Pension Plan Puppets: October 2006

Every Leafs fan has an opinion. Here's mine: We are all Pension Plan Puppets. The Teachers pull the strings and we dance.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Leafs 5 v. Habs 4 (SO): Back to Basics

Game Recap

The Leafs travelled to Montreal to pay their respects at the grave of their 2005-2006 playoff aspirations. This year's playoff hopes got a boost as the Leafs stopped a 3 game slide with a 5-4 shootout win. They might have blown another 3rd period lead but there was a lot to like about this game.

The domination was achieved on the basis of a return to the effort and tactics that had fans laughing at pre-season declarations of doom. They had a suffocating forecheck, they won most of the races to the puck, they fired shots from every angle and crashed the net, and they played in simple in their own end. Sure, those are all cliched keys to victory but things are cliches because they are so prevalent and true.

The game followed to pattern of the team's earlier meeting down to the domination for 50-odd minutes followed by a few minutes of madness and a shootout. This game was actually much more total domination than the game in Toronto as the Leafs, despite firing 51 pucks on net, could not score the fifth goal that would have killed the game. Unlike that previous game David Aebischer was not able to steal the extra point for the Habs in the shootout as first Tomas Kaberle and then five shooters later Kyle Wellwood made the poor Swiss tender look porous as they deked him completely out of his jockstrap.

Matt Stajan continued his strong play and the difference between him as a rookie and now is remarkable. He has been one of the team's best forwards this season. J-S Aubin did well in dealing with what little offence the Habs created (not great but ok) but he saved his best work for the shootout where he kept the Habs shooters at bay until a rejuvenated Kyle Wellwood (he had looked a little jaded the past three games) showed that he should always be in the shootout with a lovely deke.

The real star of the game, though, was the team's #1 defencemen, Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle had the kind of game that we had been waiting to see as he put up four points. Of course, three of those were goals to give him the first hat-trick by a Leafs' defenceman since Borje Salming potted three in the 1981-82 season. To call a Kaberle hat-trick a surprise (you have to shoot to score right?) is an understatement. To call his shootout move a surprise is to misunderestimate his abilities. Maybe he merits a spot in the shootout list next time.

The Leafs continue their road trip with a traditionally point-friendly jaunt through the Southeast Division. Their first game is tonight against a Thrashers' team that the Leafs just obliterated 9-1 early last season and dominated in the other 3 meetings. Unfortunately, they have replaced their shooter tutor with Kari Lehtonen and they possess Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa so the Leafs would be well advised to give a repeat performance of the first 50 minutes of Saturday's game with a 10-minute bonus scene where they don't cough up the lead.

The Final Word
When the Toronto Maple Leafs allowed a two-goal lead to slip away with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation time, it appeared the old adage when it rains, it pours had reared its ugly head for the struggling club.
Tim Wharnsby, Globe and Mail, capturing the shared dread of Leafs' fans that their Hallowe'en parties would be ruined. Kaberle and Wellwood ensured a fun night out for Toronto.

C'est congé aujourd'hui pour les joueurs du Canadien. Ceux qui ont la foi, ne serait-ce qu'un petit peu, devraient aller saluer le bon Dieu pour le point arraché aux Maple Leafs de Toronto, hier soir, au Centre Bell.
Francois Gagnon, La Presse, suggesting that the Montreal Canadiens spend some time in church thanking God for getting a point after being played out of the Bell Centre for 53 minutes.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Leafs v. Habs: Game Day Thoughts

It goes without saying that this is an important game for the Leafs. Two points would be great but it is more important that they put in the kind of effort that got them off to a good start. Here are the five keys to a win:

  1. The defensive zone coverage has to be miles better than it has been the last couple of games. The defencemen, especially, have to do a better job of looking over their shoulders to spot the forwards.

  2. Mats and Wellwood have to find their game after three largely anonymous games. The skipper is settling for shots from the perimeter far too often and Wellwood needs to start taking more shots because it is far too evident that he looks for the pass first almost to a fault.

  3. Keep it simple stupid. The Leafs have to get back to clearing the zone first and looking for the nice pass second. The last couple of games the Leafs have shipped a handful of goals because they have coughed up the puck when they have been on the verge of clearing the zone.

  4. The team's concentration has to be better. The senators scored goals in bunches because the team suffered serious lapses in concentration that resulted in tap-in goals.

  5. Hit the net. The forwards did not take advantage of a shaky Ray Emery on Thursday because they missed too many easy shots. In the third period alone I counted 5 shots that Emery flapped at that missed the net.

The bottom line is that the team has to play smart (not smarter because it's been pretty dumb) and with more effort. The big three of Sundin, Kaberle, and McCabe have to be the team's best players to give them any chance to succeed. They do not have to be perfect but they have to be a lot closer to it than they have been lately. Here is some inspiration, a perfect break in snooker.

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 27, 2006

Leafs 2 v. sens 7: Don't Panic

Game Recap

Results like last night's make for long days. sens' fans will be chirping about the latest beating and getting themselves in a tizzy about how their team is on a roll but as we can tell them first hand, a few good games can turn into a few debacles just as easily as they turned their bad start into three strong efforts. Maybe it was a sign that I just finished the above book before these two games because I feel like panicking but the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy assures me that that won't help the situation.

The rough stuff did not materialize mostly because the Leafs played with none of the heart and grit that gave the Leafs a 4-0 playoff record against their provincial baby brothers and an eternal trump card. The only players that showed up for the game were poor Andrew Raycroft who made a number of great saves and kept us from seeing double digits despite being hung out to dry, Mike Peca who must be wondering what he has gotten himself into, Alexei Ponikarovsky who started using his size and speed to crash the net and was almost unstoppable, and Bates Battaglia who again earned a spot on the top line with his hard work and was rewarded with a goal that came solely from hustle. If the rest of the team could wake up (Paging Mssrs. Sundin, Wellwood, Steen, McCabe, Kaberle) and mimic their effort then maybe the season could get back on track.

3 things that showed that the Blessed, Holier-than-thou sens are just like the rest

  1. Glen Healy is still finding his way as an analyst but his 'Viewpoint' segment showed something that was obscured by the angle that TSN and Sportsnet used. As Eaves and Tucker were squaring up St. Patty hit Darcy with a headbutt! What a dirty play. I wonder if sens fans will have the 'little friends' to admit that it was dirty or if they will ignore/justify it? My guess is that despite being self-annointed as the cleanest and most team in the history of the NHL that not a single fan will admit that what he did was disgusting. Even their Italian fans will think it was ok.

  2. With the score 4-2 Jason Spezza had the puck in the Leafs zone with Stajan working hard to cover him only for Spezza to escape and set up the fifth goal and effectively end the game (if it wasn't already over). How did he get loose? By throwing an elbow at Matt and nailing him right in the kisser. The sens are just as dirty as the Leafs or any team in the NHL and their deluded fans will refuse to admit the truth.

  3. The boards at Scotiabank Place were atrocious. First, they came apart, then pucks were bouncing off edges that were sticking out all game. Sure, a partition fell off at the ACC but this was embarrassing. It was like they didn't know how to put the boards together.

5 things that will leave clumps of hair in your hands

  1. From a friend: "I've said it many times before (including way before they re-signed him), and I'll likely say it many times more; Bryan McCabe (and his contract) will single-handedly impede the franchise's ability to build a cup contender for the next five years."
    If McCabe wasn't coughing up the puck with no one around then he was taking a stupid penalty or he was standing around watching the game.

  2. Kaberle is killing our inept powerplay. The Leafs went 0-4 in the first when the game was still within reach but he repeatedly lost the puck at the blueline or his dump-ins were lost because the forwards had to stop at the blueline waiting for him.

  3. Mats has been a ghost the past few games. I have no idea what is wrong with him but he has been far from the player that ended last season on a tear or started this year so strongly. He is settling for a shot from the outside far too often and has not been driving the net with his usual gusto.

  4. Ian White, for all of his assists and offensive skills, has started to look like a cheaper and smaller version of McCabe. He is frequently making terrible decisions with the puck in his own end and has now added stupid passes in the offensive zone to his repertoire. All he needs to do is stop getting his shots through from the point, hit some more shin pads, and the transformation will be complete.

