in overtime before the Phaneuf winner.).  Kostka continues to play significant minutes and I would argue that he is far from hurting us.  I’ve liked him all season, as I’ve said here before.  Fraser did err on the tying goal in the third period and finished a minus 1 on the night, but that has been a rare occurrence for the ever-steady and previously unheralded rearguard.

If someone had said we would have a record of 13 wins and 9 losses at this point, would you have been happy?  I think so.   (Yes, I’ll miss a Saturday night game this weekend, but these guys need a break…)

My question of the day however is this:  we can all agree there are plenty of nice signs, but do you have any legitimate concerns, despite the optimism that we all feel after this heady start (almost at the half-way point of this shortened season—amazing to think) to the new season?

To get you pondering, here are a couple of areas that might be worthy of discussion:
  1. What about the goals we have given up the last couple of games?  For a team that prides itself on shutting down the opposition and playing it close to the vest every night, we have allowed 8 goals (excluding an empty-netter) against middlish opposition the last two games.  (The Habs are not, in my mind, an elite team.) 
  2. Not to pick on Kessel, but he was minus 2 on Thursday night…what’s that, minus 6 in the last two games? Is it just Phil being Phil, or are a few guys dealing with a bit of a malaise lately?
  3. Even if we set aside the last two games, there have been some other recent games where we haven’t exactly been sharp defensively.  Are you seeing what I’m seeing?
  4. Are you OK with Grabovski this season? 
  5. Are you still good with Reimer and Scrivens as a tandem to get us to the playoffs?  (Remember, finishing 9th does nothing for us—that doesn’t give our young players playoff experience, or net us a high draft pick…)
  6. If you have any concerns, will they leave once Frattin and Lupul return?
  7. Do you want to see Gardiner back?
  8. Are you satisfied with the roster as is, or do you need to see a trade to recalibrate the roster a bit?
  9. Finally, some are expressing discontent with Carlyle’s lines and how and when he is deploying his manpower.  Any concerns about what the coach is doing?
  10. Do you see this team improving as the season moves along?
I gotta say, I don’t see much to argue about, but I’m open to hearing that there is an iceberg out there that I’m not seeing.  Let me know.


  1. I missed tonight's game and only caught the highlights, but Reimer was definitely not his former self on most of those goals. A good warmup, perhaps, before the 3 day break after which we will all be expecting better from him.

  2. Agreed, Sean I would have been shocked if Reimer was his "old self" after a fairly lengthy layoff. If he returns to his form from earlier this season, that would be awfully nice...

  3. Kadri has been very consistent this year - I don't think there was more than 2-3 games in which he didn't contribute this year. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of this kind of wizardry from him. He is thinking and moving and stickhandling at a very fast pace. He looks like a star. My question to you is do you think Kadri has it in him to become a player of Crosby's or Ovechkin's or Stamkos's caliber?

    Colton Orr is a hockey player - he is hitting, he is screening the goalies, he is assisting and scoring.

    Gunnarson had one and a half bad games since he got back into the line-up. Kostka made a few mistakes in the early going. Holtzer hasn't looked great in a few recent games. Fraser could be blamed for two goals tonight but he also assisted on two. Phaneuf has been nothing short of amazing this year – shutting down stars, carrying rookies on his shoulders, contributing points and resolving the game tonight. We also shouldn't underestimate the value of two pretty solid veterans in the press-box. Komisarek played very well in the few games he dressed for. I don’t think he’ll be sent back to the press-box again if he gets a chance to play. Gardiner needs to continue to play in the Marlies and wait for when he's needed on the Leafs. He's going through a similar experience that Kadri went through last year and if Gardiner comes out, when and if he gets a chance, with improved results like Kadri did I will be very happy. I miss him but I'm ok with Carlyle's decision to let the others play right now. We've always known that the Leafs have depth on defense – I’m becoming convinced that the main reason our defence sucked for the past few seasons is simply that Wilson had no interest in that side of the game. A defensive system goes a long way. There are three good NHL defensemen ready to fill in. And another two (Ranger and Reilly) coming up next year or even this year if absolutely necessary. We may well need them. Right now we don't and that's great.

