Now Is Not The Time To Panic. That Comes Later

I don’t take losing well and I really don’t like it when the Leafs lose (insert joke about Leafs losing)

Growing up I was rarely allowed to stay up to watch the entire game if it was a school night. I was able to watch the first two periods and then I had to go to bed. But rather than go to sleep and have to wait to find out the score I would either sit at the top step just out of sight or I would listen on the radio. The Toronto Maple Leafs were, are, and forever will be an obsession.

When I was considerably younger the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the 2005/2006 by losing back to back shootouts to the Ottawa Senators. I was considerably upset to the point where my mother had to give me an ultimatum; I could start being less upset that the Leafs were losing or I wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games for an undetermined amount of time. Not watching the games has never been an option for me. Even last year when the Leafs came last I watched approximately 70 games and when I wasn’t watching I was constantly updating my phone trying to find out the score. To this day my schedule is still built around when the Leafs are playing.

At the start of this season I was as excited as I had been in a very long time. This team won’t finish high in the standings but the difference this year is there are young, talented players that make up this roster. My excitement  was validated when Auston Matthews scored his 1st NHL goal against the Senators on opening night. Before the night was done Matthews became the 1st player in the modern era to score four goals in their NHL debut. The Leafs also lost the game 5-4 in OT.

Through the first 5 games of the season the Leafs sit 7th in the Atlantic with a 1-1-3 record. It’s disappointing because they could (should?) easily have at least 3 wins. On Saturday night they had the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks on the ropes and they squandered a 2 goal lead with less than 3 minutes to go. The disappointing thing is it wasn’t a game lost by young players making rookie mistakes. If that was the case it would be somewhat understandable and could be used as yet another teachable moment in this young season. No, this was the veterans that let this one get away from them. Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick were brought in to help stabilize a young blue line. Veterans that have grit, play the game the right way (Polak’s questionable hits aside), are real good pros, or whatever cliche you feel like using.

This is the 1st goal the Blackhawks scored on Saturday night.

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/panarin-dances-in-for-great-dish/t-277752844/c-45564303?autostart=false                (Courtesy NHL.com)

Now lots of things are happening on this goal.

  1. Kadri gets danced pretty badly by Artemi Panarin. Not great defending but it happens
  2. Leo Komarov doesn’t really pick up anybody in this scenario. Not advisable. Common sense dictates that 5 on 5 there will always be someone for you cover.
  3. Nikita Zaitsev also doesn’t come away looking good. He’s actually in a good position to take Anisimov when the Hawks enter the zone but as soon as Kadri gets beat he comes over to help. He obviously recognizes the mistake because when Panarin makes the pass, Zaitsev turns his head and notices that Anisimov is wide open.
  4. Matt Hunwick is JUST getting into the zone as the puck goes in. On the replay he decides to step up into the neutral zone despite Chicago already going on the counter attack . That’s a pretty awful read from someone who is supposed to be one of the reliable veterans on this team. Are we really sure that Zaitsev is the NHL rookie?

Here’s a still from moments before Richard Panik tied the game late in the 3rd period

hawks-tying-goal                    (Courtesy @Draglikepull)

That’s right. Polak and Hunwick, the two veteran defence man in this group, let two Chicago Blackhawks get in behind them with just under 90 seconds left in a 1 goal game. HOW? WHY?

You can criticize Frederik Andersen for some things early on this season but how is a goalie supposed to make a save when he has two players standing almost right on top of him, and then a third player (Panik) comes and puts the puck into an empty net. That’s right. Not only are the Leafs D not doing anything to prevent Toews or Hossa from scoring, but when Panik picks up the puck seconds later Polak decides the best thing to do is to play  goalie. How was this pairing rewarded for their stellar coverage in their own end?

THEY WERE ON THE PENALTY KILL IN OVERTIME!

Despite blowing a 3rd period lead in all but 1 of their games the Leafs aren’t actually in a bad spot. Their goaltending hasn’t been great, their defence is horrid, but they are scoring goals and the rookies in the lineup have been fantastic. The biggest issue has been the veteran players not pulling their weight. If we are still in this position after 20 games then there might be a little bit of cause for concern but until then just enjoy the ride. This is a rebuild after all. They tend to take awhile

When Mike Babcock was hired he promised there would be pain and fans thought he just meant last year. They were wrong. We’re just getting out of surgery now and still have to go through post-op and the recovery time. Did you honestly think we could have Dave Nonis run our team and come out of it day-to-day? Not a chance.

Follow me on Twitter @_JaredClarkson

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Author: Jared Clarkson

I'm a graduate of the Journalism Broadcast program at Sheridan College.

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