Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Wish Come True?

On Wednesday, I wrote a post over at PensionPlanPuppets for their excellent and timely Airing of Grievances series. There are a lot of things in the NHL worth criticizing right now, and there were a lot of great contributions. For mine, I chose to lament about the absence of Bob Cole's voice on Maple Leafs' broadcasts this season, and made a special Christmas wish to have Bob Cole announcing the Leafs' next game against Montreal on Boxing Day. In case you missed it, it went something like this...

I'm very sad that Bob Cole (to my knowledge) hasn't called a single game for the Leafs this season on CBC. I really miss his beautiful voice describing the action as only he can, with the emphasis and intensity measured at the right levels, in all the right places. The last few seasons he may have seemed dull and dim, but I think that's probably a result, and a reflection, of the hockey he's had to witness. Bob Cole always had an acute awareness of the stakes involved, a natural instinct for the game, for relevance, for history. He recognized drama on the ice as it unfolded and translated it effortlessly. His voice would rise in perfect synchronization with the noise of the crowd. He understood the importance of every goal, of every save, of every win or loss, and he never over-sold his passion or faked or forced enthusiasm. If he said "OH, Baby!", he meant it, and you better not have missed it, 'cause it must have been something special.

If I could have one hockey related Christmas Wish this holiday season, it would only be for Bob Cole to call the Leafs' next Saturday game on CBC, the Boxing-Day telecast against the Montreal Canadians. Please CBC, please make this happen. Please grant this one Christmas wish and give that annoyingly plastic Hughson a holiday vacation, and give Maple Leafs fans a real treat for that Boxing-Day match-up. BOB COLE'S VOICE. Seriously. Please bring back Bob Cole to Maple Leafs broadcasts.

P.S. You know I hate your guts Scott Moore, but this is your chance to redeem yourself.

Most of the feedback in the comments was positive and supportive and a couple even suggested that they had seen or heard that Cole was scheduled to do the play-by-play for Saturday. There were no sources to back up their claims, though, so I felt teased.

Could it be true? Could Bob Cole really be coming back on Boxing Day to grant a Leaf fan's Christmas wish? Ever since I read those comments, it's been on my mind, so I've been searching the web and the news feeds for 2 straight days trying to find any mention of Bob Cole working the game on Boxing Day. I even phoned the CBC directly and got pretty far, through a gauntlet of 5 transfers, until finally I was told that the only people who knew the answer were on vacation until January.

Well, I have an announcement to make - I may have found something. Only a few minutes before I began writing this post I finally tracked down what may be confirmation that, indeed, Bob Cole will be announcing the hockey game for Saturday night's Boxing Day match-up between the Leafs and the Canadiens.

I am happy to report that Bob Cole will return to Toronto for the ONLY time this season on December 26th for the Leafs vs Habs game. I heard this about 15 minutes ago on "After the Horn- Leaf Talk" with Andy Frost.

Andy Frost just said that CBC is bringing Bob Cole back for the next Leafs-Habs game on Boxing Day!;topic=64937.0

Andy Frost on Leaf Talk said he got word that Bob Cole will be calling the Leafs vs. Habs on boxing day.

BOB COLE will call the Leafs Habs game on Boxing Day!! AWESOMMEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hmmm. Not sure why that last one doesn't seem familiar at all. Anyhow, I'm gonna call this confirmation. I have 3 separate people saying they heard Andy Frost say it, and The Meatriarchy declaring it randomly out of the blue, or maybe he heard it from Andy Frost as well. Who knows. Point is - BOB COLE. And more importantly, BOB COLE"S VOICE will be re-untied with Leafs Nation for the first, and possibly only time, this season.

Rejoice. Celebrate. A Christmas wish has come true.

Have a safe and happy holiday season everybody. Merry Christmas. See you, and hopefully Bob Cole, on Boxing Day!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Seven General Observations

Eyebleaf has this Deep Thoughts thing going, and a lot of people seem to like it, so I thought I'd try my own and give it my own spin. This is general borschevky's Seven General Observations:

#1. First off, a very general observation about the NHL. The West is the best. So far this season, the West is killing the East, winning 78 games to 58. It took me a while to calculate this but I have the West's record against the East at 78-42-16, while the East is 58-62-16 vs. the West. If we don't count the extra point for OT and shoot-out losses, it's a .426 winning percentage for the East compared to .574 for the West, and .485 compared to .632 if we add the point. That translates over 82 games to a 104 point season vs. an 80 point season. Why the West should be so dominant I don't know, and maybe it'll even out over the second half, but at this rate it will impact the final standings, and specifically the projected totals needed to make the playoffs. Rather then the expected 95 point plateau, teams in the West may have to break the 99-point barrier and have 100-point seasons or better in order to reach the post-season, while a team in the East may qualify for that 8th and final playoff spot with just 90 points, perhaps less. At the moment, 8th-seed in the East is held by Florida, with 37 points after 37 games, 15-15-7, exactly .500, and in the new NHL, the definition (or so we had presumed) of mediocre. I can't believe that 82 points will be enough to secure the last playoff spot in the East, but we're very close to the half-way point in the season and that's what we're on pace for.

#2. So now that .500 is the new .500 again, and not the challenging and awkward .579 that had momentarily usurped it, making the PLAYOFFS!!1 just got a whole lot easier for the Blue and White. For that reason, I'm adjusting my sidebar to show the winning percentages to reach 91 points from the beginning of the season and from where we are today. I may adjust it further if this trend of the West beating up on the East continues.

#3. The Buffalo Sabres, the Leafs next opponent, are the only team in the East with a really impressive record vs. the West. They're 6-0-0 against the opposing conference. Washington is 5-2-1. The Leafs are 3-6-1.

#4. What a weird schedule and what a month of hockey. We've already had the Bruins 3 times in 14 days, now we get the Sabers for the 2nd time in 4 days. We'll also see the Islanders and the Habs for a 2nd time each in December. The Leafs are currently 3 wins under .500 after 36 games, so with 5 games left in 2009, they'll have to go 4-1 against Buffalo, the Islanders, Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Edmonton to get there before the month, and the year, (and the decade?) is out.

#5. A word about the goaltending situation: It's crystal clear who the starting goaltender is on this team. But not because of Vesa's terrible mistake* the other night in Buffalo. Gustavsson's numbers are simply superior, by leaps and bounds. The Monster has run his SV% now up to .907, which is really impressive given all that he has had to deal with this season. Meanwhile Toskala's languishes at .870, the worst in the NHL. Consider that Gustavsson has now seen 14 more shots against, yet Vesa has given up 16 more goals. Each goalie has played 18 games. Those numbers aren't going to turn around. A 40-point differential on SV% amounts to 1 goal for every 25 shots. Given that the Leafs have surrendered 1089 shots, or roughly 30.25 a game, the difference then between Gustavsson and Toskala in net is over a goal per game. Under the Helmet of Slava Duris has an excellent breakdown of the stark contrast between the Leafs' netminders effectiveness when they need it most - on the penalty kill.

*(For what it's worth, I thought there was quite an over-reaction in Leafs-Nation to the Vesa screw up Friday. Yes, it was absolutely brutal, horrible and unacceptable - one of the worst goals I've ever seen. But that's all it was. Just one goal in a game we probably weren't going to win anyhow. Nobody died. People make mistakes and those people have to live with those mistakes. It's nothing for us, as fans, who've seen pucks over the line that didn't count, and pucks that no one saw over the line that did, and goaltender interference penalties that go uncalled, and dubious penalty shots awarded, and at least 3 phantom high-sticks, and on and on and on, not to mention Alfredsson from behind on Tucker, nor The High-Stick That Really Ruined Everything. It was a terribly embarrassing goal, and I'm sure no one feels worse about it then Toskala. Mostly I feel bad for the Vesa 'cause now the illusion has been shattered. He's not going to be considered a good goalie ever again unless he wins the Stanley Cup standing on his head under a constant rainstorm of burning garbage. Still, as fans, I think it's better if we turn our attention and energy toward ridicule and comedy, rather then anger and hate. It's a sad state of affairs for Toskala, but by acquiring Gustavsson, Burke has ensured that we're not at the mercy of one player's abilities. We can laugh about it, and so we should.)

