It's the 26th of February. On this day a month ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs were tied for 6th place in the Eastern Conference after 49 games, with 55 points. Today, the Leafs find themselves where they were on this day a year ago: in 10th place after 62 games. They have 65 points.
At a crucial time, in the hunt for a playoff spot, the Leafs have picked up 10 points over their last 13 games. They're a league-worst 2-7-1 in their last 10. Their play has been, shall we say, inelegant.
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It's not hard to see what's gone wrong. Simply, the team has been unable to keep the puck out of their net. They've surrendered 4 or more goals 6 times in the month of February.
Whose fault is that? It depends on whom you ask.
After Toronto's 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, a game that saw the Leafs down by two goals only five minutes in, coach Ron Wilson made it perfectly clear that he feels his goaltenders aren't giving the team a chance to win. From James Mirtle at the Globe & Mail:
"The two goals early in the game were stoppable chances," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said to open his postgame press conference. "They got saves at one end. We didn't. And we dug a hole because of that.
"We're kind of always waiting now for something bad to happen on the goal line and we've got to find a way to get over that. Simple.
"I don't know many coaches who actually have the answer to that. You can pull the goalie [but] I thought tonight I'll call a timeout and tell everybody to relax, that we can get out of this hole."
Wilson's words here serve two purposes: the first is to chuck a bus on James Reimer (and Jonas Gustavsson), and chuck it hard. The second is to deflect blame even harder.
Are we to believe, as Wilson indicates, that there's simply no answer for goaltending this porous, that it's either on his goalies to play better or on his GM to provide him with better goalies?
I'm not so sure. I can't help but think of Dave Tippett in Phoenix, whose goaltending has improved since Ilya Bryzgalov left, or Barry Trotz in Nashville, who has seemingly never not had an All-Star goalie. Are these teams really just turning up stud trappers by the bucketload, or is their coaching complementing the guy in goal, regardless of who it is?
I think it's the latter, and the fact is that the Leafs' defence is to the Leafs' goaltending as tanktops and jorts are to an obese man: horribly unflattering. You can cover for mediocre goaltending with strong systems play, and the Leafs just don't do that.
If you take a look at the Capitals' opening goal Saturday night, which comes less than a minute in, you'll see two things: the first is some abysmal post-to-post movement from Reimer, but the second is some brutal defending. See for yourself: