Tuesday, 18 November 2014

What Job Security?

Collectively, a lot of Maple Leaf fans looked like the members of the Griffin family to the left after tonight's rear-kicking done by the Nashville Predators. Forget the fact that Buffalo had just bombed the Leafs for six goals in their previous outing. The Leafs were coming home and should have been angry, embarrassed, and wanting a better effort all-around to wash the taste of losing to the NHL's worst team out of their mouths. Instead, they vomited another garbage effort in tonight's game as Nashville pasted the leafs by a 9-2 score. It doesn't sound bad until you realize that Nashville led 8-0 with about twelve minutes to play. One word for tonight's game: UH-GLEE!

If there is one thing that good management and coaches do after a couple of games like this, it's assessing the talent on the ice and the leadership in the room. Some of you will celebrate the fact that the Leafs are getting hammered right now, and that's ok. I know I'm not complaining. However, this team is clearly fragile in its current state, and it will take solid leadership to right this ship. That being said, no one's job should feel safe at this moment from the general manager right down through to the water boy. Although I can't see the water boy being a major factor in tonight's game unless he was filling the bottles with molasses.

Let's run down how bad things were tonight.
  • Taylor Beck - he of one career goal - scored on his first shot on the evening from the left face-off dot on what looked to be a very routine save for Bernier. 'Twas not, and the Predators had a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
  • Derek Roy, who had not scored a goal in 38 games, outworked and out-hustled Dion Phaneuf to the front of the net to chip a centering pass from Matt Cullen into the yawning cage. Simply atrocious defence on this one from both Phaneuf and Cody Franson.
  • Morgan Reilly, whose job it was to move Taylor Beck out from in front of the crease while penalty killing, somehow lets Beck set up shop in front of Bernier while Reilly stood in front of Beck. Forsberg's shot was blocked, but Beck had no issue putting the puck in from the doorstep. Seriously, Reilly, what the heck?!?
  • Eric Nystrom, on a two-on-one with Olli Jokinen, opts to shoot from the high slot without even faking to Jokinen. Reimer completely whiffs on the glove save, and it looks like Reimer-in-Buffalo all over again.
  • Early in the third period, Mike Ribeiro is wide-open beside Reimer, and easily tips the Ryan Ellis point shot into the net. Ribeiro was behind the defence and standing beside Reimer. Incredible defensive awareness on this Leafs team. Peter Holland, a forward, was the closest guy to Ribeiro.
  • Filip Forsberg scored a goal seconds later as he redirected the puck into the net with his foot. They reviewed it, and all was kosher. The problem? Forsberg had been pinned to the back boards by Roman Polak seconds earlier, only to release him and allow him to skate unobstructed to the front of the net. Seriously. Wow.
  • Minutes later, Clay Wilson finds Calle Jarnkrok streaking towards the net for his first goal of the season. I have no idea why Stephane Robidas decided to lay out on the ice to try and block the pass from Wilson when he could have simply defended against him, but that was the first mistake. The second mistake was Morgan Reilly getting beat by Wilson and then casually skating back as Jarnkrok raced in. Pass, shot, goal, and a couple of minuses.
That's about as far as I'm going to go because it should be pretty clear: all six defencemen were terrible tonight. The goaltending was terrible tonight. There were a couple of forwards that seemingly played well, but they were few and far between. I'm not saying that the Leafs need to proclaim DEFCON 1 at this point, but they might be looking at a DEFCON 3 at minimum.

"It feels like every time we get down a goal or two we're trying to win the game in the next minute," defenceman Stephane Robidas told reporters. "We start taking chances, we turn the puck over. We're beating ourselves."

This is a team that hammered the Boston Bruins a week ago with a convincing 6-1 win. They looked confident. They appeared to be putting together the little things to start climbing the Atlantic Division ladder. Instead, they rolled over against Buffalo and never woke up against Nashville in giving up fifteen goals including ten straight goals-against. This is beyond "we're beating ourselves".

I understand that there will be scrutiny in Toronto of the highest magnitude when it comes to their hockey team, especially when it comes to Randy Carlyle's job security. However, there are a number of other players who should feel that they might be dangled as trade fodder after the efforts in the last two games. All Leafs' defencemen, especially the rarely-used Jake Gardiner, should feel that they are now competing to keep their jobs because there are some guys on the Marlies who seem to understand the nuances of the defensive game better than this group.

The one finger I will point? Dion Phaneuf's leadership has never been questioned by the Leafs, and they have stood behind their captain since he was anointed the leader of this group. However, it's becoming increasingly clear that his leadership isn't getting the job done. I'm not sure if this is due to his messages, his style, or his command of the room, but it was clear that Phaneuf was just as shell-shocked as the rest of the squad tonight, and that's not how you want your leader to respond in trying times. His press conference after the game was even worse as he answered questions with the grace and smoothness as an elephant in ballet.

"When you get beat like that in professional sport," he stated, "it's embarrassing, and to get beat like that in front of your home fans, it compounds the issue. So it's something that we obviously went through and it's unacceptable by our group to have a performance like that."

The following question posed to Phaneuf went as follows: "Is this team consciously or non-consciously trying to get your coach fired?"

First off, that's a terrible question. It's not like Dion is going to answer with a resounding "YES!" to that question. If they are "non-consciously" trying to get him fired, would they even know it? I mean, it's not like it's in their conscious state of mind, right? No offence to the reporter, but maybe come prepared with a real question next time because you're going to get a garbage answer to a garbage question like that.

Dion, of course, answers with a curt "no", and the reporter presses on. "Then how do you explain Saturday night coming into tonight?" he asks. Ok, that's a better question considering some of the clichés that were heard after the 6-2 loss to Buffalo.

"The game in Buffalo," Phaneuf stammers as he searches for an answer, "it's much of the same. We didn't play well, and you...."

Right there, he changes the focus of his answer. He goes back to clichés about not preparing enough, not doing enough, moving on after a bad game in Buffalo, blah blah blah. It's at that moment right there that I would strip him of the captaincy if I were Brendan Shanahan. He didn't answer the question with anything the reporters following this team don't know, and he certainly didn't accept ownership of the team's lack of focus or preparation as the leader of this team. He talked about it in a following question, but listening to him doesn't put the belief in you that anything will change. Maybe it's his demeanor or his lack of candidness following one of the worst losses on home ice in team history, but he doesn't seemed pissed off enough for me.

Cody Franson was asked a similar question about trying to get Carlyle fired, and his response gives you more of a reason to believe that Franson is frustrated and cares more than Phaneuf. "[Expletive] no," he said. "That's crazy. That has nothing to do with it."

The magnifying glass is directly over this team right now, and there's a ray of sun being focused on the group. Everyone inside that Maple Leafs' locker room is feeling the heat as jobs are on the line.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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