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