    Kessel is having a mini-slump but he's still shooting and making plays that will result in goals again. He has showed more defensive acumen so far this season than ever before but he remains an offence-first guy. He's young too. He is still improving. Hopefully, the emergence of Kadri encourages him to get even better at both ends of the ice. His wrister is unparalleled in the league today. He is a great hockey player. He will be back on way or another. He always ‘surprises’ me.

  4. If Reimer takes another year to come back from the injury we may have to let him play elsewhere. Gustavsson just won a shootout in his first full game in Detroit. Good for him. Nabokov is not a bad goalie. Perhaps Tim Thomas could be enticed to come out of retirement for a chance at another ring in the Hockey Mecca? Probably not. But Scrivens looks like a pretty decent goalie. I really hope Reimer bounces back. I picked Reimer to be the player that surprised me the most this year, not because he'd been the best Leaf of all the players you offered us in the poll but because he exceeded my expectations the most. I really didn't think he was that good. I was ready to write him off like Gustavsson and I would have made the trade for Luongo. I probably still would but for that to happen one of our two goalies would need to play himself out of position. I really hope Reimer is not playing hurt like he did last season. If he is, the failure will be on him because nobody is pushing him onto the ice. He is telling Carlyle that he is ready to play. Perhaps he needs to sit out another week or two? Scrivens is stopping pucks right now. So far so good. I wouldn’t put money on Reimer and Scrivens getting us into playoffs but I do have more faith in them then I did at any point before.

    We tend to forget that this team was coached by Wilson for four years. I would suggest that what we are seeing from Kadri and the boys right now may have something to do with that. Ron Wilson, for all his faults, was good at encouraging players to use their speed and make fancy plays and the Leafs offence was quite extraordinary at times under his tenure. Carlyle makes mistakes but for the most part I'm happy with his game. I'm really happy that he's refusing to give in to the Wilsonian doctrine (that has taken a hold of many Leafs bloggers and fans) of getting rid of tough guys and downplaying the physical aspects of the game. Players seem to listen to him and respect him. “He talks to the guys” – Nazem Kadri. They are parroting his words in the pre- and post-game interviews. They want to win for him. If we assume that he has minimal coaching skills and is not a complete moron (and he is definitely not that) we really don’t have a reason to complain.

    I think Frattin and Kadri have a really good thing going and I do expect improvement when Frattin returns. I haven't seen Lupul in a while. He wasn't great in the first few games this season before he got hurt. I don't know what to expect.

  5. Grabovski is great - he hits and shoots and skates and scores... just a powerhouse he is. I think this team really knows that the individual stats are not as important as wins and I think Grabovski is happy with his performance and rightly so because he is acing his assignments for Carlyle - shutting down top lines while at the same time contributing offensively. The same goes for Kulemin.

    We're gonna need Ryan Getzlaf to win the Cup this year. Next year, and after a decent play-off run, Bozak may be sufficient.

    I am seeing the improvement in the Leafs team as the season unfolds - they are confident and they are all on the same page - they are becoming comfortable in their roles and becoming better players. The team has depth on both offence and defense. I really don't see this team falling apart at any point in the foreseeable future.

    I agree with you that the Habs are not an elite team. The numbers are proving us wrong night after night though and as each game is entered in to the books I am starting to doubt my assessment more and more. Perhaps they do have something? I always felt that they had an extra gear because of the tradition and the fans that live and breathe hockey and refuse to accept mediocrity. They have that extra something that the Leafs have the potential to have but don't - a winning tradition. The Habs aim for the Cup. The Leafs aim for the play-offs and dare not speak of the Cup. That counts for something. We can definitely beat them this year and if they continue to play the way they do and we squeeze into the playoff spot I will be looking forward to the Leafs bringing out the hope and confidence - the hype that is needed to win the Cup.

  6. Some thoughtful comments today, leafdreamer. I won't respond to each of the points, simply say that you cover some important ground. I especially noted your comments about Reimer. You're seeing the glass as pretty darn full. Good stuff. Thanks for chiming in.

