Sunday, November 30, 2008

The November Review

1 -- The month began with a tremendous show of spirit and solidarity in the Barilkosphere. Perhaps all that goodwill created some sort of cosmic-karma-energy-something in LeafsNation, for, that night, the Leafs gave the fans their most exciting victory of this young season with a magical 5-goal 3rd period, to beat the NYRangers, 5-2. Inspired by Mitchell, Moore, and Blake, the fans went wild, lifting the players to a new level, and the players responded with an astonishing show.

It certainly was a burst of energy—it came all at once,” said Dominic Moore. “It seemed like it must have been pent up. With the fans, as well, they sort of released their (energy) all together.”

I just fist-pumped as many times as I could,” said Mitchell.

2 -- The second day of the month was Luke Schenn's 19th birthday, which from now on will be known as "Luke Schenn Day" across LeafNation. Unfortunately, the Leafs lose in Carolina, 6-4. Ian White makes his season debut, scoring a goal and showing off a new 'stache as well.

3 -- Spent the day recovering from Luke Schenn's karaoke party. Realized Ian White's mustache wasn't a dream. The Wendel Countdown begins.

4 -- Another loss to Carolina, this one in overtime. The news isn't all bad though, as the Leafs had clawed their way back from a 4-1 deficit to steal a point, and Grabovski, with a 3-point night begins to emerge as an offensive threat.

5 -- The Dawn of a New Era. The world discovers Hope. politically speaking, that is. Doesn't seem to have much impact on LeafNation.

6 -- The Leafs lose on the road to the Boston Bruins, 5-2. Even worse, John Mitchell is injured with a separated shoulder and is out for the next 5 games.

7 -- I wrote a post about Maple Leaf Gardens. Two weeks later I see Wendel Clark walking through Maple Leaf Gardens on TV. I thought that was pretty cool and wondered if there was a connection. Maybe not, but then I heard this little giveaway from Wendel: (1:45) "There's a lot of memorable fights that keep gettin' brought up, and people see on all the computers 'n stuff, but the last one (number one moment) would've been the 92-93 series and Marty McSorely". Awesome work, DGB. Good job with the computers 'n stuff.

8 -- Leafs win on home ice, a very enjoyable 6-3 romp over the Montreal Canadians. Grabovski shines and gets under the Habs' skin, making him an instant fan favorite. After the game, Carbonneau gives us this delicious quote: "It was the most embarrassing game I've ever been associated with". Yes! That's exactly how I want every Hab to feel after every game with the Leafs. The victory was not without a cost, however, as Van Ryn was the victim of a nasty hit from behind, receiving a concussion, a broken hand, and needing dental surgery to repair his gums and teeth.

9 -- Leaf fans vent their frustration over the Kostopoulos hit. The NHL reviews the incident.

10 -- The NHL suspends Kostoploulos for 3 games. The Habs have a good laugh and realize that losing is sometimes winning. "How could we forget, eh? De' Laffs always get screwed in de' end!"

11 -- Remembrance Day. The Leafs hit the road for 3 games in Western Canada. Their first stop is Calgary, where they lose, 4-3. Jason Blake is a healthy scratch, causing him to wonder about his purpose in life: "Maybe it's not meant for me to be here". At the same time, Sundin sells his house.

12 -- The 77th anniversary of the first game at Maple Leaf Gardens passes quietly. Brian Burke resigns from the Ducks, not so quietly.

13 -- The second game of this western road trip has a better result. Leafs win, 5-2 over the Oilers. Blake responds with his best game of the season, registering two assists in the 3rd period.
Meanwhile, Kaberle, who had a goal and 2 assists on the night, passes Ian Turnbull for 3rd all-time in scoring by a Leaf defenceman.

14 -- Nothing much happens with the Leafs as they prepare for their game against Vancouver by smoking lots of dope. Barry Melrose is fired, and the NHL investigates ballot-stuffing in Montreal.

15 -- The Leafs lose to Vancouver, 4-2. With the Leafs outshooting the Canucks 10-0, our favorite boy by the pool, Kyle Wellwood, scores on Vancouver's first shot, and that was pretty much all she wrote. Toskala, embarrassingly juxtaposed to Loungo, begins to lose his charm with Leaf fans.

16 -- The Leafs lick their wounds and fly home after collecting only 2 points through Western Canada. Kyle Wellwood enjoys the best Sunday afternoon he's had in months.

17 -- Doug Gilmour is announced as the new head coach in Kingston. In Toronto, the Leafs lose 3-2 to the hungry Boston Bruins, as Vesa Toskala continues to hurt the Leafs by allowing early goals. Goaltending suddenly becomes an issue, as quickly and as smoothly as an .878 save percentage becoming a knock-knock joke.

18 -- The Leafs begin a mini-vacation. Toskala is officially on the hotseat.

19 -- With just three days to go until Wendel Night, anticipation begins to build. The Leafs lie low by practicing indoors.

20 -- Only 2 more sleepless nights until Wendel Night.

