Sinking in the Swamp
John Ferguson, it would appear, is going to have to find himself a defenceman. Soon.
In two games without Pavel Kubina this season, the Leafs have given up 10 goals against. With Kubina, in three games they allowed three goals.
That's a trend that's likely going to continue as long as Kubina is out.
See, as much as people are going to be all over Hal Gill today, or Ian White, or convinced that Wade Belak and Jay Harrison aren't NHL defencemen, the larger problem lies at the top of the Leaf blueline depth chart.
Kubina loomed as a crucial factor for the Leafs because he allowed Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle to play less.
McCabe and Kaberle are quality offensive defenceman and excellent puck movers.
But neither is going to remind you of Harry Howell or Rod Langway in their own zone anytime soon. Moreover, as a pair, they've never been a tandem that can consistently be a suffocating force in the final minutes of periods and games.
The more McCabe plays, the less positionally efficient he becomes, and the more scrambly he plays. The more Kaberle plays past a certain minutes level, the more likely he is to overhandle and turn over the puck and the more likely he is to lose one-on-one battles.
When Brian Gionta got the Devils rally started in the third period Thursday night, it was the result of McCabe being caught out of position and forced to take a hooking penalty.
When Gionta made it 6-5, the play originated with a Kaberle turnover.
On the goal that tied the game with 38 seconds left, both Kaberle and McCabe were on the ice, and you think it might have occurred to one of them to cover Gionta, who wasn't hard to find standing by the right post.
Instead, Gionta was alone and the closest Leafs to J.S. Aubin were Mike Peca and Alex Steen. Both McCabe and Kaberle were horribly out of position - McCabe guessing towards the corner, Kaberle not even in the picture cruising back - as the Devils tied the game 6-6 and won it on a shootout.
It was an embarrassing collapse by the Leafs in The Swamp, and with Belak and Harrison all but stapled to the bench for the third and OT periods, it came down to the Leafs failing to continue pressuring the Devils offensively and the inability of McCabe and Kaberle to be a dominant, decisive defensive force in the third period.
McCabe played 32:51, Kaberle 29:48, Gill 26:17 and White an extended 24:56.
That's too long for all of them, even in an OT game. But with Belak getting only 7:26 and Harrison seeing only 8:14, a signal of a lack of confidence in those two from the coaching staff, that's what going to keep happening.
You have to believe Ferguson is going to have to find an experienced D-man to take some of the heat off his top four. You can't expect Brendan Bell to be the answer.
Teams watch tape. And you can bet the Calgary Flames, able to score only four goals all season, will have extra copies of the Leafs-Devils game to analyze in time for Saturday night.