Monday, March 29, 2010
I don't recall becoming a Leafs fan. It's always just sort of been there.
You could say I suffered through the Ballard Era, but I was too young to know the difference. I don't remember Armstrong or Keon, but I do remember Sittler and Salming, Turnbull and Palmateer, Lanny McDonald, and of course, Rick Vaive. And I loved them all.
In the mid-to-late '80s I really did suffer through some horrible teams. And there were very few players, with the exception of Wendel Clark, that inspired adoration. I wasn't old enough yet to really realize it, but the franchise was in a terrible mess. I began to indulge in fantasies that Jari Kurri was my biological father, and thus, developed a deep resentment towards Gretzky, whom I felt was stealing all of my estranged Dad's rightful glory and fame.
Then Gretzky got traded to L.A.. Then Gilmour got traded to Toronto. Then Gretzky high-sticked Gilmour in the face.
Years later, I discovered DownGoesBrown, and a few months after that DownGoesBrown discoverd VHS tapes in his attic, or garage, or basement, or wherever. Then Bloge Salming set the Barilkosphere on fire. Pretty soon the NY Times was involved.
Sensing that my moment had come, I sent Bloge an e-mail.
And it's all come down to this - the result of everything that's happened in my life, from the moment that United Way poster went up on my living room wall, to Wendel's hat-trick in Game 6, to Gretzky's hat-trick in Game 7, to the invention of the internet, until now. I'm not sure it'll ever eclipse this...
This is the greatest thing that general borschevsky's name has ever been associated with. It's even better then that time Damien responded to one of my comments, or the time I punched James Mirtle in the gut for calling Kaberle a whore.
Thanks again to Bloge Salming for makin' it happen. If you don't follow his blog then Wendel Clark doesn't love you and you're going to burn in hell.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Totally agree. It made me realize that Grabbo's presence is really necessary as a secondary scoring threat, and without him, it's too easy for the opposition to focus their defensive muscle on Kessel. While Grabbo hasn't razzled and dazzled quite like he did last year, he's still an effective forechecker who messes with the opposition's heads, and screws with their rhythm and focus, altering the intensity of the game in the Leafs favor.
Then this happened...
That's pretty cool. But here's the real reason Grabbo is this edition's Difference Maker - did you realize that when Grabovski is in the line up for the Leafs, they are a BETTER THEN .500 TEAM? That was the goal, scored by Grabbo himself, that brought them up to the .500 plateau.
Tonight, Grabovski assisted on John Mitchell's 2nd period goal to cue the comeback, and then assisted on Kulemin's 2nd overtime winner of the month, to give the Leafs a 3-2 victory, thus pushing them one win over .500 when Grabbo laces up the skates this season. Grabovski was on the ice, as was Kaberle, for all 3 goals and both finished +3.
The Leafs record this season now stands at 28-35-12. When Grabovski got injured in the first period of the first game of the new year, a January 2nd 3-1 loss to Calgary, the Leafs record, that game included, was 14-19-9. From January 5th to March 7th, the Leafs record in Grabbo's absence was a brutal 6-14-3. Since returning to the line up on March 9th, the Leafs have been on a definitive roll, going 8-2-0.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Time will tell, I guess, but if he continues to hit the back of the net with regularity during the shoot-out, or actually during the "game" part of the game, then he might be making a huge difference after all - the difference between winning and losing. As a Leaf fan, that's all the difference in the world.
Hey, wow! Look at that, I've got a theme going. Maybe I'll make it a series. Did you know that Kulemin was my favourite NHL player after just his 3rd NHL game? Ya, me neither, but that's what I wrote. There's also a funny joke in that post about how I thought Jari Kurri was my father. Some day I'll do a post about that. But today's post is about Nikolai Kulemin, my new favourite NHL player again, not counting Kaberle.
"He's probably our most complete player now. He's everything you want in a hockey player."