21 -- With only one day left until MLSE honours one of the most legendary players to ever wear the Blue and White, the Barilkosphere turns out some of its finest work.

22 -- The Leafs finally honour Wendel Clark in a classy and compelling ceremony. John Mitchell returns to the line-up. Sadly, the home team plays well for just two periods, allowing the Black Hawks to come back from a 2-goal deficit in the 3rd to win in overtime. Jeff Finger has his worst game as a Maple Leaf. There's even more bad news for the Leafs as Jonas Frogren, the Hockey Viking that Leaf fans were hoping to see more often, injures his arm with a muscle tear and will be out for several weeks.

23 -- Leaf fans spend a quiet Sunday reflecting on what might have been.

24 -- MONSTER TRADE!! Okay, maybe exaggerating just slightly, but still it's exciting to see Cliff pulling the trigger again. Neither Steen nor Colaiacovo were terribly disliked, but they were both seen as spare parts, while Stempniak appears to have the tools that the Leafs can benefit from right away. While Burke is less then a week away from joining the team, the Silver Fox makes a dramatic exit by momentarily stealing the spotlight.

25 -- The Leafs play possibly their worst game of the year, a 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. With Frogren and Van Ryn both hurt, and Colaiacovo traded, Ian White is forced back to the blue line and scraps with Ilya Kovalchuk. Joseph starts and has a terrible night. Blake is injured with a suspected concussion. About the only positive for the Leafs is Stempniak's debut, picking up an assist.

26 -- Despite the effort of Mayers, Hollweg, and, er, Ian White, the Leafs are criticized for a lack muscle. Looking to add some toughness, the Leafs call up the best player in their system born in Free Port, Bahamas, Andre Deveaux. Meanwhile, Dominic Moore shows Jeff Finger what he's gonna do the next time he sees Jason Smith.

27 -- The Battle of Ontario resumes, this time in the Nation's Capital, sort of - actually, it's off the 417 as you're going through Kanata, but that's "sort of" enough for the city that was once technically beautiful. The Leafs losing streak reaches 5 games with a shoot out-loss, but it's a moral victory for The Vesa who looks better and better as the game goes on. Deveaux has a solid debut, and Luke Schenn has one of his best games of the month.

28 -- The Brian Burke (here it comes) Era - wait for it - officially begins - wait! - right about..... NOW!

29 -- Leafs win! The Leafs close out the month with a victory over Philadelphia. Toskala is again outstanding and Stempniak records his first goal as a Leaf. Moore, Antropov, Schenn, and Deveaux all have strong games, and the entire team plays well in front of their new GM. A positive start for Burke and a positive finish to November for the Leafs who struggled throughout the month.

30 -- The month ends on a Sunday. The Leafs have 22 points after 23 games and sit tied for 10th in the east with the NYIslanders - 4 points out of a playoff spot, 4 points out of dead last in the league. Newspapers report that Brian Burke believes Mats Sundin is not interested in returning to Toronto. No one seems to mind. Despite the obvious need for a top line centre, despite the need for veteran leadership, despite the fact that this team is already better then last year's team and that the playoffs are just a short win-streak away, and despite the fact that Sundin is the type of player who truly believes that all 16 playoff teams have an equal opportunity once the playoffs begin, and despite his obvious loyalty and attachment to the uniform and to the city, and despite all the things he said about never wanting to be a rental player, (deep breath!) despite all that, Brian Burke, based on a conversation he had with Sundin while he was GM with the Ducks, feels that the Captain's ship has finally sailed from Toronto and it ain't coming back. A 4-6-3 record through November is obviously not enough to convince number 13 that the Leafs are a playoff contender.

The end of an era. The beginning of another.

November goes out the way it began; with some terrific optimism and hope, but also, uncertainty. The middle part was kinda murky, but the tribute to Wendel kept our spirits up and we survived. Finally, at 11:59pm, in the dramatic final minute, I posted The November Review, and the month was over.


Friday, November 28, 2008


Welcome hockey fans from across this great province of ours to the Battle of Ontario Blow by Blow Round 2. Tonight's game is in Ottawa so the Leafs are sure to have the crowd in their corner. Round One was a decisive victory for the good guys, but Toronto has stumbled lately. Here's the box score from Yahoo. 11th place is on the line, so let's drop the puck...

First Period

20:00 Stajan, Antropov, and Ponikarovsky start out for the Leafs with Finger and Kubina on defence. Toskala starts in goal.

19:05 Ruutu gets jeered for a dive that, according to Joe Bowen, goes "splash". No call.

18:30 Deveaux, making his Maple Leaf debut, nearly scores on a wrap around attempt on his first shift.

16:45 The first whistle of the game. The tone of the game has been set early. Free-flowing with few disruptions or penalties.

16:20 Poni leads a good rush with a shot on goal.

16:06 Goal. Sens come back the other way and score. Toskala's positioning looks terrible, but it's actually Kaberle who sweeps Fisher's pass into his own goal. Donavon intially gets credit, but eventually it's given to Fisher.