#6. Tomas Kaberle continues to impress. Not only did he score a nice goal on Saturday night, the winner as it turned out thanks to Gustavsson's shut-out, but Kabby was also the first man to go after Boychuk that set off the scrum following the hit on Stajan. Good for Kaberle, showing some guts and coming to the aid of his friend and teammate. I'm not going to moan about it not being a clean hit, though. It was fine. Stajan needs to keep his head up, and I think Kabby knew it was a bit of a suicide-pass as soon as he let it go. I don't think Boychuk was trying to kill Stajan, but he popped him pretty good. Could have been worse. When I compare it to the famous Stevens hit on Lindros, or Bell's hit on Alfie, it doesn't seem that bad or out of line. Still, I was glad to see Tomas sticking up for his mate.

#7. Even better, I was really glad to see that Stajan wasn't too badly hurt and eventually returned to the Leafs' bench. Not that I'm big on unnecessary bravado or machismo, but when a player gets hit like that and leaves the ice in a bloody mess and then returns to the bench and tells his teammates he's ready to battle on, it gives them a huge lift. Did you know that Saturday night was Stajan's birthday? Yup, Matty turned 26 and got smashed, but not the way he expected. He then received the gift of having his teammates stand up for him, and returned the favour with his own display of guts and courage.Happy Birthday, Stajan! With love from Kabby, Kessel, Poni, and Komi, and the rest of the gang.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

BoOBbB 2009-2010: Episode III

Yes, the Battle of Ontario is still a rivalry, and yes, we're still doing the Blow-by-Blow.

The last meeting between these two team was perhaps the Leafs low-point of the season. Since then, both teams have played 13 games and while the Senators have chugged along cosistently with a 7-5-1 record, picking up 15 points, the Leafs have turned a corner and have put together an impressive 8-3-2 record over the same span for 18 points. Consider also, when these teams last met the Sens record was already 8-6-3 while the Leafs were an abominable 3-10-5. Clearly, much has changed as these teams meet for the third time this year, Sens leading the season series already 2-0.

Toskala starts, his 5th consecutive.

First Period

19:45 Senators get the first shot on net.

19:00 Stempniak shot on goal, turned aside.

17:45 Ruutu with a long shot on goal.

17:20 Good save Toskala on a backhand shot from in close.

17:00 3 minutes without a whistle to start the game.

16:49 Kessel draws a slash. Volchenkov goes in the box.

14:50 Penalty ends. Not a single chance for the Leafs with the man-advantage.

13:15 Break in the action after a Leafs shot on goal is held for a face-off. Not much going on in the first 6 and a half minutes. Everybody's skating really fast but not much is developing.

12:20 Two offsides in a row. ACC crowd is quiet.

12:10 An icing.

11:55 A shot on goal! Jason Blake from a bad angle.

10:45 Good chance for the Leafs but Kulemin and Stemniak can't find the puck.

10:15 Mad scramble! Toskala soemhow keeps it out and a hand pass by the Senators stops play.

8:40 Exelby taken heavily into the boards as the Sens pressure the Leafs in their zone.

7:30 White with a good bump on Foligno.

7:15 Toskala well out of his net to make a shoulder save on a point shot.

5:39 Penalty. Leafs get tagged for two many men on the ice.

4:25 Stempniak with a nice defensice play and then nearly gets a chance the other way shorthanded.

2:40 Penalty killed.

2:00 Pace continues but no real chances for either team.

1:05 Two point shots by Finger and Beauchemin are blocked by Sens defenders. Could've been dangerous if either had gotten through.

:50 Toskala way out of his net to make another save.

:15 Another good save by Toskala on a high shot from the slot.

:05 Blake carries the rebound up the ice and leads the rush, passing to Grabbo who misses the net, seconds before the buzzer. Period ends.

(Hagman at the First Period intermission, trying to think of positives: "At least we're not down 2-0.")

Second Period

19;40 Toskala makes another good save against Alfredsson to start the period.

19:10 Beauchemin gets his stick on Alfie's shot, sending it into the crowd to break up a 2-on-1. Blocked shots and deflections have been the story of the game so far.

17:55 Cheechoo knocked down by Exelby.

17:45 GOAL!!! Blake racing down the wing gets a backhand along the ice to go through Elliott's legs. Soft goal for the Ottawa goaltender. Finger and XLB with the assists.

17:20 Fight! Orr vs. Carkner. Orr goes down with Carkner on top of him but I don't think either of them had good footing as the fight lasted a matter of seconds.

17:00 Komisarek runs into his man.

15:30 Stempniak just misses the net with a shot.

14:40 Komisarek shot, Grabbo on the rebound, robbed by Elliott.

13:25 Ottata shot on goal and Toskala finds the puck in his glove and can't believe it. Nearly four minutes without a whistle on that last sequence.

12:00 Beauchemin's shot deflects just wide.

10:30 Stempniak, Primeau just miss on back-to-back chances in front of the goal.

10:10 Big hit on Ruutu by Finger.

9:50 Stajan's high shot stopped by Elliott.

9:36 Penalty. Two many men on the ice for the Leafs. Again.

8:30 Wallin shows some soccer skills and kicks the puck out of the zone on the PK.

7:35 Penalty ends. Leafs 2 for 2 on the PK.

6:53 Goal. Foligno has a great chance in front stopped by Toskala but Fisher on the rebound strips the puck from Kaberle and scores. 1-1. Boo.

5:54 GOAL!!! Kessel breakaway! Scores! What a shot. Top corner. Beauty goal. Slick goal-scorer's goal. Leafs back out in front, 2-1.

5:25 Spezza lifts one over the net from the side of the goal.

5:00 Solid "Go! Leafs! Go!" chant. First of the game.

4:15 Komisarek with a good hit on Foligno.

3:45 Kovalev stopped by Toskala.

2:45 Good hit by Poni at centre-ice.

2:15 Poni breakaway but he loses the handle before he gets a shot.

1:50 Blake dodges two hits to gain the zone then makes a nice play from his knees to get the puck back to the point.

:00 Poni hits Cheechoo who deliberately left his back open and stops a foot from the glass then smashes face first into it on contact. Seems like an obvious attempt to draw a penalty. Ruutu jumps Poni and a scrum ensues. No idea what the penalties will be here. Period ends.

(Phil Kessel is awesome. The Leafs are awesome.)

Third Period

20;00 Poni and Ruutu get the only penalties, 2 each for roughing. No penalty for the hit on Cheechoo. 4-on-4 hockey to start the Third.

19:17 Penalty. Holding the stick, called agaisnt Stajan. 4-on-3 for a mintue fifteen.

18:48 Goal. Crap. Spezza ties the game, sweeping the puck through Vesa's legs. 2-2. Powerplay goal. 4-on-4 again.

18:10 Grabbo has a chance denied.

17:00 Kulemin just misses on the short side and the Finger is run into hard by Ruutu and immediately goes to bench.

14:50 Quick Kessel shot, immediately off the draw, good save Elliott.

14:20 Stajan's shot from the slot stopped by Elliott.

13:50 GOAL!!! Beauchemin one-timer from the point bounces through traffic and past Elliott. Leafs lead, 3-2. Looked like Grabovski provided the screen and may have tipped it, but the goal is credited to Beauchemin.

13:10 Komisarek takes Kovalev's head off! No Senators respond. Bunch of gutless pukes. Seriously. Nothing. No response. Komisarek nearly decapitates Kovalev along the boards with a borderline elbow and all the Senators skate the other way. From the bench, Kovalev yells at the referee that it was an elbow.

