So, we're at the 3/4 mark for the season, with just 21 games to go, and the Leafs are dead last in the Eastern Conference, 29th in the NHL overall. Seemed like it might be a good time to take a break and hit the "reset" switch. Yet again. And then I found out that the Leafs don't play another game for 3 whole weeks due to something called the "Oplinkits" - according to my 2 and a half year old daughter - which I've never heard of until just now even though every four years it gets more media coverage then Christmas.
Speaking of Oplinkits, you might already know that I think that women that compete are magnificent. So I've had my eye on the Canadian Women's hockey team with some interest. In 3 games now they've outscored their opponents, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Sweden, 41-2. I especially like the line of Wickenheiser, Apps, and Piper, who've totalled 27 points between them so far in the tournament. Piper is from Toronto, and Apps of course is a granddaughter of Maple Leafs Hall of Fame legend, Syl Apps. Wickenheiser is in her 4th Olympics, as is sweet-skating Jennifer Botterill, and ultimate hockey-mom and stay-at-home defenceman (defencewoman?) Becky Kellar. Good luck, ladies!
More Oplinkits! Nice to see Matt Stajan's favourite teammate, Jerome Iginla, with the hat-trick last night. The Canadian defence moved the puck efficiently all game while the forwards looked dangerous and determined. About half-way through the game I realized that if I screwed with the tint-control on the TV I could kinda make their uniforms look sort of a pinky-purplish-blue, and with the Maple Leaf crest on their sweaters, I felt like I was watching a beautiful, psychedelic dream.
I still can't cheer for Danny Heatley. His second goal of the game to make the score 5-0 was just a rocket of a shot, but it didn't make me feel good. I don't admire the guy. I don't think I ever will. I don't care how good he is. Is that wrong, or is it right? Doesn't really matter much, it's just the way it is.
I'm looking forward to seeing Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina re-united tonight when the Czechs take on the Slovaks. Speaking of Kaberle, which apparently I often do, I think it's worth pointing out that on the last Leafs' goal, scored by Kessel on the powerplay in the 2nd period against the San Jose Sharks, Tomas earned his 40th assist of the season, and the 400th assist of his career - all in the Blue and White. Maybe not as glamorous or outstanding as 500 goals, but I think it's still worth recognizing.
The Leafs last game, an uninspiring 4-0 loss to Carlo Colaiacovo, Alex Steen and the rest of the Unstempniak'd Blues, was disturbingly familiar to many, if not most, of this season's performances. Made me feel nostalgic for the good old slightly less crappier days. The temporary glitz and sparkle of the new Leafs sadly faded in that game, revealing a team very much reminiscent of the old Leafs, with similar results but only half the personnel. It occurred to me that since Wilson came to town, Fletcher and Burke have combined to trade Antropov, Moore, Colaiacovo, Steen, White, Hagman, Stajan, Mayers, Blake, Toskala, and two 1st round draft picks, for Phaneuf, Kessel, Giguere, Sjostrom, Stempniak, and two 2nd round picks.
So with nostalgia in mind, and nothing else for me to say, I've decided to end this post with some favourite pictures of familiar faces from the recent past, starting with Alex Steen and his visit to the dentist!
"Yeth, a thorthanded goal. Weally cruffed thier thpiwit."
"A'splode for glory!"
"Hey, look at me! I'm worth a 2nd round pick AGAIN! I can't wait to play for my new team, the Buffalo SabresFlorida Panthers Montreal Canadians. I made Jason Blake's contract seem almost reasonable! I should be a billionaire!"
"Whoo! Antropov is Atlanta Thrashers leading scorer now! Ilya and I are unstoppa... wait, what?"
Dear Vesa; Please wash that blue and white out of your equipment. Signed, Finland.
Jamal Mayers: Motivation leads to success, or in this case, doing stuff."I am the God of Misfortune!"
He's a complicated man, But no one understands him but his woman...IAN WHITE!"Happily married? Well, yes. Why would you ask?""See ya next year, everybody!"
It's not often that we get a window into the personal lives of the public figures we follow. Just two months ago, many hockey fans were introduced to Brendan Burke, and given a glimpse of his relationship with his father Brian. It is a profound tragedy that Brendan's life then ended so suddenly this Friday night, for many of us, beyond respecting and admiring his father, appreciated and were enlightened by his own story. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that I feel deeply grieved for Brian Burke's loss and wish him the very best.
