Raking Leafs

Mixing metaphors and casting cliches about hockey and the Maple Leafs for the ether's pleasure since MCMLXVII.


NHL Pacing 10.31.07

Click image to enlarge.

Since the NHL schedule-makers have seen fit to have different teams with more games-played than others over the course of the season, I came up with a pacing spreadsheet to keep track of it all. The spreadsheet's value will be more apparent as the playoff races heat up, but it never hurts to take an early look at the state of the league.

The "Playoff Matchups" and "Bottom Three" are included for fun. The basic function of the chart is to compare each team's points-earned per game-played so far and then extend that out over the course of the season (x82). It's far from perfect, but then again so are the current standings which show the Leafs in front of Boston despite the Bruins three games in hand.



Infrastructure Lacking. MLSE to Blame.

"Two Leafs employees also confirmed the team does not pay scouts a car allowance or cover all their cellphone bills."

Many much smaller companies reimburse their valuable assets, ie. employees, because of the added value they bring to the company. Without question, the Toronto Maple Leafs should have one of, if not, the best inner workings of any NHL team. Not paying for unavoidable expenses is a disgrace and indicative of a prevailing attitude towards operation of the NHL franchise. Button left, obviously unhappy for a what I would guess are a number of reasons, most prominently being not using draft choices. Tough to stay motivated and feel accomplished when all your draft research is for naught.

The linked article asks the question("...the marquee franchise can afford to inject millions of dollars more in its hockey operation. But where to start spending? Scouting might be a good start, say several hockey executives...") like it hasn't been a major complaint from Leafs Nation for years. And newly anointed assistant GM Mike Penny misses the point when comparing the Leafs scouting department of 11 being twice as large as some of their rivals (I wouldn't want to try and decipher who 'rivals' consist of, considering how badly some NHL teams are run). If the organization plans to rebuild on the fly, exceptional value must be harvested from middling to late picks, which is likely more possible if more knowledge is available from more rinks around the world. Yes, the information still needs to be analyzed effectively and a sound draft strategy followed, but decisions are best made based upon the best information possible.

"You think it's an accident that no one who has won a Stanley Cup is working in that front office?"

That's the kind of honesty I appreciate.

I have to say, I like this new angst toward MLSE in the media. Stop drinking the kool-aid and rattling JFJ's cage. Go after the root of the problem. Nice work from the Star this weekend!

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Mr. Fancypants

If you somehow missed it, go watch the goal Rick Nash scored last night. Pretty nifty.


Leafs Pluck Pens

TOR @ PIT TOI - F/O - Score Sheet

He shoot to my ass and I little bit feel it, but I don't say nothing...

Tavares. Tlusty. Whatever. Talk about a great game. The Leafs looked like a new team in their white sweaters. Antro, Boyd and Kilger did a great job on the twin wonders, as did Staal on Sundin. The Leafs stayed out of the penalty box for most of the night, exchange three penalties with the Pens, except until the end of the game where they tried to make me lose my mind. Toskala was strong, especially in comparison to MAF who seemed to be fighting the puck after Steen's goal.

Steen, Steen, you mean machine. He scored a knock down on a defender along the boards with his premptive shoulder. Playing with Antropov for a split second resulted in a goal. One Tlusty's first, I thought that fortunate bounce from Kubina to Steen wasn't a bad idea for a set play, which basically is a point shot with traffic but the shooter at the blue line and the defender blocking the shooting lane are eliminated from the equation and you can get a shot from the top of the circle. Something to look for, I hope.

What a wrister from Jiri Tlusty. Wow. I was giggling on the couch after that went in. And what made it even better was the team kept coming. The pedal was floored until the penalty parade. When the PK got caught out there for a long stretch, they didn't panic. White, Gill, Stajan and Steen collapsed a bit, didn't chase as closely and waited for their opportunity to clear the zone. Good job, boys! But Whitey, next time get it out the first time you get the chance.

Woz made a great play on the PK, shoving a ref in the head to get out of his way. I like that 'this is my zone' attitude. Strahlman's game is impressive, but it needs some fine tuning. I don't think he has adjusted to the speed of the forecheckers, and is forcing pucks into spaces it won't fit. But give him a chance to get up to speed and he should be stellar. Kubina had a big night on the scoresheet, but he still wasn't that impressive. At least he is trending in the right direction. Anyone miss McCabe? Thought so.

If the Leafs can maintain this style of play throughout this road stretch, I sure hope I hear 'Go Leafs Go' early and often when they return to the ACC. The ultra critical media jades us Leafs fans, I think. Lets be that 7th man again. I bet the response from the players would be amazing.

As for the Penguins, Roberts was jonesing for a chance to dance with Kilger. That would've been a great fight. Apart from a few flops looking for calls after rampaging for a shift, Roberts was pretty much invisible. Recchi too. Explain why he is the one constant with Crosby. He'd be much more effective in spurts.

Leafs Lines

Leafs Pairs
my notes are at home.
I'll post these later




Could Tavares Be Leaf?

