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Game #48 – Maple Leafs vs. Hawks Spotlight: Is Mike Babcock Not All That He Seems?

We love to destroy idols around here. It’s kind of our thing. So we relish the chance to spread our fire (HEY BUDDY!) outside Chicago. And for the first time in a while, there are sharper looks being directed at Mike Babcock. Then again, everyone who works in Toronto eventually gets turned to ash. They all eat their young up there.

The Leafs are entrenched in third place in the Atlantic. They’ve been passed by the Bruins and are five points behind them and have played four games more. They won’t be caught by anyone either, but third place and a tricky first round matchup with Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron is not what Leafs fans had in mind when this season started. It’s probably not what they sold Patrick Marleau in July. The natives are a tad restless.

The case against Babs: The strange use of his roster. Currently, the existence of Leo Komarov and Roman Polak has pretty much every Leafs fan putting their heads through various pieces of drywall. Polak has been terrible since about 2009. Komarov averages second line minutes with his one non-empty net goal at even-strength. He averages more time than Mitch Marner. It’s certainly grinding on some people.

Second, the Leafs have become a touch boring. They’ve scored more than three goals just once since the Christmas break. For a team boasting this much firepower, that sure does seem to be askew.

Third, Babcock’s rep may be overblown. He hasn’t seen anything past the second round since losing the Final with Detroit in 2009. And the thinking goes that with that roster, you couldn’t help but get to a couple Finals. And while he did get the Anaheim Ducks to a Game 7 in a Final once, that team didn’t finish with 100 points. As soon as his Detroit roster started to age and decline, he didn’t have many answers. A couple victories over the Coyotes doesn’t impress people much, nor does beating Bruce Boudreau at home in a Game 7 because everyone does that.

Still, it’s never that simple. For one, the Leafs have the best xGF/60 in the league. So they can’t be boring. Their shooting percentages in their last 10 games are as follows: 7.6, 11.1, 7.6, 0.0, 7.8, 3.2, 6.7, 5.5, o, 15.7. Only two of them are above their season rate, and they outchanced their opponents in seven of those ten games.

Secondly, even if Babs would like to be more boring, the Leafs have the third worst xGA/60 in the league, even worse than the Hawks. If Babcock wants to lock it down, he’s got a funny way of going about it. Then again, that’s probably a strike against him.

But with this blue line, there isn’t much for him to do. Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner are fine, but neither are top pairing material yet. Neither is Nikita Zaitsev. Maybe one or more will be one day, and now Reilly and Zaitsev are hurt. The forwards aren’t much help, given their youth and attacking instincts.

The fact that the Leafs are having to overcome their blue line shouldn’t be a surprise. It isn’t to many. And they’ve been bailed out as Freddy Andersen is having a wonderful season, so things could and probably should be worse.

Is Babs reputation maybe a little overstated? Yeah, probably. Try not to win a gold medal with the Canadian squads he’s gotten to coach. And he still thought Alex Pietrangelo was a better bet than PK Subban. He’s got one ring, though was inches from another. And as we know around here, rings don’t necessarily equate to genius, so much as good fortune.

Babcock will be judged by what goes on in April and May. And we doubt Leafs fans are going to be too pleased with Babcock’s now normal first or second-round ditch-out. Then again, Lou Lamiorello isn’t going to probably care either way, and for sure Brendan Shanahan won’t.


Game #48 Preview




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