Posted by Tom Jelinek
Marner had an MRI and will be out at least 4 weeks, and then get re-evaluated. That means there's visible damage, more than a simple sprain, although a minor tear often heals better than a bad sprain. He'll go on LTIR, and the roster crunch will be put off for now ...
Robin Lehner apparently said players skate too slowly on the shootout, and as far as I know, he doesn't even make a specialty of watching Leaf games. I think the words would be glacially slow, if he did. I've said this before, too: When the guy is flying, he can make moves faster than I could ever match, and I suspect the same is true in the NHL. Crawl in slowly, and the odds are against you. Breakaways in live action score more often than shootout attempts precisely because the guy is speeding, trying to stay ahead of the backchecker.
Nylander scored two and played hard tonight, although the cynic in me can't overlook the fact it was against his brother's team. Play that way every day, and he'd be a big rung up over where he is now.
I'm liking Kerfoot a lot, when he's not in the penalty box. His penalties are about his only downside, and he may yet make that trade look good. Because Barrie is looking very ordinary: I don't see any reason why I should be impressed with him, or why he should command a huge salary next year.
Muzzin is looking slow, a concern going into a contract year when he's already 30. Still hoping he'll kick it up a gear going forward.
Matthews is obviously working at improving his two-way game, and that's deeply appreciated. Effort precedes results, and it's what you need to see early on.
There was a malaise in their game early, as is often the case. They look like they can't bring themselves to care, or more likely, they can't loosen up and just play, too worried about executing the complexity of Babcock's game. As much as I believe in his coaching ability, I also wonder whether these guys can live up to his expectations. He honed his skill with guys like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom. Big-time high IQ players, who would always get how their actions fit within the system. Which Leafs fit that bill? Experience makes you look smarter, so there's room for growth, but not with everyone.
The Leafs lost Connor Brown, and don't underestimate how important his hockey IQ is to a team. Ottawa is now enjoying his contributions, with 12 points (more than all but 4 Leafs coming into tonight). And don't forget with him, offense is gravy. He's a guy you always want out there when you need guys who just play right, and do the right thing. He was once described as a guy you trade, and then wonder why you're losing. Accurate. They also lost Ron Hainsey, who kept a lot of the heat off Rielly that he would otherwise deserve, by also playing a high IQ game. Cody Ceci is not a high-IQ player. He'll do the expected, and his snap decisions are not going to be unimpeachable. The year before, they lost Leo Komarov, who is doing similar good work for the Islanders. Bozak now has a cup ring to match buddy Phil's two, but Kerfoot is probably an upgrade over Tyler, at less money overall, so that's okay.
Spezza doesn't have the speed or agility to keep up with the game defensively, if he ever had that inclination.
Then you have Rielly: He's a gifted skater, he passes well, and shoots well. It's no accident that he puts up all those points. And he works harder night in and night out than most of the guys. I don't have a problem with him wearing an "A". But try to isolate him from the play at specific points: When the puck changes possession in the opposing zone, or in the defensive zone. What you'll see is he darts off in some direction chasing ghosts, then does an about face and comes back the other way, now behind the play. This happens a dozen times a game, and usually results in a scoring chance against. At least two goals tonight featured this, and I might have missed more. The problem: Low hockey IQ. He's terrible at anticipating what the opponent is going to do, and getting ready for it in advance.
The way Kerfoot skated through the neutral zone today stood in marked contrast to their power play lately, where this allegedly fast team move like snails with the puck up ice, and spend most of the PP trying to get through the neutral zone. Then in the O-zone, they give it right back and it starts all over again. You can't even focus on how they develop or fail to develop scoring chances, because the PP never gets that far.
Mikheyev had a great start, but he now looks afflicted with the malaise that infests the Leafs today. It's not a winning culture. It's a dejected mindset. Anyone see the way Toews went after Muzzin for his hit at the start? Why do you think the Hawks ran roughshod over the Leafs in the first? They responded to their leader, while the Leafs had to absorb the realization that none of their teammates would have done that for them.
And Hutch is probably done in the NHL. You can say all you like about his goals against being good goals, and not blaming him, but it's happened too many times. There's not a reciprocal confidence that between him and the guys in front of him, they can stop anything the opponent throws at them. Now, this is not to say they'll call up Kaz right away. I don't know that he's the answer, and suspect he's not. But they are in serious need of a quality backup goalie, like Neuvirth might have been if he could have stayed healthy. Where to get him, I don't know. Waivers are the obvious place, but you only see a Curt Mac on waivers once every blue moon. Even if it's part of a bigger trade, where cap is moved out in exchange for a grittier player and a backup, they absolutely need this, or the concern about overplaying Freddie and not leaving any gas in his tank for playoffs, will seem quaint: What playoffs?