Of all the moves that will guarantee an extension for John Ferguson, the removal of ossified Pat Quinn and the hiring of technocrat Paul Maurice is the one that will do it.
Wednesday night’s win over Tampa should be sealed in a vault, to be taken out and reviewed whenever you want to see a fine bit of string-pulling. Maurice simply outcoached a Stanley Cup winner on the opposite bench. Notes from a scorecard after the jump . . .
Start with three hallmarks of Maurice’s system. And I mean system (Look at the guy on the bench, the fresh face - give him about three months and he’ll look like he’s carrying the team’s luggage under his eyes - and the spectacles and the natty Harry Rosen suit. He looks like a Power Point presentation about to break out.). The two-man forecheck, the aggressive counterattacking defence and the situational line-juggling all paid off handsomely in a 4-2 final in which they had to come from behind twice, then nurse a one-goal lead through most of the second half of the third period.
The four lines at the start of the game:
So what happened: Leafs fell behind, then tied it when Steen pounced on a Skarich giveway at the Toronto blueline – Kaberle finished the play. There’s your counterattacking D-man going into the rush, there's Kaberle with his fifth goal in the past three games, all of them wins. A soft goal for Denis to give up - tight angle, didn't squeeze the pads - but well earned.
|PETER POWER/TORONTO STAR|
|Maurice: All the right moves.|
After Tampa goes ahead again, Toronto goes into a critical stretch late in the second period. White takes a penalty, then Gill is called when he has to grab LeCavalier on a partial breakaway (good penalty, bad time to take it). The result is a short two-man advantage, but the Leafs’ penalty killers – and note the maligned Bryan McCabe was one of them – hold their position on the triangle and box nicely. The PK unit is going good, and they escape for a big lift going into the third period, wherein Maurice immediately shuffles the deck:
(Kilger slotting in here and there; Pohl and Battaglia to bench)
They get a bit of a lucky equalizer on a Gill point shot that skips in through a maze in front. But the two-man forecheck and the new lines have Tortorella at a loss (Just as Tortorella looks like he’s one microphone short of a John Brophy rant, Glenn Healy notes similar sentiments on the broadcast. When Don Cherry goes to that great penalty box in the sky, Healy’s the only guy who should be considered as his replacement. He’s funny and incisive and never fails to make a cogent point, which is much more than the usual air-fillers. Off topic, I know, but Healy’s my NHL pundit binkie. I’ll shut up now).
More McCabe: Only man back on two Lightning 2-on-1’s, and plays the passing lane perfectly. No shots on goal on either of them, although Raycroft has to parry one away that appears to be going wide (Coaching rule No. 1: They can’t score if you don’t let them hit the net).
The two-man forecheck again pays off, good pressure from the O’Neill-Stajan combo resulting in a penalty – and that’s Ian White, jumping in from the point to score after Steen’s line earns some PP time and sets it up (Coaching rule No. 2: Always reward good play with more ice time, or at least taking everyone out to McDonald's after the game).
Now with a 3-2 lead to protect, Maurice really starts to pull the levers. He rolls the lines thusly as the clock ticks down:
(Rinse and repeat)
So Wellwood is on the bench, the Steen line staying intact after playing very well all night. I’d argue with Wellwood's exclusion – you still need some creativity and puck handling out there – but he's hardly known for the cliched forecheck-backcheck-paycheque triactor, and you can't argue with the result: Sundin finds Ponikarovsky and the retooled third-period trio has the game-clinching empty-netter.
Oh, there was a Tampa hitting the post in there. And a Tampa goal disallowed due to a 50-50 goaltender-interference call (the ref, doing what he’s supposed to do, made the call decisively). (Coaching rule No. 3: Get lucky.)
This is a good little three-game spell the Leafs have going, after the back to back losses to the Senators last week made clear they’re still down the divisional pecking order some. But Maurice is giving them a chance, and they appear to be catching on to his ways. Nice work from him. Nice hire from Ferguson.
Come back in a little while, and it’ll be Doubleheader Night, Part II. I’d call it How Not to Coach a Basketball Game, but that’d be cruel, and everyone knows I’m not like that, right?