Crashing to Earth
Wow. After all the talk, has Darcy Tucker ever played a quieter game than he did Thursday against the Ottawa Senators?
Without Patrick Eaves nearby to beat up, and with Chris Neil putting him on notice at the opening faceoff, Tucker hastily got rid of the puck in order not to get hit on that first shift, was decked by Anton Volchenkov later in the period and then was curiously silent the rest of the evening.
In 24 shifts, he registered no points, one shot, one hit and zero penalty minutes.
Tucker explained his game decisions in detail to The Star's Paul Hunter, essentially saying he's not a tough guy at all and shouldn't have to take on a big guy like Neil.
That's fair. Personally, I don't care if the Leaf winger ever fights. It's all baloney anyway, and whether he scraps or not he's still, in my mind, pound-for-pound one of the toughest hombres in the league.
But if he's going to play the that-guy's-bigger-than-me card, then Tucker doesn't get to jump a pacifist like Patrick Eaves and then claim afterwards it was self-defence, or that Eaves started punching first.
Anyway, before the Leafs re-sign Tucker to the monster contract he's looking for, they might want to watch a tape of that self-preservation game a few times.
But Tucker is hardly the biggest challenge facing the slumping Leafs today. Bigger issues would be:
-- How to stop the defensive bleeding. After allowing only seven goals against in the first four games of the season, the Leafs have now surrendered 33 in their last seven.
Wade Belak, meanwhile, is setting some kind of individual record for plus-minus futility. In his last three games he has only played a total of 17:28, but is a minus-5.
-- Whether goalie Andrew Raycroft can play this much and be effective. Raycroft has played 10 of the 11 games, but in his last six outings his save percentage has plummeted to a woeful .847 despite having faced more than 30 shots only once in that span. A regular rotation - Raycroft two, Jean-Sebastien Aubin one - might be in order. Overall, Raycroft's save percentage is now .892 and his goals against is 3.23.
-- Determining what is wrong with sophomore winger Alex Steen. The young Swede has one goal in 11 games and after being promoted to the top line with Mats Sundin for no discernible reason has been booted off that unit partway through the past two games and replaced by Bates Battaglia. In the two Ottawa games this week, Steen's ice time dropped to 11:24 on Tuesday and 12:33 on Thursday, two to five minutes less than he's been playing all year.
-- Whether Kyle Wellwood can last as Mats Sundin's wingman. Wellwood began the season looking like the perfect partner for the Leaf captain, but has gone without a point in four of his last five games. The Leafs desperately want the Wellwood-Sundin combination to last but also desperately need more production than this out of Wellwood. Fortuitously for Wellwood, Paul Maurice's options are few.