Five things on my mind tonight:
1. Snoopy bounced back phenomenally. How strange is it when our goalie has a rough week, gets blasted in the press and at the water coolers, and then manages to play terrific hockey in the final minutes of a one goal game? We are a city that has not really been that fair to goalies over the years. I wouldn't go as far as to call us a goaltending graveyard, but we run guys out of town pretty quickly. To see Pascal come back so strong tonight was a breath of fresh air. After the Kessel goal (which I will admit, he'd probably like to have back), he shut the door and made some superb saves. I also like Clouston saying today, "he's our number one goalie." Please make sure the Sun beat writer buffoons get that note.
2. Let's not call our offensive prowess into question just yet, but there are a handful of players that have lost their touch in the past few weeks. The top line of Alfie/Spezza/Michalek was regularly outplayed by a much weaker Kessel/Stajan/Blake line. We also had numerous chances in close and didn't bury them behind Toskala. We aren't a 6-goal team anymore and we really can't afford to let good scoring chances in the crease go by without banging it in. Guys like Foligno, Neil, Ruutu, Kelly, and Cheechoo need to have the NHL-worthy hands to bury one. For crying out loud, Fisher is our leading scorer! And he's doing it without AHL phenom Peter Regin! If we're going to be getting anywhere between two and four goals a night, we need to make sure we are finishing those scoring chances. Tonight, we missed a few opps.
3. Are we out of shape? In the Jacques Martin era, when Randy Lee was the strength and conditioning coach, we were universally mocked for doing post-game interviews on the exercise bike. As lame as it was to watch Redden huff and puff while talking about nothing, there wasn't a single question about our conditioning. Ever since Jacques left and Randy Lee was promoted, our conditioning isn't at the top of the league. There were murmurs two years ago when we bowed out to Pittsburgh in four (did that series even actually happen?) when it was said that we were in terrible shape as a team. Tonight, we looked slow and tired for long stretches. We're at home and playing a rival and we've been off since Saturday afternoon. There is no reason to be slow and tired! I'm putting out a notice that this team needs to get back in game shape pronto. If that means post-game excite bike interviews, go for it. We cannot be outskated by the Leafs like we were tonight. Most teams would have annhialated us.
4. Kudos to the defensive corps tonight for a strong effort in our own end. I know Picard and Campoli picked up a pair of helpers, but it was the combined effort below the circles that impressed me. We didn't hear much about Phillips and Carkner out there, but they blocked a tonne of shots. Pascal has solid rebound control, but we still need competent players to scoop it up and play it off the window. Tonight, during many Toronto flurries in our zone, our defencemen calmly played the puck out of harm's way. Let's be honest - we're still a mediocre defensive team - but tonight, they played with heart and character. The less rubber that makes it into the crease, the more wins we'll get.
5. We still find ways to win games, but there aren't many fans out there that think we're a really good team right now. Our powerplay is nauseating. Absolutely disgusting. The top unit looks for the most difficult pass through the box and then goes for it. Our second unit, from a personnel perspetive, is atrocious. Go figure, it takes the lightest shot of the night from Picard and Watermelon Warrior pulls it to the right for the tying goal. Simple passes, simple shots. This isn't rocket science. Clouston and Carvel, get your shat together. Battles in the corners are an issue, too. Scary when our most consistent and hardest working line consists of Neil, Ruutu and Donovan. That's a knock on the top six, people. Sure Fisher had some beauty shots tonight, but those top six need to start winning a damn battle on the forecheck and get some shots. My point here is that we have a very long way to go and a lot of work to do before we're worthy of making a splash. We can sneak into the playoffs, but efforts like tonight will get us no more than the first two games of the first round. Coaches - over to you guys. Get it together.