  5. The team's inability to do the small things. The Leafs are not clearing the zone (1st goal), marking properly in their zone (3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th goals) or hitting anyone (2nd and 6th goals). It is incredibly frustrating to see NHL players making novice mistakes.

6 things to get you through the day

  1. Our penalty kill was 7 for 8 and killed of an almost two minute long 5-on-3. Peca and Gill have been great additions to the PK. It is still a work in progress but it is getting better (the Rangers game and Tuesday's game being abberations).

  2. Ponikarovsky might have realized that he is both big and strong. If he can get going then he gives that line a good dynamic with O'Neill as the finisher, Stajan as the playmaker, and Poni as the grinder. His efforts paid off by setting up O'Neill for a tap-in.

  3. Goaltending is not an issue. Last year the Leafs were losing games because in addition to their shoddy defensive play Belfour (Bell-Five! Bell-Six!) was letting in a tonne of softies. This year Raycroft has been making the big saves but has been let down by the team. If the team can improve then they can benefit from the strong goaltending they have been receiving.

  4. The defence is healing up. Pavel Kubina will be back soon. Anyone who doubts the difference that he makes wasn't watching the first three games he played. He takes minutes and pressure from Kaberle and McCabe and allows Gill to play fewer and more effective minutes.

  5. Check out the results comparison. Even after last night we are still 3 points better than the equivalent games from last year. In fact, we lost the second game and second away game against ottawa 8-0 and 8-2 respectively last year. Baby steps.

  6. At least we didn't get killed by the Coyotes. Fellow victims include the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues. Heady company indeed.

The light at the end of the tunnel in...

The Final Word

"I'm not going to quit out there. I'm not going to take the easy way out."
Andrew Raycroft, Goalie, showing the kind of fight that one hopes is infectious.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Results Comparison: The Explanation

This will be an ongoing look at the Leafs current season compared to last year. I got the idea from RAWK a Liverpool FC forum that has run similar comparisons over the past couple of seasons. There are two comparisons, one based on the equivalent fixtures from last season and one based on the game number.

The equivalent fixtures comparison looks at the games based on the same game from last year. So this year's opening trio of games that went Ottawa - Home, Ottawa - Away, and Montreal - Home are compared to last year's first game at home against Ottawa, first game away to Ottawa, and first game at home against Montreal. The order of comparison is based on this season's schedule.

The one problem is that because of this terrible unbalanced schedule the Leafs do not play all of the same opponents. Last year we visited the Northwest Division and hosted the Pacific Division. This year we host the Northwest and visit the Central. Therefore, the Northwest games will still correspond but the Central games will be compared with the Pacific games based on last year's finish in the standings. Therefore Dallas becomes Detroit, San Jose becomes Nashville, Anaheim becomes Columbus, Los Angeles becomes Chicago, and Phoenix becomes St. Louis.

The comparison based on the game number is a bit more in-depth for now and matches game # 1 of last season with this game # 1 of this season, # 2 with #2.

With all of that explained here is the first installment.

Labels: , ,

Results Comparison I: After 10 Games

Equivalent Fixtures

Total points from equivalent games last season: 8
Goals For: 27
Goals Against: 38
Goal Difference: -11

Total points this season: 11 (+3)
Goals For: 33 (+6)
Goals Against: 36 (-2)
Goal Difference: -3 (-8)

Game Number Comparison

After 10 Games Last Season

Points: 12
Total Goals For (TGF): 40
Total Goals Against (TGA): 34
Goal Differential (GD): +6
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 17
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 21
Power Play Goals (PPG): 20
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 67
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 29.85%
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 54
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 64
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 85.71%
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 2
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 2

After 10 Games This Season

Points: 11 (-1)
Total Goals For (TGF): 33 (-7)
Total Goals Against (TGA): 36 (+2)
Goal Differential (GD): -3 (-9)
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 23 (+6)
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 23 (+2)
Power Play Goals (PPG): 7 (-13)
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 51 (-16)
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 13.73% (-16.12%)
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 41 (-13)
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 50 (-14)
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 82.00% (3.71%)
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 2 (/)
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 1 (-1)

The powerplay numbers are skewed a bit by the 9-1 Atlanta game that saw the Leafs go 7-16 with the extra man/men. However, you can see that this year's team is depending a bit less on the powerplay to create offence. The team has become, when they play, a much harder opponent 5-on-5 as evidenced by the even goal differential compared to a 4 goal deficit last year at even strength. The penalty kill had actually reached a level of improvement over last year but the last two games knocked it down to below last season's. The encouraging sign is that the Leafs have averaged just over one penalty a game less which shows that they are adapting much better to the new standard of officiating.

Labels: , ,

You Be The Judge

Since people have been coming here looking for it here is video of the now infamous Tucker-Eaves scrap.

What are your thoughts? Did Tucker 'mug' him or did Eaves consent (under duress)?
Thanks to The Mad Hockey Blogger for unearthing these two videos. The first one shows McGrattan, the sens heavyweight, getting one-punched by Buffalo's Andrew Peters.

In the second one, Chris Neil shows that while he will gladly punch guys when they are being held sometimes a one-on-one fight can be too scary for him.

I hope these monsters don't take on the Leafs tonight!

Labels: , ,

Round Four

Any Leaf fan can tell you that Chad Kilger is one of the hardest working and cleanest players on the team. Since his arrival off waivers from Montreal he has seemingly found a home in Toronto. That is why Tuesday's 'roughing' penalty was a bit of a surprise. Here is the best explanation I have seen for what happened:
With one mighty spear to Christoph Schubert's nether region, the Maple Leafs' Chad Kilger provided an answer to an age-old hockey question. The Ottawa Senators do have cojones after all.

He was trying to find out if the sens have a pair. It's long been suspected that they lack something (see: Playoffs, Chokes in) in their makeup but according to Schubert they always have their boys with them:
I was falling down and the next thing I see, I just got a stick in my two lovely friends.

Here's hoping that Chad doesn't try to see if the sens do, in fact, have hearts. That could be messy.

Tough Talk

There has been a lot of rhetoric flowing from the capital since Tuesday and most of it is coming from ottawa's tough guys Chris Neil and Brian McGrattan. Neil is under the impression that Tucker purposefully chose a guy that had not fought since he was 16 (he's only 22 now) instead of the first senator that actually stepped up to fight him (Fisher did a lot of hacking and slashing, Neil's specialty, but no actual fighting) and now he wants revenge:
If we have a chance to finish checks on him, we'll do it. But we won't do it cheap, we'll do it the right way.

I wonder if by 'right' way he means the 'senators' way. Look out Darcy, you're in store for some stickwork and hits from behind!

McGrattan added:
Going after a guy that's never fought before, I'd just never do it. There's plenty of guys that do that. Tucker's not the only one.

and that is true, McGrattan has fought within his weight class, he has largely gotten drilled, but he does not fight newcomers to the game. Neil, on the other hand, counts such noted pugilists as Nolan Yonkman, Radovan Somik, and Mike Commodore as dance partners. I am guessing we will probably see more chirping and slashing after the whistle than fighting out of Christina.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Leafs 2 v. sens 6: Jekyll and Hyde

Game Recap

This game is best summed up by the head coach:

There's only one mistake that we made tonight: We didn't compete as hard as we need to as a team. That's it.
Paul Maurice

And this post from Ninja that captures the frustration of watching the Leafs pick and choose the periods they want to play as if they were good enough to give less than 100%.

If you are still curious about last night's trainwreck of a game then read last game's recap. The bad stuff still applies (except for the shootout) and there were fewer goals. Or if you want to re-read something happy check out the Flames game. Mats also made history last night AND those truths were clearly in evidence last night. However, if you are determined to read about last night's game then carry on.