  7. @Leafdreamer
    Kadri wont become a Stamkos/Crosby type. If he was producing like this at 18 I would be tempted to agree however. If he were to become a more defensively responsible version of MIke Ribeiro I don't think anyone would be too disappointed though.

  8. Michael,

    I guess that you won't be surprised to hear from me today. Asking questions like this seem tailor made to get me in trouble with the ever positive, ever hopeful fans of this team. Thank you for the chance to air some grievances, it is long past the season of Festivus, but I will do my best. Here goes, later on if asked I will perform some feats of strength, preferably to the dismay of fans of the Montreal Smurfs. I agree with you Montreal is a very mediocre hockey team, one I would love to see Toronto play in the playoffs.

    Would you agree that the only elite team in the East currently is the Boston Bruins? There are a couple of good teams, Pittsburgh among them. But only one truly elite team. There are also only a few terrible teams, then there is everyone else, the Leafs included.

    Phil Kessel, it is time to move on and trade him for something approaching a fair return. I am afraid that that ship has passed and other teams would be unwilling to make a splash and acquire him. Almost as unwilling as Kessel is to win a battle along the boards and get the puck out of his own end. There is a lot of Phils' game that I like, and more that I don't. When he has the puck I like him, when he doesn't I don't. He makes zero contribution to the team when he isn't in possession of the disk. Zero. I would happily take a first round pick for him. He scores a lot of goals, yet is a shocking minus 34 for his career. I keep waiting for him to figure it out. Feels like I am trapped with the folks on Gilligans Island. No rescue for Leaf fans here.

    Even though I like what Gardiner brings to the team. I am not so sure there is room for him to play in Toronto right now, barring a huge trade. They are in a playoff spot, would a five or six person trade to get enough guys out of town be a good idea? I think that trades are the answer when Frattin and Lupul come back. I would love to see MacArthur shipped out, as long as Kessel goes first. I want the Leafs to build for the future, my future doesn't include Clarke and Phil.

    The tight defensive system we were all clucking about how great it is a few games ago seems to be leaving the team as fast as Phil skates when he has the puck. He is surprisingly slow when he is backchecking. Must be my TV, he must be able to go the same speed regardless, correct? Something seems missing when we give up eight goals in two games and come out of them with a win, and talking about how good Scrivens was. Montreal and NYI are not good teams, eight goals against, is embarrassing. The same Montreal team that we dominated like they were children two weeks ago.

    I have seen enough of Reimer to believe that he will correct the goals he is letting in high glove. He was criticized for this early in his career, it went away. I am sure he will remedy the situation. I am currently happy with our goalies. Really happy, actually. We may get to the playoffs, we may not. I would say not, but not by a lot. The East is full of mediocre to bad hockey teams. The Leafs are one of them.

    The return of Frattin and Lupul will help. It will presumably take them some time to get back into top form. I would also like Nonis to improve the team via the trade route. Move out some of the extra pieces and the dead weight that the team is carrying. Bozak would be so much more valuable if he had a winger who could do any thing other than play offense. He is a one man gang on defense for his linemates, and they should be embarrassed.

  9. Judgement on Carlye's lines and use of manpower will be reserved until Lupol and Frattin are back. Keep in mind one was the team's #2 scorer this year prior to injury, the other #2 last year. If we are still seeing Orr, MacLaren and Brown all dressing with Lupol and Frattin back it will be head scratching time.

    On the goals against side we weren't going to go the full season with a 2.15 GAA and .935% save %, now were we. The defensive style and especially the puck movement out of our own end is rather predictable and we don't have enough skill with our rearguard to get by with a predictable, rote approach regardless of how sensible it is.

    This is why I think getting Jake in the line up will help. He opens up ice in all three zones. With Jake out we do not have a single rearguard whose skating and puck rushing puts the opposition on their heels. Gardiner isn't the typical Carlye big guy who crushes people defender but the team is in need of complimentary skills back there , we are much too predictable otherwise.