According to David Shoalts of the Globe&Mail, JFJ has offered John Tavares a contract to play for the Marlies, in the hope of retaining the young gun's services.

Can you say diversionary tactic? Yes, I can. And it's working.

I wonder if Lou even thought of trying this.


Blood is in the water, and the scavengers are starting to circle the struggling Leafs and JFJ...

What's wrong in Toronto? - Ryder - What's Right?

Fire Ferguson - Simmons - Shut Up, Steve!

Who would replace JFJ? - Wharsnby - Premature Speculation

Desperate Times for JFJ - Magder - Don't forget who put him in this situation

Burke to Maple Leafs?... - Berger - Burke started with alot more in SoCal

Time to Trade Sundin - Houston - Only at the deadline, if at all

Toronto Deserves Better - Tolensky - Damn straight!


More on Shots - David Johnson

Thru 10 - Pension Plan Puppets

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Cover your eyes

TOR vs CHI 10/20/2007 - TOI - F/O - Score Sheet

Another lead. Another loss. And it takes one of the newest members of the Leafs to directly diagnose the problem.
"Every time we have a lead, we get burned...We sit back, don't play as hard, and that's why you take penalties."

Bravo Blake. The fact no one within the organization has recognized and addressed this issue is worrying. Very worrying. And don't get BitterLeaf started about a little in-game management and the far-fetched notion of maximizing one's advantage within the rules of the game and calling a time out to re-focus the team.

In what I considered a hang-over from the pre-lock/Pat Quinn days of the concept of the shut-down third period, it seems the Leafs stop doing what they have been doing in a game to be successful in an effort to be more careful, cautious or something. No more forecheck to continue territorial dominance. The ice that was tilted in the Leafs' favor slow teeters back to level, and then passes the point of no return in an avalanche of tentative nerves and home crowd jeers.

Who is to blame? Ain't that the fucking question of questions. Maurice is creeping up my s-list. I haven't really harped about the bench mismanagement too much, as many good coaches ignore the tool of the time out. The supposed veteran leadership core should be able to sense such a shift and give an encouraging word and an exemplary shift now and then. If this is exacerbated by a case of nerves, the home stand coming to an end and going out on the road may provide a fresh start for this squad.

As for the game itself, Kaberle seems to have awoken from his off-season slumber, joining the rush confidently and effectively. White made a great stretch pass to Pohl who should've buried the chance. Antropov staring down Kane was very enjoyable, who was extremely impressive, practically running the entire offense himself. Jason Williams seems to have landed a plumb role on the Hawks' powerplay after years of second class status in Detroit. I'm beginning to wonder what Steen's problem is. For all his skill and smarts, he can't seem to play with anyone effectively. I just don't get it. I thought him selfish last year when he would just shoot shoot shoot, but Maurice considered those acts selfless, and encouraged a more Steen-first mindset. In a more limited role, Stajan isn't as impressive, but still very solid. Gamanche is slowing a bit, but I still love what he brings to the table. He seems like a natural fit with Blake. I'm doubting Kubina's fitness coming into the season, because he seems even slower than last year. I've defended him in this space many times, but when you can't take care of your own end, the offense he brings isn't that important. Woz got used for another professional tripping penalty. Move that stick, boy! Poni's whining is complete bullshit. Belak did well blindfolded. McCabe is slowly regaining his confidence through invisibility. White deserves kudos for his standing up to Stumpel after the cheap hit from behind, that the entire Florida team and media ignored because White wasn't called for dropping his gloves. Raycroft was busy, but should've had Lang's wrister. And Antro continues being awesome.

Leafs Lines

Leafs Pairs


UPDATE - "...over-rated rock band..." -100 points. The Police kick serious ass. And if you're so inclined, Mute Math do a good impression of the upper-driven trio.



Where's Marek?

NYR vs ATL 10/18/07StatsScore Sheet

Rangers Lines

Rangers Pairs


You may not have heard, but Thomas Pock has been complaining about not getting playing time this year. Pock, having been passed by Girardi and Staal on the Rangers depth chart, had been a healthy scratch for every game so far this season and has registered his discontent with the press. Now, I’m not historically a Pock-hater by any stretch. In fact, I don’t mind him at all. His ceiling isn’t that high, but he’s serviceable and you need guys like that in today’s NHL.

With my thoughts about Thomas Pock thoroughly explained, please allow me to move on with a brief, plain statement to #22: You, sir, made me miss Marek Malik. You made him look like Mr. Super God Of The Entire Hockey Game. You did this on your very first shift of the season. Impressive.

You see, Thomas finally managed to join the fray in Atlanta and immediately got caught out, resulting in the Thrashers first goal. There is nothing that will get the blood simmering like your team’s yappy scratch finally getting some playing-time and instantaneously proving he deserved none. On this particular play our replacement defenseman was caught pinching in idiotic fashion and managed to lose his stick (!) at the same time. After hurrying back in a vain attempt correct his own mistake, he ambled around at the side of the net for a minute before he was handed another stick by a back-checking forward. Just as he seemed to figure out what he was supposed to do with the stick, he turned around and had the puck go between his legs, through the crease to an unguarded Dupuis. It was an unholy display of terrible defensive hockey.

