Monday, December 13, 2010


It's a good time to celebrate the play of Tomas Kaberle. Last week he was my choice for Leaf of the Week, on the strength of 4 assists in 3 consecutive games, and for being a surprise plus/minus leader. Kabby continues to shine this week, notching his first goal of the season Saturday night against Montreal, and setting up another, as the Leafs played one of their very best opening periods of the season.

7 Points in his last 7 games.

The best plus/minus on the team (+2).

Surpassed Ron Stewart (838) for games played Nov. 20th vs. Montreal and Darryl Sittler (844) on December 4th vs. Boston, to move up to 8th (849+) on the Leafs all-time games played list.

Kaberle's goal, the game-winner Saturday night vs. Montreal, and the 81st of his career, equals him with 80's super-legend Al Iafrate, and puts him now just 2 back of Bryan McCabe.

With his latest assist, also Saturday on Kessel's opening goal, Kaberle moves ahead of George Armstrong in to sole-possession of 5th on the Leafs all-time Assist leaders list at 418.

He is 1 point away from career-point 500.

Give it up for Kaberle. And let's hope this isn't a swansong, but the beginning of a team-wide resurgence.

Pride and Glory. Go Leafs Go.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ron Wilson: Coach Of The Year For A Day

I love this goal. As glorious as Nazem Kadri's shootout goal was, I like this one even better. Have a look:

I love the fact that this goal tied the game with under a minute left. I love that Ron Wilson used his time-out and set up a very clever play. I love that 5 forwards - Grabovski, Kulemin, Kessel, MacArthur, and Versteeg - are on the ice.
As they line up for the face-off, Grabbo is taking the draw, MacArthur is to his right by the boards, Kaberle at the right point, Versteeg at the left point, Kulemin on the inside at the hashmarks and Kessel on the outside in the high-slot.
But then it gets interesting. Grabovski INTENTIONALLY gets himself thrown out the face-off circle.
Kulemin steps forward as if he's going to replace Grabbo...
...but then Kessel calls him off and slips between them to take the draw. Grabbo and Kulemin drop back into position, and when they do...
...Grabbo takes Kulemin's spot on the inside and Kulemin takes Kessel's spot in the high slot. This little switcharoo momentarily confuses Chara and the Bruins right before the draw.

Kessel doesn't get an assist on the goal but he deserves to as he wins the draw cleanly back to Kaberle.
Kaberle gathers the puck at the right point...
...and cruises into the centre of the ice along the blueline...
...and continues all the way over to the left point.

Let's rewind that:
Look where he came from...
...and where he went. Kaberle draws every Bruin over to one side of the ice and rotated the set-up 90 degrees to the left. Now, not only are the Bruins not sure who they should be covering, they're not even sure where they should be.

Just as Kabby has everyone's attention and has them all leaning on the wrong foot...
...he slips the pass over to MacArthur, now manning the right point.
As everyone scrambles from left to right, MacArthur blasts it as hard as he can...
...INTENTIONALLY wide right. As the Bruins continue to scramble to the Leafs right, all of them have their backs turned to Versteeg who's dropped down low on the left.
The puck banks hard off the backboards and comes right to Versteeg.
Thomas is completely out of position and Versteeg reacts quickly and puts the puck in the top corner of the open net. Tie game.

That the Leafs would go on to collect 2 points by winning the shoot-out makes it that much sweeter.

What a great goal to rescue the best team effort we've seen all season. And what a crazy, complicated, cunning and inspired strategy that I have no doubt was entirely orchestrated by Ron "Deep Blue" Wilson (who also made the gutsy decision to throw Nazem Kadri out first-up in the shoot-out). And for once the players finally executed with the necessary precision.

Nice to see a 65+ minute effort from the crew and nice to see Wilson make a difference. Hopefully this is a turning point in our season.

Friday, December 3, 2010

8-2-3 When Scoring In Either Of The First Two Periods, 0-10-1 When They Don't

Anytime the Leafs score within the first 40 minutes of the opening face-off, their chances of success improve dramatically. Anytime the Leafs score in the 1st or 2nd period, the excitement value of the game skyrockets.

Everytime the 2nd period ends and the Leafs have yet to score a goal, I'm reminded of a quote from Brian Burke from way back in the first week of the season:

"Then, the rest of it for me is, we want to have a certain attitude. We want to play an entertaining style. We don’t trap. We pursue the puck in all three zones. We hit in all three zones. We fight. And we try to score a lot of goals. We’re not afraid to trade chances because our D is good because our goaltending is good, we’re not afraid to trade chances, which leads to an entertaining hockey game.”

My teams play a style that’s designed to entertain."

