Pension Plan Puppets: March 2007

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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Breaking News: "Must Win" Loses All Meaning

Fresh off a night in which all three relevant games turned the Leafs way (mostly because it was impossible for Tampa and Carolina to get 0 points) the boys in blue are at home to take on the Penguins. An interesting note about the Leafs-Pens season series is that 14 of the 18 goals that the Pens have scored have come on the powerplay. The Leafs' discipline (and the refs attention to Sidney's aerial hijinks) will decide the game. If they stay out of the box and kill what penalties they do get then they should be fine. If the penalties mount then so will the score. Also, the Leafs will be reunited with Gary Roberts who once led them past the senators singlehandedly.

Here are the standings as of this morning to use as a guide tonight. A Leafs win and a Habs loss puts God's team into 8th place ahead of their matchup with the Rangers tomorrow. First things first, the Penguins.

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Around the NHL

Atlanta beat Boston 3-2 so the Bruins are officially unable to catch the Leafs for whatever place they finish in. Sorry Sym. Tkachuk, Kovalchuk, and de Vries led the way (anyone else wish Hawerchuk was still in the league and on that line?) for the Thrashers who move closer to winning a great bet over at the Southeast Shootout.

Washington can make up for that 5-1 beating they laid on the Leafs by taking care of the Lightning. Sure it's on the road but it's still the Lightning and they have Ovechkin, Semin, and Kolzig. That's more than enough to win a game in that division. Wishful Prediction: 4-2 Capitals

Philadelphia has played the role of spoiler well this week with a 5-1 thrashing of the Hurricanes and another win over the Rangers would be much appreciated. Martin Biron has until the end of the season to instill hope in his new hometown fans and what better way than to beat the hated team from Gotham. Wishful Prediction: 3-1 Flyers.

After last night's performance in Ottawa (no evidence of it left at Habsblog damn commie censors) the Habs cannot be looking forward to playing an even better and more explosive team in Buffalo. I predict only bad things for the Habs as they either play Halak, whose confidence must be shaken, or Huet,who will just be returning from injury, or Aebischer, who is crap. Wishful Prediction: 7-1 Sabres.

As for those senators, they look to cement their hold on fourth and get their provincial rivals into the playoffs (a cup doesn't count without a series versus the Leafs!) by taking their seemingly unstoppable winning machine (6 regulation losses since Christmas? what was in their stockings?) to Long Island to heap some dirt on the Islanders' playoff hopes. No DiPietro and possibly no Smyth = no hope. 6-3 senators.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Night in the Playoff Race

I am a glass half full kind of guy so I will say that the single point last night will end up being the one that puts the Leafs into the playoffs. But to achieve that they will need some regulation help tonight. There are three huge games in the Eastern Conference and while two are easy picks the third is a bit more complicated.

Obviously, everyone one here will be sending positive vibes to the senators (except Muppet who will be sending extra negative vibes to the Habs) in the hopes that they will crush the overrated, needlessly arrogant Habs fans. Check into the Habsblog for what I can only assume will be a night of hilarity. As a tip, I have found that if they start blocking your name/e-mail address you can make up a new one/fake one to continue harrassing them.

In Buffalo, the slugs will be repaying the Leafs for their comeback a week ago by destroying the Dipietro-less Islanders.

The tough decision comes down to the Tampa-Carolina game. Both teams are struggling with spotty performances and nightmare inducing goaltending at the wrong time of the year. The Leafs don't have any games left against either team and at 7-1 it is a huge shame. So in the interest of keeping the teams behind the Leafs behind the Leafs and knowing that they play Montreal and the Rangers this weekend, Go Bolts!


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Everybody Loves Toronto

From the same guy that brought us the mockery of a survey that ESPN released Mirtle dug up a players survey from The Hockey News. Here are some highlights:

If you could play for any NHL team (other than your own), which would you choose?
  1. Toronto Maple Leafs (34) 14.4%
  2. New York Rangers (29) 12.3%
  3. Detroit Red Wings (19) 8%
  4. Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks (18) 7.6%
  5. Dallas Stars (15) 6.3%
  6. Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens (14) 5.9%
  7. Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning (10) 4.2%
  8. Phoenix Coyotes (9) 3.8%
  9. Calgary Flames (8) 3.4%
  10. Anaheim Ducks and Florida Panthers (5) 2.1%
  11. Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins (4) 1.7%
  12. Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks (3) 1.2%
  13. Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres (2) 0.85%
  14. Carolina Hurricane and Edmonton Oilers (1) 0.42%
That bodes well for free-agency this summer. How much will that piss off the anti-Leaf brigade?

What is an appropriate penalty for fighting?
1) 5 minutes (273) 97%

Would you rather see a fourth-line roster spot go to:
1) An enforcer (177) 66%

These guys must really like the enforcers on their team to close ranks and protect their jobs like this. Will this take the wind out of the fighting is useless brigade?

