December 14, 2011
Leafs really need to work on special teams
By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - It was one of those good news, bad news games for Leafs fans.
The good news, of course, was that the Leafs snapped a two-game, home-ice losing streak with a 2-1 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Also, goaltender James Reimer managed to record a win after going winless in his first three games since returning on Dec. 3 from an upper body injury.
The bad news: The Leafs special teams continue to struggle. Their power play went 0-for-3 against the ’Canes and is now 1-for-15 in the last five games. As for the penalty kill, Carolina’s Alexei Ponikarovsky scored a power-play goal with less than two minutes left in the third to force overtime. The Leafs killed off only two of the Hurricanes’ three power plays.
If the Leafs, the second-youngest team in the NHL, want to remain in the playoff hunt, eventually they’re going to have to turn their special teams around.
WILSON SICK OF DEBATE
Reimer’s win will likely alleviate some of the angst in Leafs Nation about whether coach Ron Wilson should give the team’s backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson more playing time. In typical Toronto fashion, there seemed to be a panic over Reimer’s mediocre play since returning from his injury, and there was plenty of debate as to whether Wilson should start Gustavsson.
Just a few short weeks ago, when Reimer was still injured, there was a hue and cry for the Leafs to start Ben Scrivens over Gustavsson, after the Monster recorded a couple of shaky starts.
Leafs Nation has to chill. Reimer is the No. 1 and Gustavsson is the No. 2 and that’s how Wilson will play it out (unless injuries get in the way). You can tell Wilson is getting tired of the goaltending debate.
When asked following Tuesday’s win if he thought Reimer was feeling any extra pressure because of his winless streak, Wilson said: “Geez, if we’re feeling pressure (early) in December, we’re in a lot of trouble. There’s no pressure, or anything like that. We’ve had two great days of practice, a very professional approach to the game tonight. You wouldn’t know that we were one of the youngest teams in the league, how poised we were right through the whole game.”
D-MEN WERE D-MEN
The Leafs defence played one of their better games in front of Reimer. Luke Schenn had another one of his solid, quiet games, recording five hits with two blocked shots and was a plus one in 20:27 minutes of action. Dion Phaneuf also had five hits and five shots. Rookie Jake Gardiner, meanwhile, recorded the most minutes of any Leaf with 24:14, though he did look a little shaky at times and wasn’t tough enough tying up Ponikarovsky, when the former Leaf scored his seventh goal of the season.
Up until late in the third period, Tuesday’s game was one of the duller affairs played at the ACC this season. Hell, until Tim Connolly scored at 15:46 of the third, the most exciting part of the night was Andy Frost flogging tuna on the scoreboard ... Former Toronto Sun circulation guy John McDermott, wearing a suit made out of carpet samples, sang the national anthems. (The carpet crack is courtesy of Wiarton Willie fan Terry Koshan) ... Leafs GM Brian Burke, aka Big Burkie, tweeted that he MC’d Richard Peddie’s retirement party on Monday with Raptors boss Bryan Colangelo. No mention of Lil’ Burkie being there ... The early pre-game music at the ACC, from Sirius Satellite Radio, sounded like something played at a 1980’s Berlin disco, not a hockey arena. I was waiting for Dieter and his monkey to show up ... Four Hurricanes, Ponikarovsky, Tim Brent, Jiri Tlusty and Jay Harrison, once played for the Leafs, as well as head coach Kirk Muller. Harrison didn’t dress Tuesday night, though.