Of course, the first goal was followed by "penalties"> to Prucha and Callahan and a 5-on-3 goal given up by New York. Ugh. Suddenly my newfound hatred for Thomas Pock had grown even more acute. I came back from Hawaii for this? I hope Henrik Lundqvist shoves his blocker in your Österreich, Pock.

It bears noting that while Pock was blindly stabbing his stick at various pieces of the empty ice (see video of nearly ever Thrashers goal), Lundqvist was All-World. In the 1st period he stopped no less than three breakaways, including one that came after another gaff by Pock.

I sincerely hope Thomas likes Hartford. Perhaps he'll earn a standing reservation at the local Applebees or find a nice Nutmeg State girl to settle down with. Regardless, I trust he'll get comfortable there.

In the second, the Rangers seemed to find their feet, but they were down 2-0 already and they couldn’t beat Johan Hedberg (who replaced and injured Lehtonen early).

Atlanta tallied their third goal following a non-called offsides, and a blatant one at that. Erin Perrin skated in backwards with the puck, clearly passing over the blue line before the puck entered. He was offsides by a mile while attempting to re-control a lost puck. He took himself offsides, for $%@#’s sake! And let me tell you, nothing will piss you off more than when you’re team of uncoordinated fools gets jobbed by the morons in stripes…

Hold that! Nothing will peeve you more than that except perhaps the assclown Atlanta announcers who think the goal was brilliant and ignore obvious infraction. The mites playing between periods have scored nicer goals, Captain Atlanta! It’s good to know that Georgia’s future as a hotbed of American sport is in your homer-blind hands. I hope you get syphilis from Bobby Holik.

By the third period I was crying and openly hoping for bloodshed. What on Earth are we paying Colton Orr for if it’s not to take of his skates off and start randomly slashing at people? Come on! These clowns haven’t earned a point all season, they’re cleaning our clocks, and no one lifts a finger? Jesus, Colton, man-up and take a felony for the team. You’re not here for your goal-scoring touch.

Of course, even when Hollweg and Orr finally tried to start something (in response to a decent hit on Prucha), Colton was goaded into a double-minor by Exelby. You know things aren’t going well when you lose a battle of wits to the likes of Garnett Exelby.


I watched the rest of the game on mute, secretly hoping Malik returns to the line-up on Saturday and cursing Continental Airlines for bringing me back to the dreadful team. After all, they don’t have hockey in Hawaii. Or Austrians.

Other Notes

- Credit Lehtonen with some huge early saves on the Atlanta side, particularly just before he left in the 1st period. He was replaced by Johan Hedberg who was equally up to the task. It was a good game for the Atlanta net-minders.

- Bryan Little, the Thrashers 2006 1st rounder, seems like a good, gritty goal-scorer. His goal showed a knack for the net.

- There is no use hiding it any longer… I love Dan Girardi. I sent him flowers this morning. I hope he likes lilies.

- The refs, Dean Warren and Justin St. Pierre, were terrible throughout. I give the credit for being consistent at least. They called an awful, putrid game from start to end and made countless mistakes on both sides. So, you got that going for you fellas... which is nice.

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Ranking Round Up Returns

Yahoo! 27th(--) - (2-3-2) – "The heck with all the goaltending controversy of who is No. 1 – Vesa Toskala or Andrew Raycroft – the Leafs are not very good on defense."

TSN 16th(16th) - (2-3-1) - "Mats Sundin is off to a fantastic start, with ten points and a plus-7 in six games, while capturing the Leafs' all-time records for goals and points, and he's helped elevate enigmatic Nik Antropov, who has seven points of his own."

CBC 21st(17th) - (2-3-1) - "Won't go anywhere unless defensive play improves."

CBS 20th(17th) - (2-3-1) - "Even though the Leafs have scored more goals than anyone so far, they don't have enough offense to beat teams when they allow an average of 45 shots per night, as they have for the last couple of games."

FOX - 21st (22nd) - (2-3-2) - "Aside form their 8-1 win over the Islanders, Toronto had a week to forget. The Leafs defense was nowhere to be found in Week 2, giving up 133 shots and 18 goals in three losses to the Hurricanes, Penguins and Sabres."

Sonny Moore 29th

USA Today/Sagarin - 21st

Me 10/02/07 - "The crease will take care of itself. The real issue is from the crease out, in particular team defense."

TSN, 10 demerits for missing the blatantly obvious! Tsk! Tsk!



Sabres slice open Leafs for 4 in the Third

TOR @ BUF 10/15/07

What started out as a clinic in how to win a road game ended up with the Leafs' needing surgery to repair their collapsed defense. Holding the Sabres off the scoreboard for forty minutes should be applauded, and kudos should go to the entire team and even Raycroft who robbed Stafford at the lip of the crease.

