Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Game 77: Montréal 2, Florida 3 (SO)

In our plummet to the bottom, we have reached our floor, in that we can go no lower than 29th, Columbus having clinched the last/first spot in preparation for the draft lottery. Our team worries me though, since we have some pieces that can prevent some losses, or at least outright losses, losses in regulation that solidify our draft position. We have a goalie, we have hungry rookies who are trying to impress whoever will be calling the shots next training camp, we have a #1 line that is still playing hard, like it matters, and like they enjoy playing with each other instead of being all glum and comatose.

This loss is a familiar story for our team this season: play hard, work hard, grab a lead, cough it up in the third, settle for a regulation tie, and lose it in the shootout. And I can't think of another, original way to state it, so I'll grab my violin and pluck out the old dirge that this 'loser' point is killing our chances for a killer draft, and that the deadly Leafs are on the prowl, wielding their familiar weapons: dreadful, beer-league quality goaltending and a crestfallen team whose morale is being obliterated by a tyrannical coach. Those guys are dangerous, they have been there before, they know how to get the job done. You can see it in their eyes, they have the killer attitude.

Our team is not as bad as the Leafs. We have a lot of gaping holes in the roster, but there is a strong foundation to build on. At forward we have five or six NHL-worthy players, and now must find six more to fill out our corps. We can do so with one or three judicious free agent signings, maybe by trading a prospect for a player ready for the NHL, and hopefully by infilling from our system, maybe one more summer of development will yield dividends with some of our farmhands and current bottom-liners. We can hope that our first-round draft pick will be ready to fill one of these holes at forward. On defence, we have four very solid players, and then a plethora of question marks. Solid reinforcements are tantalizingly close, maybe in time for the 2013 training camp. We are set and more at goaltender.

Louis Leblanc is showing us something, even though he has been affected by injuries the last couple of years, and his development could have stalled. We kind of wish that he'd spent the entire season in Hamilton being the #1 centre and being the horse, but he's making the best of his limited minutes, and tonight kind of showed up René Bourque. Again, next season it would be nice if we could let him mature in Hamilton, but we may not have that luxury since we don't have enough NHL players, and he may force the team's hand with his play anyway.

Frédéric St-Denis is another player who is making it hard for us to ignore him. I've discounted his effective play so far this season, believing he didn't bring a skillset to the team that we needed, in that we already have smaller, mobile defencemen on the roster, yet again tonight he was effective, always well-positioned, used his stick to compensate for his lack of physical strength, and gathered an assist when he sent Louis Leblanc off on his 3-on-0 goal. I may be slow on the uptake, but tonight was the first time I began to question whether he might do significantly better than Yannick Weber or Tomas Kaberle or Chris Campoli.

I'm a little worried by Ryan White. He hasn't scored a goal yet, isn't creating any chances through diligent forechecking like he was last season, and may be overcompensating by fighting too often. He went up against Erik Gudbranson even though he gave up a significant size advantage. Ryan wasn't a mere fighter when he was drafted out of the WHL, he was seen as a hard-working centre and was ranked ahead of Ben Maxwell and Milan Lucic by NHL Central Scouting his draft year. Another detail which I noted was that his hair was dry as he went to the penalty box, as if he hadn't had the icetime to work up a good sweat beforehand. I know he's trying to contribute any way he can, but I don't want him to marginalize himself into a Rick Rypien-type middleweight who takes on all comers and does not much else. It might mean a short career for him.

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