November 07, 2007

The Beating of Ontario

Another installment of the Beating of Ontario went into the books last night. This time it was a 5-1 spanking of the Maple Leafs by the Ottawa Senators and, with it, the realization that the Sens are a great team while the Leafs are not.

Games like last night’s test my will as a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I reached for my remote on three separate occasions but couldn’t pull the trigger and actually change the channel. I’m not sure why I stay tuned and watch the Leafs get crushed by the Senators time after time after time, but I do. It’s sick. I have a problem.

I was sincerely looking forward to last night’s game. Not only was it a good test against a most-formidable opponent in the Senators, but the Leafs were finally getting some bodies back – Kyle Wellwood, healthy after two hernia surgeries, and Mark Bell, making his debut as the forgotten man in the Vesa Toskala trade.

Toronto, sitting at .500, was coming off a solid road win in Montreal and although Ottawa is clearly the best team in the league (you can’t argue much with a 13-1 win-loss record), the Leafs played them hard in games one and two of the season. I thought I was in for a competitive match up.

Competitive? Uh, not so much.This one was over five minutes in. Just another go around with the Ottawa Senators, I guess, who are now 15-2-2, including 8-1-1 at home, since the start of the 2005/2006 season against Toronto.

As everyone knows, the Leafs have missed the playoffs the last two seasons. Need a reason? Look no further than their record against their provincial rivals. Toronto’s inability to compete against the Ottawa Senators cost them dearly the last two years, and it’s happening again, as Ottawa has already beaten the Leafs three times in the span of a month.

I'm going to be the happiest man around when the NHL changes the schedule. I'm so tired of the Leafs having to play Ottawa eight times a year. It simply isn't fair - they're too good!

I feel like I’m starring in Groundhog Day, because every time the Leafs and Senators face off, it’s the same story over and over again - severe poundage. Last night was no different. The Leafs repeatedly made bonehead decisions and hung their goalies out to try yet again.

After falling behind four to nothing in the second period Paul Maurice yanked Vesa Toskala (who couldn’t be blamed, not one bit), called a timeout, and gave his team a thorough tongue-lashing. They deserved it, straight up. Once again, the Leafs looked like they weren’t prepared to play and against a team like Ottawa, the best freaking team in the league, that’s simply unacceptable.

I, nor Paul Maurice, don’t have enough fingers to point out all the guys who flat out sucked last night. Jason Blake wasn’t covering his man on the first goal. Ian White was standing at centre ice and his foolish decision led to the two-on-one that resulted in the second goal. On that second goal, Andy Wozniewski could have sprawled to block the cross ice pass, and I’m still not sure what the hell he was doing when he half laid out to try and do it. Matt Stajan and Alex Steen bumped into each other in neutral ice and their idiocy led to another two-on-one for the Sens, which led to the third Ottawa goal, a short-handed tally by Daniel Alfredsson to make it three-nothing. That goal was the back-breaker. Down two-nothing, the Leafs desperately needed the next goal, but it was Ottawa who came out flying once again in the second period and scored on a Toronto power play. It was rather pathetic.

Kaberle was also brutal last night. I’m not sure why he and Kubina were on the same side of the rink on the first Ottawa goal, and Kabby was evidently going for a stroll up ice on the fourth Senators goal, when Kyle Wellwood decided to try and stick handle through four Senator players. The puck was, obviously, turned over and the Senators were off on another two-on-one and wham, bam, thank you m’aam, it was 5-1.

Like I said, I’m not sure why I watched the entire debacle last night. One reason was because the Toronto Raptors were also busy taking it on the chin, at the hands of the pathetic Milwaukee Bucks, no less! Last night was just awful.

As for Wellwood and Bell, their presence in the lineup clearly didn’t do much, eh? Wellwood was out there dangling like a school boy and his presence did nothing for the moribund Toronto power play, which finished 1-9 on the night. Bell saw a shade over 10 minutes of ice time and threw a couple of nice hits. He also landed a couple of good shots to the ugly face of Senators super-pest Chris Neil. Bell’s going to be a useful energy guy for the Leafs, and I’m looking forward to him getting some more ice time.

Toronto actually out-shot the Senators last night. Gerber was good. He doesn't give up any rebounds, it's amazing. The guy’s been tremendous all year, and I hate him because I’ve got Ray Emery in my fantasy hockey pool. It just goes to show that shot total’s don’t mean a damn thing. Not if you’re giving up two-on-one rushes all night.

I’m not done complaining about Andy Wozniewski, Ian White, and the shortcomings of the Leafs defensive game. We’re 16 games into this thing now, and the message is clearly not getting through, as the Leafs have allowed a league worst 62 goals against. Something needs to give. Something needs to change. Enough is enough. Some bloody accountability, please, Coach Maurice.

Bench White, bench Wozniewski, and even bench Kaberle if you have to. The only guy who should be getting a pat on the back right now is Nik Antropov. He’s showed up for every game, and was once again the Leafs’ best player last night, scoring the teams lone goal.

I just find it infuriating that the same weak-ass lineup is paraded out on to the ice day in and day out, when they are simply not delivering the results. Andy bloody Wozniewski will be right back out there on Friday night, while Danny Markov, a serviceable and solid NHL-calibre defenseman, is not playing in the NHL. I don’t get it. Pick up the phone and get Markov's agent on the line already! And don’t anybody dare mention to me anything about the salary cap. The Leafs have some wiggle room against the cap and are the richest sports team in Canada. They can afford to buy out Wozniewski’s contract, which is only a shade above the league minimum anyway, and bring in Danny Markov. What the heck is the wiggle room for anyway? To stop the bleeding, for the love of God.

The blood pressure is boiling, folks. Last night, once the Senators went up 3-0, I couldn’t change the channel. All I could do was press the mute button, grab my ipod, press repeat and put on “Stronger” by Kanye West.

“N-n-now Th-th-that-that don't kill me
Can only make me stronger
I need you to hurry up now
Cause I can't wait much longer
I know I got to be right now
Cause I can't get much wronger
Man I been waitin' all night now
That's how long I've been on ya.”

I said I wasn’t going to pass judgment on this team until 20 games were in the books. Well, we’re only four games away from that mark, and I’ve got my finger right in front of the panic button…