But what happened in the third is a trait Maurice has yet to correct. And most worrying is that the highest paid players are to blame. McCabe and Kaberle lost their assignments on one goal. Kubina doesn't appear able to keep up and is contesting Woz's title of worst penalty taker. McCabe scored the game winner for Buffalo. And yet, McCabe, for all his faults shouldn't be the goat.

Mats Sundin led the team to surrender four goals in the third period. If the captain and our supposed number one line can't get the job done defensively, why should the rest of the team buy in? And the depressing part is that the rest of the team seems to be buying in, as Antropov and Stajan and Co. have been performing at a level that can and should be winning hockey games.

I'd rather Sundin have no points than be exploited in his own end. He made a great play in the first period when the Leafs bent but didn't break, quickly clearing a rebound past a pouncing Sabre. But where was the commitment to winning in the third?

Sorry to say it, but when you get performances like you did last night from Raycroft, Kilger, Antropov, Stajan, Pohl and don't win, it's going to be another season out of the playoffs.

The only positive from the last two games is that Antropov is starting to dominate every shift he is out there. Crosby didn't like his attentive play much. He was giving the Sabres fits last night. His PK is impressive. Maybe he'll make the All-Star game this year.

Of course, the mere mentioning of his progress has my Spidey sense tingling. Let this be the year he remains healthy and stays on a roll. Please.



Boo Yaa

TOR vs NYI 10/11/07

First of all, congrats to Mats.

White is no longer trade bait. He has shown the most initiative of all the blue liners so far this season, and is even becoming a target by other teams because of it. He's dangerous, folks. Other teams know it, and that is a stamp of approval that counts. Last year, he was targeted because teams thought they could exploit his dimunitive size with their forecheck. So far this year, he is being targeted because he is testing the defence or pinching to keep the play alive. Last night, I thought he took his foot of the gas a bit after he got clocked into a linesman, only to look foolish a second later after he made another great play. Keep it up, Whitey!

Simon Gamanche. I didn't get a chance to see him in the preseason, but if he played anything like he did last night his not making the team can only be explained as a motivational ploy. He's nimble, quick, aggressive, patient with the puck, tenacious, has a shot, and was nick named 'Animal' of Muppet fame by my special lady last night for his wild hair. If he keeps playing this way, 'Animal' might work on more than an appearance level.

How good was Stajan? Yeah, four points is nice, but he was winning battles all over the ice. Tucker looked alive. I don't know what his problem was, be he needs to realize he is considered a veteran leader, and playing like a wet sack of poop is unacceptable. Gamanche looked like he belonged. Hopefully he stays. He may be smaller than Poni, but there is no question Simon has far superior hands. Kilger, Belak and Newby were awesome. Probably because they didn't have a shift in their own end, but whatever. That is the kind of energy line this team needs. And how about Antro's line starting all three periods? Nice moves all around for Maurice. Shuffled the lines, managed egos and rewarded good play. Kudos.

Who's powerplay was that? It wasn't fantastic, but scoring off the rush with the extra man seemed to have entered the equation which was nice to see. There was movement of both the puck and players once they were set up in the zone. The refs were being extremely kind to the Leafs last night, so even the PP looked a little gassed at times.

Did someone switch on deke mode? Kaberle and Steen might actually win this team a game or two in the shoot out this year with those moves. I was shocked. No dilly-dallying. Just confident decisive moves at speed.

This is the type of game that a blind midget could've won for the Leafs in goal. Sure, Raycroft was aggressive on his angles, challenging shooters, but that is to be expected. Nothing glaringly horrible. Nothing spectacular. The goal that did get by was a terrific deflection. I initially thought it was another shot from the blue line past his glove hand, but I was unjustly harsh.

And why through the entire broadcast last night (I had the Fox NY feed) was there no mention of Berard's steroid issue from last year? Sean Hill wasn't the only doper discovery last year. How ironic, another Islander.

I'd like to see long the Leafs can sustain this level of effort and intensity before the next let down, as I think if they can keep it going for atleast six games it would bode very well for the season. If the let down happens before the return engagement in Pittsburgh, then I'll not only be pissed, but worried.

UPDATE - Go check Cox Bloc if Damien ever rubs you the wrong way. Great Stuff. Credit to PPP.



Post of the Day

I'm sure you have already been there today, probably more than once, but I've been wanting to see a post like this for years. It is pure poolie porn; Preferred Powerplay Combinations of all 30 teams.

Nice work, Mirtle!



Careful what you wish for...

TOR vs CAR 10/09/07

"Maybe I should tank the next game and let Raycroft have a few starts?"

Not in the dog house - Vesa Toskala, Jason Blake, Ian White, Alex Steen, Nik Antropov, Matt Stajan.



"Did I forget to mention...

I have leukemia."

