Leafs Defense Size vs. Skill
|Leafs Defense Struggle in Winnipeg|
The Leafs are 3-3-1 in their last seven games, but in those seven games have allowed 28 goals against. That's an average of four goals against per game. In fact, in that time span, the only game where the Leafs didn't allow four goals against was March 4th against the New Jersey Devils.
Despite the fact that they were able to win some games in the last few weeks, the team has looked out-of-sorts defensively. In the past you could easily shift the blame to sub-par goaltending, but this time it's not the case. Although their numbers don't look good at all, Toronto's goalies have been playing rather well as of late. The blame must be put on the players. At what point are the players going to be held accountable for their inability to keep the puck out of their own net? Many think that Thursday nights match-up with the Pittsburgh Penguins will showcase a different Leafs line-up, but many also think it should have happened weeks ago.
Let's take a look at John-Michael Liles to start. He has been a healthy scratch for nearly a month, having last played February 16th. In 15 games this season, he has one goal and five assists for six points and is a plus-2. He has also only taken two penalty minutes in those 15 games. Jake Gardiner is another name you can't leave behind. He continues to have his way in the AHL playing for the Toronto Marlies. Gardiner has 30 points in 40 games for the Marlies. Both of these players are great puck movers, have a lot of vision and speed, and can definitely help the Leafs' struggling powerplay.
Let's contrast them with two of the Leafs that I think have been struggling mightily lately. Korbinian Holzer is a big tall defensman, who has three points in twenty games this season, but he is also a minus-8 on the season. Mike Kostka has seven assists on the season and is a minus-7 for the year. Both of these players have really struggled lately, and its come to show in recent games.
So at what point do you sacrifice size for skill and finesse? Personally, I don't think you need to roll with six big strong defenseman. Phaneuf, Fraser, and Franson are all pretty big defenseman, and Carl Gunnarsson isn't an easy walk around. Especially considering that despite being smaller defensemen, Liles and Gardiner both use their speed and their skill to play very effectively in their own zone. More effectively than a lot of the players with size have been playing over the last few games. It is definitely time to get Liles into the line-up, and I would like to see Jake Gardiner here as well, but I wont push it, because I know how much Randy Carlyle loves big strong defensemen.
Clearly, though, the current personnel aren't getting the job done and its time for a change. It's time for some of these players to be held accountable for their performances.
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