Wilson's assessment mirrors my own in this situation, a rare occurrence lately. One of the few real reasons for joy this season has been the pleasure of watching Kulemin's game blossom and bloom. While, at the time, I really wondered about the coach's decision to sit Kulemin as a healthy scratch through 4 of the first 8 games, it's clear now that one of Wilson's few significant achievements this season is the management and development of Kulemin's skills, from a raw sophomore talent, to the potent, confident, first line player he is today.
"He was crawling, then walking, now he's running."
Pretty soon he'll want to borrow the car.
Well, since the loss in our last game against Florida was kind of a downer and it's much more fun feeling hopeful and optimistic, let's all enjoy a video tribute of a Maple Leaf that I hope will be with the team for many years to come.
First up; Nikolai Kulemin's first NHL goal. The first player to score a goal while making his NHL debut in a season-opener against the defending Stanley Cup champs since Eric Lindros in 1992. For whatever that's worth.
Next; his 2nd-ever NHL goal, a beauty back-hander against St. Louis.
Here's a great goal from earlier this season, January 12, during a 4-2 loss against Carolina, a second period goal assisted by Bozak and Kessel.
The very next game, January 14th, another 2nd period goal, again assisted by Kessel. The Leafs take this game 4-0, and it's at about this time perhaps that a Maple Leafs puzzle begins to take shape without a Stajan, or a Hagman, a Poni, or Stempniak.
Another goal against the Flyers in January, this one 8 days earlier on the 6th, a 3rd period goal during a 6-2 defeat that began a 4-game losing streak that would end the next time the Leafs played Philadelphia. Check out how much Kulemin resembles Kessel on this play:
In this month alone, Kuelmin has scored 3 times in the shoot-out; March 6th, a 2-1 win against Ottawa, on the 18th, a 2-1 win over New Jersey, and the next game, March the 20th, a 3-2 win over Montreal. Here's a sample, from last season, of what Kulemin can do as an extra-point sniper:
He's also scored an overtime goal this month, Toronto's long-awaited first overtime goal of the year, giving the Leafs a 4-3 victory over Boston on the 9th. This was followed up the very next game, March 11th, with Phil Kessel scoring in OT to give the Leafs a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay for their second consecutive overtime win. In all, that's 2 overtimes and 3 shoot outs - 5 extra points, 5 wins and not losses, that Kulemin and his linemates have captured for the Leafs, just this month.
So cheers to Nikolai Kulemin, who's making a huge difference to my enjoyment of the second half of this Titanic-like season. The last video, despite misspelling "diffrence" is actually pretty good with the music. They should make another updated version with all of his shoot-out and overtime and highlight reel goals with the same music. Or somebody else should. Or maybe I should learn how to do it and do it myself.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Phaneuf has now played 15 games for the Blue and White. The Leafs record in that time, thanks to 5 wins in their last 6 games, including Thursday's shoot-out victory over the Devils, is 8-6-1, 17 points in 15 games, a .566 winning percentage. On pace for 92.9 points over an 82 game schedule. That's fairly promising considering this is only the beginning.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
That would have been the title for this post except that the Leafs are playing Ottawa again, so instead we're back with another episode of the Battle of Ontario Blow-by-Blow. Hard to believe, but this is the last time these two teams will meet this season. The Leafs have won 3 in a row against the Sens, and look to make it 4 straight tonight. Toronto leads the season series, 3-2 (6 points to 5), including the overtime victory from their last meeting just 10 days ago. In those 5 games, the Leafs have given up only 8 goals to Ottawa, while scoring 13.
Before the game starts though, let's talk about Nikolai Kulemin for a second. I'd say he's probably my favourite Leaf forward right now, with Bozak as a close second. Currently, Kulemin has a 5-game point streak going, with 4 goals and 3 assists in that span. He's also a +3 for March after 8 games, averaging nearly 3 shots (2.875) per game since the Olympic break. He has 2 game-winning goals to his credit, plus a shorthanded goal. Right now I think he looks terrific on the top line with Bozak and Kessel as those 3 have combined for 17 points over the last 4 games.
A couple more thoughts before the game...