I want to know the date of this diagnosis (initial detection during 09/25/07 screening). I want to know if Blake knew of his condition before signing his five year contract (nope). I want to know if JFJ knew of the condition (negatory).

Treatable or not, Maurice bumped Blake off the first line on Saturday night because he, or the entire line, looked tired. Sure, it might just be the start of the season and the speedster isn't in midseason form, but this does not bode well.

And while I understand the need to manage expectations heading into the season, keeping this information from fans is not going to win JFJ any fans, regardless of how well Toskala plays.

UPDATE - If the early reports prove accurate, the disease was discovered at the training camp physical. What an unfortunate turn of events for a newly signed unrestricted free-agent. And this has to be considered a vote of competence for the Leafs' medical staff.

I feel embarassed by my initial reaction. I'm accustomed to assuming JFJ has been bamboozled yet again after the Bell miscalculation.

Hearts and thoughts

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TOR vs MTL 10/06/2007

Leafs Lines

Leafs Pairs


The story of the game, apart from some questionable refereeing, had to be Poni's immediate impact once skating with Sundin and Antro. But since you'll have read about that by now, I'm looking at another under reported trend. No, not McCabe skating with White, or Kaberle's best friend being Danny Markov. But Gill and Woz skating with Sundin's line. Kaberle and Kubina and McCabe and White are supporting lines 2-4, while the big pair back up Sundin & Co.

This is a paragdigm shift if there ever was one, and one that might kill Kaberle's awesome fantasy league value. Gone are the assists from feeding a streaking Sundin who finds a winger who scores. Those gimme assists will fall to Woz'n'Gill. I suspect this experiment is born from seeing success around the league by teams that don't deploy L1 with offensive minded defensive pairings. Think Malik and Rosival always skating with Jagr, Straka and Nylander last season.

I like it for a couple reasons. First, it provides the best opportunity to clear the D zone against the opposition's top line, if they are matched L1-L1. It also spreads the wealth. The Maple Leafs' strength is offense from the blue line. Utilizing the 2 offensive minded pairings with the less talented forward lines puts eggs in as many baskets as possible.

This may be a short lived test, because if the big lugs can't find the forwards consistently with a pass the test will be a failure. But so far, so good. Apart from the three minors Woz took.

Game notes - Steen made a great reception from McCabe for his initial shot. He collected the rebound, found White, who walked in and blasted top shelf. Maurice needs some collar stays. First Saturday game of the year, and his collar is curling like a quarter pipe. Ron MacClean's sign off from Coach's Corner had me rolling. "A little something for all who stick'er out, from the guy who has to stick'er in," immediately followed by a puzzled expression of disbelief in what he had just read aloud.



Marek Malik On Pace For 246 Points

NYR vs FLA 10/4/07StatsScore Sheet

Rangers Lines

Rangers Pairs


For the second year in a row the Rangers scored on their first shot of the season. And for the first forty minutes of yesterday's game it appeared that that would be the only good news coming out of MSG on opening night.

With the crowd still in a Leetch-induced frenzy (he dropped the ceremonial first puck), the Blueshirts came out on fire. I had barely settled into my seat when Jagr took a breakout feed, passed to Drury, who in turn passed (deflected) to Rozsival --- BANG! 37 seconds into the season and it is 1-0 for home team. It looked like candy and sunshine for the ‘07-‘08 Rangers… Candy, sunshine, and Czech defensemen.

Soon after though, the wheels came off. For the next half hour the Rangers looked like a bunch of flailing, wasted bar brawlers who couldn’t find the fight, much less get into it. They didn’t do anything right. And if it wasn’t for Henrik, they would have been beaten senseless by the Panthers on their own ice. Lundqvist kept them in it. He does that from time to time, I’ve heard.

Then, sometime during the second intermission, Marek Malik stepped into a phone booth and came out wearing a Bobby Orr cape. Make no mistake, Malik, the whipping boy of many a Garden faithful (myself included), was the man that brought this team back. It was Malik’s crafty backhand pass that found Prucha all by himself on the left wing for the game-tying goal. Petr finished it, but that was Marek’s work and Marek’s pass that earned the tally.

Mere minutes later, it was Malik again, this time firing a cannon from the left point, allowing Jagr to collect a rebound, and then Drury to find another before pocketing his first goal on Broadway. It also happened to be the game-winner. I’ve heard that Drury had a knack for those sorts of goals and it was nice to see. It was also just the spark the home crowd and home team needed. Floodgates: Open.

Malik earned praise tonight, but Girardi still has our heart

It’s worth saying again, though. This was all because of Marek Malik. Yes, he made a dimwitted play or two. Everyone does. Malik just happens to be 6’6” so when he errs everyone knows it. But tonight was his night. And apparently people noticed. He was treated to cheers at MSG for the first time since his shoot-out goal. At one point, impressed by his play, Jagr asked him, “What’s going on?” According to Jagr, the big defenseman replied, ‘I have to do it all by myself.’

Candy, sunshine, and Czech defensemen.

