By @Hockey_Hooligan – Dan “Boomer” Cavanaugh
It’d be easy to write five paragraphs hammering on the 51-22 pairing after Saturday. And if we are being honest, many instances this season. As for last game, the words write themselves. On a night, much like other nights, they were the Leafs goat-horn pairing. But too often we see scribes and even ourselves line up knuckles and pound on the obvious punching bags:
I’d like to make more use of my time and come up with some possible solutions to change the script. I’m sure the fan base and media alike would love to change the story line of their post game discussions too, so here we go.
You’re probably basically stuck with that anvil contract of Zaitsev’s and if they’re not trading for an upgrade on defense the coaching staff is going to have to find some better balance in the pairings.
Ideally you respectfully put Zaitsev and Hainsey on a rocket to the fucking sun, but that’s not gonna happen.
Knowing Dermott has/can play and has had some past success on right side. I’d try…
That 3rd pairing looks like a disaster but Zaitsev showed in his rookie year and in international competition that he’s more than capable of playing more offensive. He’s been terrible when he has to stop and think about the safe play or how to get it to Gardiner. He needs to play more instinctive. What he’s being asked to do isn’t working for him, and it never will so why not utilize his strengths? Let him be the puck mover on his own pairing. Maybe he doesn’t resemble a transition player now but my bet is he improves in this facet versus lesser competition, without the responsibility of taking on the NHL’s best. Hainsey will provide the defensive consciousness of the duo. In addition they are already a unit on the PK.
Mo and Dermott are a double barrell shotgun. Rielly has officially arrived and Dermott is ready to handle the increased role. Many teams have success loading up their top pair. This pairing has the potential to be something special assuming Dermott can handle big minutes playing his off side. I’m not sure if asking a 2nd year defenseman to play his off side on a top pairing is the right solution, but here we are.
I think Oz does a better job of getting the puck to his partner under pressure than Zaitsev. He’s also had, by all appearances, more success getting the puck out of the zone when his partner isn’t an option. I think he and Gardiner could be a great fit together. I’m not sure asking a player in his first season in North America if he’s ready to be Gardiner’s defensive conscious but again, here we are.
Mind you none of this matters if your forwards group isn’t fully committed to their defensive responsibilities. That 2nd, 3rd and 4th effort on puck battles is a necessity not just some cliché solution from the coach.
Tiring and more often wrong is continuously blaming only the defensive breakdowns. There’s been plenty of goals against this year where it was a play made or not made by a forward that ended up being the event that precipitated the goal/chance(s) against but the defenseman ended up wearing the goat horns mentioned at the outset because he’s the last guy seen on a play before the puck goes in the net.
Babcock preaches 5 man units and how you won’t have success unless you have buy ins from all 5. He’s not wrong. The Leafs problem is a few times too often they’re only getting buy ins from 3 or 4 guys. Whether thats an issue with the player still not fully understanding what his job is or poor execution I’m not sure.
With all that being said, barring a trade, it’s time to shake up the D.