November 20, 2013

Leafs Defeat Isles 5-2

It's getting to the point now where every game it seems like the Islanders have good moments, but it all gets ruined by some perplexing and quite frankly unacceptable breakdowns. Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs continued that alarming trend.

It took the Leafs a grand total of 22 seconds to get on the board on their first rush up ice with Brock Nelson and Aaron Ness falling asleep on the shift and behind the play, allowing the Leafs to get behind the net and create offense by throwing a puck into the slot. Of course, this is one way the Leafs have been so successful as a team this season, and thanks to this play to start the game it seemed to put the Isles in a fragile mindset when it came to the Leafs rushes for the remainder of the night.

It seemed easy for the Leafs to get the puck in deep and the Isles appeared to be a team that was guessing on the defensive end rather than actually being able to focus on playing defense. Frequently it seemed like the Leafs were able to pull up and switch, sending an Isles player defending them into no-man's land to create some great scoring opportunities.

Speaking of Ness, he definitely had perhaps the roughest game of his brief NHL career. Aside from that first sequence, Ness struggled with getting back to support Matt Carkner - who got fooled by Jay McClement - and ran into his own fallen man, Pierre-Marc Bouchard. That left Mason Raymond all alone for an easy backhand tap in goal to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead in the third.

This happened after Casey Cizikas scored on a breakaway with 11 seconds remaining in the 2nd period, which is what makes it more frustrating. If you can't come out with good jump after a heart and soul player scores for a third straight game, then chances are you aren't going to do much of substance. The Isles had a good first shift but it didn't take long for the Leafs to get control and start dominating possession once again. Of course there have been times when the Isles have been able to respond to moments like this, such as in the prior game against Detroit. They're becoming unpredictable in how up for a game, or for a particular moment, they will get.

I think overall Kevin Poulin was about average, or at least what we all figured he would be before the season started. The weaknesses showed again, and although most of the goals came after bad turnovers I can't really say there were any in particular he absolutely should have had, except for maybe one of the final two that the Leafs scored. But it's hard to have a solid showing when your support just isn't there, and I thought in the early going he made some solid stops despite being caught out of position multiple times and sliding on the ice a bit too much for my liking.

Jonathan Bernier did have to make some tough saves of his own, and came through virtually every time. That's just the status quo for him this season, and the tandem of him and James Reimer is one of the main reasons why the Leafs find themselves in great position. It's frustrating to see at the same time, considering Bernier is a guy the Isles likely should have pushed harder for.

You'll notice that the focus of my thoughts are all on the defense, or more in particular the breakdowns the Isles had that led to plenty of Leafs chances. I'm going to admit that I'm a bit confused as to why Jack Capuano seemed to disagree with the notion that defensive breakdowns weren't the main factor for their demise. All one has to do is go back and review the goals, and each one there was a bad turnover or a breakdown of some kind immediately preceding the goal. However, he emphasized the fact that their line changes were a bit slow, which did have an effect on one of the goals in particular. But it's not the area that I would have put the focus on personally.

Bouchard was a forward who definitely showed some life, and he was rewarded for that with some playing time on the first line. I'm not sure if this is a look we'll get much of, with Thomas Vanek set to return soon. But it would be a shame if Nelson suddenly finds himself out of the lineup again.

Michael Grabner was a surprise odd man out for this game, although when you see what he's done lately I guess you can't be too shocked. With the way things have been going for him, the presence of my sin bin pick for last week wouldn't have made much of a difference. With rumors of him being in the dog house for much of the past two seasons, it'll be interesting to see if he gets back in or if he'll be a casualty again Friday in Pittsburgh. But we'll have to see Vanek's status first, of course.

All in all, I felt this was a game the Isles could have had but just like the game against the Blue Jackets a couple of weeks ago they allowed it to slip away from them. An early goal definitely didn't help matters, and they seemed a bit frightened by the Leafs puck handling skills, and allowed themselves to get mesmerized at times which lead to lots of scrambling around, particularly from those who had been solid the last week or so.

It was not the effort this team needed heading into Pittsburgh, so they are really going to have to dig deep in order to find the effort needed to get a second win this season out of that building.

- Chris

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