Others Notes:
- Vokoun looked rattled and rattle-able. Prucha’s goal got through him. Drury’s came on the second juicy rebound of the flurry. Callahan’s goal was nice, but should have been stopped. Straka got his on a shot that came off the back-boards. All of them were stoppable, none were.

- The second Panther goal was deflected. Lundqvist was keyed on Horton’s shot, but it went off the player in front and sailed the other way over Hank’s right shoulder. I only mention this because Hank was unfortunate to get beat by a good number of deflection goals last year (many off his own teammates). I’m keeping track this year.

- Jagr was held to two assists. He had a solid game, not nearly as quiet as some are saying this morning.

- I love Dan Girardi, but only in a hockey-fan sorta way (I swear). See photo above for further details.

- Marc Staal has played better hockey games. And I’m sure he will play better hockey games in the future. Despite a hiccup or two, I offer a big Raking Leafs’ Rangers Correspondent congratulations to the Thunder Bay kid for his first NHL game. Well done, #18.

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TOR @ OTT 10/04/07 - Stats

Leafs Lines

Leafs Pairs


Truth be told, one point of a possible four is what I expected in these first two games. Sadly, I was right. But the games did illustrate the Leafs are alot closer to their rivals than I had given them credit for, and there are alot of positives to build on for the remaining eighty games of the regular season.

First and foremost, Blake and Antropov look dangerous. Sundin doesn't have his legs yet, and at this point the other two are carrying him. Once he gets up to speed, this could be a scary good trio.

The second line is producing. It is only two games, but so what. Steen and Stajan and Poni aren't winning any style points, but the puck is going in. Their play should provide a boost to the rest of team.

Boyd is looking solid. His skating is top 5 on the team, and this should see him usurp Tucker on the third line at some point. I'm not sure how the fourth would look without him, (Bates - Newbury - Tucker?) but the third would be able to skate with almost anybody and cycle effectively. When Bell debuts, where does he fit? Does he bump Pohl down to L4, and skate with Kilger and Boyd? Bates-Pohl-Tucker is a very decent L4. Or is B3 a possibility?

Woznewski can hang. Apart from an awkward faceplant into the boards of his own doing, Andy doesn't look out of place. Automatically deferring the puck to Gill on the break out won't work all season, but for now it is letting him build his confidence. Could this be JFJ's pump and dump project leading to a masterstroke trade?

Toskala, Toskala, Toskala. That is what a starting goaltender looks like. Challenging the shooter, moving quickly laterally, reading the play early, making the tough traffic stops look routine. His tracking of the puck is exceptional. Even the way he follows the puck when it goes behind the net is a step above Raycroft. My nerves won't be nearly as taxed this season everytime the opposition shoots the puck.

I imagine I'll have plenty of inspiration to critique this team in the coming weeks, so I'll leave it on an up note for today.

UPDATE - This blog is due for a link update/cleaning, but in the mean time I wanted to say thanks to Pens Blog for mentioning Raking Leafs in their Northeast division preview. If you've never been over there, check them out. Also, go check out PPP's new digs. Gone is .blogspot. and in with the photoshop. Pension Plan Puppets is lookin' good, and gets an extra special endorsement from my extra special lady friend.




TOR vs OTT 10/03/07 - Stats - Score Sheet

Leaf Lines

Leaf Pairs


Started well, except for the minor bullshit eight seconds in, and an out of sync powerplay that couldn't move the puck and consequently gave up a shortie to some streaking comet. Bounced back with some scripted lobs for Blake to retrieve. Antro showed nice patience in the slot on goal #2. But they couldn't keep a lead. Regulars looked rusty, especially Kaberle and Kilger, but managed to finish the first tied at two.

The second period is where this game should've been decided. The Leafs won the physical battle, which was really the tactical battle by not allowing the Sens to skate circles around the Leafs, and Stajan scored the only goal after getting clocked earlier in the shift. The delay of game penalty was nice to see considering how often the Sens got away with that last year.

WARNING: Hit him and he will make you pay

In the third the Leafs wilted. All of the things they had done to be effective stopped happening and the Sens roared to life. With such a high octane team, the Leafs need to keep the enitre game in the trenches. Not just for fifty minutes.

Of course, there are pluses and minuses. The team showed spark and resolve to come back from down one, get a lead twice, remained disciplined, and generally took the Senators' off their game. Woz'n'Gill performed well. The PK was effective, using Boyd and Kilger and Steen and Stajan as forward pairings. Antro was out there too, and almost single-handedly killed off a man disadvantage clearing the zone twice on extra effort plays exploiting his reach. Steen was shooting the puck wherever he could. Stajan bounced back from getting plastered to score a crucial, at the time, goal. White showed good jump. Blake looks great. He even did his signature circle the zone and get a shot off routine.