15:07 GOAL!!! Kulemin scores, tapping home a beautiful feed at the side of the net. Grabovski was the playmaker who slid the pass across, and Hagman picks up the second assist. Once again this line comes up with an excellent counter attack and evens the score.

14:40 Foligno crashes awkwardly into Finger.

12:25 A nice play by Stempniak at the line keeps the puck in the Sens zone and the Leafs on the forecheck.

12:10 After a harmless rush up the ice, Alfredsson and Heatley have a harmless tussle with Schenn and Toskala.

11:31 Grabovski gets called for hooking.

9:31 Sens powerplay fizzles.

8:30 A Kaberle giveaway leads to a Sens chance.

8:10 A nice hit by White.

6:30 Good puck control by Finger lures Spezza into a stupid hooking penalty.

6:00 Kaberle gets a good chance off of a funny bounce but fails to get the shot away fast enough.

3:20 Finger checked off the puck in the Leafs zone leads to sustained pressure by the Sens.

2:00-1:30 Sens pressure some more but miss the net on several shots.

0:40 Spezza molests Finger for another dumb penalty. This time it's holding. The Leafs powerplay follows with good pressure to end the period but the score remains tied, 1-1.

Second Period

19:10 Still on the powerplay, Antropov has a chance but misses.

18:35 A good rush by Grabbo who fires a shot off of Auld's shoulder.

17:00 Ottawa gets away with a hit from behind. Volchenkov nails Deveaux head first into the boards. No call, play continues.

16:00 Stajan with a good chance, splitting the defence, but runs out of room and misses.

13:55 Good chance for the Sens but Toskala keeps it out and is starting to look sharp and alert.

12:15 A good shot by Kubina is saved by Auld.

11:55 At the other end, a good save by Toskala on Kelly.

11:20 A scramble in front of the Ottawa net, and then Luke Schenn nails Vermette with his head down.

11:00 An Ottawa 3-on-2 goes nowhere.

10:30 More Ottawa pressure, but Toskala looks sharp.

10:10 Ottawa has another chance and then Schenn delivers another good hit behind the net.

8:40 Mitchell takes a hit along the boards.

8:20 Foligno knocked down by Schenn.

8:05 A good defensive play by Schenn, and then a nice sace by Toskala on Heatley.

7:30 A good save by Vesa who clears the rebound nicely.

5:30 What a move by Grabbo at the Sens blue line! Spin-o-rama dipsy-doodle and dishes to Hagman for a shot on goal.

5:20 Mayers gets a shift. Haven't hardly seen him tonight, whereas Deveaux has been very present.

4:28 Moore gets hit by Jason Smith and then reacts by attacking him! Wow. What's gotten into Dominic Moore? First Finger, now Smith?

3:30 Spezza takes another retarded penalty, facewashing Niklas Hagman. In a way, I'm really glad Spezza is on the Senators because he is one of the most selfish players in the league and a real chump.

2:45 Some strong work by Deveaux in the corner.

2:25 Kubina has a shot blocked on a scoring chance. From there the second period runs out with very little excitement at either end. No goals, very few whistles, and the only penalties are for fighting and roughing. Score remains tied, 1-1.

Third Period

18:20 Sens gets the first good chance of the 3rd off a deflection by Spezza that Toskala has to make a nice save on.

17:00 Another good save by Toskala, stopping Foligno and Kelly on a 2-on-1 break. White, as the lone defender, does a nice job taking the man.

16:45 At the other end, a save by Auld, and then a quick whistle as Stajan fishes out the rebound.

16:30 Ponikarovsky stopped on a wraparound attempt.

16:20 Fisher hits Schenn pretty hard.

16:10 Poinkarovsky slams into Donovan who goes off to the dressing room.

14:45 Another good save by Tosakala on a chance set up by Vermette and Kelly.

14:20 A good hit by Mayers in the corner.

12:30 Poni gets angry on Chris Phillips. They each get roughing minors.

11:30 A nice job by Finger on a Fisher rush that goes nowhere.

10:45 Close call! Vesa squeezes the pads on a bad angle shot from Spezza.

9:35 Mayers and Ruutu yapping at with each other.

9:10 Big save, Vesa! Heatley stoned on a one timer off the side.

7:30 The refs don't call an obvious off-side when Alfie carries the puck in too slowly, and then wave off an obvious icing without a clear reason. The play just keeps going and going tonight without any whistles to slow it down.

6:20 Huge save, Toskala! Ruutu then runs him over and gets a goaltender interference penalty. Big opportunity for the Leafs on the powerplay.

5:40 Antro set up in the slot but the puck bounces over his stick.

4:55 Kulemin takes a hard hit from Jason Smith.

4:20 The penalty to Ruutu expires, game still tied, 1-1.

4:00 Grabbo has a great chance but Auld with the save.

3:15 The crowd finally wakes up.

2:15 A good chance off the draw by Antro is stopped by Auld.

1:40 Spezza wide angel shot is stopped, rebound cleared by Kubina.

1:00 Mayers with a solid hit.

0:50 Moore gets feisty with Fisher. No penalties.