The Leafs did put in a solid 30 minutes. Unfortunately, it was the second 30 minutes and the score was already 5-0. Here is a summary of how not competing and the collective mental nap that the Leafs took from the puck drop to the 8:00 mark of the second period cost the Leafs any chance in this game:

1-0 - Kaberle makes a terrible pinch at the blue line which is followed by Belak over-committing on a 2-on-1 to leave Raycroft alone.
2-0 - Leafs can't clear the zone despite numerous chances and the point shot is deflected by a Leafs player.
3-0 - Gill gets outmuscled by Patrick Eaves in front of the net and he pots the rebound to score his first goal since the season opener against the Leafs.
4-0 - Wellwood misses a great opportunity to get the puck by letting it slide under his stick in the corner. McCabe can't tie up Vermette and he fired Fisher's pass through Raycroft's pads.
5-0 - The Leafs all get outworked. Sundin had the puck on the boards and couldn't clear. Spezza eventually gets the puck and centres to Heatley who got away from Wellwood.

On the bright side, the Leafs could have easily gone into the third trailing only 5-4 instead of 5-1. The Gerber Baby made a number of last-ditch saves to rob Mats and Wellwood of goals. He did look a little weak in the third, especially on Sundin's record setting goal, but unfortunately the Leafs cannot build on that since Emery get the start Thursday night.

The two heavyweights took a little dance but it turned out to be a pretty terrible fight and indicative of the game. Belak didn't do too much while McGrattan did just enough until Wade slipped up and he pounced. It was nice to see McGrattan win his first-ever fight. I can only assume it was his first win because despite not landing any good punches and basically just falling on Belak he tried to mock Belak by making "turtle" motions.

Team pest Darcy Tucker did his best to energize the team. One sequence showed what he brings to the team. First he nailed Spezza, who proceeded to slash him and run to the bench, then Tucker hit Eaves, who jumped at Darcy as he was hit. Tucker dropped the gloves, grabbed him and said 'let's go'. Eaves made a valiant effort but Tucker dropped three huge rights and topped off the sequence by returning McGrattan's mocking by mimicking him.

Most Ottawa fans are outraged, calling Eaves a skill player and suggesting that Neil fight Wellwood in relatiation. That is just nonsense. We all know that Neil doesn't fight. Plus Eaves is the sens answer to Tomas Holmstrom (from what I have read) and he is 2 inches taller and 10 pounds heavier. Tucker didn't throw a punch until Eaves dropped the gloves.

Schubert continued the sens pattern of injuring Leafs through stick violence (Alfie was the exception, he used a hit from behind) with a hefty slash on Kilger and he was repaid by something that Harry Neale called "The Separator". Not a noble retaliation.

The sens replied to the Leafs dirty tricks with their tried and true dirty trick, a hit from behind on Tucker. This time it was Heatley, who is apparently the sens' injurer-in-chief now, who drilled Tucker. No penalty of course.

The animosity is building in anticipation of Thursday night. Of course because of the ridiculous NHL schedule, that will be the fourth game in October followed by a long layoff to let the steam cool. What a shame, things were just getting interesting. Hopefully, both teams show up tomorrow night (paging the home team) or a repeat of the 6-0 drubbing. I could handle that.

Maple Leaf Goals
First Goal
O'Neill wins the faceoff back to White who gets his shot through. O'Neill sneaked past the sens centreman and was stoned (that has been a theme this season) but Stajan has an empty net for the tap in.

Second Goal
Shades of Lalime. White hit Tucker with a good breakout pass and he found an open Sundin on the left wing. He shot on net as he crossed the blueline and Gerber absolutely blew it. He passes Dave Keon (he of the curse) into second on the all-time Leafs scoring list. Not quite as good as his 500th but you can only score on who you're facing.

The Final Word

You know their pride will kick in and they’ll come more prepared Thursday night. The last time Ottawa beat them up on home ice, they did much worse in response.
Chris McMurtry, Hockey Country, summing up the best case scenario.

As usual when these clubs meet, not all went off without a hitch. Darcy Tucker backs down from no one, but his decision to start a fight with Eaves, a non-fighter, in the second period did not please Senators brass. "It's a cowardly act," Sens general manager John Muckler said.
Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, probably wondering if Muckler remembers Alfie's cowardly check or Heatley's cowardly slash or Spezza's cowardly slash. Maybe it's senility kicking in.

Labels: , , , ,


Much has been written about the Leafs shortcomings but I think the answer could be found in an unlikely place:
"If he looks down the bench, I'm ready," Belak said, saying he works on a special move with Aubin all the time and has a post-goal celebration ready, too.
I would pay for the chance to see the 'special move' and post-goal celebration. I played intramurals with a guy that had two special moves for breakaways. One was a slap shot from six feet out and the other involved sliding the puck at the goalie and checking both into the net. I am not saying for sure that that is Belak's special move but I would not be surprised.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 23, 2006

Cross Border Theft

Tonight a record held by the almost great Leafs team of 1992-1994 could come one step closer to returning across the Peace Bridge to Buffalo. Cox points out the historical balance of the record possibly reverting from Toronto to the team that originally stole it from us. Looking at the intervals in which we have shared the record I feel comfortable predicting that after 41, 18, and 13 seasons between moves that the record (if broken) will return to the Leafs in 12 seasons or less. I cannot wait until the 2018-2019 campaign and our 12 game winning streak!

The sad thing is that in Gary Bettman's rush to label all things post-lockout an improvement over the past the new record will be allowed to stand on its own merits sans asterisk despite three victories coming by way of the shootout. In the old days, the Leafs had to win the game in the first 65 minutes. Although, if there had of been shootouts then there is no doubt that the Leafs would not have made it to 10 straight wins before losing one.

On the bright side, Montreal's star defenceman Janne Niinimaa is guaranteeing a victory. That's pretty bold coming from a guy that will most likely snap his neck in the first period while trying to follow the white streaks going past him.

Update: The Habs failed to stop the Sabres as they fell 4-1.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Leafs 4 v. Rangers 5 (SO): Sweating the Small Things

Game Recap

I read last night that "Victory masks mistakes" so it stands to reason that losses unmask them and Saturday's game was a perfect example. The Leafs generally played a pretty good game outside of the now traditional second period penalty parade that led to a period of domination by the Rangers. It was a little worrisome that the Leafs' energy level dropped to a point where they looked significantly slower than New York. Of course the Leafs flipped the script so to speak in the third period by completely dominating the Rangers and outshooting them 16-4.

Among the small things that played a part in the Leafs losing the game:

  • Stajan went 2 for 10 on faceoffs. Especially when a team is getting pinned in their own zone centremen need to win draws to gain puck possession to clear the zone.

  • Rebound clearance. Too often the Leafs were trying to clear the puck instead of clearing the man. This was most evident on the Rangers fourth goal where John Pohl fanned and let Jason Ward hammer in the rebound.

  • Penalty kill. This is actually a big thing but the small part that sabotaged the effectiveness that was building in the last few games was that the Leafs were losing races to the puck. This led to increased pressure which in turn brought about a terrible 2 for 4 performance from the PK.
  • Shooting. Based on a league high average of shots you would think that the Leafs do this very well. However, they are getting an inordinate amount of shots blocked, especially from the blueline, and are just plain missing the net. In the third period it started feeling like they might never hit the net again. I blame the increased curve for making them miss the net so much but getting about 20 shots blocked a game is inexcusable.

  • The Shootout. The Leafs's trouble with this new fangled contraption are well documented by Wardo and I share his brother's mortal fear of the end of overtime. No matter who is playing well and what they have done in the game they will inevitably be terrible in this individual show down. Last year it cost the Leafs a playoff spot and at 1-3 early in the year it looks like it has the potential to be another spanner this season.

There were some good aspects to the game. O'Neill scored another goal which can only help his confidence. Andrew Raycroft was solid again. Not spectacular but good enough to give the Leafs a chance to win.

A very depressing installment of...

The Final Word

Mats Sundin lost control of the puck, Alexei Ponikarovsky second-guessed himself, and the Leafs were talking like last night's 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Rangers felt more like a win. It's official: These shootouts are beginning to play mind games with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, stating the obvious.

Labels: ,

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Leafs 4 v. Blue Jackets 2: Just Enough

Game Recap

The Leafs made their first visit to Columbus since 2003 and came away with 2 well-earned points. Much in the same that the Avs triumphed in Toronto, the Leafs played just a bit better than a Columbus team devoid of passion. The Leafs made a few lineup changes with Jay Harrison moving to the press box to be replace by Wade Belak and Ben Ondrus making his first appearance of the year on the seldom used fourth line. There was also a sizeable contingent of Leafs fans present. The occasional Go Leafs Go chant made you think that you were in Ottawa.