Our previous night's defeat to the Devils was defintely one of the toughest results of this difficult season, and that's saying a lot. While the sad news of Brendan Burke's passing simply can't be measured, perhaps getting back to hockey quickly again will do some good for the fans and players alike. The Battle of (yawn) Ontario resumes with the Sens coming into Toronto riding a ridiculous 11-game winning streak.
Before the game begins there is a moment of silence for Brendan Burke.
Bob Cole's voice calling tonight's game on CBC. Wonderful.
18:59 Penalty. A holding call behind the Ottawa goal. Leafs go to the powerplay early as Carkner goes to the box.
18:24 Good shot by Phaneuf on a one-timer from Kaberle, stopped by Elliotte.
17:30 Phaneuf blast blocked by Ruutu.
16:59 Penalty expires.
16:30 Hanson throws a hit deep in the Ottawa zone.
15:59 Penalty. Kulemin taken down a centre-ice. Picard for tripping.
15:16GOAL!!! Kessel scores. Phaneuf, set up by Kaberle, blasts one off the post. Kessel grabs the rebound and gets two whacks at it, bouncing it in. Powerplay goal, Kessel, from Phaneuf and Kaberle.
14:50 Orr with a spin-around shot in the slot, stopped by Elliotte.
13:25 Alfie gets the boos.
12:45 Giguere handles the puck smoothly to keep the Leafs out of danger, then holds a glove save for a whistle after the Leafs turn over the puck, killing momentum. Little things sometimes make a big difference.
11:35 Fight! Orr and Carkner. Gee whiz. Orr destroys Carkner with 3 solid shots to the face. The lights are still on but it looks like there's nobody home for Carkner who gets sent to the dressing room.
9:00 Schenn throws a good hit.
8:00 Giguere with a solid save at the side of the goal and holds the puck, ending another dangerous Ottawa shift early.
6:55 Michalek with a partial breakaway, Giguere makes the save look easy.
6:25 Alfie cutting in on net, save Giguere, then gets bumped by the Ottawa Captain. No penalty! Great save Giguere. Can't believe there's no call for goaltender interference. Junk.
6:08 Penalty. Kovalev snaps Bozak's stick for a stupid penalty. Leafs' third powerplay of the period.
4:50 Nothing doin' with the man-advantage. Mitchell falls for no reason and the Senators clear the puck again.
4:08 Powerplay ends without a shot on goal.
3:45GOAL!!! Luke Schenn. My God! What a goal! Sailing over the blue line like Bobby Orr, Schenn rifles a slap shot past Elliott. 2-0 Toronto. Sjostrom and Wallin get assists on OLAS' goal.
3:17GOAL!!! Beautiful goal. Tic-tac-toe play between 4 players. Schenn starts it off but I don't think he's going to get an assist. Kessel and Bozak assisting on Ponikarovsky' 20th goal. Correction: After announcing the goal as Poni's, it's determined that the puck went in off an Ottawa player and Bozak gets credit for the goal. Kessel with an assist still, and Schenn picks up the second assist.
1:40 2-on-1. Hanson shooting, Elliotte makes the save, then Carkner is called for elbowing Mitchell behind the play.
0:25 Hanson gives the puck away but then does a nice job backchecking and spoils a breakaway for the Sens.
Period ends. Shots 13-11 for Toronto, score 3-0. Giguere's 4th scoreless period for the Leafs.
19:40 Great diving shot block by Poni.
17:58 Penalty. Kovalev for hooking. in the Ottawa zone.
16:50 Not a good shoot-in by Phaneuf but the Leafs retain possession after Elliotte gives the puck away.
16:00 Kuelmin bangs a puck loose from Elliotte's pads and the puck trickles past the open goal. Hanson isn't there in time to jam it in.
14:34 Penalty. Good chance for the Sens. Neal's shot stopped then another chance on the rebound, stopped by Giguere. However a holding penalty on the play to Luke Schenn.
12:55 Phaneuf, XLB get signals crossed. Spezza carries the puck off-side.
12:30 Hanson, Stempniak 2-on-1, shot by Hanson stopped by Elliotte's blocker. Shorthanded pressure continues as Hanson gets 2 more shots. Penalty expires.
8:50 Great chance for the Sens. Giguere somehow keeps it out. Cheechoo's shot from the slot is stopped through a screen and then the rebound gets lost in traffic as Regin can't bang it in.
7:35 Penalty. Ponikarovsky for hooking. Seems like a weak call.
7:00 Spezza nearly breaks in, gets hit, spun around, loses the puck.
6:30 Fans are really on Alfredsson.
6:10 Great shift by Stempniak. Nice backchecking and throws a big hit before going off, fans applauding.
5:35 Penalty expires.