0:35 Antro misses on a good chance.

The period ends. We go to 4-on-4 and a 5 minute overtime.

5:00 Hagman and Grabovski start up front for the Leafs.

3:50 A nuetral zone giveaway leads to a Sens shot on goal and a good save by Vesa.

3:20 Antro fans in the slot on a nice pass from Kaberle.

2:10 Good work by Schenn to carry the puck out of the Leafs zone and lead the rush up the ice.

1:15 A chance for Finger who misses the net.

0:40 Schenn wrist shot goes wide.

0:20 Moore comes close.

0:10 Alfie sets up Fisher who is stopped by Toskala.

Overtime ends without a winner. Up next, the dreaded shoot-out. If you actually don't yet know the final result and you've hung in there through this whole post, I'm going to spoil it for you (or put you out of your misery) now by just bluntly telling you that the Sens won. Here's how the dramatic conclusion played out:

Spezza scores.

Kulemin misses.

Heatley misses.

Stempniak misses.

Alfie scores. Game over.

The Leafs definitely deserved a point from this game, and the Sens definitely didn't deserve the 2 they did get. Toronto still leads the Senators in the Battle of Ontario, 3 points to 2, but the Sens have now caught the Leafs in the standings in a tie for tenth, and have a game in hand. The Leafs, meanwhile, have now lost 5 in a row. On the plus side, the game was a moral victory for Vesa Toskala who played a strong game and gave the Leafs every chance to win it. Hopefully, this is the start of Toskala returning to form - something positive to build on as the Leafs close out the month against Philadelphia on Saturday.

The third star, Andre Deveaux

The second star, Luke Schenn

The first star, Vesa Toskala!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stempniak I Like - It's The Rest Of These Guys I'm Not Sure About


Setting in.

Welcome to Toronto, Lee Stempniak. Welcome to the airport, where random yahoos will chant "Go! Leafs! Go!" if they see a hockey stick and a hockey bag. Welcome to the ACC, where the best seats in the house are empty for the first five minutes and the last 5 minutes of every third period. Welcome to an economy that no one understands, but we're all slaves to it anyways. Welcome to a 6-3 loss to Atlanta on home ice. Welcome to Ugly.

Blowing a 2-goal lead in the 3rd period against Chicago was very depressing, especially so since it came on Wendel Night. A shake up was understandable. The Leafs responded with a terrible game against the worst team in the East. Their record for November stands at 3 wins and 8 losses. I'm unable to instantly explain what's wrong with this team though, and while goaltending is an issue, there must be more to it then that, so I'm going to look at each player individually and assess their performance, one by one.

Antropov -- Last night had a lucky goal, but was a not so lucky minus 2. He didn't take the night off though, he just had a bad night. His 6 shots on goal was a team high. Antropov now has 8 goals, 8 assists, second on the team with 16 points, but only just; Kaberle, Hagman, and Poni are all one point behind with 15 each. So far he's been good, but not great. Bordering on only okay. Significantly less then outstanding or spectacular, which is what he should be.

Blake -- No points last night, minus 1, 2 shots, and was only on the ice for 13 minutes. Took a hard hit to the head and stayed down for some time. Is it bad that I was hoping he was seriously injured? I reacted to the hit the same way I would react to a Leaf player hitting an opponent. I think that is bad, but it's Jason Blake's fault for being so crappy. The Leafs highest paid forward has 3 goals, 7 assists, and has been a healthy scratch twice so far this year.

Finger -- I'm still pretty upset with Finger for the way he ruined Wendel Night, but he responded with a better game against the Thrashers. Wilson gave him a ton of ice time; 24:42 to lead the Leafs, and he had a goal on 2 shots, and was somehow a plus 1. Finger was not expected to be an offensive contributor, but he does have 5 points (1G, 4A) in 14 games, the exact same numbers as Stralman, not bad considering he gives the Leafs significantly more muscle. His role, however, in the Wendel Night dibacle will not be easily forgotten. In fact, I'd say it's a huge strike against him. His weird name and enormous contract is already strike one. Looks like he's going to have to be pretty much perfect from now 'til the end of the season to avoid strike three.

Grabovski -- Had less then 15 minutes of ice time against Atlanta. Didn't get on the scoreboard with any points but had 2 shots and came out even on the plus/minus. Grabovski has been a pleasant surprise this year, and is one of Cliff's best pick-ups from the summer. The kid can dance and dangle and seems to have an abundance of spirit, and there's still a lot of upside to look forward to. So far this season, he leads the Leafs with 9 goals, and a .237 shooting percentage.

Hagman -- Had a goal and as assist last night, but still came out minus 1. His 18 minutes was second among forwards after Stajan. I really like Hagman so far. He's been very consistent, doesn't get knocked off the puck easily, and creates offence every game. After 21 games, Hagman has 7 goals, 8 assists, and is a plus 2. Four of his seven goals have come on the powerplay.

