Pension Plan Puppets: December 2006

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

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Leafs 2 v. Capitals 2: Mighty Mats Almost Makes It

Game Recap

Another game, another loss. The Leafs made this game much harder on themselves by once again being unable to capitalize on their powerplay chances while the Capitals scored 3 with the man advantage. The worst part about this game was that they had the game in control. The Leafs were playing a solid defensive game and were creating chances. If they had been able to kill penalties (paging Mr. Peca) then they would have been in much better shape. Of course, his 'icing' skills, as Harry Neale would put it, would have prevented a couple of goals since the first two came on plays where the Leafs were unable to clear the zone.

On the bright side of the ledger, Aleksander Suglobov played a wonderful game. For the first time he received over 11 minutes of ice and he made it count. He showed a willingness to backcheck (that was the mark against him earlier in the season) as well as the kind of offensive creativity that the Leafs have been lacking. On one great play he burst into the zone, deked one defender, drew the other to him, and slid a perfect pass to Stone Hands Kilger. The Peca injury could be the opening for Sugar to get into the lineup on a consistent basis.

Jeff O'Neill also had a barnburner on a line with Bates and Mats. All three were buzzing, hitting, and were the most consistently dangerous line for the Leafs. Carlo and Kubina largely had a good game together and Kaberle was his usual steady self. McCabe had a decent game, at one point he just missed putting Ovechkin through the boards with a hip check, but he blew the end of the game by letting a pass get past him and out of the zone.

In the end, the Leafs were undone by the individual skill of Ovechkin, Semin, and Zubrus. The bright side was the evidence that the Leafs might have another player with the skill to turn a game.

Having said that, Merry Christmas, Happy HanukKah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Ramadan (I know it's past but I never wished it), and Happy whatever you celebrate. All the best in the New Year. I'll be around over the holiday posting so if you are looking for something to do while lounging around the house with your recently received presents then stop by.

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Leafs 1 v. Blackhawks 3: Disaster

Game Recap

This game started out as a classic Norris Division clash. It was an up-tempo, hard-hitting game that drew the largest crowd of the year in Chicago, 17,950. So much for those that think the Leafs are not a big draw. I'll cover this in more depth later but to think otherwise just shows that you are one of the anti-Leaf Lemmings. Unfortunately, the Leafs could not build on their early lead as they again failed to capitalize Chicago's cheating tendencies. They allowed Chicago in the game with a shorthanded goal before coughing up two bad goals on giveaways in the third period.

However, the game is secondary to this bit of catastrophic news:
Mike Peca, the team's best penalty killer and its defensive soul, left the game in the first period with a potential season-ending injury to his right knee. Initial word was that the 32-year-old suffered a torn medial collateral ligament and fractures to his tibia. He wore an air cast on the flight home and will be further evaluated this morning.

The play came late in the first period when Jim Vandermeer delivered a vicious knee-on-knee hit on Peca. As if to give me the sense that I was insane David 'I am 10 years past my best' Hodge, Bob 'I ate the last Insider to get this job' Mackenzie, and Darren 'I do not give opinions' Dreger spent the entire intermission watching Vandermeer turn his body and deliver a brutal knee-on-knee hit while saying that it was clearly an accident. They showed the clip at least five times and each time you could see that he drove his knee through Peca's but since he didn't stick his knee out in the Ulf Samuelsson fashion it was a clean hit. Bullshit. Once he saw Peca trying to avoid his initial hit he could have avoided any contact but he adjusts his body to drive right through Peca's knee.

The thing that really drove me nuts was that they watched the video showing the dirtiness of the hit and then turned to a cued up tape of Tucker's hit on Peca in which you can see Darcy's hip hit Peca in the thigh (WHERE HIP CHECKS STRIKE PEOPLE) and had the audacity to compare the hits! Al Capone summed up my sentiments best:
I want you to get this fuck where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy Eliot Ness (Jim Vandermeer), I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!

Of course, the refs kicked Vandermeer out of the game so he didn't have to face up to his actions and thanks to this crappy schedule the Leafs do not play the Blackhawks until next year. How much do you want to bet that that game gets circled on the calendar really quickly.

Now, one of the Leafs best players this year is most likely out for the season because some no-mark goon decided he needed to make a name for himself, or as Maurice put it:
It was a knee-on-knee hit and our guy's going to be out for a long time. Their guy is probably going to be in the minors by the time he comes back.