Gunnarsson is an incredible +11 after just 30 games played. He has 4 points in his last 5 games, bringing his season total up to 11 (2G, 9A), and is a +8 in 8 games since the break. His numbers, averaged out over an 82-game schedule would look like: 5.4 goals, 24.6 assists, for 30 points, and a plus 30. Wow. Only 9 NHL players have a plus/minus above 25, and all of them play for either Washington or Vancouver. Last season, only 8 players finished the year with a plus/minus at 30 or above.
I'm still very interested to see how the Leafs scoring race will shake down over the remaining 12 games. Kessel, with 6 points in his last 4 games, has taken over the team lead in scoring, 1 point ahead of Tomas Kaberle who appears to be struggling since returning from the Olympics. My instinct tells me that Kaberle is not going to end his season (and possibly his career as a Leaf) mired in a lengthy slump, so I expect him to bounce back and to make a run at reclaiming the team scoring title. Time will tell, I guess. 13 games to go.
Let's get this one started...
20:00 Gustavsson in goal. Awesome. He's got 3 wins in a row, lookin' for his 4th. Kessel, Bozak, Kulemin up front. Phaneuf and Beauchemin on the blueline.
19:35 Bozak bumped off the puck behind the Senators net.
18:05 Caputi cruises through the crease but can't hit the empty goal.
16:58 Penalty. Winchester. Didn't really see it. Called for elbowing.
15:55 Minute gone in the powerplay, nothing really happening.
15:25 Monster gives the puck away and the Leafs are hemmed in their own zone for 10 seconds by the shorthanded Senators.
14:55 Grabbo just misses with a backhand as the penalty expires.
14:09 Penalties. Phaneuf and Foligno for yapping, I guess. They call it roughing. 4-on-4.
13:20 Mitchell digs the puck out behind the Sens goal, sets up Beauchemin. Save Elliott. Good chance.
11:40 Kaberle with a nice defensive play to clear the zone. Yes, really.
11:30 Sens back in, Gustavsson with a good stop, rebound bounces off traffic and trickles past the post.
11:00 Huge kick save by the Monster.
9:10 Sens controlling the play for several consecutive shifts but no real scoring chances.
8:40 GOAL!!! Kessel! Awesome wrist shot eludes Elliott. Great pass by Kulemin. Bozak with the 2nd assist on the 3-on-2, sent away by XLB. 1-0 Leafs. Six game point streak for Kulemin.
6:20 Leafs control the play in the Sens zone for a long stretch without a solid chance.
5:55 Primeau tries to shovel a loose puck into the net.
5:40 Fight! Carkner looks like he's challenging Orr, but they both look like they're too tired to go, when suddenly we have XLB and Neil squaring off at centre ice. Stupid linesman won't get out of the way and what could have been a good scrap becomes a farce.
5:15 Save by Gustavsson, dangerous rebound cleared away.
4;50 Kessel gives the puck away right in front of the Leafs goal and the Sens get a chance out of the confusion. Alfie sets up Spezza who misses wide.
3:30 Gustavsson good kick save, rebound bounces over Spezza's stick.
2:45 Gustavsson with another good save, no rebound, after Gunnarsson gives the puck away.
2:20 Kaberle throws a hit and knocks down his man. Yes, really. Might have been accidental.
2:00 Carkner is flattened into the boards by Schenn deep in the Leafs zone. Scrum ensues.
:38 Penalty. Just as Stalberg is breaking towards the goal, Grabbo gets called for tripping a defender.
:00 Senators didn't really have enough time to threaten on the PP and the period ends. 1-0, Leafs.
20:00 Sens still on the powerplay for a minute, 22 seconds.
19:15 Alfie with a hard shot from the point, stopped by Gustavsson. No rebound.
18:25 Chance for Ottawa, Gustavsson makes the save with his shoulder.
17:54 Penalty. Stalberg lazy hooking penalty in the Sens zone.
17:35 Beauchemin stands up Spezza just inside the blue line.
