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taken up the ideal position
MONTREAL – The question was posed to Jonathan Bernier, perhaps the busiest netminder in the National Hockey League this season and a man who has witnessed the strength of terrific defensive hockey in Los Angeles firsthand en route to a Cup in 2012: Can his Toronto Maple Leafs, currently the top wild card in the East, threaten a deep playoff run without raising their substandard level of defensive play? "Goalies got to be good," Bernier said with an almost uncomfortable laugh. Chuck Howley Youth Jersey . "I personally dont think so," he continued frankly. "Because some games [the goalie] wont get those bounces and [the puck is] going to go in somehow. But we know weve got it in this room. Weve just got to pay the price to play better defensively and, if we do, Im pretty sure we can be one of the top teams in this league." Its an uncomfortable truth for a team that wrung up 11 wins in 14 games before the Olympic break and has designs on making noise in the playoffs after a long-awaited return last spring. This is a hockey club that struggles badly to defend and relies most nights on terrific goaltending and an incredibly potent offence to win. Its a formula that might yield success in the regular season, and it has for the Leafs thus far, but is unlikely to gain much steam when the hockey tightens in mid-April. Head coach Randy Carlyle has been beating the drum loudly on the topic all season, but doesnt have much to show for it. His group remains a work in progress. "Weve been trying and stressing that defensive hockey is whats going to give your team the best chance to qualify for the playoffs," said Carlyle after an instructive practice in Brossard, Quebec. "[But] were in the qualification mode. Were not in the playoff mode [yet]." Only five teams have been worse than the Leafs defensively this season and only one of those teams, the Ottawa Senators, has any hope of qualifying for the playoffs. Toronto has allowed a bloated three goals per game despite boasting some of the finest goaltending in the league with the 25-year-old Bernier. No team, in fact, puts more pressure on their goaltender to be great than do the Leafs. Only Mike Smith in Phoenix has faced more shots than Bernier thus far and hes started 10 more games than the native of Laval. "I think weve seen it," said Bernier of sturdy defensive play. "I think everyones seen it, but I dont think weve seen it consistently enough." Hurting the effort is a bad penalty kill, one thats allowed the most goals (tied) in the league this season, an unstable defence which includes young and growing parts like Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner and a high-end forward group that has shown only spotty attention to defence. A pile of goals and timely goaltending have been required most nights to win. That was true during an 11-2-1 run before the 18-day Olympic stoppage. Running, then, behind the all-world efforts of Phil Kessel, who has been the hottest player on the planet in 2014, the club scored 51 goals – 3.64 per game – but also allowed 41 on the other end. Theyve won despite being outshot in 36 of 48 games – they have a record of 21-10-5 in those games – and despite the fact that theyve allowed a league-high of more than 36 shots per game. Cody Franson, second on the back-end in minutes, believes the instability is tied to confusion in the defensive end, too much thinking rather quick instinctual reaction. "I think were still a little indecisive on things sometimes," he said. "We try and play a quite aggressive style of defence and sometimes when you think too much you end up being a half second slow compared to where you should be. That comfort level just isnt quite there with us yet. I think we still think about things too much." They allowed five in their most recent affair against the Islanders on Thursday night, an overtime loss to a struggling club that was without its best player and leading scorer, John Tavares, and their third leading point-getter in Frans Nielsen. Two of the goals came by way of short circuiting on the power-play with Michael Grabner scoring twice shorthanded in a span of 48 seconds on the same power-play. Another found the back of the net via the aforementioned penalty kill with two more coming on defensive breakdowns, including the overtime winner. "Gifts," said Carlyle after the 5-4 defeat. "Ive got no other word to describe the goals that we gave up." A drastic reversal at this late stage in the year seems unlikely, though Carlyle and the coaching staff continue to push and prod. They did so with any available ice during the Olympic break and continued at practice Friday, narrowing their sights on a tighter neutral zone and improved forecheck – efforts aimed at spending less time in the defensive zone. But with just 21 games to play, including a division clash with the Canadiens on Saturday, its probably safe to say that this is what these Maple Leafs are. The question now is whether they can, as currently constructed, make a little noise in the postseason (assuming they get in) or whether their defensive liabilities will prove too onerous to overcome. Last spring, they nearly toppled a Bruins giant, but required some lightning in a bottle and forgotten brilliance from James Reimer in Games 5 and 6. History points emphatically in the direction of those that can defend. In fact, the last three Stanley Cup winners finished the regular season as either the best or second-best team defensively. And though the Leafs are not yet in the Cup conversation, that remains the goal somewhere down the road. Dave Nonis and the Toronto management team have to be mindful of that fact as it relates to the larger construction of the roster, both now with the Mar. 5 trade deadline looming and over the longer term with the core thats being put into place. Are these the foundations of a club that can eventually win the ultimate prize? "You always see it every year, strong defensive teams win," said Jay McClement. "I think we have the make-up for it. But not without being strong defensively. Obviously, youre not going to win a lot of games 5-4 in the playoffs. We have the goaltending for it and have had it all year. Weve just got to cut down on these mistakes and well be fine. "Were not changing the way we do it, weve just got to do it better." Charles Haley Womens Jersey . Bowditch, the 30-year-old Australian seeking his first PGA Tour title, shot a 4-under 68 to reach 12 under at TPC San Antonio. Matt Kuchar and Andrew Loupe were tied for second. Kuchar shot 65, and Loupe had a 70. Deion Sanders Youth Jersey . -- James Harden scored 31 points, including 25 in the second half, and the Houston Rockets dug out