-Brian Burke speaks with Paul Hunter, published October 8th, 2010

October 18th vs NYIslanders,
after 4o minutes 1-0 NYI, final score 2-1OT.

October 21st vs NYRangers,
after 40 minutes 2-0 NYR, final score 2-1.

October 28th vs Boston,
after 40 minutes 2-0 Bos, final score 2-0.

October 30th vs NYRangers,
after 40 minutes 2-0 NYR, final score 2-0.

November 2nd vs Ottawa,
after 40 minutes 3-0 Ott, final score 3-2.

November 9th vs Tampa Bay,
after 40 minutes 3-0 TB, final score 4-0.

November 10th vs Florida,
after 40 minutes 2-0 Fl, final score 4-1.

November 20th vs Montreal,
after 40 minutes 1-0 Mon, final score 2-0.

November 26th vs Buffalo,
after 40 minutes 2-0 Buf, final score 3-1.

November 27th vs Ottawa,
after 40 minutes 3-0 Ott, final score 3-0.

December 2nd vs Edmonton,
after 40 minutes 3-0 Edm, finals score 5-0.

Scoreless after 2 periods 11 times and shutout completely 6 times in 24 games - 25% - zero Leaf goals in 1 out of every 4 games so far this season.

This isn't entertaining at all. No NHL team with a fan base this big should have this little to cheer bout.

Is it possible that the Leafs have learned all they can from Wilson? Isn't it possible that the team could retain the best aspects of Wilson's teachings and keep it in their back pocket while moving on with a fresh approach? The Leafs are well versed in their responsibilities but what they seem to need is someone who can spark their imaginations and get the offence rolling. Someone focused on scoring goals and winning now. Someone who grants freedom and allows creativity and someone who inspires courage and determination.

Someone who forgives mistakes so there's no fear in making them. Someone that promotes confidence, not insecurity. Someone who encourages the players to celebrate their success.

Someone who can teach them about Wendel and Dougie and Mats.

I'm not gonna tell you who I'd bring in as interim-coach for the rest of the season, but I'll give you a hint: it's a name I've mentioned before, and it begins with "Todd" and it ends with "Gill" and it rhymes with "Totally Awesome".

If he's not availbale, my second choice is Frantisek Kaberle Sr.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Word Is Leaf: November

Hey Gang! Sorry for the absence of posts and updates from this corner. Time and inspiration are in short supply these days.

Someday, I'd like to do a post reflecting on the life and career of Pat Burns, celebrating the great work and character that he brought to the game. He had a wonderful impact here in Toronto, as he did everywhere he went. He will be remembered and missed.

I'm kinda cheating with The Word Is Leaf this month. There were a lot of things said, a lot of excuses, and a lot of cynicism, but none of it seems humourous now, and only one quote really deserved merit and pointing out:

"You can say all you want about getting shots, but guys are playing soft in their end and in front, guys aren't competing, getting to the hard areas. It's pretty easy for their defencemen to box our forwards out. We're just not battling hard enough... Have a little will, take pride in getting to the net and take pride in scoring goals. Goals don't come free in this league. From the perimeter, guys have to be a little more hungrier."
-future Captain Luke Schenn

Here's a rundown of some random thoughts;

* I really feel for Schenn and Gustavsson as I think they've both been really good this year. I feel bad for Kaberle too and I think he's been excellent overall despite struggling with players that don't have his offensive imagination. However, without a dramatic turnaround and fast, Kaberle's usefulness and value will quickly diminish. For his own sake, I hope Kaberle finds a way off this sinking ship before it's too late.

* Versteeg at the point on the powerplay with Kaberle has been a good adjustment.

* While Mitchell and Lebda are obvious scapegoats, Tyler Bozak has been the biggest disappointment from an expectation perspective.

* Kessel doesn't really seem like himself lately. In October; 7 goals, 2 assists, 9 points in 10 games. For November, 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points in 13 games.

*Clarke MacArthur has suddenly run cold with just 1 assist in his last 5 games and no goals over 12 games since November 2nd.

* Nikolai Kulemin, this week's Leaf Of The Week, has scored exactly half of the Leafs goals over the last 5 games - 4 out of 8. Kulemin has 4 goals in the last 5 games while the entire rest of the team has 4 goals combined. And Versteeg has 2 of those.

* Kadri added a brief spark when he was brought in - 4 assists in 5 games - but it didn't take long for him to adjust to Wilson's style and attention to detail and in the last 3 games Kadri has settled in as a minus 3 with no points.

* And now the really bad news. The Leafs have 4 wins in their last 19 games. 4-11-4 since opening the season 4-0-0.