Would you consider a shorter regular season knowing it would mean 10 to 15 per cent less revenue from gate receipts?
1) No (175) 63%

Looks like players AND owners are just as greedy. A shortened season would be better for fans but who cares about them.

Who is the best player in the NHL this season?
10) Erik Cole, Pavel Datsyuk, Rory Fitzpatrick, Eric Goddard, Josh Green, Jarome Iginla, Mike Modano, Ryan Miller, Brian Rolston and Henrik Zetterberg (1) 0.38%

How did Rory Fitzpatrick's mom get a vote?

Who is the most respected player in the NHL?
7) Teemu Selanne and Mats Sundin (2) 0.76%

Guess who was not on that list? Your Swedish Captain but he shows up on a later list ;)

Who is the most overrated player in the NHL?
10) Darcy Tucker (2) 1%
11) Daniel Alfredsson (1) 0.5%

Sure, the Leafs have FOUR guys in the top 10 (McCabe, Kubina, Gill (?!), and Tucker) but it is worth it to see YSC's name in there.

What’s the best thing about your job?
9) Women (5) 2%
10) Naps (3) 1.2%

I agree, naps are awesome but so are women. If you figure that Pronger is one of those five votes, who had the rest? Despite Spezza's vote, giggling was not listed.

What’s the worst thing about your job?
12) Backchecking (2) 0.81%
14) Cam Janssen (1) 0.4%

These answers are the easiest to identify: Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Tomas Kaberle.


A Tale of Two Games

Leafs 6 v. Hurricanes 1: Relentless

Secondary scoring carried the day in this game, as Ninja noted, because the top two lines played the Hurricanes big guns to a standstill. Carrying on from three great (mostly) games against the top two teams in the east the Leafs established their forecheck early and used it to cause numerous turnovers. Again, most teams in the conference do not have the size to deal with the top line or the skill to make breakout passes under pressure, at least not throughout their defence corps. When the buds can get this part of their game going the opposition, especially teams that rely on speed and quick puck movement, struggle to create the chances off the rush that fuel their offence. This game gave the Leafs the season series with a 3-1 mark.

Leafs 2 v. Thrashers 3 (OT): Crap

Boyd Devereaux clearly did something wrong to someone on the Thrashers in some past lifetime because he was getting run all over the ice. Unfortunately, it was the pattern of the game. No one from the Leafs outside of the usual suspects (Carlo and Kilger) replied in kind. The Leafs certainly created enough chances to win but as in so many losses the finish was not present. In the end, they let themselves get beat on a terrible penalty call after the defence had lost track of Kovalchuk! The worst part were the two blown calls on Pohl (before) and Sundin (after) that the referees apparently missed.

I have noticed that the referees have been missing more calls, letting more go, and calling more useless penalties (player reaches out stick, taps puck carrier, gets called for hooking). I imagine that it will only get worse in the playoffs. The loss (and thank God for that point) gave the season series 3-1 to the Thrashers a year after the Leafs swept them. This sets up the Leafs for a huge (and rare) Saturday/Sunday back-to-back with the Penguins and Rangers. Head over to the BoO for in-game comments.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Week in the Life of the Leafs (March 19-26)

This week had the potential to be more about the death of the Leafs playoff hopes than offering any sort of hope but it ended up providing the latter (with an early dose of the former). Three games against the top two teams in the East were skillfully handled (for about 171:15) and personally it gave me the belief that the Leafs are rounding into form just in time. They control their fate as their schedule gives them games against each of their rivals (except Tampa, dammit). Here's a quick look back at the games.

Leafs 2 v. Devils 1: Sweet Revenge

Wade Belak got the sideshow out of the way early with a looong fight in which he took the decision with some good early shots but kudos to the scrub for playing his role. He could have spent his three minutes on the ice hiding but he didn't. In the game, the Leafs picked up goals from Kyle Wellwood (who says his return wasn't like a deadline pick-up now?) and the suddenly scorching hot Nik Antropov. Both were set up by the captain on rushes in which he hit the zone with a full head of steam. Raycroft got some help from the posts as he outdueled Martin Brodeur.

Leafs 4 v. Sabres 5: Heartbreak

Well this was a gut-punch game if I have ever seen one. At 4-1 I was soaring. Devereaux-Steen-Stajan was the best line on the ice and Raycroft had barely been tested. Then a funny thing happened as the Leafs got greedy. Not content with taking the gift from the hockey gods (the fourth goal) and going home to attempt to complete the sweep over the Eastern Conference's best team the Leafs tried to run up the score. It quickly fell apart as a couple of bad line changes, a terrible tripping call on Kubina, a soft play by Carlo, and a missed timeout (Maurice knew that the next whistle after the 4th goal was a tv timeout but his team couldn't last until the next whistle) cost the Leafs their hard-earned points.