12:40 Oh! Poni nearly gets one through on a dandy rush. Cleared away at the line by Phillips.

10;30 Ruutu with a dirty knee on Stempniak. No call.

9:35 Blake steals the puck in the nuetral zone but then has his shot deflect into the crowd.

8:00 Alfredsson shot from the high slot with a man in front, good save Toskala deflecting the puck into an open corner. Nothing flashy about that save but that was an excellent stop and rebound control by Vesa.

6:50 Blake to Grabbo in front, almost connects.

4:55 Stajan off a turnover, hard shot in the slot, stopped by Elliott.

3:20 Great chance for the Leafs. Grabbo, Kulemin, Blake scramble for a loose puck.

2:20 Loose puck in front of the Leafs goal, cleared by Komi.

2:10 Poni drives to the net the other way.

1:10 Beauchemin clears the zone with a minute ten to go.

:45 Spezza shot stopped.

:35 Goal. Puck is in the net. Referee waving it off immediately. Kicked in by #18, Winchester through Vesa's legs. Play under review. Call stands. No goal. Still 3-2. Things are finally going the Leafs way again.

:20 White clears the puck down the ice for icing. Spezza hops into the dressing room. Senators time-out. 18 seconds on the clock.

:05 White clears it all the way down the ice and just misses the empty goal by an inch, but now it's just an icing and a face-off in the Leafs zone.

:00 Sens win the draw and get a shot on goal but Toskala is there and then the game ends. Leafs win, 3-2. Excellent victory for the Leafs, their fourth win in a row on home ice.

The Third Star, Garnet Exelby
XLB had one of his best games as a Leaf. A plus 3, with 2 assists, Exelby and Finger were strong early in the game, and after the hit that took Finger off the ice, Exelby picked up the tempo even more, combining solid defensive play with a strong physical game.

The Second Star, Mikhail Grabovski
Grabovski was all over the ice tonight, especially in the 2nd Period, and Wilson rewarded him with a ton of ice-time in the 3rd. Despite the game-winning goal being credited to Beauchemin and having a personal 6-game point streak snapped, Grabbo had one of his best games of the season.

The First Star, Mike Komisarek
Komisarek was a tower of power in the Leafs zone and sent a serious message with his hit on Kovalev in the 3rd. I didn't really notice Kovalev after that, not to mention Alfredsson, Fisher, Ruutu, Foligno, or Kelly. After that they all just kind of disappeared. Spezza appeared - one second too late to tap in a puck that was kicked and would have tied the game. And it's the kind of aggressive defending Komisarek showed that causes star players on opposing teams to be one second behind, and tonight it made a big difference. Great job, Mike Komisarek.
Go! Leafs! Go!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Maple Leafs Alphabet Rhyme

For my two-and-a-half year old daughter. In the tradition of Dr. Seuss;

A is for ACC, the building the Leafs play in,
B is for Blake, or Bozak, or better yet, Beauchemin,
C is for Colton Orr, Christian Hanson, or Carl Gunnarson,
D is for discipline and depth at the defensive position,
E is for Exelby, F is for Finger,
G is Grabovsky, and H is a Hagman hat-trick game-winner,
I is for the ice they play on,
J is for the joy when they win,
K is for Kadri, Kessel, Kaberle, Komisarek, and Kulemin,
and L is for Lee, now that Stempniak fits in,
M is for MONSTER! and mustachulence, too,
N is for Nik, but it's not Hagman, nor Kulemin, who,
I'm thinking of (nor even, is it Antropov),
No, N is for Nikolai Borschevsky, it's true!
O is for OLAS, our Luke and Schenn,
P is for Poni, and I guess Q is for Quinn,
R is for Robert Reichel, no wait, that's terrible, let me try that again,
R is for Ron, our coach, Mr. Wilson,
S is for Stajan setting up Stempniak's shorthanded score,
T is for Toronto, TRUCULENT to the core,
U is for "us", Leafs Nation, united,
V is for Vesa, so don't get excited,
W is for White, a warrior supreme,
X is for XLB, who makes the list twice now it seems,
Y is for Yonge street, written in yellow crayon,
and Z is for Zezel, in heaven, with skates on.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I've Got A Feeling

Hey everybody! I haven't written a post yet for the month of December but that doesn't mean I haven't been watching - and enjoying - the Leafs play this month. It's been tremendous. Despite losing Mitchell, Gunnarson, and Gustavsson to injury, the Leafs continue to roll and there's a lot of positives worth pointing out.I wonder if anybody's noticed my new sidebar feature? I thought it might be interesting to track the Leafs' progress towards the 95-point plateau. As you can see, their winning percentage is currently .450, and they would have to maintain a .654 winning percentage from here until the rest of the season to reach 95 points. However, in their last 10 games, they've picked up 15 out of 20 possible points and have 4 wins in their last 5 games. After an awful October start, going 1-7-4, the Leafs have since gone 9-6-3, for a .583 winning percentage.

I've noted this before, that inside the Leafs' dressing room are just 4 players who have been with the team since 2005 - Kaberle, Ponikarovsky, Stajan, and White. Another thing these 4 players have in common is that none of them has played for any other NHL team but the Toronto Maple Leafs. This dressing room is the only NHL dressing room they've ever known and the Leafs' jersey is the only NHL jersey they've ever worn. This season, all 4 players have emerged, in their own way, to become significant contributors and leaders.
Matt Stajan: Is on a 3-game point streak, and has been on the scoresheet 4 out of the last 5 games, 7 out of the last 9 games, and 11 out of last 14, scoring 6 goals, 8 assists for 14 points. That's a point-per-game pace for 14 games for Matt Stajan. For the season, he's currently on pace for 25 goals and 35 assists. Tied for second on the team in scoring with Hagman.

Alexei Ponikarovsky: I think maybe Poni reads my blog. On November 25th I mentioned that Poni wasn't "lighting up the score sheet at the same remarkable pace as he closed out last season". The next game he had 4 points. Poni didn't register a point last night against the Islanders, but he still has 9 points in his last 7 games. He leads all Leafs forwards in plus/minus at +7.
Ian White: Even more impressive then Poni's plus/minus is the astounding magnificence that is Ian White and his +11 rating. Astonishing. Scored a beauty last night against the Islanders with a well-placed shot off a nice set-up from Stajan.

Tomas Kaberle: Continues at nearly a point-per-game pace with 29 points after 30 games. Set up Beauchemin's goal in the first period against the Islanders. More importantly, the Leafs' puck possession has looked smooth and confident, at times even dominant. But wait there's more... Two players who struggled out of the gate this season are both showing postive signs and may have turned the corner.

Vesa Tokala: Statistically, he's still the worst goalie in the NHL, but after a dreadful October and posting a horrendous 5.13 GAA for the month, the Vesa bounced back in November with a 2.68 GAA.. In 4 of his last 6 starts, his SV% has been .912 or above, averaging out to .911 over those 6 starts, while Toskala has blanked opponents in 9 of his last 17 periods of play. I'm hesitant to suggest that Toskala's troubles are over because there's still a long way to go for him to save his season, but I also saw him catch a puck with his glove-hand last night, so who knows what the Vesa2010 is capable of next.

Luke Schenn: I really wanted to bring this to people's attention: Luke Schenn is now on the plus side of the ledger. He had been a +1 for 4 consecutive games, including the 7-2 loss to the Bruins, and was a +2 last night against the Islanders. His plus/minus for the season now stands at +1. In the last 7 games, OLAS is +7 overall. And then he drops a bone-crushing bomb to top it all off.

"Just keep believing, I think we're eventually going to get there."

There's still a long way to go, but the Leafs finally seem to be on the right track. They're playing an exciting style to watch and they look capable of winning more games then they lose. Will it be enough to get into the playoffs? Only 5 points back of Montreal for the final spot with a game in hand, believe it or not, they're making a run for it and there's still two weeks before Christmas.

