Built up to be that of a knock-down, drag-em-out fight, in which two teams looking to settle a score would take to the ice, the New York Rangers and the “Sean Avery Circus” skated into Toronto to battle the Maple Leafs.
Known around the league as one of the more tech savvy head coaches, perhaps Leafs Bench Boss Ron Wilson holds the ability to see into the future. When asked prior to the game of his view surrounding the hype of a potential battle involving his team, Wilson confidently stated he “expects a quiet night”.
Perhaps an off-season job as a fortune teller is in store for Wilson, as his statement could not have been any more accurate. With zero jump at all, in what looked to be a long night, not even the super heavyweight battle between Colton Orr and Derek Boogaard could awake the Leafs bench or the home crowd.
In establishing their regulation winning streak, the Leafs maintained a determined fore-check with speed and swift passing on the offensive side, while the defense took an aggressive approach in pressuring opposing forwards as they entered the zone, none of which was visible last night.
With the defense sloppy and the offense a non-factor, it was Jonas Gustavsson, making his first start of the season at home, who was the Leafs best player on the night, keeping the score respectable. Following a few shaky plays, the Rangers held the 2-0 lead after the first period and throughout most of the game. After 2 periods of play or lack there of, Ron Wilson had seen enough and the juggling act began. A struggling Tyler Bozak spent most of the third period on the bench, and Colby Armstrong found himself on the second line with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, scoring his first goal as a Maple Leaf late in the third period, on a shaky play of his own.
“You don’t like to see that happen,” Armstrong said of the line changes. “But I guess (Wilson) is looking for a spark.”
A question heading into the season, was that of Tyler Bozak’s ability to shoulder the weight in centering the team’s number one line. While a winning record helps, Bozak was getting the job done and did not look out of place until last night. Limiting Bozak to 3 shifts in the third period, Ron Wilson spoke of the line changes.
“I didn’t think he was playing well,” Wilson said of Bozak. “So I made some changes toward the end of the second period. (Kris Versteeg slid over from the wing and won all four of his faceoffs on the night with Nikolai Kulemin promoted from the second line.) It shook some things up. It moved Colby Armstrong up (to Kulemin’s spot) and they scored. You don’t stand around and wait.”
A quality surely considered when appointed the teams 18th Captain, Dion Phaneuf will be looked upon to keep his team up-beat through the good nights, and become that alarm clock, waking players up on the bad. Perhaps victims off an off night, the Leafs like any good team does, will need to find ways to change the pace of bad games and create momentum when the game-plan is ineffective.
“To become a good team you sometimes don’t have your A game, and good teams realize it and go to plan B, and crash the net and get some ugly goals . . . and we didn’t do that,” said Leaf coach Ron Wilson.
As a team grows and defines themselves, the manner in which they rebound from a loss is looked upon as a determining factor and sets apart the good from the bad. Following Monday’s OT loss against the Islanders, the Maple Leafs left the ice with 1 point collected and confidence in a game they controlled. That same feeling will be far from the minds of each player as they prepare for the Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. Entering the game with a sour taste, and a chip on their shoulder will test the will of this team. A will surely not evident last night.
About the Author
Written by RJ Emptage
Operations Manager of a retail chain in Southern Ontario (Sports Obsession). Specialize in licensed sports apparel and novelties (Visit sportsobsession.ca). Being from the Hamilton area I grew up and into a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf Fan, and look forward to a bright blue and white future...(I know that sounds crazy doesn't it?) Love all things sports and the next best thing to playing them, is talking them!