A guarded first period saw the Leafs doing much more of what they need to do. They were winning battles for the puck, establishing the forecheck, and hitting much more than Wednesday when they recorded less than a handful of hits. Alexander Steen was moved to the first line and it looked like his understanding with the skipper did not miss a beat. The good news is that Mats now has two offensively gifted youngsters (Wellwood and Steen were 9th and 10th in rookie scoring last year) ready to feed him the puck. The flip side of that is that they are always looking to feed Mats so they will have to work on creating their own chances.

The second period saw the Leafs struggling to deal with a surprisingly pacy Columbus attack. Of course, this led to a parade to the penalty box for the Leafs. Thankfully, Mike Peca had another great game killing penalties and added his first goal as a Maple Leaf. His PK efforts were aided by Chad Kilger, Ian White, and Hal Gill. The PK won almost every one-on-one battle and did a superb job icing the puck. Andrew Raycroft who had a great game and made a number of stunning saves including one in which he moved from post to post to stop a certain goal.

Matt Stajan was once again the forward with the most jump in his step. Apparently, the coaching staff sat him down after the first couple of games and made him watch each shift in order to teach him and it has definitely paid off this season.

I think they may have done the same with Bryan McCabe because he played his best game of the season. That is not saying much since he has been pretty terrible but it was a good game for any $6M defenceman. He cut out a number of opportunities, he was not caught pinching and he opened the scoring.

The third period saw the game descend back into the same kind of stultifying boredom of the first except for a ray of sunshine from the fourth line. Paul Maurice was unable to get them much ice-time because of the amount of penalties but when he called upon them they delivered. They hemmed the Blue Jackets in with an exuberant puck pursuit before forcing a turnover that led to a John Pohl goal. Hopefully, they can continue to put forth that sort of effort in their rare time on the ice because the Leafs may eventually need a strong 4th line (see: playoffs, if we make the).

Overall, despite the lack of excitement, which Michael Turner compares to getting stabbed in the eye with a syringe (I hope he doesn't actually have a reference point for that because it sounds painful), there were enough bright spots to come away from the game happy. Tonight it's the Rangers and with Jaromir Jagr I don't think that the Leafs will be able to get away with giving up 7 powerplays.

Maple Leaf Goals
First Goal
Wellwood drove wide down the right wing and slide the puck through to Mats Sundin who continued around the back of the net before trying to centre it to Alex Steen. He couldn't connect with it but Bryan McCabe leaned into a one-timer to open up his account.

Second Goal
The Leafs' powerplay broke down the Blue Jackets' box with some slick passing. McCabe took a quick touch pass from Kaberle who just got the puck after a sprawling effort by Chimera to intercept a pass from Wellwood. His pass was deflected to Tucker at the right side of the net and he made a nifty behind-the-back pass to Wellwood who tried to pass it to Mats behind the net and accidentally scored.

Third Goal
Alex Steen made a great play to shield the puck along the boards after Kilger's dump in. Peca chipped the puck up to Kilger who left it for Steen who fired a perfect pass to Peca who had floated to the front of the net. He chipped the puck past LeClaire for his first goal as a Leaf.

Fourth Goal
The fourth line was rewarded for their hard work with a turnover that Ben Ondrus picked off between the tops of the circles. His blast resulted in another huge rebound from Pascal LeClaire and John Pohl was there to slap the puck into the roof of the net.

And as always...

The Final Word

The games are all sold out in Toronto, so those poor, hockey-starved folks have a chance to chant "Go, Leafs, Go" somewhere. But all kidding aside, the Leafs should be more than a rumor in an NHL city a mere 5½-hour drive from Toronto, especially given their widespread popularity. The schedule heavy with intradivision games that the NHL adopted two years ago doesn’t look any better today than the Blue Jackets looked last night. Want to be here when the Blue Jackets get a little home ice revenge on the Maple Leafs? Don’t despair. If things stay the way they are, Toronto will be back in town for the 2009-10 season.
Bob Hunter, Columbus Dispatch, illustrating the ridiculousness of the unbalanced schedule.

After more than 35 minutes of very flat play from both teams and an unusual number of power plays for both teams that kept specialty units on the ice, Maurice threw the high-energy No.4 line over the boards. As they usually do, they kept the opposition in their own end. Ultimately, ex-Leaf Anders Eriksson was called for holding Ondrus's stick in a desperate bid to end the pressure. Out came the Leafs' No.1 power-play unit, which had struggled through the last game-and-a-half, and suddenly it sprang to life. A passing play involving all five players ended when Kyle Wellwood tipped in Darcy Tucker's behind-the-back beauty.
Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, giving the little guys their due as the game's turning point.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Stats Are a Fan's Best Friend

Sick and tired of trying to hunt down last night's stats? Are you in a pool and need better information? or are you just a fan that wants to see the bigger picture?

Now hockey fans have a new first stop in the morning in their search for statistics the hockey recap. James Mirtle has a bit of background on the site and here are Gary Cohen's words:
Hockey-Recap produces a 1-page report (for free) on a daily basis which includes the previous day's statistics, leaders and other important elements such as standings, transactions, injuries and quite a bit more. There are also pages for all players which include game by game extended stats for 2006-2007 and will soon have career stats. You can subscribe to the site and receive a copy of the report in your email each morning or you can simply visit the site. There will be enhancements to the site every week.

Gary is taking suggestions on how to improve the site so check it out, provide some feedback, and enjoy the quickest recap of the night's action.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Leafs 1 v. Avalanche 4: God is Not Dead

Game Recap

Buddah is alive and well! Err...Budaj is alive and well. Despite his fears of facing the Leafs vaunted attack,

"...I was told they were averaging 35 or even 38 shots on net so I was expecting more shots,"

the Leafs were very accomodating in allowing the timeless deity to get the win in the town in which he starred for the St. Michael's Majors.

Unfortunately for those that paid to watch the Leafs win their touching homecoming gesture did not sit well as evidenced by the booing at the end of the game. This was a game that most people agree was a horrible trip down memory lane. The Leafs played some amazing hockey, in the first 3 minutes, and then took us back to the dark pre-Olympic days where they could not forecheck, skate, defend, goaltend, score, or make good pre-game presentations.

Yes, the night started slow when Mats was honoured with a nice frame-up of the stick, puck, and scoresheet from his milestone night. The team also gave him a golf trip for four to Ireland. As someone who has golfed there I recommend he stay away from the Irish Sea. Sure, the sea coast is beautiful and 400 yard 7-irons with gale force winds at your back are sweet but it is not as much fun when your drive goes about a quarter of that distance. Anyway, the Leafs surely did not do much to show that they deserved a spot on that trip. This game dropped them to 0-2 in games with a pre-game celebration so I would suggest that after Mats breaks more records this season that the club conduct the ceremony on an off-day. You know, something even more understated than last night's 'celebration'.

In a game in which the buds continued they tradition of being a cure-all for what ails a struggling team the review of the actual game is pretty short. Basically:
  • Andrew Raycroft had his first game where you could really say that goals were soft through no fault of screens or deflections (note: he also made some great saves but that is not enough to make up for his first real stinker)

  • Matt Stajan was the best forward and was almost rewarded when he set up O'Neill for a goal that sould have counted. Yes, O'Neill pushed Budaj but the puck was already gone and in the net. The ref blew this call among many others tonight.

  • Mike Peca killed penalties as well as was hoped when he arrived.

  • The young Marlies defencemen were especially atrocious with Jay Harrison leading the way. He coughed up the puck on a number of occassions, was directly to blame for one goal, and lost his man on a second.

Hopefully, this game teaches the Leafs what should have been evident before tonight: If they do not kill themselves through the sheer amount of heart and effort they display then they will get killed.

Maple Leaf Goal
First Goal
In a display of what they should have done all night Jay Harrison feathered a nice dump-in to the corner and both Wade Belak and John Pohl pressured the defencemen into coughing up the puck. Bates Battaglia picked up the puck and roofed a wrist shot over Budaj's shoulder to give the Leafs the lead 2:22 into the game. The team stopped playing at 2:23.