Leafs 4 v. Sabres 1: Resilience

I won't lie. After the previous night's events I was expecting the Leafs to get buried. But the coaching staff dedicated themselves to showing the team how they had dominated the Sabres for most of the previous evening and wouldn't you know it, they repeated it at home for their 5th straight home win. Again, the Steen-Stajan-Devereaux line was golden as both kids were playing with an incredible amount of confidence and skill. They are both becoming very difficult to handle in the offensive zone while maintaining their defensive responsibility. Darcy Tucker potted a couple of goals including a Leafs powerplay special in celebration of the reunion of PP # 1.

These three games, minus the meltdown, have to have instilled a huge amount of confidence in the entire team. If they can keep it going against the Hurricanes then they will start to build the kind of momentum that saw them finish last year on an 11-1-2 streak and with the team gelling after a season of injuries they look like a team that could make some noise in the playoffs. But first things first, time to beat the storm.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

This Week in the Playoff Race

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The Leafs start off the week in 11th place and with 3 (and possibly 4) games against rivals for the 6th-8th playoff seeds. Toronto is still in control of their destiny but they would certainly like to see fewer three point games among their rivals. They could also use some help from the other teams on the outside looking in as the Panthers, Flyers, and Capitals can all help the Leafs. Sickeningly, so can the senators. So for this week Leafs Nation will be keeping a hopeful eye on Ottawa's game and rooting on Heatley's pursuit of 50 goals.

Maple Leafs - Tuesday Hurricanes, Thursday @ Thrashers, Saturday Penguins, Sunday @ Rangers

Hurricanes - Tuesday @ Maple Leafs, Wednesday @ Flyers, Friday Lightning, Sunday @ Panthers

Lightning - Tuesday Panthers, Friday @ Hurricanes, Saturday Capitals

Canadiens - Tuesday Rangers, Friday @ senators, Saturday Sabres

NY Rangers - Tuesday @ Canadiens, Friday @ Flyers, Sunday Maple Leafs

NY Islanders - Tuesday Devils, Friday @ Sabres, Saturday senators


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Last Week in the Playoff Race

Here is a look back at the week that was in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The standings below are the ones to which we awoke on Monday morning. Tomorrow, I'll have a look at the week ahead.

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With the Leafs' running mates winning at will only picking up 4 of 6 points from the top two teams in the East cost them a spot in the standings. The Leafs' destiny is still very much in their own hands as they have games left against all of the teams in the battle except for Tampa Bay and with a season sweep under their belt the Leafs certainly wish they had them on the schedule.

Toronto - Devils (2-1 W), @ Buffaslugs (4-5 L), Buffaslugs (4-1 W) = 4 PTS

Tampa Bay - Islanders (3-4 OT), Devils (3-1 W), senators (2-7 L) = 4 PTS

Carolina - Capitals (4-3 W), Sharks (6-4 W) = 4 PTS

Montreal - Bruins (1-0 W), @ Bruins (6-3 W), Saturday Capitals (4-1 W) = 6 PTS

NY Rangers - Penguins (2-1 W), Flyers (5-0 W), @ Bruins (2-1 SO), @ Islanders (2-1 OT) = 8 PTS

NY Islanders - @ Lightning (3-4 OT), Penguins (3-1 W), @ Flyers (4-3 W), Rangers (1-2 OT) = 6 PTS


Friday, March 23, 2007

Squash the Buffaslugs!

I hate the Buffaslugs. I think most hockey fans feel the same way. From their bandwagon nature (funny how tough tickets are to get now that the team is an elite team) that bankrupted the team to their constant whining about injuries during last year's playoff run to the mindblowing arrogance of their fans this year and their no-class players last year. Travelling fans can tell you all about the welcoming atmosphere at the Alphabet Arena. And God help you if you have to listen to the games with Rick Jeannerette. You would think that the Flying Buffaslugs had never taken a dive in their lives. Oh, and don't forget that their coach is a dick and apparently a pussy at the same time.

On the Leafs' side, Tomas Kaberle will make his return to the lineup tonight and it could not come at a better time. The Leafs will have the top powerplay unit of Wellwood, Tucker, Sundin, Kaberle, and McCabe together for the first time since December 16th. At that point the PP was clicking at a rate of 24%. Not bad. Since then it's puttered at around 14% and even worse since Kaberle went down at the beginning of the month.

With everyone winning last night the Leafs need these games. The bare minimum is two points and four would be unbelievable (most likely literally). The Leafs are 2-4 against the Sabres this year with three great performances against the slugs in their own building. The Sabres are in a similar position to the senators in last year's finale in that they are comfortably perched at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Leafs need to play with that same kind of desperation. Let's squash the slugs. Go Leafs Go!

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Conspiracy Theory

I watched that movie this past Sunday (so it was broken up by mini-naps) and clearly we have a case of life imitating art tonight as every team competing with the Leafs won. Here is some proof of the shenanigans going on in what can only be an attempt by the NHL to keep as many Canadian teams out of the playoffs. Something is definitely rotten in the NHL.

Washington 3 - Carolina 4: Washington scored those three goals on 10 freaking shots. Did Hanlon issue a no-shooting decree? This is a team that features Alexander Ovechkin and Alex Semin. Those two combine for 10 shots on a freaking shift. They have 593 shots between them this year. That means that they average 8 shots a game by themselves.