The minuses include Kilger hot potatoing the puck everywhere. If it wasn't rolling off his blade when shooting, it wasn't settling down for him. He had a couple of games like this last year, so hopefully he got one of the duds out of his system early. Kaberle looked lackadaisical and disinterested. Game 1 excuses provided by me. But not for long. Tucker getting run over and then hobbling to the bench. That isn't what Tucker gets paid for. I'm glad others stepped up, but Tucker isn't effective when he isn't the one doing the intimidating. Poni gave the game away when he didn't switch to cover Heatley. That should not happen at the NHL level. Period. That is a rookie mistake that would get said rookie benched or even sent down for a while to remind him of the import of defensive coverage, especially against the opposition's top scoring line. Of course, the commentary was about how Heatley was able to find space, but a moron could've solved urban cramping given that kind of space. This is not to say Heatlet's overtime winner wasn't a thing of beauty and pain. (Is there a word for that combination?)

Raycroft, and it wasn't even his glove hand.

And most worrying, is that the team of 06-07 would outplay a team for the majority of the sixty minutes only to give it all back in a couple of shifts, which is what happened last night. The effort was great, but it wasn't consistent enough to maintain tactical advantage and preserve the win.

But enough nitpicking and fretting. Maurice threw together a couple of one shift lines that had potential in the third. Let's see if any of those surface again tonight. UPDATE - Maybe Maurice should reserve the line experimentation for when the team is losing to provide spark, rather than disrupting combinations that have produced a lead. Just a thought.



A quick note

For all the hoopla being created by the media about which goaltender is #1, or who will start the season against Ottawa, and how JFJ's fate is linked with Toskala's play, it really is all crap, no matter how many times you read "it really all comes down to [insert name here]," which is guaranteed to pop up mid way through the season when the politicking inevitably begins.

I know the story line is oh so tempting, and oh so predictable, but the goalie "controversy" is no such thing. Tandems were used widely last season by successful teams, and is becoming a smart strategy for the long haul of te 82 game schedule. The crease will take care of itself. The real issue is from the crease out, in particular team defense. Why this isn't the rhythm of the drum in t.dot, I have no idea. Or maybe I do. Maybe it is because MLSE wants to market an 'exciting' brand of hockey, and who doesn't want to watch an exciting brand of hockey, right? I know, fans who want to watch winning hockey. That's who!

So stop pitting the team's two tenders against one another. Because in the end, it really all comes down to winning. Not who is in goal.


Not buying into it

p.s. - Alienating Sundin, however much sugar you coat it with, isn't much better of a story line.

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This is a marathon, not a race

I was a little more patient this year making predictions about the upcoming season. I figured changing predictions three weeks later, and a week before the puck drops for reals, was a tad premature. Having learned that valuable life lesson while procrastinating at an elite level, I'm back for more. I posted my guesses last Friday over at spofi.

(2)NYR - Hank the Tank and the Invisible D should be a band name.
(4)Pitt - aged like Bourbon, 1 year in Pitt is like 4 years elsewhere
(7)PHI - Little Montreal, with Biron, Gagne and Briere running the show
NJD - Sorry folks, the playoff streak ends here. It has to, right?
NYI - Ricky D is a force, but not an unstoppable one.

(1)OTT- Hoping for a President's Trophy curse on this one.
(5)BUF - All those games they should've lost last year, this year they will.
(6)TOR - Wellwood is gonna....nevermind. Fingers crossed.
MON - Koivu won't let this team fall, but even strength play needs help.
BOS - Kessel should entertain. Manny pines for midwest.

(3)CAR - Ward, Kaberle, Staal, Cullen all due for a rebound.
(8)FLA - Defensive scheme should prevail in offense first division
ATL - Can't get to the playoffs without a L1 center
WAS - Did you know Kolzig is from South Africa?
TMP - Surpised they made it the past two seasons. Luck runs out.

(1)DET - Franzen scares me
(7)NAS - Maybe too high, but I love their style of play
CHI - Wall and Havlat are key. Yanic, Williams are clicking with Bourque
STL - Paul Kariya is not dumb. Tkachuk almost scored 30 last year.
COL - I had faith before last season. Hitchcock has his work cut out.

(3)VAN - Offense? We don't need no stinkin' offense!
(5)COL - Defense? We don't need no stinkin' defense!
(6)MIN - Dominic Moore between Demitra and Gaborik? Uh, ok.
CAL - Kipper, Phaneuf and Iggy are good for not last place, right?
EDM - Tough division to come out of nowhere. Could surprise conference.

(2)SJ - Fast start will carry them through. No back up for Nabby worrying.
(4)ANA - Slow start, but reinforcements wait in the wings.
(8)LA - If not for horrendous tending, they were a playoff team last year.
DAL - Offense, we need a stinking offense.
PHX - Yipes!

FINALS - NYR vs ANA (Ducks in 5)


Tossing Darts At The Sports Section

Again, it's JP, not the Ninja. His predictions come later.

NHL Eastern Conference Predictions

(2) New Jersey - Gomez and Rafalski gone, Brodeur is not.
(4) Pittsburgh - Can they keep the puck out of their net?
(7) New York Rangers - Slow start, late charge.
Philadelphia - They’re better, but not good enough.
New York Islanders - They’re worse, but they won’t roll over for anyone.

