Remember that scene in the original Austin Powers? The one where the International Man of Mystery (lol), for whatever reason, finds himself at the controls of a steamroller in an empty warehouse and is driving it straight into the direction of a security guard who is predictably unfit to do his job. So much space separates the slow-moving but highly-lethal hunk of machinery, yet the guard just stands there, screaming, as it inches closer and while Powers pleads with him to move.
Unsurprisingly, the silly scene ends with a splatter.
It might just be (or totally is) my unsophisticated taste in movies, but of late the Toronto Maple Leafs have reminded me of this scene. Like that hapless security guard, a legitimate threat has surfaced and requires attention, but it’s one that isn’t putting the Leafs in any immediate danger given the desolate nature of the Atlantic Division.
And yet, they just seem to be standing there, screaming.
It’s been silly.
I suppose, to be fair, it hasn’t really been screams — just noise.
Everything has amplified over the last three weeks in Leaf Land and across a nine-game stretch that’s seen the club fail to earn a single win in regulation and tumble five points back of the Boston Bruins (who also have three games in hand) for second in the Atlantic.
For the first time since first arriving on his jet plane, fans and media are jointly questioning the decision-making of Mike Babcock. It’s clear this team isn’t optimized to its greatest extent, which even the head coach probably wouldn’t deny. But until the unpolished players on his roster consistently hit the standards in reliability and predictably that he expects them to achieve, he appears set to continue sending out inferior players who might not be able to create an attack, but will be in a position to (attempt to) defend one.
Learning, and such.
Spillover conversation from the optimization debate is now controlling the narrative inside the dressing room. At this point it would be impossible for the players themselves to not start questioning certain things, be it power-play personnel or strict shift balance.
But to this point they have all toed the line, remaining evasive under the spotlight of interrogation — even in the moments after all these tough losses, when emotions are running high.
In other words, everyone has recognized the danger slowly increasing.
No one, however, seems to be doing much about it.
Perhaps that changed Thursday night.
After a series of breakdowns saw the Maple Leafs cough up a two-goal lead in the third period and lose 3-2 in overtime on another blown assignment in Philadelphia, the typically soft-spoken Frederik Andersen stepped up and finally something meaningful was said.
“We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team,” the netminder said, criticizing the effort of certain players without naming names.
Then when asked if he was frustrated to see a 2-on-1 heading his way on a Maple Leafs power play — after just allowing the Flyers back into the game early in the third period — Andersen hinted at frustration and dissatisfaction among individuals with their usage.
“Yeah. A lot of guys on the bench, too. Pretty frustrating not being on the power play and seeing that kind of effort. I think we’ve got to look each other in the eyes and determine where we want to go from here.”
All four forwards on the Leafs’ No. 1 power play — Mitch Marner, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri — committed toward goal as van Riemsdyk’s shot was blocked, leaving Morgan Rielly to defend (and ultimately misplay) the Flyers’ odd-man rush.
If you just caught the highlights, and you share in the outrage over Auston Matthews’ usage on the power play, do note that his unit had just returned to the bench after taking the first 60 seconds of the man advantage.
Still, Andersen’s comments reveal there is unrest in the Leafs’ room, that the complaints from fans and media are perhaps shared by certain members of the team.
And it’s especially impactful not because he’s normally difficult to even hear in scrums, but because he’s essentially a third party privy to everything happening behind closed doors with the Maple Leafs.
With a league-leading 2,355 minutes this season, Andersen has a complete and impartial ice-level perspective of the ostensibly stalled development from a team that seemed to be just a few tweaks away from competing for the conference with their performance at the start of the season.
Andersen’s seen Leo Komarov limited to four primary points all season despite logging more minutes than all but two forwards. He’s seen Roman Polak be routinely overwhelmed and still crack the lineup over the Connor Carricks and Travis Dermotts. He’s seen what was previously a high-octane offence reduced to something embarrassingly anemic over the last six weeks.
And apparently, he’s seen enough.
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