  10. 1.What about the goals we have given up the last couple of games?

    I think of the old saying: "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." Was that 9 games in 12 days? They will play better defense after a rest. Montreal is better than you are giving them credit fo and they were supremely motivated.

    2. Not to pick on Kessel...

    Yes, I think he could be playing better.

    4. Are you OK with Grabovski this season?

    Yes, MacArthur or JVR should be playing on Grabo’s line. Too much McClement hurts the line’s offensive production.

    5. Are you still good with Reimer and Scrivens as a tandem to get us to the playoffs?

    Yes, as long as Reimer regains his form from earlier in the season.

    6. If you have any concerns, will they leave once Frattin and Lupul return?

    Yes, the lines will look so much better:
    Lupul Bozak Kessel
    JVR Grabo Kulemin
    Komorov Kadri Frattin
    Orr McClement McClaren

    7. Do you want to see Gardiner back?

    If it mean s we got good trade value for Liles…yes.

    8. Are you satisfied with the roster as is, or do you need to see a trade to recalibrate the roster a bit?

    I would like another defensive specialist like McClement for the playoffs and when we play non-fighting teams. Brown and Steckel aren’t good enough. We should be able to get better players.

    9. Finally, some are expressing discontent with Carlyle’s lines and how and when he is deploying his manpower. Any concerns about what the coach is doing?

    Not really, I would be nit picking.

    10 .Do you see this team improving as the season moves along?

    Yes, I think Kadri is going to bloom into a star and make other players raise their game (Kessel?) I think the whole team will up their compete level as they watch and play with Kadri.

  11. 1. For some reason in the past 2 games perhaps even including the Ottawa game. The team looked very tired bordering on laziness with the exception of several players. As a result, the goals given up appears to be the lack of concentration due to being tired or whatever the reason and this is very concerning. The Leafs were lucky to get out from last night's game with a point let alone two. You can almost sense the Leafs were relieved to get into OT in the last minutes. Had they played a top tier team last night, the game would not gone into OT and would have been in the home team's favor.

    This is very concerning. Defensive lapses along with iffy goaltending at times (In the last 3, goals that the goalie "would want that back" were frequent - often more than once per game). Last night was no exception and it is exasperated by the overall game by the majority of players.

    2. Phil has looked terrible after the Ottawa game. He seem to be very frustrated after the non call for tripping. He seemed determined before that play then it appeared the frustration got better of him. There seems to be no fire at all now. The half hazard clearing passes has created many turnovers. His +/- is pretty indicative of the last 2 games play. I think it started after missing the empty net the game before the Ottawa game. What's more troubling is his reaction last night after being high sticked. Didn't even say a word, didn't bother to complain. He looked defeated and seemed to resign - very bad sign as it looks like it's in his head now. Hopefully, the return of Lupul will give him motivation to see the light. Too much talent here to sulk.

    3. I absolutely in agreement with you in the lack of defensive sharpness. They are not executing the little defensive plays - being at the right spot for break out, puck control and losing battles everywhere. With the exception of Kadri, McClement and Kulimin, practically everyone is missing defensive assignments. Compound that with approximately 55-45 in wining draws on a good night in the defensive zone, you got yourself on the defensive 70-80% of the time which won't allow you to attack effectively because you will never have the right personnel to do so. Spending half the time defending resulting in a) mixed lines b) exhaustion = minimal attack times.

    4. I am fine with Gabbo's play although he sometimes disappears. Maybe Carlyle per policy, should punch him in the face before warm up...;)

    5. I am actually okay with the two goalies and very confident that they will get the Leafs into the show although, with Luongo, it's guaranteed. Carlyle's system play is the key here as the talent is present. What I'd like to see is a little more mental toughness along with fine tuning in their styles to have steady, predictable and most importantly reliable goaltending. Reimer is still not comfortable and his glove hand is still very weak. If he's not on his game, he tends to go down a little too early and his high glove side is open. The fact that he play a little further in doesn't help. Additionally he does not track the puck as well as Scrivens and still rely on the Allaire's positional percentage low stance play. Scrivens on the other hand has fewer weaknesses still plays too aggressive at times and in doing so tends to overplay. His aggressiveness also result in his needs to see a lot of pucks to stay sharp. If he doesn't, he tends to let in a soft one here or there because he's not IN the game - strictly mental issue there. - He needs to be calmer but I like him more than Reimer's.