New Jersey 1 - Tampa Bay 3: Brodeur allowed 2 goals on 7 shots in the third period. Are we supposed to believe that a player that is well on his way to becoming THE greatest goalie in NHL history could not shut down the Lightning? Add in that the Devils are in danger of losing the division to the Penguins and something stinks.

Pittsburgh 1 - NY Islanders 3: The Penguins are within spitting distance of a division title and yet their vaunted powerplay goes 0-6 against the 19th ranked penalty kill? Not only did Crosby get shut out but Malkin missed a penalty shot! Pittsburgh won 75% of the neutral zone faceoffs but only 37% in the offensive zone. Pretty clear that they were trying not to score tonight. The league is really stretching reality with this one.

Montreal 6 - Boston 3: Maybe Gary Bettman was not clear in his memo that the losses have to at least look believable to a casual observer because the sad-sack Bruins clearly missed that part. After two strong periods gave them a 3-2 lead heading into the third the Bruins realized that they had to lose. They showed their intelligence by picking the most understated way possible to cough up the game: FOUR GOALS ON THE ONLY FOUR SHOTS OF THE PERIOD! Tim Thomas' bank account probably shows a hefty deposit, oh, sometime around 9:20pm.

Sure, that last one has a Canadian team winning which might seem like a hole in my theory (note, how Calgary is also on the verge of an epic collapse while teams are suddenly losing to the Avalanche like they are actually a good team) but the truth is that the Habs are a terrible team and will choke their playoff spot away anyway. Their wins serve to unsettle the Leafs since they know that they cannot miss the playoffs again while les habitants qualify.

And what of Vancouver and Ottawa? Well they have the biggest bandwagon fans. They'll be done with the playoffs once their teams are eliminated in the first round. Sorry Vancouver, no shootouts in the second season. My bad Ottawa, Gary Roberts will be around to haunt you.

And that brings me to the ultimate goal of this Bettman-led conspiracy: To kill Canada's pastime. Sure, his previous moves have been far from subtle - overexpansion, two lockouts, a TV contract with Versus - but he is clearly onto the understated part of his Machiavellian scheme. By ensuring that the playoffs lack a Canadian element beyond the first round he is making sure that the second season will continue to get laughable ratings. One more element in his grand plan to help out his first love, the NBA, but tonight I am blowing the lid off of his scheme.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

V is for Vengeance

Tonight the Leafs face the hero of the New Jersey inbreds in their first meeting since the scrub tried to injure rosy-cheeked Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle will await the doctor's word on whether he will play tonight and the sentiment is that the Leafs would prefer him taking until the weekend to return. The rest of the Leafs meanwhile seem to have their heads on straight and appear set to learn their history lessons:
"I don't think the boys will be looking for him," said Kaberle. "They'll be playing their own game. We just have to get the two points."
That sentiment has been echoed by the team and most fans in a Sun poll want nothing more than the critical two points. As McCabe has pointed out revenge is a dish best served cold and the scrub could conceivably be around next season as well.

Belak might drop the mitts early but the window is only about 1-2 minutes, the amount of time the scrub might spend on the ice and not picking splinters out of his rear, so it will probably amount to nothing. The scrub's obliviousness knows no bounds,
"I'm not looking to go head hunting or anything like that. I'm just want to go out there and play my game. I'm sure if I'm skating down the wing with the puck, he's going to come hit me too. That's obvious."
What was obvious was that the league does not need to employ players that take up minutes that a beer leaguer could fill just as well without the accompanying embarrassing incidents. What was obvious was that, as Kaberle put it, the scrub has no respect for his fellow NHLers. Attitudes like that generally end up coming back to bite the player in the rear whether it's a high-profile teammate that gets him shipped out of town or, in the case of the scrub, whether it's a little more personal attention in future matchups.

Would any Leaf fan be upset at a clean hit injuring the scrub? Nary a tear would be shed and it would be the biggest irony if it was on a play when a Leaf 'was just finishing his check.' But the biggest vengeance would be a win and that is where the focus must lie.

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A Week in the Life of the Maple Leafs

Tuesday March 13, 2007 - Leafs 3 v. Lightning 2: Season Sweep

This game was closer than it had to be as the Leafs' shooters again made a subpar goalie look like a world beater. The game was one-way traffic for the first 50 minutes as the Leafs completely dominated the play save for Ian White's lovely deflection into his own net and Dan Boyle potting a shorty 20 seconds after clipping Mats in the face. Great call.

Thankfully, the Leafs were able to eventually take the lead courtesy of a personal favourite, Nik Antropov, who showed some good anticipation and hands in creating some space for himself down low before tucking a shot in at the far post.

Friday March 16, 2007 - Leafs 1 v. Capitals 5: I Want A Refund

Stupidly, I thought that a well-rested Leafs team might be able to handle a Hershey Bears team that had lost to the Bruins the previous night and in fact was on a 9 game win streak. Unfortunately, Olaf Kolzig was back in net and with the Leafs in the mood to make Johnson look great they were not going to get any favours playing against an actual world class goalie.

