It’s never okay to let in seven goals but to do it at home, against a divisional opponent and rival, in what should have been viewed as a measuring stick game, it’s even worse. Hopefully, the Leafs can answer some serious questions about their team as a result.
What are the Maple Leafs?
This team lost a shoot-out (eventually in a shootout) to the Montreal Canadians. They lost a fast, tight-checking, solid defensive game against St. Louis. Now, they lose 7-3 at home to a Tampa Bay team who were held to 2 shots on goal for over 40 minutes by Carolina earlier in the week. The sporadic-ness of the Leafs form is extremely confusing and sheds some light on their current situation.
They don’t know what they are, either. It’s clear the team is constructed to be a fast attacking squad that capitalizes on opposition’s inability to keep up with their team play and feasts on off-matchups and special teams to keep the high octane offense flying. But, when pushed to play more defensive setups, the team looks like a fish out of water and ends up doing both things poorly.
Yeah, maybe. Mike Babcock is a wonderfully tenured, Stanley Cup winning head coach and deserves the respect he’s earned from Leafs fans. That being said, his unwillingness to change or adapt faulty game plans is currently in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Babcock is a grindy, defense-heavy coach who preaches defensive responsibility over offensive excitement who has been handed a small, fast team that wants to play run-and-gun hockey.
It’s clear that it’s not a match made in heaven, and the up and down 2-2-1 results thus far show this. The Leafs homegrown young talent has undoubtedly learned why defense is important and that playing in the NHL isn’t all about scoring goals, but at some point, the coach has to adapt his style to fit the players he has at his disposal, and this hasn’t happened yet this season or in past years.
The players aren’t making this easy, either
You know what killed the Maple Leafs last night? Giving up penalties at awful times by players who don’t have long enough leashes to make these kinds of mistakes. Mike Babcock re-payed the strong effort Spezza and Petan put in against St. Louis and kept them in the lineup to play Tampa Bay. The promptly went a combined -2 with zero points combined and each had a penalty called against them.
To add to this, Kasperi Kapanen was a -2 on the day and also put a goal into Frederik Anderson’s net. He’s awfully miscast on the Tavares-Marner line on his offwing but he’s being put in that situation by his coach so I can’t blame him for not being a total homerun there. Kapanen is best when using his speed down the wing to create offense from out wide, capitalizing on his sick shot. He’s hamstrung currently and can’t really be blamed in my opinion.
Lastly, we have to end on Tyson Barrie. No player on the back end is as run-and-gun as Tyson Barrie, and last night we saw why this isn’t a fool-proof plan for sustained success. The best teams and the best players are multifaceted and can change their playstyle on the fly. With Barrie sticking to his offense-first mentality, he went -4 last night and was noticeably absent in his own zone. Morgan Rielly was also pretty awful last night; getting danced by Kevin Shattenkirk for a goal doesn’t help either.