Thomas Malthus wrote:We can talk all day about whether or not Babs is making mistakes with Polak over Carrick, Martin over Leivo, or putting Brown with Matthews instead of Nylander. If you think those are the problems with the team then you're living in la-la land.
I think the crux of the problem this season comes down to four players: Bozak, Komarov, Gardiner, and Zaitsev.
Last season we were threatening with our depth—line up your best defenders against Matthews? That's cool. We'll stick Kadri on your top forwards and the Bozak line will start every shift in the offensive zone. We've essentially lost a top six forward and a top nine/six tweener forward through Bozak and Komarov's poor play. That's a huge loss since teams aren't being punished for keying in on Matthews' line.
I'm a Gardiner fan. I hate the boneheaded plays but I recognize that over the course of a season he's a big net positive out there. Or at least he was. This season he has been brutal while only showing flashes of how he played last season. The numbers point to exiting the zone being his main problem compared to last season and you can tell something's not as fluid/smooth as last season. I'm not sure if this is because Zaitsev's mistakes put him in worse positions to advance the puck compared to last year or if perhaps it's related to the forwards not providing outlets (recall that the pair's numbers with the various lines are fine except for with Kadri's line, where they are atrocious), or some combination of the two.
Zaitsev is infuriating to watch. He really has no idea where to be on the ice. Part of that might just be poor communication with Gardiner but given that Gardiner hasn't had these problems with other partners I feel like this is mainly on Zaitsev. How many times a game does it happen where both he and Gardiner go after the puck carrier behind the net? Or how about when a play happens like last night where Gardiner rushed the puck into the offensive zone, cut back along the right hand boards and Zaitsev just stood there on the right point? He didn't move over to the left side to create a passing option for Jake or to cover that side of the ice for a streaking winger looking to fly the zone. The number show that Zaitsev is awful at preventing zone entries and that shows with the eye test, he leaves guys way too much room. We haven't even gotten to Zaitsev's play with the puck which suffers from some kind of Jekyll and Hyde thing.
tl;dr We should trade Bozak and Leo, they are huge reasons for our poor play. Gardiner and Zaitsev need to be split up. Maybe this is juggling the pairs, sitting Zaitsev, trading one of them. I'm not sure but they cannot continue playing together if we're going to be a championship team.
Yeah, Komarov and Bozak cratering has definitely caused some huge problems up front. Kadri's line is the 'match up' line but most nights they are actually getting caved in, and it sure as hell doesn't look like Naz or Marleau are the reason why when you watch the games.
Regarding the D, I think it could be good to go back to Gardiner-Carrick, and have Borgman-Zaitsev together. I feel like Zaitsev's game is stifled when he is relied upon to be the stay at home guy instead of his partner. I remember there was a few games last year where Marincin-Zaitsev seemed to work really well. It's weird too because you see Zaitsev has all the tools to be a very good mobile D but it seems like he's scared of himself almost. There were some articles earlier in the year where he was interviewed and he seems to be very very hard on himself, to the point where I think he thinks he needs to play an ultra conservative, safe game and opting for the 'simple' play instead of using his passing or rushing abilities.