Same old familiar traps

KEN FIDLIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

There are nights, and this was one of them, when the so-called new NHL bears a startling resemblance to the one we hoped we'd left behind.

The art of coaching being what it is, you had to expect that the serious students of the game would soon enough find a way to turn the express lane into a donkey path, slowing the frenetic pace to a crawl, all in the name of protecting talent-deprived lineups.

The Boston Bruins, with a lineup that doesn't score much, are particularly good at turning centre ice into slush.

In the first post-lockout season, back in 2005-06, with rule changes and obstruction enforcement freshly in place, goalscoring skyrocketed to 6.16 per game.

Last year, with one season of trial and error under their belts, coaches got that number down to 5.89 goals per game. So far this year, and yes, it's early, with only about 25% of the games in the books, but the number of goals per game has drifted lower yet again. To this point, teams are scoring at a pace of 5.59 per game.

Although a few more infractions may have crept back into the games, the stifling of offence doesn't seem to have much to do with enforcement. The new standard seems to be well entrenched. But, rather than try to match each other with speed and finesse and offensive creativity, coaches have gone to the tried and true trapping system that makes it look like players are skating in sand.

It should be pointed out that the Leafs, in general, can hardly be blamed for a shortage of goals because they've been more than generous this year by allowing more, by far, than any other team in the NHL.

After playing the better part of five shutout periods of hockey, the Leafs' fatal flaw awoke just in time to bite them on the behind again last night. Trailing 2-0, Boston scored four unanswered goals in the game's last 21 minutes and the Leafs, so giddy after beating Ottawa, are left once again to contemplate their sorry state of affairs.

The Leafs were booed off the ice at the end of this collapse. Normally, a long stretch of road games is not an inviting prospect for any team but you have to think that, right now, the Leafs can't wait to get out of town. Eleven of their next 16 games are on the road, starting Friday in Dallas and that may be just what they need because they certainly don't seem to be able to withstand the pressure of playing at the Air Canada Centre.

To add a measure of insult to the injury, Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, who was traded to the Bruins for Andrew Raycroft, backstopped the win and was especially brilliant in the third period when the Leafs and Vesa Toskala were wilting like last week's lettuce.

Rask stopped all but two of 32 shots, including 10 in the third period and was as cool as he could be all night long, showing virtually no nervousness in his first start, especially in a game against his old employers.

As embarrassing as that may be to general manager John Ferguson and his advisors, it is but a footnote on the tale what ails the Leafs these days. With so much money committed to a defensive corps that cannot stop The Little Sisters of the Poor, the big picture just seems to get worse as time goes on.

Then again, it isn't just the defencemen and goaltenders who are supposed to be committed to defence, especially in the third period of a tight game.

The lousy defence is a contagion that has infected the entire team.

Yes, Pavel Kubina is out and Chad Kilger had to sit out last night with an injury suffered in practice, but for the most part the team is intact. The injury excuse that was ready-made in the first month of the season is not so easily accepted any more.

There is every reason to believe this team just isn't good enough. The difference between sixth place and 13th in the Eastern Conference is going to be almost imperceptable. It could be a matter five or six points when all is said and done. Right now, the Leafs don't look like one of the lead horses in that race.


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