Hollweg -- Perhaps the least popular player on the team, with the only possible exception being Blake, Hollweg played a well-contained physical game last night, throwing a few hits and even chipping in with an assist. He was on the ice for only 7 minutes and came out even on the plus/minus. I guess that's the kind of game that Hollweg needs to play in order to be effective, but I worry that this is his best side, and that eventually the dumb side will resurface. Also, I'm not comfortable with Hollweg taking minutes away from Tlusty, who, at this point, needs every opportunity he can get.

Kaberle -- Nobody misses Mats Sundin more then Tomas Kaberle. Tied for third in scoring on the team with 15 points, Tomas was held off the scoresheet last night. For years he has been my favorite Leaf because of his ability to see the play and move the puck. He is one of the very best passers in the league. The problem, is that this year, Tomas has no one to pass to. He seems lost, confused, and uncertain. Kaberle has the ability to see the play as it developes 2 or 3 moves ahead of time. Unfortunately, no one else on the Leafs seems to have that intuitive sense of anticipation, and as Kaberle looks around, he sees only half the options that he used to when Sundin was on the ice. It's a major adjustment for Kaberle to not have a fellow superstar to work with, and it's hurting his play tremendously. If only for Tomas Kaberle's sake, I hope Sundin comes back to the Leafs, and soon.

Kubina -- Was also held pointless last night, finishing at minus 1, with 2 shots on goal. I like Kubina, but I feel like his numbers could be better: just 10 points after 21 games, and a minus 5. Similar to Antropov, Kubina has been good, but not great, bordering on just okay. I think he's an important player on this teams as it seems that when Kubina has a strong game, the Leafs do as well.

Kulemin -- Saw his ice-time limited last night and was held off the scoresheet. His plus/minus was even, though and he did have a shot on goal, but otherwise was a non-factor. I still like Kulemin, and mostly I think this guy just needs time and patience. He has excellent skills, paticularly his speed, which allows him to keep up with the play and finish his checks consistently, and he never seem out of position for long. He is still very young and inexperienced so there's a lot to learn. The pressure of winning this season should definately not be on his shoulders. The first 20 games were a promising start for Kool-Aid - all he needs to do now is keep showing improvement at each quarter-pole and Leaf management should be happy. For Kulemin this year, it should not be about accomplishments, but progress.

Mayers -- I thought Mayers played a solid game last night, perhaps his best game of the season. In limited ice-time, he was a plus 1, and scored a decisive victory in a fight over Exelby. It should have given the Leafs a spark, but then only 17 seconds later, Cujo did his best Raycroft impression by fishing for a loose puck while leaving the net totally wide open. Mayers did his job last night, and did it well. Too bad Cujo sabotaged his contribution.

Mitchell -- His first two games back in the line up have not been pretty. Last night Mitchell was again held pointless and finished at minus 2. Because of the Steen trade, there is suddenly much more pressure on Mitchell's shoulders to perform. He began the year as a pleasant surprise in camp, and really got our attention with a magical 3rd period against the NYRangers, but now he's in the Big Show for real, with no one else competing with him for playing time. The next 20 games are going to be very important for Mitchell. We'll have a much better idea at the half-way point of where Mitchell is headed, and how much the Leafs can rely on him. So far this year he has tallied 2 goals, 4 assists, in 16 games, and is a minus 6. Those are Alex Steen-type numbers, but optimism is there, and he should improve.

Moore -- Picked up an assist last night, but was a minus 1. So far this season; 4 goals and 5 assists isn't bad for a 3rd or 4th line centre, but the minus 5 needs to be improved upon. In 38 games with the Leafs last season, Moore was actually a plus 7 while the rest of the Leafs were having a disasterous 2nd half. He needs to get back on the plus side of things again if he's going to stay a valuable member of this team.

Ponikarovsky -- Has had a decent year so far, tied for 3rd in team scoring with 15 points and is a plus 4. Last night, he had his minutes reduced by Wilson in favour of Stempniak, and was held off the scoresheet, going minus 1 on the night in just 12 minutes of ice-time. So far I think he's doing allright, but the arrival of Stempniak is rightfully going to put more pressure on Poni to perform as a top-six forward. If he doesn't, a checking role on the 3rd or 4th line awaits.

Schenn -- He is the future. He is making mistakes now, but he is learning. NHL competition is not easy for an 19 year old stay-at-home defenceman, but anything that doesn't kill him is making him stronger, and Luke is already on his way to being a strong, strong man. For now, he's a kid, and a minus 7, but Wilson - along with the rest of Leaf Nation - is monitoring his progress closely with a long term view. Way too early to pass judgment on a player that has his whole career ahead of him still.

Stajan -- It looked like another solid game for Stajan last night. Despite being a minus 1, his name was on the scoresheet yet again after picking up an assist on Nik Antropov's goal in the 2nd. Stajan currently has 20 points after 20 games played, an astounding Sundin-like pace through the first quarter of the season. So far, I'd say Matt has been the Leafs' most pleasant surprise this year. I'm happy for him, and I really hope he keeps it up, but I also wonder if his trade value has ever been higher. Seems to me like the going rate for a 25 year old averaging a point a game this year, is 2 former first rounders.