5:05 Kessel to Bozak, one-timer stopped by Elliotte.
4:00 Gunnarsson's hard shot from the point hits Elliotte in the chest.
3:20 Cheechoo stopped from in close on his own rebound.
2:00 Sjostrom with great puck retrieval behind the Sens goal, centres to Kulemin who just misses the tap in.
1:35GOAL!!! Kessel. Wow. Kessel carries the puck through the neutral zone and over the line and fires a lazer past Elliotte. Huge game for Kessel. His 3rd point tonight, and his 20th goal of the season. Assists to Bozak and Poni.
0:10 Phaneuf shot from the blueline is a bullet. Elliotte hangs on.
Period ends. Shots in that period 17-11 for the Leafs, 30-22 overall. Score 4-0. Giguere has 5 straight shut-out periods, 100 minutes without giving up a goal, since joining the Leafs.
20:00 Leclaire replaces Elliotte in goal for Ottawa.
18:30 Regin shot from in close off Giguere's shoulder.
17:40 Kaberle's shot gets through a screen, nice save by Leclaire.
17:25 Kaberle's helmet knocked off, still plays the puck cooly. Even cooler now, actually.
16:40 Big rebound by Giguere, bit of a mad scramble but no one can find the puck as it bounces harmlessly away.
16:16 Penalty. Orr goes for crosschecking Neil in front of the net.
15:00 Fisher cuts into the zone and gets a backhand shot on goal and then bumps Giguere.
14:45 Sjostrom with a nifty chance shorthanded, Leclaire had to be sharp.
14:00 Stempniak blocks a shot and then breaks the other way, fires a slapshot wide from just inside the line.
11:43GOAL!!! Luke Schenn. Holy God! Schenn does itagain. A 2-on-1 with Hanson and Schenn plays the shot the whole way, firing the puck past Lecalire. 5-nothin'. This is looking to be the Leafs most lopsided victory of the season. Luke Schenn having an awesome game. 3-point night.
10:50 Solid "Go Leafs Go!" chant.
10:00 Orr banged along the boards by Volchenkov.
9:28 Penalty. Kulemin hit from behind by Regin. Another offensive zone infraction. Pretty sloppy. Sens winning streak goes out with a whimper.
9:15 Schenn looking for the hat-trick on the powerplay, fires from dead-centre on the blueline, stopped by Leclaire.
8:22 Penalty. Leafs powerplay ends as Hanson gets called for boarding, yet another penalty 180-feet from the goal. Not a great call, but it's 5-0 so who cares.
8:00 Leafs fans doing the wave? This may be our one chance this year to celebrate a victory like this. Go on. Let it all out.
7:28 Leafs survive 4-on-4. Sens powerplay begins.
6:22 Sens powerplay goes by without a good chance. Leafs fans still doing the wave and getting louder. This is more then just cheering for this one game. This is a salute to the new Leafs - the team that Burke is building - that seems re-energized and has the fans excited again. And by extension, it's a salute to Brian Burke the man himself, and then the emotion kicks in, and it's an outpourring of appreciation and spirit.
5:15 God, listen to the fans. Huge "Go Leafs Go!" chant.
5:05-4:05 Energy from the fans carries the game for another minute, play is mostly held to the perimeter, dump in, dump out.
2:05 Ottawa running out the clock. No hitting.
0:30 Ruutu drives the net. Great save by Giguere to preserve the shutout.
0:00 Game ends. Back-to-back shutouts for Giguere. Six periods without a goal since joining the Leafs. Unbelievable. What a game for Kessel and Schenn. Both of them have 2 goals and both assist on the other goal by Bozak. Honourable mention to Hanson who also played a great game at both ends of the ice.
Let's begin with Saturday night's epic disaster in this tragedy-filled season. This has to be the worst loss ever. I thought losing to Paul Maurice and the Carolina Hurricanes in a game where Ian White had given the Leafs the lead with 30 seconds to go was the most humiliating that it could get. I certainly never imagined - honestly, no one imagined - the Leafs building a 3-0 lead against Vancouver and chasing Luongo from the net, only to blow that lead and give up the game-winning goal with 2:04 to play, followed by an empty-netter, and then have that bastard Raycrap doing victory laps and waving to the fans at the ACC. A new low. Absolute rock-bottom. The only thing worse would be to have John Ferguson Jr. score a goal against the Leafs himself.
Warning: the video below contains graphic scenes of outright horror that are highly disturbing and may not be suitable for some audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.