of a double-digit, first-half hole to beat the Orlando Magic 101-89 on Wednesday night. http://www.cowboysrookieproshop.com/Cowboys-Demarcus-Ware-Jersey/ . The mood in Seattle was electrified as the parade featuring the NFL champions began near the Space Needle and made its way to CenturyLink Field, the home of the team. At a ceremony inside the stadium, the team thanked its loyal followers -- the 12th Man -- capping a day of boisterous celebration that drew an estimated 700,000 revelers to Seattle.THE FORMATIONS Toronto FC lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, as it did last weekend in its 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders. There was one change to TFCs starting XI, as designated player, Gilberto, made his debut in a Toronto jersey, replacing Dwayne De Rosario up front. DC United named an unchanged lineup from their 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on the opening weekend of the season (DC had a bye last weekend). Head coach Ben Olsen again chose to line up his team in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. (Click for larger) THE GAME Toronto FCs home debut wasnt pretty. Not because the players on display were poor, but because the pitch simply wasnt ready for soccer. That is not the fault of the BMO Field grounds crew though, who did an admirable job getting the surface prepared for the game. But after the coldest winter in recent memory, it was always going to be an impossible task to turn the playing surface into the lush carpet that players come to expect. While DC United boss Ben Olsen said the pitch "was as bad as Ive ever seen in MLS", it didnt stop the players from trying to play. But the bobbly surface, which cut up as the game wore on, made it virtually impossible for the players to string long sequences of passes together. Despite the difficult conditions (it was also cold and windy down on the pitch), there were some glimpses of what lies ahead for the long-suffering fans of Toronto FC. The partnership between Jermain Defoe and Gilberto looks to be very promising. Defoes movement in the final third was exceptional, and he had a number of chances in the first half to break the deadlock. In Gilberto, Defoe has a partner who can serve as his perfect foil. The Brazilian was comfortable dropping deep to receive the ball, didnt shy away from the physical battle, and once he had the ball at his feet, was willing to drive at the back four or play the role of provider. Michael Bradley was again a dominant force in midfield, and his partnership with Jonathan Osorio is also reason for optimism. They can both get caught ahead of the ball at times (as they did in Seattle last week for the Sounders goal) but that is due more to their lack of familiarity than to any tactical negligence. The early signs are that these two players will be very influential for Toronto FC. At the back, TFC looked comfortable all game. Both Doneil Henry and Steven Caldwell had strong games, with Henry winning everything in the air. In Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola, DC United have two very experienced front men, but Henry and Caldwell thwarted everything that the pair could throw their way. THE TURNING POINT Only one goal separated the teams at the final whistle, and it came from great work from Torontos three designated players. Apparently, you do get what you pay for. On the hour mark, Bradley picked up a square ball from Osorio in midfield, took one touch and floated a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Gilberto, who haad made a great run in behind DC Uniteds central defender, Jeff Parke. Deion Sanders Jersey. (Click for larger) Gilberto settled the ball with a perfect first touch, and as the covering defender, Bobby Boswell, was closing him down, fired a right-footed shot on target. Look at the positional awareness of Defoe when Gilberto is shooting; he put himself in the ideal position to pick up the rebound. He didnt charge in full-speed towards goal; instead, he held his run so that he could adjust his position, which gave him the best possible chance of recovering the ball. (Click for larger) DC United goalkeeper, Bill Hamid, did very well to parry the hard, low shot from Gilberto. Bobby Boswell tried to hack the ball clear, but Defoe, who had taken up the ideal position inside the penalty area, intercepted his clearance. (Click for larger) From there, Defoe did what he does best. He took one touch to set himself and one touch to fire the ball into the back of the net. THE POSITIVES In a scrappy game, it was encouraging to see the developing partnerships all over the pitch for Toronto FC. The strength of this team is its spine: Defoe-Gilberto / Bradley-Osorio / Caldwell-Henry / Julio Cesar is as good a spine as any team in MLS. If those players can stay healthy (and not miss too many games due to this summers World Cup), Toronto FC fans can look forward to playoff soccer for the first time in the clubs history. Defoe was a class apart against DC United. His movement to pull off the shoulders of the DC United defenders was something that all aspiring strikers should watch over and over again. But I thought that 20-year old Henry was immense for TFC. Ive said it before (and I promise you, Ill be saying it again) - Henry is going to be a real player. THE NEGATIVES Jackson had a game to forget, and I suspect that he could be getting a call from the Leagues Disciplinary Committee. In the 50th minute, Jackson was booked for an altercation with DC Uniteds Davy Arnaud. While the referee cautioned Jackson on the play, I think that video evidence will show that Jackson intentionally elbowed Arnaud off the ball – which could draw a suspension similar to the one received by Seattles Clint Dempsey for striking TFCs Mark Bloom last weekend. THE STAR MAN With three goals in his first two games in MLS, Defoe is off to a flying start for Toronto FC. Goals get the headlines – and rightly so – but it was Defoes overall play that was so impressive. His movement and finishing ability are superb, and if his teammates can continue to deliver him good service, it is quite possible that Defoe will sit atop the leagues scoring chart come the end of the season. Never before has Toronto FC started the season with two victories. But a major investment in better players is paying dividends early on for TFC as they sit joint top of the Eastern Conference standings with maximum points from their first two games. Cheap Jerseys China NFL Jerseys Cheap NBA Jerseys Wholesale NHL Jerseys Wholesale MLB Jerseys Cheap Soccer Jerseys China Wholesale NCAA Jerseys Wholesale Football Jerseys Wholesale Basketball Jerseys Wholesale Baseball Jerseys ' ' '

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