Go Leafs Go

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Exelby vs Finger

I really appreciate the comments that I get on this blog. Sometimes they lead to an even more interesting discussion then the post itself and sometimes they give me ideas for my next post. In my First Quarter Roster Review, several people (well, Belligerent Burkie, Bone, and Kavel Pubina - that counts as several) remarked on the comparison between Exelby and Finger, so I thought I'd take a closer look at that and see what the difference really is.

Finger and Exelby, in my view, seem to be two similar players fighting for one position in the line-up. Before I'd looked into it I'd assumed that if one was in the line-up, the other was out. Indeed, that has been the case for every game this season with the exception of one - a 3-2 loss to Chicago for which they were both dressed. That was the first game after Komisarek's injury, and by the next game, Gunnarson was called up and given Exelby's spot. Gunnarson has remained in the line-up since as the Leafs have gone 3-2-2, picking up points in each of their last 5 games. Exelby returned to the line-up on November 23rd and has now played three consecutive games in place of the injured Finger who's out day-to-day with a "lower body injury". There has not been one game for the Leafs this season without either one or the other in the line-up. That may change soon with the return of Komisarek.

I previously remarked that XLB seemed like a "poor man's" Jeff Finger, capable of doing a few things better then Finger, while Finger does most other things much better then XLB. I also noted that both players have similar plus/minus, but Finger is the only one of the two who contributes offensively at even-strength.

Let's break it down.

Exelby has appeared in 13 games and has 1 point, an assist he recently picked up in the Leafs win against Tampa Bay.

Finger has played 12 games now and has 6 points (1G, 5A), all even-strength. 5 of his 6 points came in 3 consecuitive games against Detroit, Minnesota, and Chicago, November 7-13. Finger was without a point for 4 straight games when he was injured.

Exelby is minus 6, but plus 1 overall in his last 3 games. Finger is minus 8, minus 5 since his personal mini-slump began 4 games ago.

XLB has 17 penalty minutes - 6 minors and one fighting major.

Finger also has one fighting major. He has otherwise not been penalized for any infractions this season.

Finger has 10 shots on goal in his 12 games. XLB has managed 3.

Jeff Finger gives you a lot more ice-time, averaging 17:25 per game. Exelby has the lowest average ice-time of the 8 Leaf defenders that have seen action this year, at 11:01 per game.

Finger has seen minimal powerplay time per game and XLB has seen zero, but both players are used regularly on the penalty kill.

You might think that XLB hits more then Finger but so far that's not true. Finger has 33, or 2.75 per game, XLB has 21, or 1.62.

Finger also gets in the way of a lot of shots: 38. Only Beauchemin has more. Exelby has the lowest total among defenders with just 14. Gunnarson, in just 7 games, has blocked more shots with 16. This is a strong indication that XLB's poor positioning means that he's rarely in a space between the shooter and the net.

Are you starting to get down on XLB? Feeling certain that Finger's better? One last stat to consider: In 13 games with XLB in the line-up, the Leafs have lost in regulation only 4 times. With Finger in the line-up, the Leafs are 3-8-1, 7 points out of a possible 24 for a dismal .292 winning (losing?) percentage. XLB's Leafs are 3-4-6, 12 points in 13 games, a .461 winning percentage. Should the Leafs win Monady night against Buffalo, they could then claim to be a .500 team when XLB's dressed.

So I'm thinking that Finger is obviously overall a better player, but sometimes what the Leafs need from their 5th or 6th defenceman is a little bit of sandpaper, attitude, and unpredictability. Should be interesting to see what Wilson decides to do once Komisarek comes back as Gunnarson seems to have earned the only spot Finger and XLB were fighting for.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

First Quarter Roster Review

Well, we're past the first quarter mark of the 2009-10 NHL season and with exactly 60 games to go I thought I'd do a long-winded post where I review each player's individual performances. Please join me. In alphabetical order, 'cause that way I get to do Ian White last.

Francois Beauchemin - A team-worst, -11. Meanwhile, 7 of his 8 points have come on the powerplay. I think Beauchemin is playing well when I don't notice him. Sometimes he seems a little hesitant, like he's having 2 thoughts at once, but I think that could be said of most of the defence, who have taken longer then expected to get used to each other. Beauchemin leads the team in blocked shots with 42.

Jason Blake - I have deep concerns about Jason Blake's ability to contribute. 12 assists, 9 at even strength, is solid, but he only has 2 goals this season and both were scored on the powerplay. Blake has zero even-strength goals after 22 games. Zero. Yet somehow he's tied for third on the team in points. His shooting percentage is at .027. That means if Jason Blake took a thousand shots on goal, he'd only score 27 times. Think about that for a moment. He could take 37 shots by himself in a single game and score just one goal. If you think it's amazing that the Leafs could have 61 shots on goal and only score 3 times, consider; at Blake's shooting percentage, 3 goals could take 110 shots.

Garnet Exelby - Seems to be kind of a poor man's Jeff Finger. I like his toughness, but Finger's no slouch either. Their plus/minus is about the same; -7 after 11 games for XLB, -8 for Finger after 12. The big difference between the two is Finger's ability to contribute to the offence - 1G, 5A, all even-strength, compared with zero points for Exelby and only 2 shots on goal.

Jeff Finger - A rich man's Garnet Exelby and a poor man's Beauchemin. See above. Listed day-to-day with a lower body injury, which could open up ice-time for other players, making it difficult for Finger to get back into the line-up again.

Mikhail Grabovski - Love his hair. Seems to draw a penalty or create a chance on every shift. To be honest, I was expecting a little more crazy from Grabbo and maybe a bit more flash, but he's not off to a bad start, and last year he seemed to get better as the season went on, so there's still hope that Grabbo will have a very good season. He's almost on pace for 20 goals and 40 assists, and if he can top that I think Burke and Wilson will be pleased.

Carl Gunnarson - Has only appeared in 5 games, but I'd say he looks NHL-ready. His positioning looks good, and he plays the puck well, but mostly I like the effect he's had on OLAS who suddenly looks more comfortable and is playing much better.

Jonas Gustavsson - I already love the Monster and given the way Toskala has started the season, thank God we have him. With the Vesa2010 going back to the drawing board for more maintenance, Gustavsson could get the next 4 starts (or more). Looks like an opportunity again for the Monster to grab the spotlight and hopefully a few wins. With games coming up against Tampa (tonight), Florida (Friday), Buffalo (Monday), and Montreal (Tuesday), if he gets on a roll while the team builds confidence around him, he could really make a serious claim on the starters job by Wednesday of next week.

Niklas Hagman - Started the season strong and continues to be a rock for the Leafs up front. Currently leads the team with 9 goals.

Christian Hanson - Will make his season debut tonight with the Maple Leafs. Hanson appeared in 5 games at the end of last season, scoring a goal and an assist, so he already has most of his rookie milestones out of the way. For the Marlies this season, Hanson has been a point a game player, leading the team with 18 points (8G, 10A) in 18 games. Hanson is also a big lad and seems to be getting bigger - listed at 6'3", 202lbs on the Leafs roster and 6'4", 228lbs on the Marlies roster. They also have 2 different birthplaces so it makes you wonder if they just make this stuff up.

Tomas Kaberle - Has been awesome. Leads the team in points with 24. Currently on pace for 82 assists. Tied with Getzlaf for 2nd overall in that category behind only Joe Thornton. Tied with Washinton's Mike Green for highest scoring defenceman in the league after 22 games. Tied with Kopitar and Thornton for the league lead in points on the powerplay. I'm really happy for Tomas and I really hope he can keep this up 'cause so far he's having a terrific season.

Phil Kessel - Just excellent. 9 points in 10 games. 6 goals, 3 on the powerplay, 3 at even-strength. Makes the powerplay look dangerous and makes the other players more dangerous as well.