Of course, read that article and you would think that poor little Jimmy Vandermeer was skating around the ice with his head in the sky when the evil Michael Peca tried to end his career with a dirty hit.

For once, I would love to see the damned Toronto Media get behind the team and call for a suspension for an opponent. It's hilarious that some people think that because the NHL has offices in Toronto that they get some sort of preferential treatment. After complaining, they got their bloodprice but how much do you want to bet that Vandermeer gets nothing. Big surprise. Where's Bertuzzi when you need him? (Note: before any assumes anything, I hate Bertuzzi, think he is scum, and was being facetious.)

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Leafs 3 v. Panthers 7: Typical

Game Recap

Oh brother. This was a typical Leafs effort for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is their penchant for following up a tremendous effort with an absolute stinker. The more painful reason is that, as I have bemoaned, former Maple Leafs led the way in killing the Leafs. Gary Roberts potted two goals including the fourth less than 30 seconds into the second period which effectively sealed the win. Eddie Belfour stopped 33 of 36 shots including a handful of 'sure' goals. The Florida Panthers have some sort of voodoo over the Leafs and it has led to four lost points that will hurt come April.

I went out for dinner so I only caught snippets of the game when I was rude enough to glance up at the television but I was able to discern that the Leafs played terribly. The leader of it all was Hal Gill who had the type of game that Bruins' fans had warned us about when he signed. He has been solid this year by keeping things simple but both goals came on turnovers when he was trying to be cute with the puck. I joke that Gill just passes the puck to White or rifles it up the boards but it has worked this year. Unfortunately, the first goal came when Gill lost the puck while stickhandling and the second came when he tried to make an audacious cross-ice pass.

Raycroft got the hook and his stats suffered but this was a game that was lost by the play in front of him. The real turning point came in the first. Jeff O'Neill gave the Leafs a lead with a nice goal on a jam play from behind the goal-line and the Leafs were subsequently given two more powerplays. Goals on either of these would have gone a long way to breaking the Panthers' spirit but they ended up coming close to disastrous as the Panthers got the best chance.

In the end, Maurice summed it up well by saying that they were too soft and too slow. The Leafs will rue these lost points in April but hopefully only because it costs them a higher seed and not playoff participation. The Leafs look to get back on track this weekend but it will not be easy. They travel to Chicago to take on Leaf-killer Denis Savard and his resurgent Blackhawks. They have returned to their early form with the return of Martin Havlat and Nikolai Khabibulin's recent strong goaltending. On Saturday night, the Leafs host Alexanders Semin and Ovechkin which is no small task.

Prior to the Canadiens game I thought that a 3-7 record over the next 10 games was the worst case scenario for the Leafs. Right now they stand at 3-4-1 with three tough challenges ahead. They will have to put this game behind them and get back to what has made them successful this season: hard work and lots of puck pressure.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Leafs 9 v. Rangers 2: One of Those Nights

Game Recap

This was a fun game. Any time you can see your team leave a first period up 5-1 you will have a big smile on your face. The Leafs' saviour (3-0 since his return) Carlo Colaiacovo got the Leafs rolling when a deflected Jeff O'Neill pass found him in front of the net. He chipped it past Lundqvist, who was taught a lesson about self-relief by Tom Renney as he was left in for 8 of the 9 goals, and less than a minute later Alexei Ponikarovsky banked on in of a skate. That was all she wrote as the Leafs took that momentum and used it to batter the hapless Rangers. The only blips were the two goals against that came as a result of Ian White bumping Andrew Raycroft off balance and Kyle Wellwood falling asleep in our own slot and leaving his man unmarked.

To get an idea of how bad this game was for Rangers fans check out HockeyBird. I would have posted that phone number during the Leafs losing streak but I am sure that if any group of fans have been talked off ledges often enough to have it memorized it is Leafs Nation.

This game was also an illustration of how the Leafs must play in order to succeed. Oh, and they need the bounces that were suspiciously lacking during those 7 games between streaks of awesomeness. The coincidence, at least I am sure it must be, is that during these three games the bounces have come at the same time as the Leafs' hard work. I am no hockey guru but there is no way that those two are related right? Nonetheless, the two intersected on Saturday night and it led to a blowout. I suggest that the players look into this phenomenon and try to figure out how often these two will align.

