Lack Of Physical Play Continues To Haunt Maple Leafs

January 15th, 2012 No Comments

The New York Rangers put a beating on the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night, outhitting the Blue and White by a final tally of 48-39, shutting down the Maple Leafs first line of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Tim Connolly, en route to a convincing 3-0 win over the Buds in Toronto.

The Maple Leafs put together a lousy 20 shots against the Rangers. To say the Blue and White were not dialed-in on this night would be an understatement as the Rangers made the Maple Leafs look like a very average team—this on a night where the Rangers dressed backup goaltender Martin Biron between the pipes.

While a better physical effort would not have guaranteed a win against the Rangers, there is every indication that until the Blue and White step up their game in the physical department that there will be a lot more nights (losses) like Saturday.

Sure, captain Dion Phaneuf still has the ability to lay an opponent out and Luke Schenn continues to be amongst the NHL leaders in hits, but when you consider the Maple Leafs overall physical play, something is amiss.

Darryl Boyce, Mike Brown and Joey Crabb do a nice job of bringing a physical edge to the Maple Leafs bottom-six, but none of them are capable of playing on the top two lines on a regular basis, which is where the Maple Leafs need an injection of testosterone, pugnacity and grit.

In the absence of Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly has been a decent addition to the Maple Leafs first line, but he sure as heck doesn’t bring a physical presence to his game and his defensive play—thought to be a strength by many—has been less than stellar of late.

Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur have done a decent job giving the Blue and White some secondary scoring, but they too struggle with the physical side of the game at times, but they are not the intimidating type.

Don’t get me wrong, Grabo, Mac and Kules all compete hard for the puck and win more than their fair share of battles along the boards, but none of them can dominate their opponent in the physical department.

When you consider the Maple Leafs offense is currently ranked seventh overall it is hard to throw the players under the bus. That said, the Maple Leafs poor results against some of the NHL’s more physical teams (Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers) where the Maple Leafs are a combined 1-7 on the season, is reason for concern.

With the first half of the 2011-12 season officially in the books, the second half is bound to get a lot more physical with many teams tightening up their defense in an effort to secure a playoff spot, while asking their roster to put more of an emphasis on taking the body and aggressively clearing the front of the net. While nobody is going to say the first half is a cakewalk, there is a measurable difference in compete level in the second half.

As good as the Maple Leafs have been this season, there are questions about this teams ability to adapt a more physical game. When the chips are down and every team is fighting for a playoff spot, does anyone out there believe the Maple Leafs have enough grit to pull them through the second half of the season and into the playoffs?

When you consider the Maple Leafs effort against the Rangers, the answer looks to be a resounding “no”.

Recent trade rumors had Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke looking to add Philadelphia Flyers forward James Van Riemsdyk to the roster in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn.

On paper, many felt a Schenn for JVR deal offered both teams good value, but a recent concussion injury to JVR looks to have thwarted any attempt by Burke to bring in the 6’3”, 215 pound youngster.

While JVR has the size Burke has been looking for, he is hardly regarded as a “physical player”, which brings into question whether JVR would be an ideal fit for the Maple Leafs.

I have long said the type of player the Maple Leafs need would look a lot like Flyers forward Scott Hartnell. Hartnell’s physical edge, ability to get under the skin of opposing forwards and defensemen alike, combined with his leadership skills would be a perfect fit for Toronto. Trouble is, Hartnell isn’t going anywhere, so if Burke wants a player like that he is going to have to knock on another door to get him.

Whether it’s a physical forward or a defenseman that is capable of bone-jarring hits, Burke needs to address his teams lack of toughness, and the sooner, the better.

Until next time,

Peace!

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