16:40 Another hard shot by Alfredsson from the point, big rebound bounces harmlessly away as the Leafs all have their men tied up.
16:00 Kulemin rubs out Neil behind the Leafs net.
15:27 GOAL!!! Terrific goal by Mitchell. Nicely dodges a hit and then sends the puck top shelf. Bang. What a goal.
15:08 GOAL!!! Grabbo scores! 3-0! Stalberg and Caputi retrieve the dump-in and find Grabovski in front who slides it in. Suddenly the game is blown wide open. Sens call a time-out.
14:35 Dangerous rebound cleared away by Kaberle. I'm serious.
13:24 Penalty. XLB. Interference. That's like the 4th penalty tonight that I didn't really see. Either they're happening behind the play or the refs are being finicky.
12:40 Mitchell rags the puck shorthanded, killing a good extra ten seconds.
11:35 Spezza at the point (?), hard shot, dangerous rebound but the Leafs tie up their men. Doing a good job of that tonight.
10:56 Penalty. Ottawa. Volchenkov breaks up a chance in front by breaking Bozak's stick. Two minutes for slashing.
10:20 Shorthanded chance for the Sens, shot from the slot, another good save by Gustavsson, no rebound.
9:20 Puck goes over the glass and the refs are showing some amazing collective indecision. No penalty but they don't look entirely sure about it.
9:00 Penalty. Another one against the Sens. Sutton highsticking Beauchemin in front of the Sens net.
8:00 Good puck control by the Leafs. Shot by Kessel stopped by Elliott.
7:05 Monster stop on a breakaway for the Sens!
6:20 Nice play by Hanson to chip the puck out of the Leafs zone. Little things...
5:40 Neil with a chance alone in front, stopped by Gustavsson with a butterfly kick save.
5;00 Phaneuf loses the puck to create another chance for the Sens but then recovers nicely and ties up his man, and Monster is able to slap the puck into the corner.
2:50 Dangerous centering pass by Spezza knocked away by Schenn.
2:05 Kessel, set up by Kulemin, nearly scores again with another hard wrist shot.
1:34 Goal. Sutton scores after Cullen steals the puck from Kaberle. 3-1.
1:15 Sutton again with a hard wrist shot off Gustavsson's shoulder.
:00 Second period ends without much action after the Sens goal.
20:00 Kessel, Bozak, Kulemin up front.
18:00 Not much happening first two minutes of the third. Chippy.
17:45 Kulemin skates in off the wing for a shot on goal.
16:55 Shot on goal by Lundmark from a bad angle and then Kaberle's point shot is deflected by Mitchell out of play.
16:10 Phaneuf hit from behind by Neil into Winchester. Dangerous hit, no call.
15;35 Kessel dishes to Kaberle, weak shot on goal, Kulemin looking for the rebound.
14:30 Alfie centres to Cullen with a nifty behind the back pass from behind the net. Cullen's shot deflected out of play.
14:20 Good chance for Kelly. Phaneuf saves a goal deflecting the puck over the net.
13:35 Caputi backhand just misses.
12:55 Stalberg breakaway... saved by Elliott
12:35 Kessel nearly sets up Bozak for a tip-in.
12:13 Nice. Schenn knocks Neil to the ice, starting a big scrum. XLB, Schenn, Neil, and Ruutu go to the box.
11:22 Oh, Jesus. Terrible hit from behind by Alfredsson on Beauchemin. Another scrum. Totally uncalled for. Should be 5 minutes. Just a minor. Not happy.
10:50 Hard shot by Phaneuf, set up by Kaberle, hits Elliott's mask, shaking him up.
11:00 Down at the other end, a great sprawling save by the Monster.
10:45 Nice glove save by Elliott. At the stop in play, Elliott goes to the bench and switches to an all-black mask.
10;30 Elliott makes a save on Stalberg, set up by Grabbo, and then goes to the bench again and switches to an all-white mask.
9:55 Gustavsson bobbles a glove save then needs to scramble for another save.
9:29 Penalty. Sutton hits Gunnarsson with an elbow.
8:20 Leafs struggle to get out of their zone on the powerplay.
7:20 Penalty ends without any good opportunities for Toronto.
6:50 Mitchell with a shot on goal, stopped by Elliott.
5:20 Sens pressing the Leafs for a minute but they're being held to the perimeter.
4:50 Schenn takes a hit into the glass but keeps on truckin'.
4:20 Wallin gets away with one, shooting the puck into the crowd, but the refs decide not to call it.
3:05 Kulemin with a nice play to knock down a nuetral zone pass and then knock a Senator into the boards before dumping the puck back in deep.
2:30 Caputi, Grabbo, Stalberg, 3-on-1. Caputi takes it all the way but doesn't really get a good shot away.
1:50 Good work by Grabbo and Caputi deep in the Ottawa zone. Clock ticking.
1:20 Elliott goes to the bench.
:55 Great kick save by Gustavsson.
:50 GOAL!!! Wallin hits the empty net from centre ice. Assists to Lundmark and Beauchemin.
:30 Ruutu bumps Schenn into the boards.
:10 One more good save by Gustavsson.
:00 Game ends. Great complete game for the Leafs. A bit sloppy in the 2nd period, but totally outworked the Senators for the win.
The First Star - Phil Kessel. Big goal set the tone and looked dangerous all night.
The Second Star - Jonas Gustavsson. Monster with 30 saves and his 4th win in a row.
The Third Star - Nikolai Kulemin. Solid 2-way effort continues to impress.
Honourable mention to John Mitchell who probably played his best game of the year.
And that's the end of the BoOBbB, at least for this season, possibly forever. Who knows. Leafs win the season series 4 games to 2. Super Kule, super hot. See ya all next time!
Thursday, March 11, 2010
These days, Tomas is one of the most talked about Leafs, but appreciated mostly for his theoretical trade-value to the team, and not for the skill-set that he brings to the ice. He is now the Leafs leading scorer, destined to become the first defenceman in the history of the universe to accomplish that, and the only player on the current roster to play more games in a Leafs uniform then Nikolai Kulemin. Yes, Kulemin. I've triple-checked that to make sure it's correct. Kulemin has played 2 more games then Luke Schenn.
So, while I'm usually the guy defending Kaberle from unfair criticism, and pointing out his contributions when I think they've been overlooked, I have to be honest here; something doesn't feel quite right. Tomas is struggling right now. I'm not sure why. Gonna try to figure it out.
Tomas hasn't exactly been a scoring dynamo from the blue-line, other then a couple of 4 and 5-point games in late October, but he has been steady and consistent. Prior to the Olympic break, Kaberle had not once gone more then 3 consecutive games without registering a point. Since returning from a quarter-final exit with the Czechs, Kaberle has now yet to appear on the scoresheet for 5 consecutive games and is currently in the midst of a six-game slump. He's also a brutal minus 7 in the last 6 games, minus 6 since returning from Vancouver, plummeting his total plus/minus all the way down to -16.
Since December 1st, Kaberle has had just one multiple-point game. He has just 6 points on the powerplay since January, a span of 25 games. With still 16 games left in the season, his lead over Kessel in team scoring - with the distinction of being the first Maple Leafs defenceman to do it hanging in the balance - is down to just 3 points and looks less then assured.
Is it the GM?
How many times can you hear somebody say they're not going to ask you to do something before you realize you're expected to do it? I doubt Kaberle's mini-capitulation on deadline day came as any surprise to Burke, who holds the real hammer in the summer, but it came too late to impress. There's a fine line between being stubborn and being loyal and Kaberle has walked this line very well in the past, but he might be beginning to wobble as Sundin once did.
Is it the Coach?
Kaberle and Wilson don't seem to click so well, but who does Wilson click with? The powerplay, the penalty kill, 4-on-4, our overtime record - all are atrocious. There has to be some disappointment on Kaberle's part that there wasn't more of a push for the playoffs, and more urgency from the coaching staff to fix some serious issues, earlier in the season. Now, most of the players that led the Leafs to the bottom of the Conference are on playoff-bound teams while Kaberle watches his ice-time and relevance diminish before another early summer holiday.