Of note, The Sandpaper Line was largely held off the scoresheet but put together a solid game. There was a scare when one of its members, Tucker, took a Shanahan shot off his left hand. Thankfully (although not from a contract point of view), the x-rays were negative. This game also saw the continued strong play of Carlo and Pavel and their emergence as a strong second pairing. Paul Maurice has been waiting 30 games for this and it allows him to play Hal Gill more on the powerplay and keep his ice-time to the 12-16 minutes/game range instead of the 20+ range he was in before Colaiacovo's return. As well, as a friend of mine noted, John Pohl has really taken his game up a notch since he started getting more ice-time. He added a nice goal on a terrible Poni dump-in where he raced in and latched onto a bouncing puck before firing it under Lundqvist's blocker arm. The added ice-time has helped him find his offensive stride and he is resembling the player that put up 36-39-75 last year with the Marlies a bit more with each game.

Of course, what wrap-up could ignore the career-high in points that both Kyle Wellwood (3-2-5) and Alexei Ponikarovsky (2-3-5) put up. Before the season began these were two guys that were going to be looked to for solid improvements on last year's standards in order to defray the loss of the points that were lost with the exit of Jason Allison and Eric Lindros. They are the secondary scoring that is necessary for the Leafs to make the playoffs and it should come as no surprise that during the Leafs 7 game losing streak the two combined for 1-2-3 and it was all from Wellwood. Meanwhile, the captain added only 2-1-3 during the slide. In the three games since the trio have combined for 8-12-20.

The top line will have to keep this level up for the Leafs to continue winning as some of the other younger players have struggled. Matt Stajan has cooled off with 0-0-0 in the last 10 games and Alex Steen has only tallied two goals this year. The Sandpaper Line for all of their grit and effort will provide only modest contributions offensively. However, the Leafs are back in the top 5 on the powerplay so that will also provide support.

The Leafs look to stretch their winning streak to four games against their ex-mate Eddie Belfour, the billion dollar goalie, and the Florida Panthers in Toronto. They have given the Leafs fits this year so look for another close game. Of course the Leafs could chase their former tender and bury the Panthers but this is the type of game that Leaf fans have grown accustomed to seeing their team struggle to win.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Leafs 4 v. Hurricanes 3: Another Successful Heimlich

Game Recap

This recap will be a bit shorter than normal because I was at the Raptors game last night (CARTER SUCKS!) and was only able to catch the last 14 minutes of the game. The venom in the air every time The Incredible Sulk touched the ball was palpable and the ACC was the loudest I have ever heard it for a regular season game. Some highlights included VC going 1-9 in the first half, leaving the game in the second with a contact lens problem (I pray he heard me asking him if it was a season-ending injury), and missing about 6 of 8 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the loss. I wish VC only the worst the rest of the year and throughout his career and thank him for making last night such a fun night out.

As for the Leafs, they did their best to recapture the magic of the latter part of their losing streak right down to coughing up a two goal lead. Thankfully, Alex Steen played like a man bent on winning the game and scored a nice winner which just goes to show that if you pick a player to score the winner every game for a month that you will eventually be right. I would like to say that this goal could be a jumping off point for his season but there have been too many decent to good games on which he has failed to build momentum. Mats Sundin had a big night as he passed Jean Beliveau on the all-time scoring list and Dave Keon on the Leafs points list. He is now 33rd and 2nd respectively and in some pretty elite company.

Aside from that bit of niceness, I was a little worried with the Leafs. McCabe keeps trying to clear the puck by ringing it around the boards from one corner to the far side of the blueline with no regard to the fact that that play has not worked in about 90 years of NHL hockey. Somehow Ian White found himself on the ice in the last minute of the game against Erik Cole and Eric Staal, two guys much too big for him to handle. I have to think it was a coaching mistake not to have one of the top four out against those two big bodies but I am guessing it will be chalked up to providing White with some experience.

Looking at the scoresheet, Maurice seems to be getting closer to spreading the ice-time for his defencemen to the level that he wants. McCabe and Kaberle got around 27 minutes with Kubina coming in at 22 minutes. Gill and White came in around 16 minutes with Colaiacovo at 11 minutes. Maurice will probably try to shave a minute or two from the top pair to give it to Carlo but other than that the Leafs defence can finally start to try to achieve 'hard to play against' status as they are united for the first time this season. Of course, Andy Wozniewski will be back soon to throw a wrench in the team's plans.

Tonight the resurgent Leafs face the streaking New York Rangers and Blueshirt Bulletin notes that the last time these two teams met it sparked a couple of good winning streaks:
The last time the Rangers visitied Toronto early in the season, both teams were struggling to find themselves, the Rangers going 5-6-0 in their first eleven while the Leafs started out 4-4-3. But both teams got in gear starting with their twelfth game -- the Rangers reeled off a 4-0-1 run to jump start an 8-3-3 month of November while Toronto won their next three as part of a 7-1-0 run.

Here's hoping we see another great performance from Sundin and a goal or two from Steen to cement his confidence.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Results Comparison III: Surprise!

Welcome to the third installment of my eight part series comparing this season's results to last year's. In the first two parts we saw that in the game number comparison this year's squad bears a startling resemblance to the 2005-06 buds squad. It was only in the equivalent fixtures comparison (my favourite) that we saw tangible evidence of the improvement that all Leaf fans could see with our eyes.

Then the Leafs took their Christmas vacation about a month early and proceeded to lose seven games in a row. I had assumed that this slide would manifest itself in a rather poor comparison at the 30 game mark. Most of the gains in the Equivalent Fixtures comparison have been rolled back. The big surprise (not really since I gave it away in the post title) comes within the Game Number comparison where the Leafs have played themselves into almost the exact same position as last year after 30 games. This surprised me quite a bit because my memory was that last year they had been in pretty good shape after 30 games whereas this year there has been much gnashing of the teeth.

Without further ado, here are the past segments in the series and the comparison's at the 30 game mark.

Results Comparison: The Explanation
Results Comparison I: After 10 Games
Results Comparison II: State of Leafs Nation

Game Number Comparison

After 30 Games Last Season

Record: 15-12-3
Points: 33
Total Goals For (TGF): 99
Total Goals Against (TGA): 95
Goal Differential (GD): +4
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 60
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 54
Power Play Goals (PPG): 42
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 193
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 21.76%
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 153
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 186
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 82.26%
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 6
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 5

After 30 Games This Season

Record: 13-12-5 (-2, +/-0, +2)
Points: 31 (-2)
Total Goals For (TGF): 94 (-5)
Total Goals Against (TGA): 100 (+5)
Goal Differential (GD): -6 (-10)
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 61 (+1)
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 67 (+13)
Power Play Goals (PPG): 29 (-13)
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 156 (-9)
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 18.59% (-3.17%)
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 129 (-24)
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 154 (-32)
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 83.77% (+1.51%)
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 2 (-4)
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 4 (-1)

Equivalent Fixtures Comparison

After 30 Games Last Season

Record: 15-13-2
Points: 32
Total Goals For (TGF): 97
Total Goals Against (TGA): 102
Goal Differential (GD): -5
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 51
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 58
Power Play Goals (PPG): 39
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 183
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 21.31%
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 157
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 196
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 80.10%
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 5
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 3

After 30 Games This Season

Record: 13-12-5 (-2, -1, +3)
Points: 31 (-1)
Total Goals For (TGF): 94 (-3)
Total Goals Against (TGA): 100 (-2)
Goal Differential (GD): -7 (-2)
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 61 (+10)
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 67 (+9)
Power Play Goals (PPG): 29 (-10)
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 156 (-27)
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 18.59% (-2.72%)
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 129 (-28)
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 154 (-42)
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 83.77% (+3.67%)
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 2 (-3)
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 4 (+1)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Leafs 5 v. Lightning 4: Hallelujah!

Game Recap
(Note: The majority of this article comes from my BoO post. Of course, there is some PPP exclusive material here for my loyal readers/lost internet wanderers.)

Thank God for small miracles. The Leafs earned their first win when trailing after one period of play (1-13-0) and snapped a seven-game streak that was prompting all sorts of crazy talk in the media and more than a little consternation amongst the fans. The game itself was a bit of a rollercoaster ride as the Leafs took an early lead on the back of some strong play and a nice powerplay marker by Alexei Ponikarovsky. That was his first goal in 9 games. However, the game quickly took a turn for the worse.

J-S Aubin got the start and only lasted until the first minute of the second period. He was the victim of a Mats Sundin deflection and a Bryan McCabe braincramp. Paul Maurice gave him the hook and turned the ACC air blue with a timeout tirade that despite being inaudible on TV was nonetheless terrifying. Apparently it worked on the Leafs. Andrew Raycroft kept the Lightning off the board with a couple of big saves before Chad Kilger scored a brace to tie the game heading into the third. Darcy Tucker deflected a Sundin shot to give the Leafs the lead before Jeff O'Neill jumped on a juicy rebound to hammer home a 5th. Tampa added a fourth on a powerplay but the Leafs defended well in the third period and came away with the win.

Other notables were Pavel Kubina, who played great against his old mates, Carlo, who did not look out of place after an almost year long layoff, and Michael Peca, who continued his excellent play of late with assists on the second and third goals. The Sandpaper Line (Kilger, Peca, Tucker) was reunited and caused the Lightning no small amount of trouble. I could say that this was easily one of Tucker's best games of the year as he tracked back to defend well, hit well, and kept his shenanigans to a minimum.

So the weight is lifted off the Leafs. They played better all-around but there is still a long way for them to go before they reach the pre-losing streak levels let alone where the team should be. Next up is a Friday-Saturday double bill that starts in Carolina.

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Leafs 1 v. Red Wings 5: Not So Special Teams

Game Recap

The less said about this game the better. To sum up the game, this was the biggest disappointment of the season. I am not a big fan of the new schedule and hate to see it killing a wonderful original six rivalry. The Leafs will host the Red Wings next year and if the schedule is not changed they will not see each other for another two years.

The Leafs were undisciplined but the referees also contributed to their woes with some atrocious calls. At the end of the day, the Leafs penalty killing, once a strength, was again a weakness and it made a difference. The Leafs also got 9 powerplays, many of the dubious variety, and could not capitalize on more than one chance and in the end the special team battle decided the game. At even strength I thought that the Leafs competed well and had more of the game been played 5-on-5 would have stood a better chance of winning. However, as has been symptomatic in this losing streak, the Red Wings capitalized on their mistakes and the Leafs offence was not able to create chances.

These games used to be some of the best of the season as the form book could be thrown out because no matter where the teams stood in the standings they would both play up to the occassion. This game was about the furthest from that as possible. The Joe Louis Arena was so quiet that I could hear Maurice and Babcock yelling, there were tons of empty seats in the same areas as at the ACC (clue to the anti-Leafs: it's the rich people at all games and sports not only at Leafs games), and the brutal refereeing robbed the game of any semblance of flow. On the basis of this schedule I agree with Cherry that I would prefer that they do not play each other for another 10 years but the best solution would be a better schedule that would allow these two old rivals to face each other more than once a year.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Looking Forward

I am almost done my third installment in the Results Comparison series. After this lamentable run of ineptness the Leafs are in much worse shape than they were at the same point last year. Of course, this is because last year's swoon came in January and February when there was less time to make up the gap. This season still has 51 games and 102 points available to the boys in blue and white with which to make up their single digit deficit. Of course, each game that this streak lasts is one less left in which to get themselves going.

Naturally, War has written a ton of stuff nailing the Leafs and Don Cherry (think Ms. Cox is upset about getting embarrassed on Coach's Corner earlier in the year?) and Famine plagiarized two of Bitter Leaf's posts. Good work you clowns.

Anyway, the Leafs face the Lightning tonight and Carlo will be in the lineup. That means that Encino Man will not be playing defence. Thank God. Feel free to post in-game thoughts in the comments. Hopefully, they will be along the lines of 'wow, good to see the Leafs playing hockey again' and not 'KILL THE LEAFS!'.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Leafs 1 v. Bruins 3: Baking With The Maple Leafs

Game Recap

Note: The majority of this post can be found at The Battle of Ontario.

Apparently, the Hockey Gods decided that my penance was not enough for them to deliver a Leafs victory. Oh they teased me with a lucky goal by Jeff O'Neill. That had me thinking that maybe all the Leafs needed was a lucky bounce to get back on track. The Bruins were not capitalizing on the Leafs mental errors and I thought that with a continued decent effort in the third the Leafs could end this playoff-hopes killing streak. Then came the third period and the opponent's rope-a-dope plan went into full effect. The Bruins picked up their game and the Leaf were too shocked to match it. Thankfully, after 5 games in 29 days the Leafs have a New Year's Day and January 4th matchup against Boston to almost exhaust their compliment of Beantown Beatdowns. How does the league not see the problem with the schedule?

In all honesty, last night reminded me of watching a cooking show. The first 2/3 is great because you are learning how to make something that looks so good but the last 1/3 sucks when you realize that you are not getting any. So in that spirit, here is the recipe for (lack of) success that the Leafs have been following:

22 blue and white clad hockey players
40 minutes of hockey
20 minutes of mental errors
1 obliging opponent
1 sheet of ice
2 brutal referees
thousands of devoted fans
1 handful of mediots


Take your 22 blue and white clad hockey players and 2 brutal referees and toss them onto your sheet of ice. Have the players play a distinctly uncreative and workmanlike 40 minutes while the referees make horrendous calls on both sides. Ensure that the blue guys do not capitalize on any gift powerplays. This will usually result in a closely contested game and possibly a lead heading into the final 20 minutes. Right now our meal probably looks very tasty. This won't last.

These final 20 minutes will feature more bad calls by the referees and numerous mental errors. Now add your obliging opponent who will have spent the first 40 minutes frustrated and possibly trailing. Have them capitalize on the mental errors or gift powerplays until they are in the lead. Make sure that this happens so fast that it makes your head spin. Toss in thousands of irate devoted fans and a handful of mediots before serving the dish. If it taste bitter and eats away at your sould you made it just right. Serves at least six and hopefully no more.

Last nights goats:

  1. Alexei Ponikarovsky - fell asleep at the blueline and let Brad Stuart waltz past him to score the equalizer.

  2. J-S Aubin - Gave out a massive rebound right to Wayne Primeau who promptly buried it into the yawning cage. An exact replica of Patricia Bergeron's OT winner a few games ago.

  3. Darcy Tucker - Instead of staying by the point and covering his man he followed the puck down to the slot and left Patricia all alone. Bergeron rifled a shot past Aubin's glove to seal the win.

Hal Gill opens the floor to inventing a new word:

Frustration is a good word. What's more than frustrating?

It should also describe this visual representation of Leafs' fans this morning.

In other news that will do nothing to cheer up Leafs fans, Bitter Leaf looks at Raycroft's save percentage vis-a-vis the Leafs record (long story short: over .900 great, under .900 bad). He is also running a poll to name the NHL's answer to the Mendoza Line. My vote goes to either Glen Healy or Greg Millen. Go vote and be a part of providing hockey fans with another way to mock goaltenders.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Results Comparison II: State of Leafs Nation

Personally, I hate the Red Sox for perpetrating 'Red Sox Nation' on the world and spawning the (team) Nation phenomenon. However, it works with the post title. Frankly, if they had used Leafs Union it would work even better but beggars can't be choosers.

Previous Entries (all free)
Results Comparison: The Explanation
Results Comparison I: After 10 Games

I expanded the EF comparison so that it covers the same aspects as the GN comparison.

Game Number Comparison

After 20 Games Last Season
Record: 11-7-2
Points: 24
Total Goals For (TGF): 73
Total Goals Against (TGA): 70
Goal Differential (GD): +3
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 45
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 43
Power Play Goals (PPG): 33
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 128
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 25.78%
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 105
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 127
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 82.68%
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 4
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 3

After 20 Games This Season
Record: 11-5-4 (0, -2, +2)
Points: 26 (+2)
Total Goals For (TGF): 70 (-3)
Total Goals Against (TGA): 64 (-6)
Goal Differential (GD): +6 (+3)
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 47 (+2)
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 45 (+2)
Power Play Goals (PPG): 19 (-14)
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 107 (-8)
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 17.76% (-8.02%)
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 87 (-18)
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 101 (-26)
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 86.14% (+3.46%)
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 2 (-2)
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 2 (-1)

Equivalent Fixtures Comparison

After 20 Games Last Season
Record: 9-9-2
Points: 20
Total Goals For (TGF): 55
Total Goals Against (TGA): 65
Goal Differential (GD): -10
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 29
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 35
Power Play Goals (PPG): 24
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 114
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 21.05%
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 93
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 117
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 79.49%
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 1
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 1

After 20 Games This Season
Record: 11-5-4 (+2, -4, +2)
Points: 26 (+6)
Total Goals For (TGF): 70 (+15)
Total Goals Against (TGA): 64 (-1)
Goal Differential (GD): +6 (+16)
Even-Strength Goals For (ESGF): 47 (+18)
Even-Strength Goals Against (ESGA): 45 (+10)
Power Play Goals (PPG): 19 (-5)
Power Play Attempts (PPA): 107 (-7)
Power Play Percentage (PP%): 17.76% (-4.29%)
Successful Penalty Kills (SPK): 87 (-6)
Penalty Kill Attempts (PKA): 101 (-16)
Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%): 86.14% (+6.65%)
Short-handed Goals For (SHGF): 2 (+/-0)
Short-handed Goals Against (SHGA): 2 (+1)

I don't have time to post extensive thoughts on what these numbers mean. What is pretty clear is that the Equivalent Fixtures comparison looks mighty good but that will change after a horrid streak in games 21-30 by the Leafs. The game number comparison probably will not look as bad as the Leafs' latest streak would lead one to believe mostly because last year they went 4-5-1 in those games and 6-4-0 in the equivalent fixtures from last year. Feel free to post your thoughts on these numbers in the comments.

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The 5 Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News

This post is long and covers all five games of the current Leafs slide which, coincidentally, also covers my delinquent posting period. By making this long post I hope to appease the hockey blogging gods and deliver the Leafs a win because fans influence the team! These games and my rollercoaster of emotions nicely fit into the 5 Stages of Depression which are really the 5 Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News. While that article says that you cannot work through it in 5 stages 5 games fit into 5 stages too easily for me to quibble. The catastrophic news in this case is that the Leafs are flawed. To the snickerers from the invincible sens or 2007 Stanley Cup Champs Sabres or the CHeaters (this will be explained later) I knew that they were flawed before the season started so are your teams. I just realized the extent to which they need help over the last fortnight.

Denial - Game Recap Saturday November 25, 2006: Leafs 1 v. Bruins 3
Anger - Game Recap Tuesday November 28, 2006: Leafs 1 v. Bruins 4

Note: I wrote most of this section last Wednesday. You will notice that it flows quickly from Denial to Anger.

I thought that the previous Bruins-Leafs game was brutal but these two made me want to throw in the towel. It was not that the Leafs played badly because for the most part they carried the play, especially in the second game where they made it their mission to hit anything clad in yellow and gold. Rather, it was the Bruins mind-numbing tactics that were supposed to go the way of the dinosaur post-lockout that left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Bruins showed that New Jersey does not hold a monopoly on stultifying hockey. Since the Bruins slow start was attributed to trying to play hockey Boston's coach Dave Lewis decided to adopt the tactics of the team's that ousted his talented Red Wings from the playoffs and cost him his cushier job.

Winners of 7 of their last 9 and one of the few teams to shut down the Leafs' high powered offence, the Bruins have shown that they are adept at the tactic of the perenially underskilled: preventing hockey from breaking out. Like the relegation fighters in soccer that park 11 men behind the ball the Bruins strive to eliminate all but the tightest passing and shooting lanes. Sadly, the Leafs do not have enough top-end skill players to be able to exploit their minute angles.

As if to enrage me as much as possible, the Leafs were in control of the second game until Hal Gill decided that playing a two-on-two didn't make sense unless he was flying over to the puck carrier thereby leaving Glen Murray wide open to blast a slapshot over Raycroft's glove. To the idiots (Marc Savard) that advocate going high as the solution to beating Raycroft: He is a butterfly goalie. That is the solution to beating all of them. Needless to say, I moved quickly to Bargaining.

Bargaining - Game Recap Thursday November 30, 2006: Leafs 0 v. Thrashers 5

At this stage I was bargaining with the Hockey Gods for a single freaking goal. The game was there for the taking for the first two periods. This was a team that the Leafs had beaten in 8 straight games over three years. This was a team that features one of the highest scoring offences in the NHL and yet was held to 2 goals or fewer in each of those games. Surely if the Hockey Gods could give them one goal the boys in blue could do the rest?