* In the last 19 games, the Leafs have been shutout through 2 periods of play 10 times. Since that miraculous 4-and-oh start, the Leafs have scored a goal in the opening 40 minutes less than half the time...

* It's hard to fathom that the two above points can occur without a coaching change being imminent. How can a team endure a 4-11-4 slide without the coach being fired? How can a team go into the 3rd period without a goal 10 times in less then 20 games without the coach being held accountable?

* The ACC has often been described as a morgue, but on Tuesday night, with the Leafs ahead 3-2 and just 12.5 seconds on the clock, I was astonished to see the crowd sitting in their seats for the faceoff in the Leafs end after the time-out. Just a dozen seconds away from snapping a two-game losing streak and securing a 4th consecutive victory on home-ice, after a gritty performance by Gustavsson and a limb-sacrificing shift from Mike Brown, and the Toronto audience - the best hockey fans in the world in my estimation- aren't standing and clapping and urging the Leafs on to victory. They're just sitting there, passively observing. It's curious. My first inclination was that these fat cats in the gold and platinum seats just don't care about hockey the way the middle-class and working-class do, but that's a pretty silly generalization that unfairly judges people I don't know. I don't understand how the economy works so I can't really discuss it, but there's no law that says that any amount of money you have should stop you from caring about whatever you want to care about, including hockey teams.

Instead, what I think we're seeing, and it's not just limited to the sushi-crowd but is actually happening in every corner of Leafs Nation, is total disenchantment. A reluctance, nay even a refusal, to embrace and believe in our own fantasy constructs. Complete emotional disengagement while remaining utterly fixated. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the Britney Spears of the NHL. The world's most popular train wreck.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Free Gunnar Now

From what I gather, Keith Aulie made a positive impression in his debut performance, despite the Leafs losing for the 8th straight game. To be honest, the only thing I noticed about Aulie is that he's really big, but most of the reviews I've seen were kind. Still, he finished the night a minus 1 over 14 minutes of ice-time, so not a great impact.

Now, I really don't have anything critical to say about Aulie, but I can't help wondering why on earth does Carl Gunnarsson have to continue sitting in the press box? It's bad enough that he's been pushed aside to find ice-time for Lebda, but now Gunnar is sitting out healthy for somebody else's NHL debut while the Leafs are in the midst of terrible slide? Is the Leafs record of 1 win in their last 12 Gunnarsson's fault? Seriously, what did Gunnarsson do to get so deep in Wilson's dog house?

Our first loss of the year was the first game Gunnarsson sat out. Our first regulation loss was the very next game, with Gunnarsson still in the press box. Gunnarrson returned the next game, but now the wheels had fallen off, and the Leafs lost once more, 5-2 to Philadelphia. Since then, Gunnar has appeared in just 4 of the last 9 games. Why?

Through 9 games this season, Gunnarsson's plus/minus is even. He picked up his first point of the season, an assist, on November 3rd, an overtime loss to Washington. He's played one game since then.

Brett Lebda, after 9 games played, is a team-worst minus 7. He's a minus 6 in the last 5 games and a minus 5 in the last 3. He has zero points, yet hasn't been a healthy scratch since November 2nd.

The Leafs record with Gunnarsson in the line-up is 4-4-1. With Lebda in the line-up, their record is 1-5-3.

I'm seriously confused by this.

When Phaneuf was acquired, I lamented the fact that Komisarek's season had been shortened due to injury. As the season wound down, Gunnarsson was proving himself a very capable top 4 defenceman. In the summer, I agonized through the suspense of Kaberle's trade window, hoping desperately that the Leafs best six defenders would get their chance to suit up together. Finally, after waiting since January 31st, the Leafs season began with a blue line that was truly worthy of getting excited about.

Phaneuf. Kaberle. Beauchemin. Komisarek. Schenn. Gunnarsson.

They didn't disappoint. The Leafs won 4 straight.

Komisarek struggled early and his minutes were down. Wilson left him in there to find his game, and he did. With the injury to Phaneuf, Komisarek has seen a huge increase in minutes and responsibilities, and he was ready for it and has responded well.

Gunnarsson was not afforded a chance to struggle and was yanked from the line-up as soon as he did. His efforts to rediscover his game have ever since been thwarted by not being allowed consistent playing time, and meanwhile the team's confidence is plummeting around him in a downward spiral.

I'm all for bringin' in Aulie as an extra defenceman and giving him ice time - ahead of Lebda. But Gunnarsson, unless he has injury trouble we're not aware of, should be in the line-up on a nightly basis, no question. He was a good player for us last season over 43 games with a team leading plus 8. He was more a part of this team then Jeff Finger was, or Exelby, and he should be contributing more this year then Brett Lebda. Now, with Phaneuf out of the line-up, there's no excuse nor reason for Gunnarsson to still be trying to sort things out from the press box. Let him find his game on the ice, fighting for the 4th-5th spot and not for the 6th-7th.