Mike Komisarek - Has already missed 6 games due to a quadricep injury and hopefully will only miss a couple more. Had a rough start but seemed to be rounding into form just as he was injured. The Leafs could use his solid presence, but it's good to see them playing better the last couple games without him. Despite the games missed, Komisarek is still 2nd on the team in Hits with 41.

Nikolai Kulemin - Doesn't seem to be one of Wilson's favourite players anymore and may be struggling to find his groove. I like Kulemin because he's got a lot of skill and can do a lot of different things on the ice, but he's yet to put it together into a complete package. He seems to require linemates who can lead the play and isn't able to dictate his own style of attack, but maybe that will come with experience. I still have high hopes for Kulemin and I hope Wilson gives him the ice-time he needs to gain the experience that will make him a more aggressive and independent player.

Joey MacDonald - will come up to join the team for practice while Toskala is on the IR, but probably won't see any action. If he does get any ice-time it means something has gone terribly wrong. Hopefully the Monster won't need any help. In 3 appearances this season MacDonald had 3 regulation losses and an .880 SV%.

Jamal Mayers - I'm hesitant to criticize Jamal Mayers too much right now. He doesn't posses a lot of skill but he has been putting in some gritty performances lately and seems much more comfortable with his role on the team. He does what he's asked and as long as he's not asked to do too much I'm happy to have him in a limited capacity.

John Mitchell - Needs to be better, but was improving. The injury comes at a bad time for Mitchel, but maybe won't hurt the team too much if Hanson can excell with the opportunity he's given and Primeau can step up with more ice-time. Mitchell is listed as day-to-day so hopefully it's not too serious and doesn't become a step backwards for him. His first 8 games were awful - no goals, 2 assists, and a minus 6, while the Leafs went 0-7-1. In the last 14 games, Mitchell has 2 goals and 5 assists, and perhaps more significantly, is a plus 2, while the Leafs are 4-4-6.

Colton Orr - I like Colton a lot. I honestly think he's one of the best enforcers in the game and I'm really glad we have him. He does what he does, and he does it well.

Alexei Ponikarovsky - Poni is doin' okay, but he's not lighting up the score sheet at the same remarkable pace as he closed out last season. I was expecting Alexei to be top 3 on the Leafs in all offensive categories, and while 8 goals is a solid contribution and has him 2nd on the team, his 3 assists combines for only 11 poins thus far, making him only as dangerous as Stempniak, tied for 7th. Not enough, Poni. This team needs you. One eyebrow raising stat: with Komisarek out of the line-up, Ponikarovsky has taken over the team lead for Hits with 43.

Wayne Primeau - I didn't like Primeau much at first. He looked slow and unskilled, but in the last few weeks he's grown on me a bit. Still doesn't have an assist, but he has scored 2 big goals (one against Detroit, the other in the last game vs. NY Islanders), and if he continues to be a little dangerous without being a defensive liability (only -2 thus far) then I could see myself warming up to him even more.

Luke Schenn - Schenn has struggled early, so much so that few people are still referring to him as OLAS at the moment. Clearly, he doesn't look the same. But I was never that concerned because sophomore slumps do happen and usually only last for half a season, and because Beauchemin and Komisarek are new partners and they have also struggled. I'm encouraged by the fact that Schenn has looked better recently paired with Gunnarson, and I'm expecting Luke's play to continue to improve throughout the season. Zero panic. He is still OLAS.

Matt Stajan - Second on the team in scoring after Kaberle with 15 points. Once again being asked to do too much but making a noble effort as usual. Only one even-strength goal is a bit of a concern, but he's on pace through one-quarter of the season for 20 goals and 40 assists. If he starts to hit it even-strength or really click with Kessel, it could be really interesting to keep an eye on his numbers again this season. I'm assuming most people will be blown away if Stajan can hit 40 assists again.

Viktor Stalberg - I miss Vik already but maybe he wasn't ready for the NHL. After dazzling us in the preseason Stalberg got hurt in the third regular season game, and then played 5 games when he returned before being sent down. One assist, minus 5, 8 games. It's too bad 'cause there is something very exciting about the way Stalberg plays hockey, and when he's ready for the Big Show he's going to be fun to watch. Seems to be finding his game with the Marlies - 11 points in 10 games (4G 7A).

Lee Stempniak - Has exceeded expectations in terms of people being able to see him and notice his contribution. Indeed, the Visible Ninja has looked far more dangerous then he is deadly. I congratulate Lee on his work ethic and consistent effort so far this season, but I want to see more of a killer instinct and better results. Hopefully Stempniak can learn a few lessons from Kessel 'cause I think he's mastered everything Jason Blake has had to teach him.

Jiri Tlusty - Was called up for 2 games and sent back down again. Failed to register a point and was a minus 2. Probably deserved a longer look, but now that the system is deeper there's no need to rush him in. Second on the Marlies in scoring with 14 points in 16 games.

Vesa Toskala - Has been brutal. As much as I wish it wasn't true, there's no other way to slice it. The first quarter of the season has been a disaster. By any measurable standard, Toskala is the worst goalie currently employed by an NHL team. Including Raycroft. And then, just as the Vesa appeared to be turning a corner, he's back on the IR. Consider: in his previous 3 starts (L 2-3 vs. Chi, L 2-3 vs. Ott, W 2-1 vs. Was) Toskala carried a .920 SV% and for 78 minutes and 53 seconds from the end of the first period against Washington to the middle of the second period against the Islanders Toskala didn't give up a single goal. Seventy Eight Fifty Three. And then somebody remembered to shoot high glove-side and it was over. The illusion was shattered. Three minutes later the Leafs were down 3-0 and four minutes after that, Toskala was bizarrely taking himself out of the game with a little over a minute left in the period with what he later described as "just a little tweak". This, after ending his season early last year for surgery that nobody knew he needed, for his second injury of the season in only 9 starts. Frustrating and sad. If the Vesa can turn it around it will be no small miracle.

Rickard Wallin - A small disapointment. I wasn't expecting much offensively from Wallin but thus far he really provides zero offensive punch. His defensive positioning is sound, even above average, but he has absolutely no offensive zone presence. Makes it really hard for fourth line players like Orr, Primeau, and Mayers to not be able to use the forecheck effectively and to always be on the defensive. Hopefully a little time in the press box will help Wallin figure out how to be a valuable player at both ends of the ice.

Ian White - Possibly the greatest human being alive today. By far, the fastest rising star on the team is Ian White. Fifth on the team in scoring (13P), White is a mind-boggling plus 6. How White can be a plus 6 while Schenn (-6), Kaberle (-6), Exelby (-7), Finger (-8), Komisarek (-9), and Beauchemin (-11) are all well below zero is beyond me and a real mathematical headscratcher. Whatever, I'm not even sure what the question is anymore, but I think the answer is Ian White. He gives a great effort every night and strives to defy expectations, often with dramatic success. Despite Kaberle's truly impressive point totals, I'd say White is the early favourite, based on poise and determination, for the team's MVP.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Matt Stajan And Ian White Have A Long Conversation

His hands folded behind his head, followed by a heavy sigh, the young defenceman was having a hard time accepting failure and expressed his exasperation. "This has got to come to an end at some point," declared Ian White.

His teammate didn't raise his head, burdened by the weight of recent events and their current situation, yet responded in solemn agreement. "It's tough. We're definitely working hard and getting chances, but, at the end of the day, we've got to find a way to score one more than the other team," said Matt Stajan.

Unable to take it anymore, Ian White lashed out in disgust. "It's as frustrating as I've ever seen – this is brutal," he spat.

The two long-time teammates shared a special bond, forming one half of an elite circle of only 4 players who have been with the Maple Leafs since 2005. The other two, Ponikarovsky and Kaberle, are both Europeans, and though often criticized, rarely face their accusers the way Stajan and White stare down the glare of the media spotlight.