I compounded my error by purchasing the LeafsTV interactive feed for my computer. In a pinch it is actually worth it but that money would have bought me more happiness if they had been used for anything else. The worst part was that my buddy and I were conversing over MSN about how McCabe seems to have picked up his defensive play over the past few games and had dedicated himself to a simpler game. Literally 20 seconds later he tried to freaking pokecheck Alex Semin in front of the net. HIT HIM!

Saturday March 17, 2007 - Leafs 2 v. Canadiens 3 (SO): St. Patrick Returns

Maybe the Leafs' long-term plan is to screw the Habs over by making them think that Jaroslav Halak is a good goalie rather than a goalie that is benefitting from a Leafs team that has gone into another offensive funk. The Spirit of St. Patrick (no, Roy is not dead) was certainly in a giving mood for the Habs. I missed the Tucker-Bouillon fight but I heard it was a much fairer tilt than last time what with the Hab waiting for Tucker to join the fight before punching him in the face.

The Leafs' again dominated the Habs (that's 6 times out of 7 for those keeping count) and again lost in a shootout. Mats went to his patented move, top shelf, but Wellwood lost the handle on his deke, Perreault ran out of room, and Tucker took a bad shot. Unused after their previous success were O'Neill and Steen. Raycroft was looking good until Koivu scored with the Habs' third shot and Andrei Kostitsyn potted the winner.

The upcoming week sees the Leafs host the Devils and Sabres to bookend a trip to Buffalo. The Leafs will probably have to pick up three points at a minimum which means that the forwards cannot be happy chucking 30 shots at the net. They have to tap their inner-snipers and find a way to shot somewhere other than at the goalie's crest. Anywhere else. Ask McCabe how he misses the net entirely and adjust a bit.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

This Week In The Playoff Race

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These are the standings as of this morning in the race that no one wants to win. Call me crazy but a first round matchup with Buffalo, while daunting, is certainly no reason for all the teams from Tampa Bay to Montreal to try to tank games in order to avoid opening the playoffs in lovely upstate New York. Clearly there must be a lot of collective fear because all of those teams are doing their damndest to end up in 9th. From Toronto and Tampa getting waxed by Washingston to the Islanders giving up 8 goals to Florida the teams on the bubble have shown no desire to grab this playoff race by the horns. The Thrashers did, from a then precarious position, and now they are seemingly safely ensconsed at the top of the Southeast division.

The Leafs face the top two teams in the East three times this week so conventional wisdom holds that they will be looking at three losses. However, as I told DC when he asked me to find 11 wins for the Leafs a couple of weeks ago, the Leafs tend to wins game that they shouldn't (New Jersey and Ottawa) and lose ones that they shouldn't (Montreal and Washington). That is why I simultaneously love and loathe the Maple Leafs. So I would expect another 3 points out of the week and pray that the Leafs' running mates continue to stumble towards the finish line. Of course, conventional wisdom is called that because it generally turns out to be correct. It's a nice reminder that last year the Oilers won the race that no one wanted to win in the west and came within 60 minutes of the Stanley Cup. Once again, the weekly lineup follows:

Toronto - Tuesday Devils, Friday @ Buffaslugs, Saturday Buffaslugs

Tampa Bay - Tuesday Islanders, Thursday Devils, Saturday senators

Carolina - Thursday Capitals, Saturday Sharks

Montreal - Tuesday Bruins, Thursday @ Bruins, Saturday Capitals

NY Rangers - Monday Penguins, Wednesday Flyers, Saturday @ Bruins

NY Islanders - Tuesday @ Lightning, Thursday Penguins, Saturday @ Flyers

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What If?

I rarely read The Sun (Liverpool fan and all) but I managed to catch this story which made me simultaneously cry, laugh in pain, spit my milk at the screen, and slam my head against my desk. Of course, who knows how the trade would have worked out in the long-run. Well, it definitely would have been the best thing that Jonas Hoglund ever did for the Leafs. Player development is a game of maybes and could bes or Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda so maybe this trade would have been remembered as the time that the Leafs traded away three future superstars while gambling on the NHL's Michael Jordan. But as it stands, Vinny would look good in blue and white but I am happy with Kaberle and Antropov who combined cost less and put more points on the board.