The section that makes you wish that opposition newspapers would write something more inflammatory...

The Final Word

The Leafs are about to embark on a streak in which they play nine games in 16 days. They had better wake up. A disinterested Toronto squad sleepwalked through a 4-1 loss last night to the Colorado Avalanche. Coming into the game in last place in the Northwest Division, the Avalanche exposed the flaws in a Maple Leaf team that looked rusty after a three-day layoff.
Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, reminding the team that they were a pre-season pick to miss the playoffs for a reason.

But after raising his arms and looking skyward after the Avs' 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, Budaj took the puck with him for keeps. Not because it was his first victory of the season, or because it was the Avalanche's first road win.
Adrian Dater, Denver Post, focusing on the God-fearing goaltender instead of the ease with which the Avs lost.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Good Ol' Hockey Game!

A special thanks to Odd Man Rush for tracking down this homage to Canada's game. For those of you accessing this site from work I suggest that you wait until you get home to check it out.


Leafs v. Avalanche: Pre-Game Thoughts

The Avalanche pay the ACC a visit on the back of two straight losses and apparently neither one was very pretty. Jose Theodore has had a rough go of things over the past two games and tonight should be no different considering his 5-10-2 (with three ties pre-shootout) in 23 appearances against Toronto. The Leafs are averaging almost 40 shots a game so if Propecia doesn't bring his 'A' game this could be a third straight high-scoring affair. The Leafs have lost the top spot in team scoring to the Sabres after last night's 9-1 crushing of the Flyers which has already led to some blood-letting. Here's hoping for a matching outburst to bolt us back into the lead!

Tonight, Mats Sundin will be honoured by the club for scoring his 500th goal. He has already gotten a nice pair of cufflinks which is nice but, along the lines of Bitter Leaf Fan's thoughts, maybe Canadian citizenship would be the greatest gift.

Injury Watch
Michael Peca will be in the line-up which will hopefully mean that we will see a much better defensive effort from the second line. Nik Antropov and Ben Ondrus are both still making their way back from the IR. Not that either one of them will drop back into forward lines that are starting to click. It will be interesting to see what happens to both once they are completely healthy. I would imagine that they would each get a two week conditioning stint at the Ricoh. As for the defencemen, no news on Carlo but Kronwall skated and it hurt a lot. It seems that with the time he has taken to return from an ankle sprain that he might have the dreaded 'high ankle sprain', a condition which is notoriously tough to recover from fully.

The Leafs will again frustrate with less than 60 minutes of effort but will still emerge victorious. Toronto hockey fans will get to see former St. Mike's Majors deity Peter Budaj when he comes in to relieve a shell-shocked Joey T.

6-2 Leafs: Mats (2), Tucker, McCabe, Steen, Peca

Labels: , , ,

Monday, October 16, 2006

Leafs 5 v. Flames 4 (OT): Captain Clutch Notches Milestone

Game Recap

There are a few painful truths (aside from no Cups in 40 years) that are part and parcel of being a Maple Leafs' fan.
  • If they trade a prospect/player away then you will have to watch him kill the Leafs every time he returns to Toronto.

  • If a team is struggling then they will find that the Leafs are a cure-all for their ills.

  • If a local boy is playing in front of his friends and family then get him in your pool because he is going to light up the Leafs.

Saturday night the Leafs managed to overcome the last two thanks to their captain's amazing game. On a night that saw the Leafs allow a Calgary team to almost match their goal output for the season and local product Mark Giordano scored his first two NHL goals Captain Clutch showed why his name is bandied about as one of the best Leafs ever.

Mats Sundin continued his great play to start the season and led the new run and gun offence with a man of the match 4-point performance. On the powerplay he took a Bryan McCabe pass and buried the feed into the open net. With the score tied at 3 Mats took a Darcy Tucker drop pass and ripped a wicked wrist shot over Kipper's right shoulder to give the Leafs the lead once more. With a sense for the occassion and the dramatic Mats waited until it looked like the Leafs would once again have to settle for 'at least we got a point'. Tucker was called for hooking (or lifting the stick) with 8 seconds to go in the game leaving Toronto shorthanded in overtime. Undeterred, the captain muscled the puck from the Flames, drove up ice, and ripped a trademark slapper over Kiprusoff's glove hand to win the game, complete his hat trick, and notch his 500th goal. In doing so, Mats became the first Leaf to score his 500th goal in the blue and white.

The rest of the game is easily relegated to meaningless in light of the captain's heroics but there were some matters of importance. Brendan Bell returned to action and did not look out of place on the blueline. Mike Peca missed the game as a precaution due to a hip flexor problem. His absence was especially felt because John Pohl, who picked up the ice-time, did not have a good game. He was weak on the puck, looked a step behind the entire game, and his turnover led directly to the Flames' 4th goal. Alexander Steen finally broke his goose egg with a less than pretty goal. Lying in the crease after crashing the net he had the presence of mind to sweep at a loose puck to tie the game at 3s.

All in all, it was a good effort from the Leafs. They let the Flames get back in the game and get into the lead but they also managed to maintain their composure and not let the game get away from them. The lapses in concentration are worrying but on such a magical night they can be swept under the rug. Although they better not keep coughing up leads because who knows how long the Leafs will lead the NHL in scoring.

In honour of the captain's achievements he gets the only say in...

The Final Word

"It's certainly a fun way to get my 500th goal. It's a special way," he said later. "I'm very proud of it. It's an achievement not many players have reached in this league and, once I'm retired, I'm going to appreciate it even more. I'll remember this game for my whole life."
Mats Sundin, Captain Clutch, who will be sorely missed in Toronto when he retires.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Leafs 6 v. Devils 7 (SO): Dancing with the Devil

Game Recap

The Leafs came up against the Team That Lou Built (shadily) and Mr. Dithers and proceeded to play them off the rink. A relentless forecheck caused the Devils defence to repeatedly cough up the puck. The stone-handed Leafs scored 5 even strength goals on their way to a 6-3 lead after 40 minutes. Maurice's charges had such an easy time that the Leafs decided to honour hockey's shinny roots by giving the Devils 3 goals and going right to a next goal wins overtime period. I was on the phone so I am pretty sure that explains why the Devils won this game and my dad was questioning the manhood of the team in Spanish.

Unfortunately, I am being facetious and I did see that trainwreck of a third period. Call it a study in how to lose a hockey game. The Leafs were repeatedly caught running around their zone. This actually happened throughout the game. The Leafs would blow a chance to clear the zone and the ensuing panic would invariably result in, first, my dad saying 'they are going to score, here comes the goal' and, second, a goal. The team also took some bad penalties (Update: Chris Young tallies who drew the penalties and their result. It is definitely an interesting stat to follow)and were then unable to kill them off. And last year's magic seems to have abandond JS Aubin as he had the kind of third period that almost makes you want to see Telly in net. Almost. He let in three straight Brian Gionta (HE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SIGN LOU!) shots through the wickets. It could have been worse but just barely. However, you will read enough about how this ONE bad period speaks volumes about what Leafs' fans will have to face this year.

So in order to save us from the doomsday predictions and Chicken Little ranting and raving that will serve to crush any hope that has built up over the past three contests (I am looking at you Cox) here are some reasons to smile today.

5 Reasons to believe that we will not need tee times come April 8th
  1. Jeff O'Neill has continued to improve. Anyone that has read this page religiously (thanks Dad!) knows that I am the President and Founder of his fan club. His improvement has come in baby steps with tonight being his best performance of this young season. He continues to get into good shooting positions and buried a power play goal with the kind of quick release that saw him tally 41 goals in Carolina. Baby steps would be describe his improvement but it has been a one way path and each step gets him closer to the player that Toronto thought that they were getting.

  2. The Leafs now have three lines going strong. The forwards have been a work in progress this pre-season and in this season's early stages. First, the Kilger-Peca-Steen line clicked, then the Wellwood-Sundin-Tucker was formed. Tonight saw the emergence of our third line of Ponikarovsky-Stajan-O'Neill. They accounted for four of the six goals and created a handful of other chances (Does anyone have a chisel for Poni Stone-Hands?). All three lines are capable of playing Maurice's high tempo, hard forechecking game and creating and finishing scoring chances.

