Game Day: Waiting for new puzzle pieces and four ideas for the power play
Good morning, Frazzled Nation.
The magnificent bastards host the Islanders this evening in The Most Important Game Of The Season™. The head honcho says he is working the phones, hoping to land a defender who can help immediately. (You know, much in the way Tomas Kaberle is helping immediately in Boston.)
And so we wait.
In the interim, let's discuss the power play. Let's think about the power play since, clearly, nobody else is thinking about it.
Stonehenge, the Mayan Prophecy, crop circles, the popularity of Justin Bieber – none of this is as mysterious as when the Leafs have the extra man these days.
In the game against Ottawa, my God, it was like watching five heavily sedated shoppers stumble aimlessly through IKEA on a busy Saturday afternoon. There was no sense of direction, no coordination, no plan of attack.
Just a time-lapsed blur of bumbling confusion.
The Leafs have lost 11 games this season by one-goal margins. In each of those games, a botched power play could have made a critical difference.
Last year, the power play ranked dead last in the league. This year, despite a revamped roster that now includes three 20-goal scorers, the PP is only 2.2 per cent more efficient.
It does not make any sense.
The last time Toronto had an elite power play, which is to say, a dangerous one, the year was 2005. The key to success that season was the first unit backend pairing of Kaberle and Bryan McCabe, who led the team with a combined 96 points on the power play.
Meanwhile, the next two leading scorers played centre: Mats Sundin and Jason Allison. And the guy with the most PP goals, Darcy Tucker, was also the guy willing to take the most abuse while parked in front of the net.
So while we wait for trade news about this mysterious defenceman, I have jotted down four radical ideas for the power play. Feel free to mock my stupidity in the comments:
Never mind scoring. On Saturday, the Leafs could not even gain the zone on the power play. So they repeatedly dumped the puck, where it was promptly retrieved by a Senator and dumped back out.
Without Kaberle, the Leafs are in dire need of someone who can carry the puck through the neutral zone with speed and finesse. Someone who can make an unpredictable and crisp outlet pass or stickhandle with confidence, forcing penalty killers into premature box formation instead of allowing them to stand up at the line.
The quarterback should also be able to move the puck left or right with equal verve. And in the absence of a free man, he should be able to shift toward the middle or move toward the top of the circle and blast away.
In short: Move Mikhail Grabovski to the point for power plays.
Tyler Bozak leads the Leafs in winning faceoffs. Darryl Boyce has the best shooting percentage from the left side, while Colby Armstrong leads from the right.
Now that could be an intriguing second unit. If nothing else, it would not be outworked, as is happening far too often right now.
This one sounds borderline insane but hear me out: What if Jay Rosehill played on a PP line with Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel?
Right now, this team is generating no traffic in front. The opposition goalie tends to see 8 out of every 10 power play shots. The opposition defenders are able to rush and disrupt wingers because they are not otherwise busy moving a hulking body out of the crease.
Rosehill would give the power play something it does not have up front: Size and energy. All he really needs to do is screen, duck incoming shots and plant himself for any trashy rebounds.
His very presence would also give Lupul and Kessel more room to travel from the half-boards to the slot, where they are more likely to score.
In last week's game against Buffalo, the Leafs squandered a great opportunity early in the third when they had a 5-3 power play. Had they scored, they may not have required Joey Crabb's shorthanded heroics minutes later.
So here's the final radical idea: What about combining, even for 30-45 seconds, the top line up front (Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski) and then loading the backend with Kessel and Lupul?
In short: It could not hurt.
Anyway, with all this talk about territory and power, I leave you with today's game day song, "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" by Arcade Fire:
MAIN PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK IMAGES