"It's up to us to get out of this little string – well, I guess it's been all year – and make sure we give ourselves a chance to win more games than we have," said Matt Stajan, listening for the sound of conviction in his own voice.

White didn't hear it, and sneered at the weakness of the attempt. "We're not anywhere near where we expected to be," he moaned.

Stajan's lip curled thoughtfully and he decided to measure his words more carefully. When he finally spoke again, his voice was soft as a whisper. "These next two weeks are big for us with a lot of games against teams close to us in the standings."

"We definitely have a massive obstacle to overcome," White interjected.

"We've got to get a lot of points here and slowly eat away at it and hopefully we can keep climbing," continued Stajan, fighting off the anxiety that was slowly eating away at him.

Despite their relative youth, the two players understood that they were often relied upon as leaders and veterans. Yet, never having played for another NHL team, their experiences were limited. The Maple Leafs' dressing room was the only Home they'd ever known.

These are tough times for our team, but we have to stick together,” said Ian White.

"Maybe we have tried to do too much ourselves and not used each other enough. Sometimes, less is more," replied Stajan.

It sounded awkward, and it made Ian White feel awkward. "So much of this game is mental," he said with a dazed expression.

It was then that Matt Stajan noticed that Ian White's eyes were rarely focused, usually darting this way and that, like a kite caught in the wind. "We're trying. I know we can't feel sorry for ourselves."

White looked up and the two players' eyes met as they nodded in firm agreement."You've just got to keep your head up and stay positive because you'll get through this. It's only a matter of time."

"We all make mistakes out there, it's just a matter of not getting too down on yourself," added Stajan.

Side-stepping the argument about wether it was really a matter of time or a matter of not getting too down, White continued gracefully forward. "You have to try and take some positives out of every day,” he said philosophically.

Stajan could feel the mood in the room beginning to change. "We know we can be a lot better."

White smiled, encouraged by the sudden certainty in Stajan's voice. He tried to temper his friend's optimism with a dose of reality, but the message was still very warm and positive. "Any day you get to live your dream is a good one, but not every day will be a success."

As usual, White's wisdom seemed empowering to Stajan. Suddenly he stood up and climbed out of the jacuzzi-pool, water dripping from his athletic body and splashing the tile floor, making it slippery and wet under his bare feet. He grabbed a towel bar to steady himself, and then feeling White's gaze, glanced down below his own waistline, his confidence rising. "We're men here, we want to prove we can be a lot better," he said proudly.

White was also getting out of the jacuzzi now. He ignored Stajan's bold exhibition and reached for a towel, wrapping it around his waist and turned to face the mirror. With careful precision, White used a small pair of scissors to delicately groom one or two stray hairs on his mustache before stepping back to admire his own reflection. At last, he turned towards Stajan, ready to shed his doubt and forget his concern. "Personally, I feel good," he said with a devious grin.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BoOBbB 2009-2010: Episode II

Have you ever read DownGoesBrown's How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Loss? If you haven't, now might be a good time. Except - ignore the part that says "I accept that now, it's all about the draft pick." Pretend that part's not there and it's still a wonderful read. Ten months later. Ugh. If you're new around here you might also want to read Apathy Vs. Despair: Believing In Something That Sucks, which I wrote 4 and half months into last season, and sums up where I'm at a month and a half into this season.

Just like you probably are, I really question the whole point of doing the BoOBbB right now. Tradition, I guess. It's not for me, and it's probably not for you, but maybe there's somebody else out there, somebody who cares, or maybe that person is you, reading this now, and you know who you are, and I don't need to tell you how you feel...

First Period

20:00 Kessel, Poni, Stajan start up front for the Leafs.

19:20 Toskala makes the first good save early.

17:50 Stempniak's hard shot from the perimeter is stopped.

17:40 A Sens' chance grazes the post.

17:20 Mayers nailed at the Leafs blue line.

17:11 FIGHT! Finger fights Winchester. We'll call that a draw. Good to see Finger stepping up for his mates.

15:50 Grabbo-Hagmna neat rush, can't thread the needle.

14:00 This is by far the best crowd the Leafs have had all year. I wish this crowd was at every Home game.

12:30 Poni with a nice back hand feed sets up Grabbo for a nice chance that just misses.

11:52 Goal. A loose puck in the slot that Fisher fluffed on fools Toskala like a low-velocity knuckle-ball, and once again for the17th time in 19 games, blah blah blah.

10:50 GOAL!!! Wow. Kessel scores. What a goal. Hard shot, quick release in the slot. A harmless looking rush ties the game, 1-1. Kessel is awesome. 5 goals in 7 games, already 3rd on the team in goals.

9:56 FIGHT! Orr with his best scrap of the season scores a decisive victory over Carkner.

8:57 FIGHT! Neil goes after Schenn and hits him with a highstick, then goes after Stempniak and nearly pushes him through the Sens' gate. Schenn comes in, forehead already bleeding, and scraps with Neil. Leafs go on the powerplay for Neil's highstick.

8:00 Big save Toskala with the glove. Terrible giveaway by Kaberle led to the scoring chance and a hooking penalty. Kaberle goes to the box and the powerplay is over.

6:50 Stempniak has an excellent shorthanded chance denied.

5:15 Stajan with a nice feed from behind the goal misses Poni, but Kaberle is there and has a great chance but can't get the puck through a crowd.

3:20 A good chance by Kulemin deep in the slot is stopped.

2:35 Kovalev has a chance for the Sens and freezes, unable to pull the trigger on the open goal.

Second Period

20:00 Kessel, Poni, Stajan start up front.

19:05 Blake centres to Grabbo, good chance from the slot but the shot is deflected out of play.

18:46 FIGHT! Schenn hit hard by Ruutu. Mitchell then jumps Ruutu. Long fight. I think Ruutu got the best licks in. The hit on Schenn was clean and frankly, could've been a lot worse. Mitchell gets the extra two for instigating, plus a 10-minute misconduct.

17:45 A chance for the Sens on the powerplay. Finger helps Toskala keep the puck from going in the short side off a scramble.

17:05 Great play by Hagman to one-hand the puck towards the net and force Leclaire to make a shorthanded save and freeze the puck.

15:35 Kessel nearly able to jam it in after good work by Poni behind the goal.

14:40 GOAL!!! Hagman retrieves a loose puck in the corner, wheels into the slot and fires through a screen. Leafs lead, 2-1.

13:45 Whoah. Beauchemin lined up Fisher, and just misses a big open-ice hit just inside the Leafs' zone. Players are really trying to ht each other hard and this game is getting dangerous.

11:40 Schenn knocks his man down at the Sens' line.

10:50 Terrible turnover by Hagman in the nuetral zone leads to a breakaway by Foligno. Toskala with a good stop. Hagman gets called for hooking on the backcheck.

10:20 Nice shot block by Mayers.

9:35 The booing of Alfredsson on the Ottawa powerplay is hilarious.

8:50 Goal. Seeing-eye goal. Wrist shot from the point goes through, deflected by Michalek. 2-2.

8:35 Leafs get a good chance, Poni and Kessel on a 2-on-1, but don't score. Kessel tripped up, no call.

5:50 Goal. Oh God. Fisher with a rocket that catches everybody sleeping. Incredible shot. 3-2 Sens.

5:30 Good hit by Finger along the boards.

5:20 Stajan can't redirect Kaberle's pass into the open net.

3:00 Sens dominating the play. Leafs look like they've lost their legs and their confidence.

2:20 Big save by Leclaire on Poni, set up by Kessel.

0:25 Beauchemin runs over Foligno.

Third Period

20:00 Stajan, Poni, Kessel up front again for Toronto.

19:10 Blake, set up by Grabbo, fires a million miles wide.

18:35 Great defensive play by Ian White to break up a 2-on-1 chance for the Sens.

16:45 Great chance by Stajan. Stopped by Leclaire.

14:55 Deflected point shot, Toskala makes the stop.

14:30 Kessel not on the Leafs bench.