Anyway, back to this reality, where the Leafs host the aforementioned Mr. Lecavalier and his friends. This season the Leafs have shown some ability to control the Three Amigos (or at least limit their damage) and hold a 3-0-0 record in the season series against the Bolts. They picked up a pair of 4-2 wins in the Sunshine State bookending a 5-4 victory at the ACC. Tonight they will be looking to complete the season sweep but will have to once again look out for Richards, St. Louis, and the almost-Leaf Lecavalier the latter two which are among the top three in scoring while Vinny leads the race for the Richard Trophy. The Leafs need this win (and all three games this week) as they face a killer 7 days starting Sunday with a game against the Devils and a home-and-home with the Sabres.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

A Look At The Playoff Race

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Those are the standings as of this morning. Teams are headed towards the 70 game mark and the regular season is into its last four weeks. Here's how each team affecting the Leafs and sens hopes (playoff spot/home ice advantage):

Ottawa: Tues @ Rangers, Thurs Islanders, Sat Flyers, Sun @ Penguins

Tues Lightning, Fri @ Capitals, Sat @ Canadiens

Atlanta: Mon Capitals, Thurs @ Flyers, Fri Rangers, Sun Sabres

Carolina: Tues Panthers, Thurs Devils, Sat @ Devils

Tampa Bay: Tues @ Maple Leafs, Fri Sabres, Sun @ Capitals

NY Rangers: Tues senators, Fri @ Thrashers, Sat Bruins

NY Islanders: Tues @ Canadiens, Thurs @ senators, Sat @ Panthers

Montreal: Tues Islanders, Fri @ Penguins, Sat Maple Leafs

Boston: Thurs Capitals, Sat @ Rangers

Florida: Tues @ Hurricanes, Thurs Sabres, Sat Islanders

A busy week indeed. There are a tonne of head-to-head matchups between teams jockeying for playoff position and those vying for a last spot in the post-season so there is the potential for a bit more clarity. However, it is likely that the playoff picture will be just as murky next Monday morning. Check out DJ's updated Predicted Standings.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Week In The Life...

The past week for the Leafs has seen Wellwood and Tucker make their returns to the lineup, Kaberle continue his recuperation from the scrub's hit, a couple of tough losses, a stultifying win, and a momentum shifting comeback.

Saturday March 3, 2007 - Leafs 1 v. Sabres 3: Will No One Finish?

The Leafs hosted a Sabres team that was ripe for the picking as they were (and continue to be) in their first real injury crisis since last year's playoffs. I guess the Leafs understood how they felt and wanted to do their part to help the Sabres through their troubled time. It was a magnanimous gesture on the part of the Leafs but one that they could hardly afford. Despite keeping a lid on the Slugs the buds coughed up enough mental errors and missed chances to allow the team from across the Peace Bridge to steal a 3-1 decision.

If you assume that the Leafs will face the Sabres in the first round if they qualify then it could hvae been a strategic move to play the inept possum. However, considering the Leafs have two games left against these same Sabres then you would not be wrong in thinking that the Leafs lacked a certain finishing edge to their chances. Something that a player like Tucker or Wellwood could provide when healthy.

Tuesday March 6, 2007 - Leafs 3 v. Capitals 0: Shoot Me

This was a terrible game that lacked flow, passion, and excitement but the Leafs won so I cannot be too upset despite having to pay MLSE's ridiculous prices. We kept joking that we did not realize that Ovechkin and Semin were healthy scratches as they were completely invisible. Raycroft had a good solid game as he turned away 24 shots for his second shutout of the season and Tucker picked up the GWG. Yanic Perreault scored his first goal in his third run with the team on a nice burst of speed down the boards before slotting the puck behind the Hershey Bears' starting goaltender. Nik Antropov and Alex Ponikarovsky combined to ice the game on a nice bit of interplay. Poni dropped the puck at the blueline and drove to the net where he deflected Antro's low, hard shot into the net.

Thursday March 8, 2007 - Leafs 1 v. senators 5: No Goals Please, We're Grinders

This was a game of missed opportunities as Travis Green, Matt Stajan, Bates Battaglia (TWICE!), and John Pohl all missed wide open nets. Each (save for Green's) came at crucial junctions that could have changed the momentum of a game that saw the senators score on their first two powerplays and one of Toronto's. Not the start that the Leafs wanted to this home-and-home series with their nemesis.

Saturday March 10, 2007 - Leafs 4 v. senators 3 (OT): Domination Rewarded

I stretched my personal win streak to three games with this one although the result was in doubt for most of the game. It was an odd one that, despite numerous scoring chances for the Leafs, had a bit of a dull feeling to it until the last 10 minutes of the third. The senators looked poised to steal a win on the back of some opportunism and excellent goaltending by Ray Emery despite being heavily outplayed by the good guys.

First, Boyd Devereaux scored on the only mistake in an otherwise stunning display of goaltending when he sneaked a shot over the shoulder of Ray Emery who had gone down too early. Then, Mats outskated Wade Redden and slipped a pass to the much maligned Nik Antropov who used his 8 foot reach to whack home his own rebound. That set the stage for the Leaf fans' sweetheart, Darcy Tucker, to finish the game off on a nice one-two with Pavel Kubina to notch his second goal of the game. The ACC erupted as the Leafs' faithful celebrated a deserved victory and smug sens' fans sat shocked wondering how another lead slipped away in the third.

