To Stop A Slump: The Problems and The Solutions

There was an "interesting" article in today's Toronto Star that listed five reasons for the Leafs' current 0-5-1 start. I have my own solutions and problems to fix this mess, but before I get there, let me talk about The Star's thoughts on the slump, in particular, three of the five problems they listed.

Full Article: http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/nhl/mapleleafs/article/710472

The Star's Take
"Vesa Toskala has come up lame, but his knee injury has nothing to do with his horrible performance. Joey MacDonald wasn't much better. Goalies giving up soft goals, early goals, or goals right after the Leafs score, have a demoralizing effect."

Another Take
It's hard not to dispute with Toskala's failure to be a halfway-decent goalie thus far, and I do agree with The Star on MacDonald to a certain extent, he did look much better than Vesa in his game against Colorado on Tuesday.

The Star's Take
"Nobody wears the C. They were browbeaten by Wilson that none in the room last year were worthy of being a leader, and perhaps now they believe it. Wilson's word is gospel. But once Wilson leaves the room, who takes over?"

Another Take
So far, no one's proven their worth as Captain on the Leafs. Now, I don't have any insider info about the Leafs' locker-room dealings on, but I can tell you what I think. Luke Schenn, who many have pegged as the next Leaf captain, still has much to learn, and has his own problems to deal with (his "sophomore slump") I know Tomas Kaberle has had the "A" for most of his career in Toronto, he really isn't captain material. He's a damn good defenceman and all, but I'm not too sure he's got the mettle to wear the "C" on that jersey. Mike Komisarek spends way too much time in the penalty box, and hasn't really stepped up yet. So, who the hell leads the team?

Toughness ("Truculence")
The Star's Take
"...the Leafs are anything but tough. Forwards don't go to the net. They skate the perimeter and take shots from 40 feet. Few take a hit to make a play. When they do make a hit, it's usually a defenceman who has left himself out of position."

Another Take
Over on PensionPlanPuppets.com, a user by the handle of "Fleet Fox" posted a statistical analysis on how the Leafs supposed "toughness" hasn't really come to play, and at times, has been a negative factor. In response, I said the following, "Plus, we’ve really got to use the fights and hitting to change our momentum. So far, we’ve failed to actually capitalize on any momentum shifts brought upon by fights and hits. It seems that we cower away and let the other team take the game right after a show of physical strength. That needs to change."

My Solutions
- Stop giving ice-time to undeserving players. It baffles me that guys like Garnet Exelby, Jason Blake, and Matt Stajan continually get ice-time, despite underperforming. (To be fair, Stajan did get benched on Tuesday...). If players like them or anyone's under-achieving, give 'em a benching, and give ice-time to deserving players.
- Better coaching. Look, I think that Ron Wilson is a damn good coach, but I have to disagree with Leafs GM Brian Burke insisting that it's the players' fault, and not the coach's, for the losing. I don' t know whether if it's just Wilson/Burke putting all their focus on Team USA's 2010 Winter Games preparation, or something else, Coach Wilson needs to get his act together, and fast.
- A locker-room leader. I've said before that I don't have access to the Leafs' locker-room, but even I know that there needs to be a voice willing to speak for the players to Coach Wilson. It's not time for a captain, yet, but a player with enough courage to rally his troops could be future captain material.
Offensive Pressure, Damnit! Our offense just plain sucks. For one thing, guys like Blake and Mikhail Grabovski keep taking low-percentage shots, and our offense just won't drive the puck into the net. Our offense can't simply wait for Phil Kessel to "fix" everything, they need to start showing some confidence in their game.
- DEE-FENSE!!!1 Our supposedly improved defense has pretty much stunk. Francois Beauchemin's not playing to his strengths, Mike Komisarek's not helping either, and Garnet Exelby is pretty much useless. Meanwhile, Luke Schenn seems to be struggling a bit. My solution? Change up the pairings! Put Schenn and Komisarek together, for instance. Let Beauchemin pair up with Tomas Kaberle, and so on.
Youth Movement. Viktor Stalberg has proven he belongs in the big leagues. So, rather than playing the veterans who seem to play with no heart, the Leafs' braintrust should consider calling up some Marlies. We saw a bit of that when they called Tyler Bozak up for Tuesday's game, we need to see more. Guys like Carl Gunnarsson and Jiri Tlusty, should get chances to prove they belong.
Special Team (or "How To Fix the PK"). Our power-play seems to be alright, but the penalty kill isn't. The Leafs' penalty killers have been nothing short of awful. For one thing, they just sit back and let the opposition's power-play run over them. That needs to change. They need to be more aggressive on the puck-carriers, block more shots, and most importantly, get that puck out of the zone.
The Goaltending "Problem". Easy. There is no goaltending problem. Just go with Jonas Gustavsson in net, with Joey MacDonald as back-up. As for Toskala? Send him down to the AHL for further conditioning. If all else fails with him, send him to another team.

It'll take a lot of work for the Leafs to return to their winning ways, but when it's all said and done, it will be worth it. As for the Leaf Nation, we can only wait to see what happens next.

"It's always darkest before the dawn."
--- Unknown

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