Bargain denied. Instead, the Leafs were given more mental errors that led to more opposition goals. As soon as Hossa scored early in the third I knew that the game was done. The Leafs offence again showed no signs of life and was never really threatening aside from two gilt-edged chances by Jeff O'Neill. As soon as he missed both I knew that my entreaties would be tossed aside.

Depression - Game Recap Saturday December 2, 2006: Leafs 3 v. CHeaters 4 (SO)
The link for the game is currently unavailable.

This game could have gone so differently. The Leafs have had the CHeaters number this year in terms of performance and on the balance of play this game was no different. The Leafs dominated most of the game and were once again stymied by a hot goalie. Mats Sundin seemed to put the Leafs in the driver's seat with a Henri Richard-like goal (CHeaters fans know the goal, 1971 finals against the Hawks). Unfortunately, the Leafs habit of not stepping on the opposition's throat reared it's ugly head once more.

While I was in the car I learned that Ian White's panicky throw the puck away when pressured move had morphed into throw the puck over the boards and get a penalty. I have always liked this rule, mostly because it got Sabres fans all riled up after the Canes eliminated them. The fact that it led to my team's downfall led to more depression. Of course, once it went to a shootout I knew that the Habs would win even if they scraped the ice properly (which they didn't during the October 28 shootout) which they didn't again. Hence, the CH on the front of the shirt apparently now stands for CHeaters.

While the first incident was mentioned by the Leafs it didn't really get picked up by the media. This one did. Can you guess why? Because the Leafs lost so papers could run with their "Leafs are whiners" story angles when a quick glance at the highlights from that October game would have shown the detour that the Montreal Zamboni driver took when he got to the slot in from of the Habs net.

Also, Bouillon's punch to Darcy Tucker's face was dirty. CHeaters' fans can spin it any way they want but it was dirty. Tucker's hit was borderline because Bouillon was off-balance but it was not from behind as some have alleged (including the man himself). Sure, Tucker should have dropped the gloves and fought Bouillon instead of shoving him but Tucker didn't punch him in the face (the video shows this, why do people lie about what they saw?) and Bouillon gave him a punch much dirtier than the soft cross-check that got Kubina suspended for the first game of the year but apparently the league doesn't hand out suspensions anymore.

This is PPP's feeling of depression.

Acceptance - Game Recap Tuesday December 5, 2006: Leafs 2 v. Thrashers 5

At no point past the first period did I believe that the Leafs would win. When Tucker potted his league leading 12th powerplay goal (not as easy as some fans think) I cheered. When Peca slotted a sick wrist shot past Hedberg I felt my depression ease. Turns out that I was headed to the acceptance phase.

As the Thrashers were gifted powerplay after powerplay I knew it was just a matter of time before they got a goal and I knew it would be the end for the Leafs. Obviously, you will have to take my word for it but I have no reason to lie. Much like the sens game last night against the Caps there were three straight Revlon calls against the Leafs. I'll write more about how stupid some of the penalties are but needless to say I was trying not to swear out loud.

Once that first goal was scored on the Leafs you could see that they had accepted their fate as well. It was just a matter of time before the mental errors that had been avoided arose once again. Ian White picked up two DoG penalties on his throw the puck over the boards play. After the third one I thought he might cry. Man up buddy and take an extra stride to control the puck and TAKE THE DAMN HIT! Alex Steen wasted what looked to be one of his best overall games (defensively he has been great this year, offensively he has been offensive) by shying away from a hit in what turned out to be the first act in a Keystone Kops routine that led to the winning goal. Ian White then tried to pick the puck out of his skates to try to start a rush the other way instead of barging in and gaining possession. This let Metropolit (T.O. native killing the Leafs. Sound familiar?) gain the puck and get it out front to a lonely Kozlov who was alone because Hal Gill inexplicably found himself behind the net. White finished the play off with a diving deflection that turned an imminent Raycroft save into a goal. Oh, and Hossa somehow got a breakaway while the Leafs took a nap. Dammit.

Well, I hope this little journey serves as a suitable penance for the Hockey Gods. My boy Antro is out for 3-4 weeks, Carlo is on the way back, and Aubin is in net. Tonight is as good a night as any to get going. Go Leafs!

Update: I forgot to add that the catastrophic news that I received during this journey is that the Leafs are a fatally flawed team that needs to play both hard and mistake-free hockey. They have shown that they CAN do this but I've learned that they only do it when it pleases them.

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