December 29, 2011
Leafs' loss unacceptable
By Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
If the Maple Leafs really are going in the right direction, which many within the organization will tell you is true, losing to the Carolina Hurricanes is proof of other things that also are happening.
There are no easy games in the National Hockey League, that’s clear. The Leafs haven’t been making much noise in the standings recently, going 4-6-3 since a successful trip that ended with a victory in Anaheim on Nov. 27.
But losing to the lowly Hurricanes on Thursday night? If you’re serious about making the playoffs, losing to Carolina on any night is inexcusable.
Considering the Leafs had a 3-1 lead midway through the third period, it’s even worse.
The easy bet is that coach Ron Wilson will face many challenges in the second half of the regular season. Not the least of which is somehow reversing the Leafs’ defensive ways.
Captain Dion Phaneuf couldn’t cover in the third period when partner Keith Aulie was trapped at the Carolina blue line, and Eric Staal scored on a breakaway. When the Hurricanes tied the game two minutes later on a goal by Zac Dalpe, none of Phaneuf, Aulie or Tyler Bozak were hard enough on the puck to clear it out of the Leafs end.
Yes, James Reimer should have stopped Staal’s shot in overtime, but it wasn’t the goalie’s fault that the game went to the extra period.
Some statistics are for losers, as the saying goes, but there’s one that should be of great concern in Toronto. The Leafs have allowed 122 goals, by far the most of any of the 16 teams in a playoff position.
Defence wins. Firewagon hockey almost never does. The Leafs have to figure that out before April.
While it might be easy to look at Nikolai Kulemin and say that his 30-goal season of 2010-11 was an aberration, he certainly is capable of producing a lot more than the four goals he has this season. Now, the Leafs hope his third-period goal will start putting an end the zero confidence Kulemin has been lugging around. That was Kulemin’s first goal that was not on a penalty shot since Oct. 22 at Montreal, the night Reimer did or didn’t suffer a concussion. Kulemin scored on a penalty shot two weeks ago versus the Buffalo Sabres. That was his lone score in a 29-game stretch ... In his pre-game interview, Wilson said his club would have to establish early a forecheck and be ready for pressure for the Hurricanes in the first 10 minutes. The Leafs didn’t on the first point and weren’t on the second, and as a result, were down 1-0 ... Defenceman Cody Franson played the puck like a hot potato on the goal by Brandon Sutter, but he’s not the only one to blame. Bozak more or less stood near the boards and watched the play unfold ... Bozak redeemed himself in the third period when he checked rookie defenceman Justin Faulk into making a mistake with the puck, one that led to the goal by Joffrey Lupul ... Overall, the Phaneuf/Aulie pairing has not been as effective as it was last season. The two were sucking wind on both Carolina goals in the third ... Nazem Kadri is adept at more than just putting the puck in the net. He’s as slick as they come when he is dishing to teammates, and he made a sweet backhand pass from behind the Carolina net to set up Tim Connolly. The latter, from 10 feet, fired the puck over the net, but the shot might have been deflected by the stick of Faulk ... If Kadri keeps scoring at this pace, with three goals in four games, or comes close to it, he won’t be going anywhere in a trade ... For the first time in 47 games, Phil Kessel did not have a shot on net. Although the Leafs’ top line scored a goal, on the whole, it was one of the worst games of the season for the trio.
From the hash marks
It has to be one of those stats that’s more coincidence than anything else, right? Including the game against the Leafs, the Hurricanes are second in the NHL with 164 power-play opportunities, two behind the Philadelphia Flyers. In the six full seasons since the most recent lockout, the Hurricanes have been first in that department four times, second once and third once ... The patience of Leafs general manager Brian Burke should be lauded given the injuries the Leafs have on the blue line to John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek. When Franson was a healthy scratch for long stretches, Burke was getting calls for the defenceman, but refused to trade him. Depth is key, and Burke spent too long trying to build it to just start chopping at it again. Had Burke dealt Franson, presumably for a forward, Korbinian Holzer and someone else from the Marlies would be in the lineup ... If Philippe Dupuis is not worried about the physical, gritty approach that Darryl Boyce brings, he should be. Dupuis, who is injured, does not have that in his game. And he has had little else for Toronto this season ... Boyce got in the face of Carolina goalie Cam Ward at least three times, which drew angry Hurricanes to the area. The Leafs have not had enough of that sandpaper in 2011-12.