  12. Continued

    6. I hope so the return of these two players will be positive. I think Lupul's return is the key. I think he is the actual truer leader of the Team than Phaneuf. Side note: I don't think a lot of people on the team respect Phaneuf. The little things you noticed. You rarely see he comes to the aid of others nor do you see other comes to his. A game a while back, he spent the time complaining to the ref while right beside him a teammate is in a compromised position in a tussle with the opposition player. I did nothing. Little things like this people pick up on and very un-leader like. One of Burke's mistakes and obvious early season comment by Nonis that he'd like to bring someone in to assist Phaneuf is indicative of the known issue. There are others I see that has potential leaderships skills as well but because they are new to the team or their roles are considered to have less lustre (for some reason Kotsa and McClement really stands out in my book), they are overlooked.

    Frattin is Frattin. I've always liked him. As I said in the past, he reminds me of Skinner. The concern is more systematic than a couple of players but their return will definitely help. If anything, it will inject more energy into the team.

    7. Gardiner is very valued and I like to see him replace Hotzer or Gunnerson for now. I don't think Gardiner is any physically better but he plays a much smarter game that allows the team to spend much less time in the defensive zone all due to his passing and skating ability. The issue is more than play here though as there are much more issue at stake - Waiver, trades, NMC, etc.

    8. I see a trade needed and like to see one. I see this is a middle of the pack team that if they play to the peak can have some success. They are not elite enough to have even some of the players take the arbitrary night off. We have too much assets coming into it's own (Defense) not to utilize it to increase the competitiveness of the team.

    9. I don't really have much concerns with Carlyle's personnel decisions as I would be remiss to think my choices are any better. I was saying to myself the other day why was he playing the Kessel line so much then after checking the box score, the had the lowest ice time in a long time. That threw my criticism of him out the window. My only gripe though is the over utilization of Phaneuf and Kotsa. The reliance on Phaneuf is particular troubling in a sense that Carlyle is not comfortable enough with the other players.

    10. We see an improvement now not necessarily reflective in the record by comparison to last year's but i the plays themselves. I've never liked Wilson run and gun no structure style. In the long run, structure will consistently win games and in particularly tight ones.

    Sorry for the long post

  13. I am looking forward to Frattin and Lupul returning.
    If Kadri can continue his development then at some point I would like to see the following lines:


    Perhaps having Kadri and Lupul with Kessel will inspire more consistent effort from Kessel.
    Same with Grabovski and Frattin with JVR.
    Having both JVR and Kessel on the same line can be pretty dangerous when both of them have low tanks.

    For the bottom 2 lines there are many combinations.
    I do think that as we get closer and into the playoffs, the need to dress multiple enforcers diminishes.
    Also you would think you could roll all 4 lines.

  14. Sorry for the delayed responses today-

    Matt, the Ribiero comparison for Kadri is an intriguing one. I actually see parallels there, now that you mention it...

  15. Jim, I'll leave your strong comments stand as they are!

  16. The Gardiner question will be a key decision before long, Bmaximus. He would, as you say, add an important dimension to our game.

  17. I appreciate your responses, DP> Thoughtful answers all the way along. Your line configurations are interesting, by the way. Let's see if that's what evolves...

  18. I don't mind a long post at all, Lukas. I enjoyed your perspective. Frattin/Skinner is fair. (Your comments regarding Phaneuf and leadership are particularly noteworthy...I've shared some of my own thoughts in this regard here in the past...). Solid stuff- thanks Lukas.

  19. I think your point about JVR and Kessel on the same line is a good one, apollo678. Not that they aren't dangerous together, but there are defensive questions, yes. (I know there can be with Lupul, too...) Hopefully we have the quality to utilize all our lines at playoff time.