Seriously, Gunnar deserves mention - and a spot - alongside Schenn(+3), Kaberle(+2), Komisarek(+3), and Beachemin(+3). These guys are great, but they're not leagues ahead of Gunnarsson, and collectively they've lost their shine since Gunnar's demotion. He's not in the same category as Lebda, or Exelby, or Finger, so I don't know why you'd treat him like he is.

Some players go through slumps, and sophomores seem to get it the worst, but the only cure is believing in yourself and having success on the ice. It's chicken and the egg, but that's the way it goes. The best players don't dwell on bad games and past mistakes. They forget it, move on, and bounce back.

Let me be clear about this:

Carl Gunnarsson, 9 games: even plus/minus.

Brett Lebda, 9 games: team-low minus 7.

Confidence is something that doesn't come that easy,” said Gunnarsson. “Once you lose it, it's tough to get it back.”Great. Now the kid's wondering if he's worse than Brett Lebda. Nice going, Wilson.

All Gunnarsson needs to regain his confidence - and form - is regular ice-time and a show of faith. And as a key member on our exceptional blueline, on a team that's entirely without answers, it's the least he deserves.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Grabbo Gonna Get Kessel Going

Mickey Grabbs is my choice for Leaf of the Week, one of only two Leafs that have stood out for me recently with solid performances (Kulemin is the other). Grabbo has been in on all 3 Leaf goals scored this week (yes, just 3 goals in 3 games for the entire team), scoring twice and assisting on the other. He's currently in a 3-way tie for 2nd in team scoring along with Kessel and Kulemin, each with 9 points after 15 games.
Grabovski's other de facto linemate, MacArthur is the team leader, jumping ahead of the pack by 3 points with 12. That Grabbo's line holds 3 of the top 4 spots in points clearly puts the responsibility for the team's scoring woes on the shoulders of Bozak and Versteeg. Bozak is currently on pace for less then a 30-point season.

Grabovski's real eyebrow-raising stat is his plus/minus. A most pleasing +7, Grabbo leads the team in that department and has only been on the negative side of the ledger once this season (minus 1 in the 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay).

Clarke MacArthur has the 2nd best plus/minus at +6, and in 3rd is, surprise surprise, Tomas Kaberle with a respectable +4. I noticed after the Leafs very depressing 4-1 loss to the Panthers, that Kaberle somehow escaped the night as a +1. Meanwhile, Kabby and Grabbo are now tied for the team lead in Assists with 7 each.

The Importance Of Scoring First

If the Leafs are going to make tracks in the standings, it's imperative that they get on the board first to give themselves the best possible chance of success. The team has scored the first goal of a game at just a 40% rate - 6 times in 15 games - not entirely terrible, but when they do score first, their record is 4-0-2. Ten of a possible 12 points and no losses in regulation.

When their opponents get the first goal, the Leafs are a dismal, and nearly hopeless, 1-7-1. Three of a possible 18 points.

The Importance Of Scoring In The 1st Period

The Leafs record when they score in the 1st period is identical to when they open the scoring. Nine times they've been shut-out through the opening 20 minutes and in those nine games their only victory came in the 4th game, a 4-3 overtime victory against the Rangers in which the Leafs dominated the 2nd period after giving up the opening goal in the 1st. In games when the Leafs do score in the opening period, again the Leafs are 4-0-2 without a loss in regulation.

On the other hand, in the 9 games that the Leafs have been held scoreless in the 1st, the Leafs have followed up that scoreless 1st period 6 times - a 66% ratio - by not scoring again in the 2nd. Awesome. Unbelievably, the Leafs have been shutout through 2 periods of play 6 times already in just 15 games (40%) and shutout completely 3 times (20%).

In the last 8 games, Leaf fans have agonized through scoring droughts that lasted 2 hours 27 minutes 40 seconds AND 2 hours 22 minutes 44 seconds.

The Importance Of Scoring At All

There's nothing more demoralizing then being shutout. Grabovski's latest tally, which broke our second longest shutout streak of the year, was welcome relief, even if it had no impact on the outcome. As bad as it was to lose back-to-back games in Florida, I imagine that without the Grabovski goal, the psychological distress of being blanked for two games in the sunshine state and coming home amidst what would have been a 149:19 run of impotence, might have been near-overwhelming for Wilson and his crew. That one goal, by Grabovski, coming in the 3rd period of a game well out of reach, allowed the Leafs to return from their Florida trip merely embarrassed, and not utterly humiliated.

