Monday, April 5, 2010

One Man Show?

Yes, the Leafs have proved, in the last 18 games since the Olympic break, that they can succeed without the point production of Tomas Kaberle. An impressive 10-5-3 record has been put together, with Kaberle only contributing a meagre and well-documented 3 points to the offence.

So, is the scoring more dynamic then? Are the Leafs finding different ways to win every night, with different guys stepping up and chipping in? Are the Leafs less dependant upon one player's performance to succeed? Are we winning as a team?

Not so sure. One thing I've noticed that suggests otherwise is that when Kessel is on, so are the Leafs. In fact, since the break, the Leafs fortunes seem to be entirely tied to Kessel's output.

Over the last 18 games, when Kessel scores a goal or gets an assist, the Leafs are 9-0-1, yet when Kessel is held off the scoresheet, the record is 1-5-2.

That seems kinda significant to me. Seems like we need Phil Kessel to score or we're fucked.
Now there's concern that Kessel may have an injury. With just 3 games left and nothing on the line, will the Leafs push their leading scorer into the line-up if he's less then a hundred percent? With Kessel out of the line-up, could Kaberle score 7 points in 3 games? Wouldn't that be dramatic...


Last year I successfully predicted that Ian White would earn the Masterton nominee from the Leafs, and while he didn't win the award that Jason Blake made famous, I was proud that he got the nod from the team after his breakout season.

This year I'm nominating rookie goaltender Jonas Gusatvsson and I wouldn't be surprised if the Leafs did too. If not, I'm very curious as to who they might select. It might be unusual for a rookie to be nominated for the Masterton, but I think Jonas has been a excellent and deserving example of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication. The Monster faced a lot of adversity this year but battled through it to post some amazing numbers down the stretch.

Friday, April 2, 2010

4 Things About This Season That Didn't Suck Too Bad

Only four?

Ya, that's about the size of it.

But there is reason for quiet optimism throughout Leafs Nation, and it really only takes one good thing that doesn't suck too bad to hang our pride and our hopes upon. Well here's 4. More then just a silver lining or a bright side, they're like reasons to go on living, like rays of sunlight piercing through the darkness with a breathe of fresh air after you've been buried alive by an avalanche of suck.

1. Brian BurkeFor the most part, he's done what he said he was going to do. Even if the players didn't do what he said they were going to do, Burke has held up his end of the bargain. Veteran players were given ample opportunity to succeed but eventually a line was drawn in the sand and The Great Overhaul was under way. Most notably, Blake and Toskala have miraculously played their last games for the franchise. Today's line-up consists of only one player who has worn the Leafs uniform since before Wilson became head coach - Tomas Kaberle. Thus far, Burke has been a straight-shooter, and if he says his inclination is to do something, my inclination is to believe him.

2. KesselThe Leafs have a 30-goal scorer again for the first time since Mats Sundin. With just 4 games left, Kessel has a seemingly insurmountable 6-point lead over Kaberle for the team scoring title, despite missing the first 12 games of the season. While Burke may have gambled and lost, overestimating on our team's chances to finish out of the draft lottery, it's obvious now that Boston GM Chiarelli vastly under-appreciated Kessel's ability to lead an attack and generate the scoring chances as well as finish them. Finally, if you wanna talk about difference makers, the Leafs record when Kessel scores a goal or gets an assist in a game this season is 21-14-3, and 9-0-1 since the break.

3. The MonsterOctober: 280 minutes, .892 Sv%, 3.21 GA, 1-2-2
November: 521 minutes, .901 SV% 3.22 GA, 4-3-3
December: 290 minutes, .928 SV% 1.86 GA, 2-1-2
March: 495 minutes, .923 SV% 2.06 GA, 7-1-0

Those stats say it all right there. Aside from a small setback in January - (Gustavsson made only one appearance in February) - there's been a marked improvement in Gustavsson's performance and results. It hasn't been an easy road either, following the death of his mother last May, then two heart ablation procedures between September and Christmas. As if that wasn't bad enough, the rookie goaltender then feels the weight of having to rescue a franchise's playoff hopes thanks to the catastrophically unreliable goaltending of it's veteran starter. It probably hasn't gone the way he'd hoped or imagined, but it has been an admirable season for the Monster. A noble effort with promising results.

4. YouthThe Leafs are the youngest team in the NHL now, and it's made a big difference to the overall enjoyment of each game, win or lose. Speed, hustle, desire... enthusiasm is the team's new persona. The Leafs have an amazing nucleus of young talent - Bozak (24), Caputi (21), Hanson (24), Kessel (22 - man, he's young), Kulemin (23), Stalberg (24), Gunnarsson (23), Phaneuf (24 - for 7 more days), and Schenn (20), all under the age of 25. Not yet included but on their way someday are Didomenico (21), D'Amigo (19), and Kadri (19). I have to believe that's a bright future 'cause it already feels better in the present.

So the next time somebody tells you that the Leafs suck, or you hear a fellow Leafs fan groan and moan about how the whole team sucks, or how they totally sucked this season, or how they're so full of suck sometimes it hurts, just tell them to cheer up and remind them that the Leafs in fact don't completely suck, that their suck-ratio is really less then 96% now, and falling rapidly.