  3. We have Andrew Raycroft for the game Saturday night against the Flames. If we had not traded for the rejuvenated goaltender then we would have had to start Telly. I think we can all agree that that is a lot less appealing than it seemed over the summer.

  4. Paul Maurice's changes have made an incredible difference on the team. The 2-1-2 forecheck is causing opposition defenders headaches. The team's work ethic is reminiscent of the teams that were successful in last year's playoffs. The defence has dealt with pressure much better than last year and have shown a willingness and ability to jump into the play. Granted, these things are clearly not evident all of the time but they have been frequently and that is more than can be said for last year. Once the team's consistency is improved they will be a 'tough' team to play against. When was the last time anyone said that about the Leafs?

    Not to mention that he will be incensed with the third period AND will do something about it. So often in the past Pat Quinn would take a ho-hum approach to bad results. You could see on the bench that Maurice was seething.

  5. The Leafs scored SIX goals. The team that spawned a cottage industry in "Who is going to score?" articles put up a half dozen goals for the second time in four games.
Maple Leaf Goals
First Goal
O'Neill found a soft spot in the penalty kill box near the face-off dot and ripped a snapshot over Brodeur's shoulder.

Second Goal
O'Neill grabbed a forecheck-induced turnover and slid a great pass over to Stajan who just put it wide. Stajan stayed with the puck as it went behind the net and he came out on the other side of the net and banked it in off of a sprawling Brodeur.

Third Goal
20 seconds after the Devils had tied the game Stajan took McCabe's pass as he streaked down the left wing and ripped a 35 foot slapshot that Brodeur couldn't handle. The play resulted from a quick transition into attack after a Parise dump out.

Fourth Goal
White dumped the puck into the corner to the left of the goal. Kilger pressured the defenceman who tried to whip it around the boards. Peca cut it off and threw it on net as Steen was crashing the net. Kilger, who had come around the back of the net, slammed the rebound home under Brodeur.

Fifth Goal
Wellwood won the draw cleanly to Tucker and his quick shot hit Brylin's skate and went through Brodeur's skates.

Sixth Goal
Ponikarovsky picked up a loose puck after a Devils 2-on-1 resulted in a shot wide of the net. He crossed the blueline and showed why he challenges Antropov for the title of most frustrating Leafs by blasting a rocket over Brodeur's leaky glove. The way that the other four Leafs entered the zone and spread out actually reminded me of the Flying V. Maybe they can make that a set play. I know this coach would use it.

Shootout Shooters
Stajan - Came in and shot over the right shoulder of Brodeur who went down far too early.
Sundin - Pulled his now trademark NHL 94 move. Brodeur has been watching Sportscentre because he anticipated it.
Tucker - Tried to go five-hole but it closed up as soon as he committed to it.
Poni - Tried to roof a backhand but Brodeur snagged it with his suddenly repaired glove.

New Jersey
Elias - Tried to get too cute. He went out wide right, cut across to the left, and lost the puck cutting back to the right. Triple dekes rarely work outside of the movies.
Gionta - Shot high over Aubin's glove and scored.
Brylin - Tried to deke to Aubin's left and was stopped. Who can guess the pattern?
Madden - Shot high glove and put it just under the bar. Devils win, spin begins.

Now that the super important, all-knowing media have handed in their copied assignments I can put my favourite section up...

The Final Word

Dare to suggest that the Devils' current group of defensemen just might be the team's biggest question mark this season and jaws begin to drop. Better to criticize the 1978-79 Montreal Canadiens, who had four Hall of Fame defensemen with Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Guy LaPointe and Rod Langway, than these Devils. "People say what they want to say. We'll feed off that and enjoy proving people wrong," Devils defenseman Brad Lukowich said yesterday.
Rich Chere, The Star-Ledger, providing a good laugh and a nice bit of foreshadowing.

"I thought the goaltending at both ends was equal tonight," the Leafs coach said. "You come on the road and say your goalie played as well as Marty Brodeur did, you're usually pretty happy about that."
Paul Hunter, Toronto Star, showing that Paul Maurice can mock two goalies at once. Pat Quinn could probably only do it one at a time.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Falling Like Flies

Pavel Kubina will be out a minimum of four weeks and that could be extended depending on further tests. From JFJ's description of the diagnosis as "simply through manipulation" it sounds like the knee might still be too swollen to perform an MRI. This is bad news for a player that was bedding himself into the defence corps pretty well. It's nice to see the Leafs go from 'Who will win a spot on the defence' to 'who will survive playing defence'.

That brings the IR to:
  • Carlo Colaiacovo (fatigue)
  • Brendan Bell (assault)
  • Andy Wozniewskit (shoulder)
  • Staffan Kronwall (bad skates)
  • Pavel Kubina (clumsy 'bury boy)

The popular opinion is that Bell might be ready to go on Thursday in New Jersey. If not, then the alternative is either putting Belak on the backend, which proved to be a disaster in the first game of the season, or to call up a Marlie like Brad Brown or Marc Moro. My choice is Brown because he is my friend's parents' neighbour and that would make two Leafs that are just 2 degrees of separation away from me.

Update: Pavel will be out four to six weeks with a strained MCL but will not need surgery! The scenarios are rife for dealing with the injury. To the above you can add trying to sign Brian Leetch with the money saved via the LTI clause (Thanks Lou!) or making a trade. Seeing as the Leafs have only $1M under the cap and Leetch made so much last season I would guess that JFJ will do as he did last year and work with what he has available. That means that Belak will most likely move back for a game or two until Bell returns and Suglobov will make his return to the fourth line.

Labels: , ,

Leafs 2 v. Panthers 1 (SO): Confusion


That one word sums up my thoughts during last night's game. Who was this team that was relentlessly forechecking the opposition into submission? Who was this team that broke out of their zone so effortlessly that even when the opposition was able to thwart the first effort they managed to regroup and exit the zone? Who was this team that held the opposition to 25 mostly harmless shots? Who was this team that only took 3 penalties and drew countless more with their quickness and ability to find goal-scoring opportunities? 12 months ago the answer, of course, would have been whoever the Leafs were playing. What a difference a year makes. Last night Toronto did all the above and more to leave me confounded as to what I was watching.

Just kidding, I knew exactly what I was watching especially when the team took two penalties to go down 5-on- 3 and gift the Panthers the lead. Old habits die hard but they are dying and that is progress in and of itself. After years of Pat Quinn's laissez-faire approach succeeding in the regular season Toronto found that it no longer had the horses (or goaltending) to run that race. Enter Paul Maurice. This year's team has shown that despite whatever shortcomings it may possess (see: goals, scoring of) it will not be outworked. After such a dominant evening it is really hard to say anything bad about any of the Leafs. The top three lines were rolling and, Mats Sundin especially, seeming to love Maurice's three line policy (Pohl, Bates, and Belak saw about 5 minutes of ice time).

Alex Auld was lights out and any other night we would have seen a blowout along the lines of the 6-0 sens game. Tucker and O'Neill, who had two point blank chances stopped, will feel most aggrieved at not tickling the twine. Kyle Wellwood was rewarded for his strong game (and team leading 24 minutes) with the goal that he threatened to score all night when he blasted a 20 foot slap shot under Auld's glove on a partial break. The play was set up by a pass by a diving Pavel Kubina that was redirected to Wellwood by Tucker who made his return to the top line after Ponikarovsky showed a worrying habit of rifling shots right at the goalie's crest. Maybe we can ask the league to change any logos that could potentially hypnotize Poni.

Overtime did not settle anything and off we went to the shootout where Raycroft stopped both shots (the first hit the bar). Mats pulled the good olf NHL 94, skate to one side and shoot to the other side move (never fails) while Darcy showed what he could do with a perfect backhand deke and shot through Auld's legs. Last year, among many small things that accumulated into missing the playoffs, the Leafs were only 3-7 in shootouts while often looking completely lost. This year they are 1-1 and the players have altered their approach to the extra point. Most notably, the captain has changed his slow approach (not Allison slow but measured) to last night's breakneck approach,
"I think last year, I was coming in a little slow," he said. "I'm trying to put myself more in a game-type situation on the shootout. Unlike last year when I was coming in a little slower and trying to pick the corner. Now, I'm coming in with more speed and I think it's working for me."