It makes sense now for Wilson to pair Grabovski with Kessel in an attempt to get the latter going and back on the scoresheet. Because, while Bozak and Versteeg can largely be blamed for the team's offensive slump, it's Kessel's contribution, or lack of, that determines whether we win or lose. I wrote a post on this subject at the end of last season, and after having another look, I've updated my findings. Kessel's production is absolutely vital to the cause; behold:

In the last 41 games, half a season, going back to Feb. 2nd , the first game after acquiring Phaneuf and Giguere...

When Kessel tally’s a goal OR an assist, the Leafs record is:
When Kessel is held without a point, the Leafs record is:


Hopefully Grabovski and Kessel will find a way to put up points together and help turn this sinking ship around. The key to beating the Leafs is obviously to keep Phil Kessel off the scoreboard, so it's a smart move for Wilson right now to do anything he can to get Kessel back on it. And the sooner the better. A first period tally, an early lead, a point for Kessel, is all the Leafs need for there to be a much more positive outlook.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Off His Rocker

If you hadn't guessed, Ron Wilson's been getting on my nerves a bit recently. And it's not just the team's struggles that are bothering me, though that's where it begins and ends, but also the cold, cynical, sarcastic, snarky nature that Wilson employs when speaking, through the media, to the public.

I think Wilson forgets sometimes that he isn't just speaking to the reporters assembled, but to the masses. The people holding microphones and notepads are only there because Leaf fans are listening and reading. That's the audience. Reporters and journalists and columnists and even bloggers just record the things that are said and sometimes they flaunt their opinion to add or create context, but the conversation is with the audience, and a condescending attitude is a shtick that wears thin real quick.

For instance:

"We’re a .500 team and apparently we should be 1.000,”

Wrong. No one is suggesting we should still have a perfect record, but you know what? We could have been 1.000 after game 5, but instead Lebda took a goaltender interference penalty in overtime. Two people are responsible for that; Lebda and the coach. Also, .500 sucks. That's not a measure of success or acceptability. Please don't start talking that way. That's a losers attitude.

Ya, I know I'm being harsh but I'm tired of Wilson's preoccupation with his high horse keeping his clothes clean while the team and fans wallow in muck. Take some responsibility. For instance:

"I mean, it suddenly switched from Lindy Ruff to me overnight, and it’s always coming out of Toronto. There is some coach in the league that we’re talking about and I get asked not just about my own situation, but every other coach who is losing a couple of games and it always seems to come out of Toronto, not from the city where the coach is struggling a little bit.”

Are you joking? First of all, who won the game that night? Second, the always coming out of Toronto thing is a red herring. Of course you're going to get asked about your situation and others, and of course a greater percentage of the news-narrative will originate from Toronto, and aside from Ron Wilson, there are no other NHL head coaches working in Toronto so they have to be from somewhere else by default. It's enough to make me think he's gone off his rocker. For instance, from before the ill-fated loss to the Sabres:

“That’s half the problem with our society,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after the morning skate, leaping to the defense of his colleague. “You’re married to your wife, and you have a rough spot … ‘Oh, that’s it. I’m getting a new wife.’ We see that every damn day in our society. We just get rid of things.

“The one thing you don’t generally do is get rid of your kids.”


“I don’t think.”

More laughter.

“Not many people say, ‘That’s it. I’m trading my kids for a new set of kids,’ right?”

According to Nicholas J. Cotsonika, Wilson "leaped" to the defence of his Buffalo counterpart and seemingly got on a roll after only gentle prodding. This assumption is backed up by Sean Fitz-Gerald who wrote in the Post:

"Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson got on a roll during his pre-game briefing with reporters on Saturday, touching on everything from the status of the modern family to the continued development of Luke Schenn and the notion of the NHL adopting a system for coaches to challenge on-ice calls."

By the way, the quote from Wilson in which he ponders disposing of family members and exposes the root of half our society's damn habitual problems is one of the strangest tangents I've ever heard from a sports personality in Toronto. It's bizarre. I'd love to hear more from Ron Wilson about his bitter contempt for society and know what the other half of our problems are but I'm not sure why he's thinking about that and not about hockey. Who cares about Lindy Ruff? Or society?

But that was just the tail-end of his answer. It began a long ways back, according to the Post. Keep in mind this is only a "partial" transcript:

On whether rumours about job security – based on the speculation swirling around Sabres coach Lindy Ruff – can become a distraction:

“Well, I’ve had enough of that here. It happens most of the time. You lose two in a row, you should be fired or something. I don’t think that it’s a distraction to Lindy. How long has he been there? 13 years? So, along the way, if he’s been there 13 years, probably 30 times someone has said he should be fired.

