Friday, November 5, 2010

Money In The Bank

Mike Komisarek is my choice for Leaf of the Week based on the last 4 games. I believe he's the most improved Leafs player since the start of the season, but maybe that was to be expected for a player coming back from a long layoff. The last 2 games he's been arguably the best Leaf on the ice. This past week he's seen his ice-time climb from 11:01 in Boston last Thursday, to 26:02 Wednesday night in Washington.

And this pass Komi lays out to Versteeg to send him in for the tying goal is an absolute beauty:

Captain Overboard

Of course, the rise in Komi's ice-time is entirely related to the tragic circumstance of filling in for the injured Captain. A deserved reflection of Komi's improved play, but not by design.

"The bottom line is that Dion has wrought a considerable culture change with our team and he's done it almost singlehandedly."

Dripping with irony, this statement becomes an unintended challenge to every member of the team to make their mark and prove their worth in the absence of Phaneuf.

Luke Schenn has been awesome this year, looks like a future Captain, and played another outstanding game on Wednesday. But I also thought Komisarek, Beauchemin, and Kaberle - all 3 wearing the familiar A on their sweaters - stood out for playing an intense spirited game, especially in the 3rd period. As much as Gustavsson deserves credit for stealing a point with some unbelievable stops, so too do the Leafs top four defenders for their inspiring efforts.

Hard Times

1-5-2 after a 4-0-0 start, yet this team showed remarkable character in the 3rd period against Washington to steal a point, and nearly two. Now they'll have to continue building that character in the absence of Phaneuf over the next four weeks and somehow establish a team identity and a winning attitude without the larger-then-life personage of Dion to guide them.

I'm hoping the competitiveness and confidence of the rest of the players is as underrated as Phaneuf's leadership is overrated. Otherwise...

I think we've overdrawn on our deposit.

"This is money in the bank for us when we hit hard times."

That didn't take long. One win in our last 8 games. With or without a Captain, we can't afford to prolong our tail-spin.

I was all set to write an angry post demanding an end to Wilson's run behind the bench, and who knows - it might still be coming, but the Leafs made a truly startling turnaround in the 3rd period, and as mentioned, key players gave inspirational performances and elevated their game.

I don't know where that inspiration came from, could've been behind the bench, so we give Wilson the benefit of the doubt for one more game perhaps. Because it was a truly stunning comeback, even if we didn't hold on for the win.


One thing I am concerned about with this team is the motivation factor. They'd better learn to play for themselves and for each other, 'cause it's obvious that they don't play for the coach. Wilson comes across as a firm no-nonsense straightshooter, but also as a horrible motivator. Seems to only lead with the stick and never the carrot. The focus seems to be on positioning, not passion. Diligence, and not drive. Jobs, but not joy.

I honestly can't imagine any group of players rallying around coach Wilson like they would for Scotty Bowman or Pat Burns. It may be that it's not necessary for players to like their coach or agree with their decisions, but I'm not so sure. I think it helps a little.

Wilson's style is very demanding and requires the players work hard, and skate hard, continuously. For the most part, the effort and execution is there, sometimes stubbornly so, as even when it's not succeeding the Leafs rarely abandon the game plan and rigidly maintain their system. The players have bought into a determined, disciplined style of play but are not seeing much in the way of rewards or success.

Individually, players have grown and learned, but collectively there's a lack of spirit and chemistry. Mostly what alerts me to the fact that this isn't a happy group is the lack of enthusiasm towards winning and scoring from Toronto's key offensive contributors. Versteeg, Kessel, and most alarmingly, Grabovski, appear to be missing that sparkle-magic in their eyes and flare in their step. Now, I'm not asking for anyone to pretend their stick is blazing like Jimi Hendrix' guitar, but after back-to-back shutouts, it'd be nice to see 3rd period outbursts greeted with some genuine excitement and emotion from the players.

They seem too uptight for celebration. My concern is that Wilson's snarky, grey, miserable demeanor, while beneficial in producing a sound, disciplined and tireless, defensive approach, lacks the motivational thrust needed to get the players to elevate their game, and does nothing to encourage their enthusiasm for success.


I still believe in the rest of this team. Even Lebda. But no amount of coaching is going to fix John Mitchell. His poor clearing attempt on the PK, already much lamented, led to the Capitals tying goal, yet it's everything Mitchell does AFTER the weak clear that I find so appalling.

A one-goal lead, with less then 6 minutes to go in the 3rd period:
First off, Mitchell's angle is all wrong. He's skating directly towards the shooter when really he should be skating towards a point between the shooter and his target and then from there close the distance between himself and the shooter.Mitchell then attempts to block the shot with his outstretched stick and not with his body and the result is predictable. The puck slices right through the shaft of Mitchell's stick and continues towards the net at an uncertain trajectory and velocity.As the puck miraculously bounces through the crease and wide, Mitchell drops the broken stick and appears to give up on the play. For the next 2 seconds, Mitchell goes into zombie-mode. As Gustavsson, Beauchemin and Komisarek scramble in the crease, check out Mitchell's body language as he watches Semin coral the puck at the side of the goal. Arms down at his side, back upright, feet not moving at all, legs are shoulder-width apart as if taking a practice glide and preparing to stop. Zero intensity. Despite being the closest Maple Leaf with an unobstructed path to the goalscorer, Mitchell is doing nothing to pressure or hurry Semin's attempt. There's no sense of urgency coming from Mitchell, only defeat.Sure, Mitchell likely wouldn't have made it in time even if he'd tried, but the point is entirely that he didn't even try. If Beauchemin had somehow managed to get a shinpad in the way and blocked the first attempt, Semin easily would've had time for a second and third whack.

Notice how quickly Sjostrom comes into view coming back on the other side, and if you watch the video carefully, compare the body language of Sjostrom and Mitchell immediately after the referee signals the goal (0:07).

It may be time for Mitchell to have a fresh start somewhere else where he can try to find his game under less pressure and scrutiny. For now, Wilson is the one who gets the general reprieve, but only as long as the Leafs top defenders - those with a letter on their chests - continue to lead and inspire. As for the offensive woes, it may be that Bozak, Versteeg, and Grabbo are going to have to figure things out on their own and find their smiles without the Captain's cultural influence, and without resorting to throwing tennis balls at each other either. And soon.

Wow, this was like 4 posts in one! If you made it all the way through, thanks for dropping by, and Go Leafs Go!


kidkawartha said...

Now we have a focus for our investigation- has Wendel punched Mitchell into the Land of Zombies sometime in the last 6 months?

general borschevsky said...

Quite possible.