Stempniak -- Made a fairly impressive debut last night, picking up an assist, and finishing with 3 shots on goal and an even plus/minus. By the 3rd, Wilson already had him replacing Poni on the top line with Stajan and Antropov, and Stempniak didn't seem out of place. I'm looking forward to seeing more from this guy, but all signs point to positive. In his last 2 games with the Blues, he assisted on Brad Boyes' winning goal Saturday against the Wild, and scored the winning goal in overtime last Friday against the Ducks. He's currently rolling on a 3-game point streak.

Stralman -- Assisted on the Hagman powerplay goal in the third, but was a minus 2 overall, and played the fewest minutes of any defender. I'm still not completly sold on Stralman as an everyday defenceman, but his time to prove it to me is now. With Van Ryn and Frogren out of the line-up for a few weeks, Carlo gone to St. Louis, and White better suited as a forward, Anton's only real competition for a spot on the blue line is himself. Hopefully, Anton's Christmas present to the new GM Brian Burke will be a surplus of top-six defenceman to work with again.

White -- Has become one of my favorite players on the Leafs, but we'll see how long that lasts for. I really like him at forward, and the results have been good, but with Carlo traded and Frogren and Van Ryn injured, our surplus on defence has suddenly disappeared, and White may be forced back into a position that he doesn't really excel at. It's too bad, because he seemed to be finding success at forward, but until we get either Frogren or Van Ryn back, White's progress might get derailed. Confidence is a funny thing, and right now White's confidence seems strong at the forward position, but much less so on the blue line. Hopefully one of the other defenders will get back soon and White can continue his vast improvement in the position that he's best suited to play, which for the Leafs, is up front.

Frogren -- Did not play vs. Atlanta. Injured himself somehow in the Chicago loss with a muscle tear in his arm that will keep him out from 4 to 6 weeks. The injury couldn't have come at a worse time for Jonas, who had been waiting patiently for his chance to get back into the line-up. Carlo's exit to St. Louis seemed to be that opportunity, at least until Van Ryn came back, but now all that ice-time is going to go to Stralman, and sadly, Ian White.

Tlusty -- Did not play vs. Atlanta. Believe it or not, I think Tlusty hasn't still had enough exposure yet and needs more of a look. He's appeared in only 9 games so far and has yet to register a point.

Van Ryn - Did not play vs. Atlanta. Has not played since November 8th and is still recovering from serious injuries. His play is missed, greatly. Through 14 games, he had 8 points, with two powerplay goals, and was a plus 1. I really hope he gets healthy soon so we can welcome him back into the line-up as one our regular top-six defenders. I'd say he's earned it.

Toskala -- Did not play vs. Atlanta. Has been a considerable dissapointment so far this year. Hasn't stolen a single game, with the exception of a shoot-out loss to the Rangers way back at the 2nd week of the season in October. His poor play has certainly cost us a few games, and the Leafs are nowhere near talented enough a group to survive a continuous streak of soft-goals against. It appears to have already affected their confidence and not having any competitive accountability from his back-up goalie doesn't help either. It's entirely up to Toskala to turn himself around now, but after a slow start last season, he did, so I'm willing to give a little patience here. The playoffs, however, are quickly fading out of reach, and it's going to take more then consistency to get back in it; it's going to take spectacular. His numbers are: 7-6-4, .333 GAA, and an .876 save %.

Joseph -- Also didn't play vs. Atlanta. Not really. He doesn't look sharp at all, which is really too bad, 'cause the Leafs could really use a surprise performance from somewhere right now. Cujo is without a win so far, but in my mind he only needs to get 3 - one more then Raycroft's total from last season - for me to be happy. Looks like he plans to make it interesting. His numbers are terrible: 0-3-1, .395 GAA, and a brutal .851 save %.

I thought about "grading" each of the Leafs' performances with a letter grade, but basically the whole team gets a C- with just a few exceptions: Stajan, Grabovski, and Hagman, are all A to A-, and Toskala and Cujo are D- on their way to an F. The other players that didn't play Tuesday against Atlanta don't deserve to be graded because they haven't played enough.

So there you go, Lee Stempniak. Welcome to Toronto. Now you have a sense of who your teammates are and what it feels like to lose in a Maple Leafs' uniform. Welcome to a city where every player's performance is scrutinized in every medium, especially, it seems, in blogs like this one. Welcome to the Center of the Hockey Universe, Lee, where fans enjoy getting to know their players on a first-name basis. Do you mind if I call you "Lee"? By the way, I think Stempniak is totally the kind of name that I could see being engraved on the Stanley Cup. LEE STEMPNIAK. Just like that. Totally.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hockey Players Are People Too

A trade! It's always an exciting time in Leaf Nation when the Silver Fox pulls the trigger. I'll try to post more reactions to the Stempniak-Steen-Colaiacovo deal soon, but first I'd like to present simply the words from the Leafs directly involved.

First, Mirtle lets you read a transcript of Cliff Fletcher's press conference. 