Just how good were the Leafs last night? So good that War wrote a complimentary piece. Granted, he ended it by noting that we should enjoy the Leafs early success because there will be a lot of time to agonize over their failures at some point in the future when they inevitably fail. But at least he's watching the games now.

The sole truly black mark on the game was the sight of Pavel Kubina writhing in agony on the ice after Todd Bertuzzi collided knee on knee with him in front of the Leafs' net. The unfortunate accident has left the Leafs with only five defenceman for Thursday's game. Conflicting reports have Kubina and the Leafs awaiting more tests to gauge the significance of the injury, Sportsnet says it is an MCL sprain, and HockeyBuzz (the post has been changed to reflect and MCL sprain) originally had Kubina out for the season. Hopefully, it will be a short layoff since he was starting to show what a key component of the defence he could become.

And because it's my favourite part of the game recaps here is...

The Final Word
A big goal from a young player of uncertain capabilities before the season started and a huge game-saving stop from a goaltender whom Boston believed had lost his mojo are accomplishments for Ferguson and Maurice to savour.
Damien Cox, Toronto Star, clearly did not see Don Cherry calling him out about Wellwood.

Alex Auld saved the Panthers all night, but he couldn't save them in the shootout.Having made one spectacular save after another, he wasn't able to stop Mats Sundin and Darcy Tucker. Meanwhile, neither Nathan Horton nor Todd Bertuzzi got their shots past Andrew Raycroft in the shootout, as the Panthers lost 2-1 to the Maple Leafs on Monday night at Air Canada Centre.
Steve Gorten, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, chronicles about the only thing The Defendant did all night.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Leafs 2 v. Habs 3 (SO): Goaltending Battle

Game Recap

Despite only getting one point in a game in which the Leafs led 2-1 heading into the third this game was encouraging. Montreal will be one of the teams that the Leafs will have to beat to 8th place despite their lofty expectations (it's true, ask a Habs fan!) and for most of the game the Leafs dictated the pace of the game.

The Leafs used a strong forecheck to wreak havoc among the Habs' rearguards and frequently created goal-scoring chances from turnovers. The Peca, Steen, Kilger line seems to have settled together to give the Leafs at least two complete lines. O'Neill continued his incremental improvement. He played a much more rambunctious game and got himself into good scoring positions. He did not score tonight but it looks like it is coming along. Baby steps for the Phoenix.
As much as the Habs are labelled as a speedster team the Leafs were able to skate with them the entire game. Mats has yet to break his goose egg but it was not for a lack of effort (7 shots tonight) and it was more a case of David Aebischer giving Montreal a goaltender controversy with his standout play. He stood on his head during the Leafs' powerplay which looked amazing. Wellwood and Kaberle pulled the strings nicely and all that stood between the Leafs and another blowout was the Habs' goaltender's strong effort. Not to be outdone Andrew Raycroft continued to make JFJ's gamble look good. He came up with three massive saves on a late Montreal powerplay. Highly-touted Habs' super rookie Guillaum Latendresse, clearly excited by the rumour that David Beckham will eventually move to the MLS, demonstrated his love for soccer with the sort of dive that would not have looked out of place in a Serie A game. It was literally his only contribution. So much for being better than the Leafs' young guns.

Unfortunately, the shootout ended in familiar fashion when the Habs won on Michael Ryder's sudden death goal. The big difference from last year was that the Leafs' shooters looked like scoring on each shot.

The highlight of the broadcast, though, had nothing to do with the game. Don Cherry used Coach's Corner to lambast Toronto Star writer and professional Chicken Little Damien Cox for writing that no one knew that Wellwood would be a good fit on Mats' wing. He then showed us clips from last October and March when he said that not only was Wellwood suited for the new NHL but that his hands were perfect to complement the captain and a move to the wing would be easy. Don Cherry the visionary. It is hard to be humble Grapes.

Maple Leaf Goals
First Goal
The Leafs powerplay was dominant tonight and this first goal was a great example. The puck was zipped around, recovered and finally found its way to Darcy Tucker, who continued his strong play with a series of hits, via a Kyle Wellwood pass.

Second Goal
Local boy Matt Stajan gave the Leafs the lead by scrambling home a bouncing puck. The Leafs' forecheck kept the Habs pinned in their zone before the puck fell to Stajan's stick and he slid it under a sprawling Habs defenceman.

And as always, the part where some journalists show that they have watched the games and others sort of glossed over the highlights, it's...

The Final Word
Against 17 enemy power plays in three games, the Leafs have allowed just two goals and scored once shorthanded. In the first three games last season, five power plays goals were scored on Belfour on 16 opposition extra-strength situations. Goaltending and efficient penalty killing, inextricably linked, will still get most teams a lot further in today's high-speed NHL than loosey-goosey offence. This season, they've already been worth one encouraging point for these refurbished Leafs.
Damien Cox, Toronto Star, showing that sometimes he watches the games before writing about the Leafs.

The Leafs seemed headed for a win before a former player tied it. Johnson, who began his career in Toronto, scored at 6:47 of the third period, snapping a shot from the high slot that beat Raycroft stick side. The play began with centre Radek Bonk hitting Leafs defenceman Hal Gill behind the net and getting the puck out to Johnson, who netted his first in a Montreal uniform after coming over in a trade from Phoenix this summer.
Pierre Lebrun, Canadian Press, jumping in with the 'Blame Hal Gill' crowd despite highlights showing that Ian White was the one that got hit and coughed up the puck. Attaboy Pierre, change your reality! I think Fox News just called you.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, October 06, 2006

Leafs 6 v. sens 0: Release the Hounds!

Game Recap

I have vowed to try to tinge my objectivity with a litte optimism mainly to prevent depression and to counteract the deluge of negative press that the Toronto Media slams down Leafs fans' throats. Sometimes this requires deep inspection (see: Night, Wednesday). Then there are the glorious evenings such as the one that just passed. Last night allows you to ignore any shortcomings (McCabe is getting paid $5.75M but is playing like he is worth about $750K) and just bask in the greatness of beating one of your bitterest rival 6-0, in their home rink no less.

I mentioned to a friend after the first period that it seemed that someone had pissed in the Leafs coffee because they came out of the gate fired up. Darcy Tucker and Chad Kilger showed up, which was nice of them, and were impact players all night. They finished checks, scored a pair of goals each, and that seemed to push the rest of the team to improve their play. Of course, Mats was a beast last night. The sens' defence could only hope to contain him as he chipped in with two assists. Peca, was once again a force especially during the penalty kills when he was not in the box.

Pavel Kubina showed the difference that he can make. His presence allowed the defence's ice time to be more spread out. He was strong on the puck and skillfully avoided falling on Andrew Raycroft when chris neil tried to push him onto our tender. Naturally, neil fought no one last night. There was a fight between McGrattan and Belak but it consisted mostly of little lefts and the big loser was the air who took the brunt of the force of the right-handed roundhouses.

The two big stars for the game were Kyle Wellwood who picked up four assists and used his quickness and shiftiness (two completely different things) to full effect. And last, but certainly not least, the new goaltender Andrew Raycroft. After last night he is the proud owner of a 1.51 GAA and .957 Sv%, a far cry from last year's numbers. Much of the talk over the summer was whether he could re-capture something approximating his Calder Trophy-winning form. Well, he certainly looks well on his way. He smothered any shots that came near his chest, he challenged the sens' shooters aggressively, and made key breakaway saves again including one perfectly timed pokecheck. Meanwhile, Martin Gerber is one game closer to Patrick Lalime territory and probably felt a little like this last night.

All in all, the Leafs not only improved their effort but they also showed that the reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated. If they can keep the work rate up then they will be in with a shout for the playoffs but they will be far from the laughingstock that most people had predicted. See the goals here!