“To take on a job of this magnitude, you have to have a fairly thick skin. And you have to believe in yourself. And over time, Lindy’s done a great job. They’ve been in this same spot four or five times along the way. You just have to be patient.”

On the importance of trust and support between a coach and a general manager:

“I don’t know what’s going on in the Buffalo organization, but coming in (the media room), I hate to say this, but your opinions don’t really matter in the board room or in the locker room. You guys have your opinions. And whatever’s going on in Buffalo, I guarantee you they’ve got their finger on the pulse.”

"They’re just going through a rough time right now. You go through a rough time in your life."

And then Wilson launches into his tirade against the North American way of life. These aren't answers to questions. This is just him going off. Finally he wraps it up with a cryptic comment that sounds more like he's talking about his own situation then anything to do with Lindy Ruff:

“You’re going to have rocky times. You stick in there. You battle through it. Don’t take the easy way out. You’ll be better off for it in the long run.”

So it seems to me that Wilson was far from bombarded with questions he didn't want to answer about his well-respected colleague but was quite happy to jump in there and lead the conversation, and then unwittingly turned it in his direction when he put himself in the scenario and projected the outcome. You're going to have rocky times. You stick in there. You battle through it. Don't take the easy way out. Who's he talking about? Lindy Ruff still? He's gone existential on us, just like Paul Maurice did.

It's interesting to me that Wilson hasn't had stronger words for the team's performance but instead found a way to praise them while appraising his own work:

"Defensively, with a couple of exceptions, we’ve played very well, we’ve kept the shots down. Our penalty killing, except for two games last week, has been excellent, we’ve really improved in that area … at some point it’s all going to click in, and we’ll start to see the results we expect.”

I like that part at the end. Finally, some optimism and encouragement. I can't wait until "some point" comes, and I'm sure that when it does and people say what a great job the Leafs coaching staff have done to turn things around, Wilson will have none of that and will deflect credit to the players who overachieved their talent and finally caught up to his coaching ability.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Money In The Bank

Mike Komisarek is my choice for Leaf of the Week based on the last 4 games. I believe he's the most improved Leafs player since the start of the season, but maybe that was to be expected for a player coming back from a long layoff. The last 2 games he's been arguably the best Leaf on the ice. This past week he's seen his ice-time climb from 11:01 in Boston last Thursday, to 26:02 Wednesday night in Washington.

And this pass Komi lays out to Versteeg to send him in for the tying goal is an absolute beauty:

Captain Overboard

Of course, the rise in Komi's ice-time is entirely related to the tragic circumstance of filling in for the injured Captain. A deserved reflection of Komi's improved play, but not by design.

"The bottom line is that Dion has wrought a considerable culture change with our team and he's done it almost singlehandedly."

Dripping with irony, this statement becomes an unintended challenge to every member of the team to make their mark and prove their worth in the absence of Phaneuf.

Luke Schenn has been awesome this year, looks like a future Captain, and played another outstanding game on Wednesday. But I also thought Komisarek, Beauchemin, and Kaberle - all 3 wearing the familiar A on their sweaters - stood out for playing an intense spirited game, especially in the 3rd period. As much as Gustavsson deserves credit for stealing a point with some unbelievable stops, so too do the Leafs top four defenders for their inspiring efforts.

Hard Times

1-5-2 after a 4-0-0 start, yet this team showed remarkable character in the 3rd period against Washington to steal a point, and nearly two. Now they'll have to continue building that character in the absence of Phaneuf over the next four weeks and somehow establish a team identity and a winning attitude without the larger-then-life personage of Dion to guide them.

I'm hoping the competitiveness and confidence of the rest of the players is as underrated as Phaneuf's leadership is overrated. Otherwise...

I think we've overdrawn on our deposit.

"This is money in the bank for us when we hit hard times."

That didn't take long. One win in our last 8 games. With or without a Captain, we can't afford to prolong our tail-spin.

I was all set to write an angry post demanding an end to Wilson's run behind the bench, and who knows - it might still be coming, but the Leafs made a truly startling turnaround in the 3rd period, and as mentioned, key players gave inspirational performances and elevated their game.

I don't know where that inspiration came from, could've been behind the bench, so we give Wilson the benefit of the doubt for one more game perhaps. Because it was a truly stunning comeback, even if we didn't hold on for the win.