This is the money-shot: "The rationale behind the Leafs making the trade was that we felt we were acquiring a top six forward, someone who can play on our power play besides contributing substantially offensively... We just looked at it from the standpoint of that it's very difficult to find top six forwards, particularly someone who can play on the power play and Stempniak, in this case, is a right-handed shot, which we don't have..."

There's that expression, "top-six forward" again. I wonder how many Cliff thinks we have now?

Below is some awesome footage from media scrums with Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo. They both look great in their goodbye-tuques.


Steen: "... excited to have a better 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarter..." Indicating he's well aware of the crap numbers he's put up through the 1st 20 games.

"... It is what it is, y'know..." I don't, but I like the way he said it.

It seems they had a practice first and weren't told about the trade and then after were summoned to Cliff's room of gloom. "... When you find out you and Carlo have to go and talk to Cliff, we kind of knew that something was up. I've never had a meeting like that before..."

I'm a bit disturbed with how often Steen remarks that he's going to miss the trainers. At least 3 times he mentions it.

His wife is wondering where St. Louis is and what's it's like. It's in Missouri. It's very American, compared to Canada or Sweden.

On the playoffs in Toronto: "... something that I really wanted to do, but y'know, won't be able to do, maybe the Stanley Cup Finals, or something like that down the road..." That's the spirit.

Steen, at least, looks relaxed and comfortable. Carlo looks like he's in considerable shock.

Carlo: "... We have a great bunch of guys in the room. It's really tough saying goodbye to them..."

"...It's all a big shock to me right now, but I love Toronto... I'd consider coming back one day..." Could you imagine? 3 to 4 years from now, when the Leafs are a Stanley Cup contender, and right at the trade deadline, GM Brian Burke reacquires Carlo Colaiacovo for the playoff push. That would be so awesome.

On the possible advantages of not playing in Toronto: "... I finally get to get away from you guys... " Haha. Stupid media, take that!

"...Both me and Alex thought we were part of the future of this team... Wish it could have been better but hopefully things will be different down the road..."

They both seem like really cool guys. And I'm a bit sorry to see each of them go. Alex, especially, had seen quite a lot of criticism recently, and Carlo wasn't able to avoid it either, being hit first by a puck in practice, and then by this out-of-the-blue shot from Wilson, just less then a week ago:

"The big thing with Carlo, and I tell him every day, you're not in very good shape and that's your fault."

Ouch. That's not happy, that's sad. Sad, now that he's been traded. Hockey players are people too, y'know, and besides all the passion and grit they're required to display , they sometimes also have feelings. Hopefully Carlo's feelings aren't as fragile as his bones.

Best of luck, Carlo and Alex. Keep in touch.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Over/Under On My Expectations

Hey, Leaf fans! I'm lookin' forward to Saturday's game against Chicago, not just for the Wendelmania that's going to run wild, but partly because Mitchell is expected to be back in the line up, and also because I think this game will be the start of a good run for the Leafs. They've lost 3 out of their last 4, so now would definately be a good time to turn it around. 3 of their next 4 games will be at home, with the only exception being a road game in Ottawa (which is really the Leafs' home away from home) next Thursday. Also, each of the next four games will be against teams that have more losses then they have wins (I count overtime losses as a loss, not a tie): Chicago (8-9), Atlanta (7-10), Ottawa (6-12, wow), and Philadelphia (7-10). The Leaf's record of 7 wins and 12 losses puts them in the same category as the rest of these "playoff doubtfuls", so a modest winning streak starting now would be a good way to distinguish themselves from this mediocre group. Picking up at least 6 points over these next 4 games would also probably do a lot to lift their spirits before heading out west for another 3 games against L.A., San Jose, and Phoenix, next week.

For this post I thought I'd take a quick look at 6 players on each side of the expectation line that I've arbitrarily drawn; 3 that have so far exceeded those expectations, and 3 that, for now, are well below.

Under: Vesa Toskala
Okay, so we had a little fun with Vesa in our last post, and we're sorry 'cause we love him, but we were inspired by his play from games previous to the Boston loss. An .878 save percantage does not reflect one bad night, or even a handful. Vesa has to be better. Not just better then that game in Boston, better then every game so far, with the exception of the 1-0 shoot-out loss to the NYRangers. Game in, game out, Vesa needs to be better. Before the season, my expectations were that he would be one of the Leafs' 3 stars virtually every game. Sadly, that isn't happening, but it needs to happen if the Leafs are going to have any hope of playoff success. I certainly expect him to be better then Raycrap, but frankly, that's not saying much and it ain't anywhere near enough.

Over: Ian White
Not much was expected of White heading into camp. With an overcrowded blue line, White lost his usefulness until he reinvented himself as a forward in the pre-season. Even still, Coach Ron Wilson began the season with White in the press box for the first 11 games. As far as I know, during that time when White was a healthy scratch, his mood never became a distraction, nor did he complain, but instead, gave us this great quote:

"I can't wait to play, forward, defence, whatever. If Vesa (Toskala) or Cujo (Curtis Joseph) get hurt, I'll play between the pipes too. I just want to play."