Is it the New Guy?
When Phaneuf joined the team, I was excited for Tomas becuase I had visions of spectacular cross-ice passes being blasted from Dion's rocket-cannon, as the Leafs new and improved powerplay duo unleashed devastating one-timers from the blue line. So far, not so much. Since Phaneuf's arrival 10 games ago, Kaberle has just 3 points on the powerplay, scored consecutively over 3 games, and zero points at even-strength. The team is just 5-for-45 on the PP since Phaneuf came aboard, starting out well, but now mired in an 0-for-29 slump. So far, the chemistry is not there.
Am I the New Guy now?
It really wasn't that long ago that Kaberle shared dressing rooms with Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe, and Pavel Kubina. They even had a nickname for their clubhouse. Now even the supporting characters, like Steen, Colaiacovo, Antropov, Stajan, White, and Ponikarovsky, have turned in their keys and found new places to dwell. With all of the unfamiliar faces around - being welcomed and making themselves feel comfortable - not to mention a whole new atmosphere and culture, who's the new guy around here anyhow? Tomas might feel just as lonely and alienated as any newcomer in this dressing room, maybe more.
Is it burnout?
It's been a long and arduous season for the NHL players that participated in the Olympics, trying to cram 14 or so games into every month, plus a mini-tournament. Kaberle turned 32 just last week (March 2nd) and may be wearing down a little. His ice time is reduced now with the arrival of Phaneuf, but I'm thinking that it's down to what it's supposed to be, and that the injury to Komisarek had Kabby eating more ice time, and playing in more strenuous situations then the GM had originally intended for him. In any case, carrying the load for a losing team has gotta be tough and Kabby could be burning out. I don't want to believe it, but it's a maybe.
Where's my motivation?
Team-goals aside, Tomas has accomplished much this year. Tied for 5th among NHL defenceman for points. Tied for 14th in the NHL (with Crosby) for points on the powerplay. Tied for 18th overall (again, with Crosby) for assists. Reached the 800 games played milestone, passing Tied Domi for 10th spot on the Leafs all-time roster. Surpassed the career point totals of Maple Leafs legends Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Tim Horton, Lanny McDonald, and Norm Ullman. Reached the 400 assist milestone with his last assist (now 7 games ago). What's left?
For most of the season, Kaberle was on pace for his 2nd-best offensive totals of his career, though his recent slump has put that target curiously in doubt. Without 12 points in his remaining 16 games, it'll be just his 3rd best season, and he still needs 7 points to do that. His plus/minus is by far the worst it's ever been.
Meanwhile, a huge motivating factor looms before him. Since October, Kaberle has led the team in scoring and could become the first defenceman in the history of the franchise to do so. However, as mentioned, the gap is closing fast. Kessel is just 3 points behind Tomas with still 16 games left to play. But there could be even more at stake...
A hypothetical scenario came into my mind where I envisioned Burke quietly telling Kaberle's agent that "the team's leading scorer" (whomever that may be) would never be traded under his watch. I could see this being true, as it doesn't send a great message to the rest of the team if the leading scorer gets dealt, and it fits with my perception of Burke's firm principles about loyalty and rewarding success. On the other hand, should Kaberle lose the team scoring crown to Kessel, it might reflect a player who's good - but not quite a leader. A great guy, but not a winner. A player whose talent is being surpassed, whose best days are behind him. If there's a way for Tomas to prove he belongs, I think this would be the way to do it. Finish the season as the team's leading scorer and make history... or don't, and people will see what they want to see.
"I always look at the guys like Steve Yzerman and those guys that played on only one team. Obviously, these days, it's really tough to stay on one team your whole career... you never know what will happen in the summertime. Now I have to show I want to be here and play my best hockey."
-Toronto Star, March 4th.
Except, that's not happening so far. Instead we're seeing the opposite, almost as if the bags are already packed.