Unforgivable. And so, we don't forgive. We blow the whole thing up and forget instead. The guys that lost to Raycoft and Vancouver are not our guys anymore - those are their guys, Calgary and Anahiem - we got new guys now. Not really, but y'know...
Forget that awful game on Saturday, let's get to the reaction of the trades. This is a major shock to the culture of the Maple Leafs dressing room. Six fairly prominent personalities - Stajan, White, Hagman, Mayers, Blake, and Toskala - have been moved out. With the prolonged injury to Komisarek, leadership will weigh even heavier on the shoulders of Kaberle and Beauchemin, and yes, even Luke Schenn. Phaneuf will slide nicely into the top-4 rotation and has a cannon for a shot so he might pair up with Kaberle very well. Hopefully Phaneuf can find chemistry quickly on a blueline that remains surprisingly deep yet was curiously dysfunctional. In Giguere, the Leafs add a Conn Smythe trophy winner to the dressing room and an intelligent mentor for Jonas Gustavsson. Finally, it appears that Bozak is here to stay and that Exelby will likely get his wish for more playing time, though Finger may end up being the next defenceman that gets moved.
Words For The Not-So Dearly Departed
I'm gonna miss Matt Stajan. A lot. I know not everybody's gonna agree with this, but I thought he gave a real honest effort most nights and exceeded expectations for a season and a half. At the time of the trade, he was leading all Leaf forwards in points and was actually chasing down Kaberle (just 2 points behind) for the team lead.
It hurts to lose Ian White, it really does. Since the beginning of last season, when he sat out the first 11 games and then debuted as a forward, White has been earning admiration and respect. One of the very rare pleasures of this dreadful Maple Leafs season was witnessing the continuous ascension of Ian White's stardom. He was the heart and soul of this mostly passionless team, which isn't saying much I guess, but his contributions and efforts were appreciated and will be remembered. His mustache is immediately an honoured inductee in the Maple Leafs Mustache Hall of Fame.
For the first quarter of the season, Hagman was the Leafs most consistent and complete player. He began to fade after that though and never really got it back. It also seemed that Hagman was reluctant to play a physical game and was in the bottom half of the roster for hits and blocked shots. Already a 20-goal scorer this season, Hagman does have fantastic skills, but wasn't a difference-maker often enough.
How ironic is it that Mayers scores a goal and two assists in his final two games as a Leaf? Was his performance the tipping point for Calgary on this trade? Were they not sure until Mayers ripped one by Loungo with 5 seconds left in the first? Hilarious. If so, thank you Jamal, for finally doing SOMETHING. It's too bad things didn't work out 'cause your eyebrows are astounding, but 5 years from now the only thing I'm going to remember about you is that you were a part of this trade. Congratulations, you're Craig Berube now.
AhhHahahahahahahaha!!! What were they thinking? I can't believe somebody actually took Vesa Toskala off our hands. And I can't believe they actually shut down his season last year for surgery that would make him feel great about being terrible! What kind of groin surgery did they do that fucked up his head like that? The VESA2010 was a total disaster and a disgrace. Stupid bio-engineered piece of junk. On the other hand, I now fully expect Toskala to return one day and shut-out the Leafs with a ridiculous 50-save performance, but this time there won't be any mini-lap celebrations, 'cause I'll be there, and I'll be waiting...
THANK YOU ALMIGHTY JESUS! THANK YOU MERCIFUL ALLAH! THANK YOU BUDDHA! BLESSED THANKS TO BRAHMA, AND VISHNU, AND SHIVA! THANK YOU TO ALL OF THE INFINITE GODS THAT EXIST IN OUR UNIVERSE FOR THIS MOST UNDESERVING OF MIRACLES. IT IS TRULY A BLESSING AND A SIGN THAT OUR SUFFERING WILL SOON BE AT AN END! PRAISE GOD, WHOSE INFINITE WONDER KNOWS NO BOUNDS!
For years from now, fans of hockey teams anchored under the weight of outrageous contracts and cap-hits will look to this day and say, "If Jason Blake can be traded, anyone can get traded." I do want to recognize Jason Blake for having a terrific bounce-back season last year, and for keeping his chin up during some very difficult times in Toronto. However, I was worried at the beginning of the season that Blake might have little left in the tank, and even less to prove, and eventually that became apparent and it was time for him to move on. Good luck in California, I wish him well, but every time I see Blake in another team's uniform I'll bow my head and give a quiet thanks to Wendel.
So, it's like a whole new season from here on out, hopefully with new results. The past is the past. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Broken sticks and shin-guard tape goes in the basket. We're past the darkest hour now, and heading for the dawn.