One thing I am concerned about with this team is the motivation factor. They'd better learn to play for themselves and for each other, 'cause it's obvious that they don't play for the coach. Wilson comes across as a firm no-nonsense straightshooter, but also as a horrible motivator. Seems to only lead with the stick and never the carrot. The focus seems to be on positioning, not passion. Diligence, and not drive. Jobs, but not joy.

I honestly can't imagine any group of players rallying around coach Wilson like they would for Scotty Bowman or Pat Burns. It may be that it's not necessary for players to like their coach or agree with their decisions, but I'm not so sure. I think it helps a little.

Wilson's style is very demanding and requires the players work hard, and skate hard, continuously. For the most part, the effort and execution is there, sometimes stubbornly so, as even when it's not succeeding the Leafs rarely abandon the game plan and rigidly maintain their system. The players have bought into a determined, disciplined style of play but are not seeing much in the way of rewards or success.

Individually, players have grown and learned, but collectively there's a lack of spirit and chemistry. Mostly what alerts me to the fact that this isn't a happy group is the lack of enthusiasm towards winning and scoring from Toronto's key offensive contributors. Versteeg, Kessel, and most alarmingly, Grabovski, appear to be missing that sparkle-magic in their eyes and flare in their step. Now, I'm not asking for anyone to pretend their stick is blazing like Jimi Hendrix' guitar, but after back-to-back shutouts, it'd be nice to see 3rd period outbursts greeted with some genuine excitement and emotion from the players.

They seem too uptight for celebration. My concern is that Wilson's snarky, grey, miserable demeanor, while beneficial in producing a sound, disciplined and tireless, defensive approach, lacks the motivational thrust needed to get the players to elevate their game, and does nothing to encourage their enthusiasm for success.


I still believe in the rest of this team. Even Lebda. But no amount of coaching is going to fix John Mitchell. His poor clearing attempt on the PK, already much lamented, led to the Capitals tying goal, yet it's everything Mitchell does AFTER the weak clear that I find so appalling.

A one-goal lead, with less then 6 minutes to go in the 3rd period:
First off, Mitchell's angle is all wrong. He's skating directly towards the shooter when really he should be skating towards a point between the shooter and his target and then from there close the distance between himself and the shooter.Mitchell then attempts to block the shot with his outstretched stick and not with his body and the result is predictable. The puck slices right through the shaft of Mitchell's stick and continues towards the net at an uncertain trajectory and velocity.As the puck miraculously bounces through the crease and wide, Mitchell drops the broken stick and appears to give up on the play. For the next 2 seconds, Mitchell goes into zombie-mode. As Gustavsson, Beauchemin and Komisarek scramble in the crease, check out Mitchell's body language as he watches Semin coral the puck at the side of the goal. Arms down at his side, back upright, feet not moving at all, legs are shoulder-width apart as if taking a practice glide and preparing to stop. Zero intensity. Despite being the closest Maple Leaf with an unobstructed path to the goalscorer, Mitchell is doing nothing to pressure or hurry Semin's attempt. There's no sense of urgency coming from Mitchell, only defeat.Sure, Mitchell likely wouldn't have made it in time even if he'd tried, but the point is entirely that he didn't even try. If Beauchemin had somehow managed to get a shinpad in the way and blocked the first attempt, Semin easily would've had time for a second and third whack.

Notice how quickly Sjostrom comes into view coming back on the other side, and if you watch the video carefully, compare the body language of Sjostrom and Mitchell immediately after the referee signals the goal (0:07).

It may be time for Mitchell to have a fresh start somewhere else where he can try to find his game under less pressure and scrutiny. For now, Wilson is the one who gets the general reprieve, but only as long as the Leafs top defenders - those with a letter on their chests - continue to lead and inspire. As for the offensive woes, it may be that Bozak, Versteeg, and Grabbo are going to have to figure things out on their own and find their smiles without the Captain's cultural influence, and without resorting to throwing tennis balls at each other either. And soon.

Wow, this was like 4 posts in one! If you made it all the way through, thanks for dropping by, and Go Leafs Go!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Word Is Leaf: October

Well, it's been an interesting month for sure. A 4-0-0 start had lots of people talking positively, but now a 1-4-1 record since, including back-to-back shutout losses to close out the month, has silenced a lot of that enthusiasm. Lots of questions remain about the team's true identity, as the offence is unable to provide a reliable answer. The Leafs continue to puzzle observers, going from a team that couldn't or wouldn't lose at the beginning of the season, to a team that can't or won't score against above-average goaltending. Here's a recap of the best quotes of the month:

“If you go the way training camp went, I think Caputi and Hanson could both make a real good argument that this isn’t a fair result."
-Brian Burke

"This business is cutthroat, and it's no secret."
-sympathetic Marlies teammate, Jeff Finger

