Plenty Of Questions Surround Toronto Maple Leafs Despite Win In St. Louis
The Toronto Maple Leafs and St.Louis Blues battled it out on Thursday night in what can only be called a steal of a win for the Maple Leafs. Despite being out shot 13-5 in the second period and 17-3 in the third (40-22 overall), the Maple Leafs held on for a 3-2 shootout victory over the Blues.
If not for the heroics of rookie goaltender Ben Scrivens, who stopped 38 of 40 shots and made all three saves in the shootout, this game could have easily been an 8-2 disaster for the Buds. Scrivens earned a well-deserved first star selection for his efforts—the first of his career.
Sloppy defensive coverage led to a number of odd man rushes for the Blues, while Toronto’s inability to contain the Blues offensive attack down low, both five-on-five and on the penalty kill, led to 40 shots from the Blues.
In the second and third periods it appeared as if the Blues were in the Maple Leafs zone for the entire 40 minutes of play. Toronto’s inability to gain puck control was very apparent all night as was St. Louis’ forecheck, which was ferocious for the entire 60 minutes of play.
The Blues currently carry eight players that weigh over 210 pounds, which helped lead to the Blues ability to overpower the undersized Maple Leafs squad all night long. Its not often the Maple Leafs get out-muscled, Thursday night was one of those nights.
Despite giving up six power play opportunities to the Blues the Maple Leafs were able to kill off five of six. Don’t mistake the numbers for a great penalty kill. The Maple Leafs gave up a ton of scoring chances on the PK, much of their success depended upon Scrivens making a number of highlight reel saves.
On the positive side of the ledger, Phil Kessel continued his early season magic, notching his 12th goal of the season, a power play marker at 17:02 of the first period. Kessel’s goal gave the Buds a 2-0 lead over the Blues.
Sadly, the lead would not stand as Toronto gave up two goals to the Blues, tying the game at 2-2 with less than two minutes left in the third period, which forced overtime.
Overtime solved nothing, which led to a shootout. Keesel emerged as the hero for the Maple Leafs as he scored the shootout winner, giving the Buds their tenth win of the season.
Prior to the start of the 2011-12 season many felt the Maple Leafs defense would be amongst the leagues best. Combined, Toronto’s blueline of Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek, Carl Gunnarsson, Jake Gardiner, John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson carries a cap hit of over $21 million (according to www.capgeek.com).
Clearly, with so much money invested in the blueline Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke expects to see his team in a better position than 27th overall in goals against (3.31 per game) and 29th on the penalty kill (72.6 percent success rate).
Defensive coverage, an inability to make the first pass and overall poor positioning have contributed to the Maple Leafs struggles on the blue line.
On this evening, it was Ben Scrivens’ heroics that saved the day for the Blue and White’s defense as Scrivens helped wrap up the teams tenth win of the season, giving the Maple Leafs a share of first overall in the Eastern Conference standings with 21 points on the season.
As poor as the Maple Leafs defense and penalty killing has been, their offense has been keeping their heads above water. Toronto currently owns the NHL’s ninth best offense scoring at a pace of 2.94 goals per game.
That said, Toronto has now scored a total of four goals in their past four games, leading to some concerns that their overall offense is in a slump.
Outside of Phil Kessel (12) Joffrey Lupul (8), Clarke MacArthur (8) and Mikhail Grabovski (5) no player has more than three goals on the Maple Leafs roster. That includes Nikolai Kulemin, who registered 30 goals in 2010-11.
Off-season acquisition Tim Connolly has one goal in six games. His inability to stay healthy has hampered the first lines ability to gel, resulting in a number of players filling in at centre, including another off-season acquisition, Matthew Lombardi, who has just two goals in 16 games to go along with his team-worst minus -7 rating.
Sophomore Tyler Bozak has also been used alongside Kessel and Lupul. He too has struggled to score as he is yet to notch his first goal of the season.
Regardless of the overall offensive results, it appears as if the Maple Leafs are headed in the wrong direction again—inconsistent offense.
On the backend, the Maple Leafs penchant for getting pinned in their own zone will need to be corrected. Better puck movement and a concerted effort towards clearing the defensive zone is a must if the Maple Leafs are going to be successful.
Fact is, as poorly as the Maple Leafs played on Thursday night they were extremely lucky to escape with the ‘W’ against the Blues— a fact that hopefully is not lost on Maple Leaf Head Coach Ron Wilson.
Moving forward, the Maple Leafs play host to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night a team that, despite a surge of six wins in a row to end October, has now lost four games in a row.
Wilson will need to get a more concerted effort from all of his troops against the Senators if he plans on earning the win. Ottawa beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 the last time these two teams met, the two squads are 1-1 against each other through two games.
Ottawa plays the Buffalo Sabres tonight, so there is hope the Senators will be worn out on Saturday night. Perhaps that will mean the Maple Leafs can keep up? They sure have looked slow the past four games…
With James Reimer still expected to be on the shelf with concussion-like symptoms, look for Scrivens to be back between the pipes for the Maple Leafs. Jonas Gustavsson looks to have lost the confidence of his coach, stemming from consecutive bad outings against the Boston Bruins in which he gave up two goals on six shots and Florida Panthers where he gave up three very stoppable goals on 21 shots.
One thing is for sure, the Maple Leafs will not win many games if they play the way they did against the Blues on Thursday night. Here’s hoping they bring their ‘A’ game Saturday night.
Until next time,