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.