Since being inserted into the line up, now primarily as a forward that can play be utilized as a defenceman when there's a need, White has responded with some of his best and most consistent play in a Leafs uniform. In 8 games, Ian White has tallied 7 points, and shares the team lead with Antropov in plus/minus at +5. He has averaged 2 shots per game, and has scored 3 goals. I think those are great numbers, and it'll be interesting to see now how long he can keep it up, and how long Wilson will leave him in the line-up if can't. For sure, he's shown the right kind of perseverance and determination, and the results so far are better then I ever would have expected.

Under: Alex Steen
I want to start seeing more out of Steen. I know the guy can score big goals and be a leader on this team, but this season he hasn't shown it. Up until now it seems Wilson hasn't been too bothered by Steen's play, satisfied perhaps that he is fulfilling his defensive responsibilities, but increasingly, others are starting to notice the lack of production. 2 goals and 2 assists, and also a minus 3, is well below the expectations I had for Steen. Over 3 seasons in the NHL, Steen has averaged 16 goals, and 25 assists per campaign. This year, he is on pace for 8 goals and 8 assists. In a year where I was hoping he would improve on his offensive numbers, this would seem to be a major setback. In my opinion, it's not an issue of Wilson putting Steen in more offensive situations either. The very best defensive forwards; Datsyuk, Draper, Peca, Federov, Gilmour, Carbonneau, Gainey, were all able to put the puck in the other net while keeping it out of their own, and often came up with the big goal which they'd call the "momentum killer". This is the challenge for Alex Steen. He needs to find a way to be a significant contributer, not with an abundance of scoring, but with the right goal at the right time. If he can, the pressure comes off the top two lines to win every game, and the Leafs attack becomes more dynamic
and difficult to defend against. For Alex Steen, the next level awaits.

Over: Nikals Hagman
Hagman has been a rock for the Leafs. His consistency is perhaps his strongest suit. Every shift, he seem to play hard and brings the same level of intensity over the boards every time he hits the ice. He plays a mature physical game: only 2 PIMs, and a +3 is the evidence of his excellent forechecking skills. Hagman is currently tied for 4th on the Leafs in scoring, with 13 points, 6 goals and 7 assists,  after 19 games, and shares the team lead with Matt Stajan for powerplay goals with 3. Most surprising, he leads the Leafs in shots on goal with 72. I never imagined anyone would have more shots on goal then Jason Blake, but thankfully Hagman's shooting percentage is much higher at .083. Overall, I'm really enjoying Hagman's play so far and think that he and Antropov are the 2 key components behind the Leafs' ability to have 2 strong offensive lines

Under: Jamal Mayers
Can't say I'm too impressed with Jamal Mayers so far. I hadn't seen a lot of Jamal, but I was expecting a player that banged and crashed - along the boards, in front of the net, in the corners, at centre ice - who'd make me want to yell, "YaaaaahH! Jamal smoked that guy!" So far, not so much. But mostly where I'm disappointed with Jamal is on the score sheet. Not that I was expecting a lot, but when I look at his stats from the last 3 seasons; 15G 11A 26P in 2006, 8G 14A 22P in 2007, and 12G 15A 27P last season, his 1 goal and 2 assists after 19 games this season just isn't up to par. Right now he's on pace for 12 points, or roughly half the offensive output that he'd been averaging the last 3 years in St. Louis. Part of that has to be because of the ice-time he's being given, as well as the role he plays, but also it seems as if he's struggling to find chemistry with any of his linemates so far. Hopefully soon he can find somebody to click with and he'll start to chip in more often on the scoresheet. Tough is good, but aside from making Chris Neil shake in his spaceboots, he's not really contributing much. Jamal needs to crank it up a notch and start poppin' a few goals and skulls at the same time.

Over: Matt Stajan
Stajan's numbers are amazing right now. Despite not getting a point Monday against Boston, the not-so-invisible-Matt is still leading the Leafs in scoring with 17 points. How much of this is just luck and how much of this is Stajan's skill and hustle we'll just have to see. He's on quite a run right now, playing some really excellent hockey, and if he can keep it up he is heading for a career year. Thus far, he has totally and completely exceeded all the expectations that I had for him at the beginning of the year, and looks more and more comfortable as a leader on this team. It's a long season and we're not quite at the quarter-mark yet, but this terrific start from Stajan should kill any confidence issues he might have had early on. While the next level waits for Alex Steen, Matt Stajan is already there.

Finally, an honourable mention should go out to Cliff Fletcher and Ron Wilson for producing a hockey team whose work ethic and competitiveness has easily exceeded any expectations I might have had back in September.

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's Not Funny If It Isn't Raycroft

Hey, Vesa!!
"What's up?"

Knock, knock;

"Umm, okay. Who's there?"

An 8-78..."Uh... an 8-78-who?"

An .878 save percentage - that's you!"Aww, geez, I should have seen that one coming."

Ya. And that's what she said.

"Oh, wow. Another. It was like the rebound was the perfect set up."

Ya, I know. Something to think about.