14:05 Kessel's back! Disaster averted.

13:25 Stempniak can't find a loose puck as the Leafs nearly score.


11:05 Toskala makes a good save off of a hard point shot.

8:45 Stempniak hits the crossbar behind Leclaire and it bounces out, harmlessly into the corner.

7:40 Scramble. Loose puck in front of the Sens' goal. Blake has a great chance but has no idea how to actually score a goal and does a spin-a-rama instead.

6:40 Leafs pressing. White point shot deflected just wide.

5:00 Leafs are looking desperate. Nice shot by Grabbo stopped, Blake just misses the rebound.

2:30 Hagman with a good chance coming out of the corner and bats the puck out of the air. Caught by Leclaire.

2:10 Kessel with a long shot, Leclaire makes a good save.

1:25 Great shot by White from the point but it doesn't find a hole.

Final minute: The Leafs look like they have no idea what to do when they need a goal and are unable to generate a genuine scoring opportunity with Toskala pulled for the extra-attaker. The clock reaches zero without much drama and the Leafs lose, 3-2.


I'm not gonna do the Three Stars for tonight's game - it's kinda pointless. Lecalire was the Sens' best player but they also got solid performances from Ruutu, Foligno, Fisher, and I hate to say it, Neil. For the Leafs, Toskala was okay, nothing eye-popping or spectacular, and still not good enough to get his first win of the season. His SV% tonight is consistent with his season average at .857. Stempniak, as usual, had the most scoring opportunities, but wasn't able to make any of them count. I thought Hagman was the best Leaf forward, but his giveaway that led to the Sens second period powerplay goal, was the turning point of the game.

Overall, I thought the Leafs played a solid game compared to their last 3, They showed a lot of fight and really competed with the Seantors for most of the game. The second Fisher goal to give the Sens a 3-2 lead seemed to really deflate the Leafs and rattle their confidence. In the third period they played with some real desperation but that backfired and degenerated into sloppy, nervous hockey. Despite controlling the play, at no point did they threaten to run the Sens out of the building, and Leclaire only had to make a few tough stops, but no real heart-stoppers.

So, I guess we just shrug our shoulders and move on. My expectations for this season have hit rock bottom. I don't really expect anything to change. I just expect to hear more lies and see more losses. The Leafs have too many players playing hopelessly below expectations that were set unreasonably high, and have almost nothing to show for too many games played well enough to win. Pretty soon my only interest will be, how ugly will it get? Oh well, another loss, another post published, another season of suffering and misery.

The next BoOBbB is 4 weeks away, with 13 games for the Leafs between now and then. I know that eventually, somehow, someway, enthusiasm will find a way to return. I hope you do too. Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Behind The Monster

I like the word unfathomable. It's a good word to describe the effect that the Monster is having on the Toronto Maple Leafs.Last night Gustavsson turned aside 35 of 36 shots, and despite the fact that the Leafs managed to score 5 goals, it's the goaltender's stats that are fascinating me at the moment.

In his last 3 starts, Gustavsson has faced 104 shots, turning aside 99, for a .951 SV% and a 1.66 GA while the Leafs have picked up 5 out of 6 points.Three games is a small sample size, but so far the Monster looks comfortable at the ACC with 1-1-1 record and a stunning 1.65 GA and .941 SV% in three home games.

The Leafs are currently on a 7-game point streak that began with the return of the Monster to the line-up in Anahiem. Gustavsson has started all but one since then - a 5-4 OT loss to Montreal - as the Leafs have picked up 10 of a possible 14 points.
In 5 starts, Toskala has allowed 4 goals once, 5 goals twice, 7 goals once, and was yanked once after allowing 3 in the opening period. Gustavsson has allowed 4 in one game only - an OT goal against Dallas - and has kept the opposition to 2 goals or fewer four times in seven starts.

"He's made big saves at key times. When you've got that in goal, it gives you confidence."

"The way Gustavsson played was unbelievable. I don’t know what to say about him, doing that two games in a row."
Kessel When you do get saves and the goalie bails people out, obviously you appreciate him even more."

"The whole bench gets pretty excited when they see the saves he can pull off."
Wilson, again"

We get excited. He's been outstanding. He's making key saves at key times and he did a tremendous job all night."
"He's made some saves that I call game-changers. Right at the key times and they've been outstanding. Last night and tonight, he was the difference. It was good to see."
Blake, again

"He has been huge for us the last five or six games, he just never gives up on a play. Even in practice, you think you have him beat and he just slides over and makes a big save."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shoot To Kill

Here's a problem: The Leafs are 0 and 5 in extra-time so far this season. That's 5 points left on the table, and worse, 5 additional points surrendered to the opposition. Distressingly, 4 of those losses were to Conference rivals, and twice it was the Habs.

The Leafs are a better team then their record indicates... blah blah blah. If the Leafs keep playing this way, the wins will start to come... blah blah blah. Once again, the Leafs outplayed their opponents for most of the game... blah blah blah. Boring.

If the Leafs had won those games, we'd have 12 points after 13 games, and more importantly, we'd be just 2 points out of a playoff spot. We'd also be equal to Montreal (who'd have 12, not 14) with still 2 games in hand. In fact, those dastardly Habs are a frustrating contrast. ALL BUT ONE of their wins have come in extra-time, and they have yet to surrender a loss in overtime or the shoot-out. 4 OT wins, 2 shoot-out wins. 6 additional points acquired on top of the 12 points split evenly with their opponents. The Habs record could look like: 1-8-6 and 8 points, almost exactly the same as the Leafs 1-7-5 and 7 points. Instead, the Habs are 7-8-0 and 14 points and tied for 8th in the East. That seems like a pretty significant difference for two teams that match up evenly after 60 minutes.

The Leafs last night again displayed an alarming lack of finish, despite the presence of Kessel. One game is too soon to expect a solution, but there is promise that the problem is being fixed. Kessel looked dangerous all night, unleashing 10 shots on goal over nearly 24 minutes of ice time. As long as he can stay out of the trolley tracks, he should be producing plenty, and soon.

Our heroes are on a 5 game point-streak, which sounds great, picking up 6 points out of a possible 10. That's a .600 winning percentage, which over 82 games translates into 98 points and a playoff spot. Unfortunately, Leaf opponents have taken 8 of a possible 10 points in those same 5 games and are therefore playing .800 hockey. Welcome to the post-lockout NHL, where .500 means you suck.

"We have to persevere. We can't change what we're doing, because we're right there knocking on the door. We've just got to find a way to knock the door completely down."
The Leafs have found the right level of intensity that allows them to compete with their opponents for 60 minutes, giving themselves a chance to win for 5 straight games now, but like the old cliche, we need one hundred and ten percent. We need to go to 65 solid minutes of hockey, if that's what it takes. We need more then just desperation, we need a killer instinct. Stop knocking on the door fellas - you have to let yourselves in, make yourselves at home, and have sex on the carpet.

"He's gotta make plays, he can't be content to be on the ice..."

The coach is talking about Tlusty there, after he was called up, but he could be talking about the entire team's approach to extra-time. Stajan, Blake, Stempniak, Hagman, White, Kaberle, Kulemin, Grabovski, and Ponikarovsky, not just Kessel, need to kick it up a notch. We can't just be happy for the point. We can't just be satisfied to have played a decent game. We gotta make it happen, and overtime is just as much our opportunity as it is anyone else's. There's a point up for grabs and it's five minutes and then it's a shoot-out. We can't be content to be on the ice.

We need to smell blood and finish it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Tomas Kaberle has 13 points in his last 5 games, all on the road.
12 games into the season, he is the highest scoring defenceman in the NHL, with 17 points, now 4 ahead of San Jose's Dan Boyle.

He is the league leader in assists with 15, 1 ahead of both Joe Thornton and Nicklas Backstrom.