“He got a call from the governor on this one. He got a reprieve."
-Burke on the near-execution of Mitchell

“Not going to try to kill everyone the first shift.”
-Mike Komisarek alters his approach

“The goal was unbelievable. Everything a little boy in Cambridge pretending he was a Maple Leaf could ask for."
-Tim "Legend" Brent scores the Leafs first goal of the season

"Looking at this game, this is one where they tie it last year. This time because of his great saves, we get the win.”
-Wilson on goaltending, after the first game

“We need solid goaltending and not lose sleep over who’s starting, or who’s going to play, and can we get through the first five minutes without letting in a soft goal? Those are things we’re not worrying about now.”
-Wilson continues to talk about goaltending after the first game.

"We play simple. We work hard. We listen to the coach. We shoot the puck and play aggressive.”
-Mikhail Grabovski talks to reporters like a machine-gun talks to a battlefied

“Sitting out a few shifts is a lot louder than my voice. The bench screams.”
-Ron Wilson after sitting Kessel

"They're really real."
-Colby Armstrong when asked how "real" the team's wins feel.

“That’s a question that my granddaughter would ask,”
-Wilson when asked if he is pleased with the team’s start.

"The Toronto Sun has great value if you own a puppy or a parakeet."
-Brian Burke

“That’s awesome. I’m in the record books for something!”
-MacArthur, the first player in the history of the Leafs to score in each of his first four games. And now Jeremy "3 goals in 3 games" Williams will just be known as what's-his-name.

“And anybody who tells you being snake-bit doesn’t suck is lying to you.”

"I don't care what Dwyane Roloson does, I care about our team."

“You can always get better at anything you do."
-The Mike Brown Attitude

“We could have put our heads down, stopped skating, stopped playing. We could have found a way to lose. Instead, we found a way to win.”
-Giguere is awesome.

"August 15 was probably the best day in my summer. I was really glad I stayed here.” -Tomas Kaberle

"The off-season was long, the summer was long, there was a lot of stuff in the papers, blah, blah, blah. That’s not what players are looking for, we’re looking for two points.”

"No one is going to come in and get us out of this. It’s the guys in this room that will get us out of this and we’re confident we will.”
-Dion Phaneuf

"No, we will not rush Kadri... I want to get Kadri ready to play 10 years in the NHL, not 10 games."

"You don't stand and wait for something to happen. It's my job to make something happen."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Maple Leafs Halloween 2010

So maybe you've noticed I've updated my sidebar recently and added a few things. Near the bottom is a list of my top 5 most read posts of all time. Yup, that's right, the number one - far and away - is Maple Leafs Halloween, a post I wrote 2 years ago. I noticed last year around this time a sudden huge upsurge in hits on my blog directly related to that Halloween post. This October, the same thing is happening. So I've decided to do another and hopefully this one will be even more succesful then the last.

As Halloween rolls around, take a good look at the trick-or-treaters that come to your door, 'cause you never know, one of them might be your favourite Maple Leaf under that costume. Here are some hints to help you recognize your Leafs in disguise:

Clarke MacArthur

Ninja at a bargain price.

Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel

Doesn't need explaining. Or maybe it does a little.

Mike BrownGonna show you what Brown can do for you if he can just get his finger in the doorway. Oh ya, and his boxing skills could use a little work.

Tomas KaberleData was always my favourite Star Trek character and there's something about Kabby's calm, efficient, emotionless precision that makes me think he'd do very well as a Starfleet officer under the right Captain. (p.s. Phaneuf hates it when you call him Jean-Luc.)

Anything's better then 2007 when the gang went out wearing the costumes Paul Maurice had suggested.It was a sad night with a lot drinking. It was a sad season with a lot of crying.

Freddie Sjostrom...gets to be Chewbacca of course. This costume doesn't look too hard to put together. Maybe get Grandma to help with the sewing and stitching. And if Sjostrom gets to be Chewbacca then...

Colby Armstrong...probably wants to be Han Solo. It's better then the figure skater costume Wilson had picked out for him, but it means he'll be frozen in carbonite for 4-6 weeks. The good news is: I can start saying Luca Caputi on a regular basis again.

Mike Komisarek...will walk home from the practice rink in his usual way, oblivious to the date on the calender.

Mikhail Grabovski

...has the scariest costume on the team. He's crazy for pineapples! is now a serious understatement.

Nikolai Kulemin

...keeps the Kool-Aid Man tradition alive for another year.

Cliff Fletcher

...makes an excellent spooky Caretaker.

and Mike Zigomanis... is the Zig-Zag Man out on a date with Matt Stajan's mom!

Have a safe and happy Halloween everybody!