Wellwood made a welcome return to the Leafs lineup and his skill showed as he set up a number of chances. Last night was the first time since December 19th that he and Tucker were both in the lineup. No surprise that one of them was the difference in the game as both picked up stars. They provided the skill and finishing that was lacking on Thursday night and that has cost the Leafs so many points in 2007. The race for eighth is down to the final 13 games and the cavalry looks to have made its appearance just in time.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Will No One Rid Me Of This Meddlesome Priest?

With those famous words King Henry II signed Thomas Becket's, the Archbishop of Canterbury, death warrant. Four loyal knights sailed to England from France and slew the Archbishop on the altar of Canterbury. The fallout of the action was widespread and longlasting:
The death of Becket unnerved the king. The knights who did the deed to curry the king's favor, fell into disgrace. Several miracles were said to occur at the tomb of the martyr and he was soon canonized. Hordes of pilgrims transformed Canterbury Cathedral into a shrine. Four years later, in an act of penance, the king donned a sack-cloth walking barefoot through the streets of Canterbury while eighty monks flogged him with branches. Henry capped his atonement by spending the night in the martyr's crypt. St. Thomas continued as a popular cultist figure for the remainder of the Middle Ages.
Move along almost 1000 years and another Thomas/Tomas has become the centre of a pursuit for vengeance. I was not alone in my bloodlust in the immediate aftermath of the scrub's attempt to injure Kaberle. Being the enlightened person that I am I saw that such calls for revenge comprised the buildup to Bertuzzi's mugging and assault of Steve Moore. With news that Kaberle for the rest of the season (he doesn't think so) the outcry for some sort of retribution on March 20th will only increase, unimaginably so if the Leafs proceed to miss the playoffs because of the absence of their best defender and powerplay catalyst. Especially in light of recent criticisms of the Leafs being soft. Et tu Don?

However, the Leafs need to maintain their focus as the playoff drive winds down to its glorious/painful conclusion. If they allow their emotions to get the better of them then they will waste the game on the 20th trying to avenge their fallen teammate. What would it benefit the team to lose the game and possibly a player in an attempt to knock out one of the Albany River Rats? The best vengeance would be to come out pumped in that game and lay clean, devastating hit after clean, devastating hit on every Devil player that touches the puck to ensure that the next time one of their scrubs thinks about laying a late and dirty hit on a Leaf that he will be reminded of the physical punishment that was doled out to the entire team.

Belak will probably fight the scrub (if either is even dressed) but the kind of out of control scene that we saw in that ill-fated Canucks-Avalanche rematch should have no place in the ACC that night. Clean, devastating hits all night long should be on the menu for the Devils. That combined with a win will be the best way to avenge Tomas.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Leafs 4 v. Devils 3 (SO): A Call to Arms (Elbows)


This part is just to blow off some steam. I don't actually want to see anything other than clean hits on Janssen. Lots and lots of clean hits. And a fight with Belak.

Let's get the hit out of the way first. You can see the video on YouTube but I cannot link to it because I can feel my blood pressure rising with each viewing. It was a disgusting hit from an absolute scrub. A hit by such a gutless puke that he did not touch the ice for the rest of the game despite Belak not being in the lineup. Of course the referee, Kelly Sutherland (that's a girl's name) missed the hit. He was probably stoned.

The hit was late (later than the Neil hit on Drury) and from the blindside. But that's not what gets the hackles up since, in my opinion based on the replays, Neil's hit was not an attempt at a headshot. This hit was different as you can see Janssen make a clear move to not only hit Kaberle's but to drive through his head. As a proxy, look at the Letowski hit on Armstrong earlier in the season. The frustration is only amplified by the realization that Colin Campbell's Wheel of Justice will most likely fall on a 0 game suspension. With that disgusting thought in mind, Al Capone sums up the message that should be sent to Belak and Tucker and whoever else is in position to get Janssen:
I want you to get this f-ck where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy Cam Janssen, 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!
The Leafs did nothing at the moment of the hit and I will atribute that to the fact that the play was going up ice and that Ms. Janssen did not see the ice again. However, on March 20th I want to see vengeance. Whether it's Belak fighting him three times or the Leafs repeatedly running Elias, Gionta, Parise, or any other skill player on the Devils I want some price to be paid. If the league won't handle things then they will see some vigilante justice which I am sure will make Campbell happy. That must be why his suspensions are so haphazard and ineptly handed out. He wants to see it happen. I hope the Leafs give him his money's worth.

As for the game, the Leafs looked completely out of it as they played their way to a 2-0 deficit but something funny happened in the third period. The Leafs' defenders took up the charge for their fallen compatriot. First Carlo burst through the Devils' defence and pick up a nice Steen pass before deking Brodeur. Then White took a good point shot on the powerplay that was tipped in by Antro before Hal Gill scored on a shot that deflected off of Paul Martin's stick.

