Four radical ideas to fix the Leafs power play
The Leafs battle the Predators of Nashville this evening.
And as The Star's Kevin McGran reports, there is renewed emphasis on special teams, especially the power play that is now 8 for 68 on the season.
"Our power play is not working," said Ron Wilson. "We've got two goals from our defence all year. So we're trying to get a little more offence."
Wilson is putting Kris Versteeg on the blue line. Will this help? Maybe. Hopefully. It seems like a reasonable move. But what if reasonable is not enough at this point?
With this in mind, here are... "Four Radical Ideas To Fix The Sputtering Power Play."
1. Force Tomas Kaberle To Shoot
Financial incentives? Electrodes implanted into his helmet that zap his skull every time he dishes off one too many times? I don't know how you make him shoot more, but that's exactly what needs to happen. On the power play, watch what opposition skaters do now when Kaberle gets the puck. They start drifting to cover Leaf players on the periphery, knowing he's going to pass instead of shoot. And sure enough, that's what he does. But if he just started cranking out a few low and hard drives, the Leafs could create some odd-man havoc. They could bang in a rebound. They could force defenders out of box formation and generate chances for wingers in the high slot. Or, who knows, maybe one of those drives would turn into a lamp-lighter.
2. Plant Mike Brown In Front Of The Net
Look, I know. Mr. Fu Manchu is not a natural goal scorer. So on one hand, wasting a power play spot on him seems idiotic. On the other hand, he's fast, he ventures into corners, he fights for possession and he's one of the only Leafs who's willing to park in front and take the abuse that comes with creating a screen. The key to putting a grinder on the PP is to finesse the quadrant flanks. You want radical? How about a forward line of Brown, Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel? Then on the blue line, instead of Versteeg, you pair Kaberle with Nikolai Kulemin.
3. Drop Phil Kessel To The Point
It's true: the hidden danger of putting a purely offensive forward like Kessel on the back end is you suddenly spike the odds of a short-handed goal. But you know what? Right now, Kessel isn't getting open like he should. Right now, it's easy for penalty killers to shadow him in the bloated ring of bodies churning around the circles. So if you put him on the point, one of two things could happen: 1. The other team will be forced to keep someone up high, which will create more room and chances for the three Leafs down low. Or he'll get a chance to use his big shot without anybody harassing him. Win-win.
4. Set Up Plays From Behind The Net
One of the things the Leafs haven't attempted very much this season, on the power play or at even strength, is getting a forward behind the enemy net. Gretzky, Lemieux, Gilmour – this was a standard play once upon a time. Now it seems radical. But when you have a player behind the net, you're essentially forcing defenders to turn their backs on everyone out front. You create "pivot" chances and disrupt defensive flow. You also make it impossible for the goalie to read the play.
As I say, these are radical (read: asinine) ideas. Sorry. But the Leafs have lost eight games in a row and I'm getting a little desperate over here.
Reading the comments from yesterday's post, I was reminded of this.
Come on, people! Look at what's happening to us. Sixteen games into the season and we're already turning on each other and wagging our blue-and-white foam fingers in all directions?
It's the diabolical media that's responsible for the Leafs ongoing woes! If the evil media wasn't always conspiring to manufacture negative consent, if the media wasn't always running people out of town, this team could just relax.
I hate to break this to some of you but there is no media conspiracy. There isn't even a homogeneous "media," but that's another debate. As for the alleged negativity, you know what would happen if the Leafs won the Stanley Cup? The media would benefit from unprecedented interest. A winning hockey team would be good for the media. Period.
No, wait, the fans are to blame! Fans should stop supporting the franchise whey a lousy product is offered. Fans should exhibit patience and stop panicking.
Well, which one is it? Aren't these ideas mutually exclusive?
Leaving all of this aside, let me state something for the record: I want the Leafs to win. I am biased in their favour. I would like nothing more than to wake up each morning, throw on my Kordic jersey and write a super-positive post that's brimming with gushing praise about the team I have loved for as long as I can remember.
You think I enjoy beating up on these poor bastards when they're already down? I don't. I hate it. It makes me queasier than green tea and, trust me, that's really saying something.
But here's the thing: The Leafs are now 5-8-3. They are in 27th place. If they lose tonight, that futility streak will extend to nine games in a row, something that hasn't happened since the 1985-86 season.
At what point is blind love just blind?
Apologies for this extended soap box lecture. I guess what I'm really trying to say is this: Can we all just get along?
PHOTO: COLIN MCCONNELL/TORONTO STAR