(1) Ottawa - The class of the East. Still.
(6) Buffalo - They lost a lot, but I still see them working their way in.
Montreal - I don’t know what to make of this team.
Toronto - Too many questions. I’ll be hoping for the right answers, but…
Boston - If you want a dark horse, pick the Bruins. I’m not that gutsy.

(3) Carolina - Rebound year.
(5) Tampa Bay - Too much talent here, but their backline still needs help.
(8) Washington - I like the mix of youth and veterans.
Atlanta - A step back for the Trash this year.
Florida - A popular pick, but I’m not sold.

NHL Western Conference Predictions

(1) Detroit - Consistency continues in Sameville.
(5) St. Louis - My surprise team. I have a soft spot for John Davidson.
Nashville - How can you expect a gutted team to succeed?
Chicago - There is finally something to be hopeful about in the Windy City.
Columbus - Hitchcock’s team will be tough to play against (sometimes).

(3) Vancouver - Luongo, Luongo, Luongo.
(6) Colorado - Reloaded and ready? Depends on their netminders.
(8) Minnesota - Too much talent not to make the play-offs this year.
Edmonton - Can’t make up for the loss of heart (Smyth) and soul (Smith).
Calgary - Is the lackluster pre-season a sign? Keenan may explode.

(2) Anaheim - Everyone will be gunnin’ for the Champs.
(4) San Jose - Loaded, but they don’t inspire confidence for some reason.
(7) Dallas - Consistent play and a good goalie gets you a playoff spot.
Los Angeles - This team is growing. Watch out for them.
Phoenix - This team is floundering. A new rebuild begins now.


Eastern Conference Finals: Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh

Western Conference Finals: Detroit vs. Vancouver

Stanley Cup Finals: Ottawa vs. Vancouver


Stanley Cup: Canucks in 7
President’s Trophy: Ottawa Senators
Hart: Sidney Crosby
Vezina: Roberto Luongo
Calder: Erik Johnson
Adams: Andy Murray
Selke: Rod Brind’Amour
Smythe: Roberto Luongo
Byng: Chris Simon



A Case of The Sposetas

Another interlude from RL’s New York Rangers correspondent…

I’m a Mets fan. I woke up this morning from a painful nightmare only to be reminded that it wasn’t actually a painful nightmare. Rather, it was an even more painful reality. Ugh.

The Mets were supposed to win the NL East. They were favored, the experts predicted it, and they were leading for 95% of the season. Still, this is sports and in the world of sports sometimes things don’t happen the way they are supposed to. If they did, the San Diego Chargers would be 3-1 instead of 1-3, Tiger would have beat Weir, and I wouldn’t be crying into an orange and blue hanky right now.

Also, the New York Rangers wouldn’t even have to take the ice this year and they would be granted a pass through to the conference finals. You see, much like the Mets, the experts are weighing in and picking the Blue Shirts to cruise through to the play-offs. Melrose even called them the class of the East, though that might have been the fumes from his hair gel talking.

Me, I’m not so sure they finish that high. In fact, in my yet-to-be-released season predictions, I don’t even have them winning their division. Yes, they had a productive year last year, even improving on the campaign previous to that one. And yes, they signed two All-Star caliber centers, and two players who I feel will fit well with the unit as a whole. But, you must understand, I’m a Rangers fan and I’ve seen this act play out before. In pre-lock-out days, all too often New York signed all the right players only to have the season crash down before them in a heap of over-hype and exaggerated disappointment. Dollars were flung around in a similar manner during the summer of ’07 and it’s my honest hope that the same fate does not befall that money. I sit here, excited for the season, but history doesn’t allow me to get too excited. Instead, because of the parallels to past years and perhaps due to the fresh wounds opened by my favorite baseball team, I’m actually a bit… I don’t know… Scared.

I’m nervous. I’m frightened. I’m on edge. I’m apprehensive.

In the end, I do envision this team recovering from a slow start, but right now I’m even worried about that recovery. And the slow start hasn’t even happened yet. Surely, that’s a result of the recent re-learning of a timeless and obvious sports lesson: You don’t make the playoffs before the season starts.

Regardless, I can’t wait for the year to begin if only so I can get this nagging feeling out of my mind.

Elsewhere --- The indispensable San Weinman just sent word via his blog, Rangers Report, that Dawes, Anisimov and Montoya were the final three New York cuts and are on their way to the Hartford Wolfpack. As such, the opening night line-up will look something like this:

Straka – Gomez – Jagr
Avery – Drury – Shanahan
Callahan - Dubinsky – Prucha
Hossa – Betts – Hollweg

Rozsival – Malik
Girardi – Tyutin
Staal – Mara

Lundqvist / Valiquette

Scratched: Strudwick, Orr, Pock

Note: The line combinations are fictional. I made them up. I do not coach the New York Rangers.

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