He leads the league in powerplay points (12) and assists (11), and he's doing it without Kubina, Antropov, Sundin, McCabe, Tucker, Wellwood, etc,. Stajan is the Leafs 2nd-deadliest weapon on the powerplay with 6 points (tied for 24th overall).

Kaberle's 17 points leads the Leafs in scoring while Grabovski is 2nd - 7 back - with 10.

Currently, Kaberle is tied for 6th overall in NHL scoring.

He now has 450 career points for the Leafs, putting him 15th on the all-time list, just 2 back of Dougie Gilmour (452), and now 9 ahead of Wendel Clark (441) whom he passed rather quietly the other night in Anahiem when he registered 5 points.

Kaberle is just 9 points away from eclipsing Tim Horton (458) to become the 2nd highest scoring defenceman in Leafs history.

It now seems very likely that he'll surpass Gilmour, Horton, Lanny McDonald (459) and Norm Ullman (471) this season to move all the way up to 11th on the all-time list for all positions. Catching Rick Vaive (537) for 10th would require a 104-point season.

He's currently on pace for 116.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Welcome Back

One hundred and ninety-eight days. That's how long it's been since Leaf fans were able to celebrate a regular season win. That's how long it's been since we've known what 2 points in the standings felt like. God, it's good to be back in the win column. Oh, how we've missed you, Defiant Maple Leaf. Welcome back, my friend.

And a very special welcome back to the Monster, who provided the Leafs first true act of defiance on the night when he denied the Ducks an early strike with this spectacular save:
Sensational. Now that is defiant. What a difference a Monster makes.

Later, Anaheim's dubious opening goal of the 1st period would set the stage for the Leafs second act of defiance. Just 7 seconds after the goal - a bench minor for abuse of officials at 10:35, assessed during a TV timeout, presumably for over-zealous chirping about the missed goaltender-interference call on Marchant. Could have been quite costly if the Ducks had scored to go up 2-0, but the Leafs continued their defiance with a gutsy and determined penalty kill.

In fact, before the penalty-time had even expired, the Leafs third significant act of defiance occurred. A minute and a half into the Ducks' powerplay, Beauchemin drew a slash from Bobby Ryan, and then, after standing his ground against his former teammate, drew the attention of Corey Perry. Within seconds, the game's hat-trick hero Hagman, along with Stajan, became involved as gloves and sticks fell to the ice. When it was all sorted out, Hagman had the lone Leaf penalty for roughing, while Ryan's initial slashing minor was accompanied by a double-roughing minor to Perry for separate mix-ups with Beauchemin and then Hagman.

Three minutes, forty-two seconds and 2 quick powerplay goals later, the Leafs were in the lead.

In the 2nd period, there was a similar moment, with similar execution. With the Leafs already on the powerplay, Stempniak takes a terrific run at Anahiem's crease-crashng-culprit, Marchant, absolutely ninja-popping him into the boards. As Niedemayer reacts and comes in to engage Stempniak after the hit, our favourite Weeble-Wobbler, Rowdy Grabbo intercepts and jumps on the old warrior's back. Grabovski, who'd scored the Leafs first goal, loses his helmet in the scrum, yet Niedemayer is the one assessed the only penalty for roughing and the Leafs go to their 2nd 5-on-3 advantage. Once again, Hagman makes them pay.

A great save. A bench penalty. An aggressive penalty kill. A dangerous powerplay. Team courage and toughness.

Defiance. Truculence. Victory.

And 2 points.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Writing's On The Wall

"When you believe in things that you don't understand,
then you suffer

I believe in the Leafs. I don't understand why, especially when they're this bad. And then, yes, I suffer, especially when they're this bad. But it doesn't stop me from believing that my believing and suffering will somehow help. Of course, it doesn't actually help, but I still act like it does. I guess you could say I'm a little bit - superstitious.

Can you make out this image? It's kinda grainy, dark, and fuzzy, and it sorta reminds me of photos of the Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot, or flying saucers. It's kinda fitting that it should be such poor quality because it represents the (sketchy at) best evidence that I've been able to acquire that proves that the Leafs are indeed CURSED.
Is this any better? Not really, now it's just a bigger blur. This image was taken from a still-frame of an obscure video on youtube, laser printed onto hard-copy white paper, digitally photographed using sub-standard Fido technology, then e-mailed across cyberspace, downloaded to a secure hard-drive and then uploaded to this blog page. You might question the wisdom of these methods, but please consider that many Bothans died to bring us this information, so a little respect, okay. We're dealing with the Paranormal here.

This will give you the best look of all at what I'm talkin' about. Pause the video at the 24 second mark and then again at the 25 second mark. Go ahead, I'll wait... What you're looking at is the NY Rangers third goal on Saturday, putting them ahead 3-0, effectively taking the Leafs out of the game. This is the goal that bothers me more then any other this season because for the life of me, I cannot figure out how this one goes in the net.

The two Leaf players in front of the Rangers' shooter are Beauchemin and Stempniak. They're doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing - lining up to block the shot. Their positioning is excellent. In fact, from my point of view, it's perfect. They've played it beautifully. And then... THE PUCK GOES THROUGH THE GOALTENDER'S LEGS!

I don't see how that's possible. I don't see a path along the ice to the net that would allow the puck to reach MacDonald without hitting Beachemin or Stempniak. There just isn't one. I've watched the video again and again - and again, and again. I even watched the referee to make sure he didn't throw a decoy puck into the back of the net. I just don't understand how it went in. And yet...

The goal was scored by Michael Del Zotto, an Ontario-born teenaged-rookie, playing his first game in Toronto, in front of 70 family members and friends. That's how it happened - that's EXACTLY how it happened!! There's your explanation. It was, as it always is, destiny.

Watch the video again - the puck actually loses material substance and form, right before your eyes, and DISAPPEARS, only to REAPPEAR on the other side of Beauchemin and Stempniak, directly below MacDonald's open legs and then into the back of the net. It didn't go through their sticks and skates - it wasn't even there! Spooky shit. Some goalies would like to have that one back, but you can't control fate and you can't fault a goaltender when there's nothing any mortal could possibly do. It works the same way for returning players in their first trip back to the ACC - did you see Tucker's goal against the Leafs last Tuesday? After he scores, he tilts his head back and looks up at the ACC ceiling with reverent appreciation. Tucker knows the score...

This is pretty serious, folks. I don't want to downplay this at all. The Leafs have an infinite amount of bad luck. It truly is a Curse. It's magical - Black Magic of the evilest kind - and it's more powerful then the... what? Watch another video? Seems highly unusual, but I suppose...

What the heck was that? Was that Ian White saving a goal? But the shooter was Colorado's Matt Duchene, another Ontario-born rookie playing his first game in Toronto, and that would have been his first NHL goal! And Ian White stopped it...!

Oh. My. God.

It's the 'stache! That freakin' mustache has the power to defy destiny! White didn't even have a grip on an NHL career until that 'stache came along. What wonders! It's a miracle. A MIRACLE, I tell you. Hey, wait a minute - what happens immediately after the Del Zotto goal? Oh... my... Less then 30 seconds later, Ian White scores a goal, the only Leaf goal of the game. Well, I don't need any further proof. I know the answer. I believe in the Mustachulence!

Good Golly! That hockey puck threw itself at Ian White's face after he scored that goal! Behold, the power of The Curse, and yet, behold, the power of the 'stache is greater! White went down but he got back up. The Curse went for a knock-out blow against its greatest challenger but the 'stache wouldn't stay down.

Again, I don't want to understate the importance of these cosmic events. This is an epic battle being waged to regain spiritual control of Leaf Nation's karma and fortune. I suggest that EVERYONE should start growing a mustache today - even the women and children. If you can't grow at least a half-decent mustache by Saturday night, then wear a fake one. We need everybody on the same page and pulling together in the same direction. Together, we can break this awful Curse - with mustaches!

Defeat The Curse.Grow Your 'Stache.