Other Highlights

After a shocking evening of silence from the ACC crowd the SBP crowd decided to show that they could do one better. After a decent start they quickly moved to booing the sens ineffective powerplay before leaving the building almost devoid of any sens fans towards the end of the third period. Good show sens fans!

Meanwhile, the true Leafs fans (the ACC crowd is generally only about 50% true Leafs fans...much like SBP) held their own in terms of Go Team Go chants before asserting their dominance by loudly booing the sens' captain every time he touched the puck. Of course, sens fans were confused because they had no idea Bozo was in the line-up.

Next to face the Leafs juggernaut: Montreal Saturday Night.

Now, with a special theme (I think you will pick it up quickly) it's an all-goaltender themed...

The Final Word
Martin Gerber. After pretty much stealing the first period for the Sens Wednesday night, allowing the Sens to rally in the second period and get the win, Gerber fell back to Earth and gave me, and many of you I’m certain, visions of Patrick Lalime. That first goal by Chad Kilger was vintage Lalime during the 2003-04 season, and unfortunately it didn’t get better from there. The Ottawa defence didn’t do Gerber any favors, as they had an equally awful night, however, when you have a $3.7 million goalie, you’d hope he could stop a lot of those shots that lit the lamp. The alleged goaltending controversy, sparked by his poor pre-season, was quieted 24 hours ago, but this is the kind of outing that gets that talked started all over again.
Chris McMurtry, reminding us of just how familiar that Kilger goal seemed.

Chad Kilger played the part of Joe Nieuwendyk, beating Gerber from the left wing faceoff circle with a shot that everyone admits should have been stopped. Tucker made it 2-0 with a good wrister, but also one that would have hit Gerber had he been upright...The Senators were a bad lot in this embarrassing, 6-0 home opening loss to a team that will have its hands full making the playoffs. And a very inconsistent Gerber -- in two periods before being mercifully replaced -- was the worst of it...Think maybe John Muckler should have went after Andrew Raycroft instead of Gerber in the offseason?
Don Brennan, Ottawa Sun, points out the obvious.

Gerber was the toast of Bytown after Wednesday, but was heckled after giving up five goals in two periods last night.
Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, reminding everyone that Gerber only managed 40 minutes.

They pumped five goals past an overwhelmed Martin Gerber in the Ottawa net, chasing him after two periods, en route to this laugher. Then they rubbed a little road salt in the wound with another goal in the third, beating backup goalie Ray Emery.
Paul Hunter, Toronto Star, calling a spade a spade.

The Ottawa Senators might have been better off last night if they had slapped some goalie pads on Spartacat. Or Lyndon Slewidge. Or any one of the Governor General's Foot Guards who stood alongside Slewidge for O Canada. Or found out where Damian Rhodes lives and sent a cab for him.
Allen Panzeri, Ottawa Citizen, revealing the sens proposed goaltending shopping list.

Meanwhile over at the Globe Dave Shoalts weighed in with a gloating column entitled "Leafs faults on full display" Maybe today we could have one with "Toronto Sports Media Faults on display"?
The Meatriarchy, Battle of Ontario, suggesting that jumping the gun and a mob mentality might not suit journalism.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What a start!

The Leafs are off to a hot 2-0 this year's PS2 preview season. I bet those PS2 sens fans are bringing up the past even more than the real ones.

Labels: , ,

Formidable Opponent

My pal sent me the following in an e-mail and I figured that it would make a nice guest piece since he has chosen to highlight some of the lowlights of last night's game with no regard to all of the, umm, highlights. Maybe it could be a recurring theme. Of course he does not know so it is a test of just how good of a friend he is because if he sucks he will not notice. Surprise!


Mats, Peca and Raycroft all played well. Raycroft can maybe be faulted for one of the goals but he had no chance on the two others.


  • McCabe did not show any improvement from last year. ie- still turning the puck over, missing defensive assignments. I know it's just one game, but at the salary we're paying him he can't be taking games off like last night.

  • Defense in general was a little shaky (Belak and Wozniewski especially). This shouldn't be a problem going forward with Kubina, Kronwall and Bell returning. I'm still wondering why Maurice put Belak on defense given his troubles with Ottawa last year and the fact that Harrison was available to play. (Editor's Note: I watched the game with a good friend of Jay's and he was livid everytime Wozniewski or White made a mistake. It was pretty entertaining.)

  • Too many shots missed the net, and the shots that made it through were always low or into the crest. I seriously failed to see one shot that made it to the net that was over a foot above the ice. Obviously Gerber played pretty well but I think the Leafs made him look better by not going high. (Ed.'s Note: The Leafs had 19 shots blocked and 16 that missed the net in addition to their 34 that ALL hit Gerber's crest)

  • Lack of discipline. The Leafs cannot afford to give up 6 powerplays against the senators.

  • Where was the crowd enthusiasm? I bet the decible level at the ACC never rose above 80 db's all night. (Ed.'s Note: It was almost embarrassing. The platinums were, predictably, empty in the first five minutes before and after each intermission. This will drive me insane during the three games that I will watch from the purples.)

All in all, I do not think the Leafs played too badly as a whole. The sens were just able to capitalize better on the Leafs' mistakes than the Leafs were to the sens'. I am looking for a much better effort out of the Leafs tonight but I am thinking that the sens will be firing all out as well.

Labels: , , ,

Leafs 1 v. 4 sens: It's a marathon not a sprint

Game Recap

The best part of this game was the opening ceremonies. I guess standing around made both teams a bit sluggish because almost simultaneously my two friends and I looked at each other and noted what a terrible game it was turning out to be. TO has shown that too much bad press can cause "allergies" so in order to keep Leafs Nation from the embarrassment of having their PR reps overreacting to their empty bottles of painkillers here are 5 reasons to smile today:
  1. Andrew Raycroft looked really good. He made great breakaway saves on Dany "The Tomahawk" Heatley and Jason Spezza to keep the game close. The third goal was a bad bounce and, while the first one came off a huge rebound, where the hell was McCabe? Did the vacant space behind the net really need covering? FOCUS! Positive thoughts..
  2. The first period! The Leafs were on top of the sens and created some really good scoring chances. Once the players stop grinding their sticks to dust then the scoring question can die. Once the Leafs can keep this up for 60 minutes they will be a difficult team to beat.
  3. Faceoffs - The Leafs won 64% of them. This is a good sign for the season because puck possession is, obviously, vital. It is much easier to kill penalties when you can clear the puck immediately. Following on, it is much easier to set up your powerplay if you do not have to lug the puck all the way up ice. Sundin and Peca will be vital to keeping this stat up.
  4. Paul Maurice showed that this is a different Leafs team. He benched players for long periods of time, he swtiched up lines that were not clicking, and he played Mats about 3-4 minutes more than he averaged under Pat Quinn.
  5. The NHL regular season is a marathon not a sprint. While last night's game was disappointing (from both sides' point of view) there were enough good things to keep everyone's wrists safe.

The funniest incident in the game occurred after a Raycroft save when the new go-to goat Hal Gill gave Spezza a nice noseful of stinky glove. Spezza proceeded to try to get at Gill but was stopped by his teammates. What are the odds that he was whispering "do not let me go guys" while yelling "Let me at him! I am going to kill him!"?

With a new spin because I hate how predictable the mainstream media is about sports (ie. choose a story, repeat ad nauseum, do not take opposing evidence into account) here is the bloggers' view of last night's game in...

The Final Word

How many times am I going to hear "who's going to score on this team?" before I start clenching my jaw and talking back to the little voices in my head. I get it. We all get it. Is there any one on the planet with a remote interest in hockey that hasn’t heard this trope? Can we somehow form a goon squad to make announcers and analysts put a loonie in a jar every time they offer this up? We could raise the GDP of a small country for a worthwhile cause by the 10 game mark. Let's figure out how to make this happen.
Bitter Leaf Fan agrees that something has to be done about the myopic press

Toronto would have been up a few goals if not for Martin Gerber during the first 10 or so minutes of the game, and were the dominant team in the first period, however, they were unable to sustain that pressure and fell apart in the second, allowing Ottawa to blow the game wide open by capitalizing on their mistakes.
Chris McMurtry giving the Leafs more credit than anyone name Damien Cox

Labels: , , , ,