The Leafs looked poised to cap the comeback before Bryan McCabe and a bad bounce conspired to send the game to overtime. Nothing was settled in the extra period so the Leafs tooke their 3-6 record into the shootout. Stajan (despite deking Brodeur out of his jockstrap) and Sundin both missed their opportunities before "Don't Panic It's" Yanic Perreault, Alex Steen, and Jeff O'Neill all tallied to give God's team an improbable victory. The boys can't dwell on the win for too long as they travel home to face the Sabres who are 8-1-1 in their last 10 and just waxed the Leafs 6-1 on Tuesday. Kaberle will be out of the lineup so the team will have to show the same jam as their did in the third period last night or that effort will have been wasted.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Leafs 4 v. Devils 3 (SO): Early Thoughts


Death to Janssen, Death to Lou, and Death to the Devils!!

More tomorrow. What a game.

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Uh Oh

Originally posted at The Battle of Ontario

Mirtle's Playoff Push has been updated with the Eastern Conference's threshold down at 93 points. This means that the Leafs have to go 12-6 (wait until they go 16-0-2!) to hit the magic number. I decided to figure out the points per game were projecting and it's not pretty for the Leafs.

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According to my NASA-level mathematical formula, the Leafs and Hurricanes will eventually fail by the painfully slim margin of ONE F$&%*#$ POINT. If it comes down to the excruciatingly small margin, found here, then one Kerry Fraser will have to have his head on a swivel the next time he takes charge of a game at the ACC. Of course, the Leafs are making the playoffs because they play the Habs, at home, in the last game of the year. Wow. Qualifying while simultaneously eliminating the Habs would make up for all the pain I have suffered through this season.

So it's more a matter of which team that should have made it will not. My pick is the Thrashers which could be crippling for a franchise that seemed set to make it's bow on the big stage. At one point they even looked poised to capture the division crown but that was before the Lightning's Three Amigos decided to play like it was 2004. Florida would be a much bigger factor in the playoff race if they had not lost 13! games in OT/SO. As it stands they, along with Washington, Philly, and maybe Boston, have a great chance to join Buffalo, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey in playing the spoiler. But not against the Leafs. Please.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Leafs 5 v. Flyers 2 - Saturday February 24th

Too often the Leafs find a way to lose games against teams like this year's Flyers. After trading away Forsberg this was a team playing the schedule out with an eye towards next season. However, on Saturday night the good guys were able to overcome any complacency (of course the next two games were a different story) to quite handily put the league's cellar dwellars to the sword. The line of Steen-O'Neill-Stajan were at their best cycling the puck well and creating numerous scoring chances. Steen and O'Neill led the way with a goal and an assist in a game in which the result was never in doubt. The win leaves the Leafs with a 3-0 lead in the season series.

Leafs 4 v. Canadiens 5 - Monday February 26th

I defy any Leaf fans to tell me that the first two periods of this game did not give them post-traumatic stress flashbacks of the two games in March of last year which effectively killed the Leafs' playoff hopes. Against a team that borders on incompetent 5-on-5 a key to the game is to stay out of the box. When the powerplay is their one weapon and your penalty killing is 26th in the NHL it behooves a team to play disciplined.

Instead, as Raking Leafs notes, the Leafs played the part of the Montreal Canadiens in getting dominated physically while Les Habitants showed that they still possessed a bit of mettle. The third period saw Maurice juggle the lines in an attempt to revive the Leafs' flagging hopes. It worked.

The game returned to the form of the five previous games between the two storied franchises as Toronto asserted their size advantage and dictated the pace of the game. Lo and behold, the Leafs were rewarded as first Jeremy Williams and then Alex Steen tallied to bring the score to 5-4. Unfortunately, the rally ended there as Aebischer shook off the Swiss Goalie Disease to shut the door and a late, blatant high-stick on Mats was missed by all four officials.

Leafs 1 v. Sabres 6 - Tuesday February 27th

The Leafs are running out of gas. The great stretch to start off the year has petered out into some terrible mix of MASH and Slap Shot.

This game came right out of the Bruin's book 'How to Make Leaf Fans Kick Kittens'. The Leafs came out with jump and drew three penalties in the first period and scored on none of them (Where are thou Tucker?). The Sabres promptly went down the ice and score on a rebound as the normally reliable Devereaux lost his man on the backcheck. Two bad bounces later the Leafs are down 3-0.

Finally, Ponikarovsky scores a goal and the Leafs are coming on! Unfortunately, their hands are still...somewhere in the chances go wanting. Then a boneheaded move by Ponikarovsky (hey, weren't you just the hero?) led to a scrambled play, another crappy bounce, and a 4-1 lead for the Sabres. 4 goals on 11 shots only tells half the story. The Leafs' shitty defensive play tells the other half. McCabe got the Alfie treatment from the home crowd which was a long time coming.

Maurice is hamstrung by the injuries to Wellwood, Tucker, and Peca. It wasn't a problem when the team was giving their all every night but that counted on contributions from guys that have never been counted upon to produce night in and night out. They were bound to hit a wall and they have done that. Unfortunately, Maurice can't institute a similar policy to that long-ago replacement coach. He cannot punish poor performance with a spot in the press box because who will he call upon?

Yanic Perreault our (Leafs) nation turns it's lonely eyes to you.

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