Rivalry Refreshed

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    A game rife with goals, end-to-end action, controversy and paroxysms of passion… without getting into specifics, this was a belter of a tilt tonight and one that hinted at a renewed rivalry between two age-old foes.

    The Grabovski butt-end, the numerous hits from behind on the Habs’ part, the Leafs’ running of the goalie in some sort second period Glenn Anderson tribute, the backchat, diving, slewfoots and charges… just about everyone was dirty tonight. No need to go into great detail about certain incidents or players, but I should mention that Kostitsyn is a dirty rat bastard. Jks!

    Ron Wilson and Leafs Nation should be absolutely ecstatic with the performance of Mikhail Grabovski tonight (although the butt-end shouldn’t be condoned). He was simply electrifying; disrobing Habs defenders, crawling under the skin of the Habs’ Eastern European contingent, setting up opportunities and taking one of his own. The rookie of the year contender’s A+ performance must be especially satisfying for Grabo personally knowing the history between he and the opponent.

    Line-mate Niklas Hagman was equally as impressive if less scandalous. At the moment, it can’t be argued that the Leafs have two top six players in Hagman and Grabo, but it will be about the consistency of these impressive displays, particularly for the latter. In Hagman, Grabovski and Antropov (with subtle contributions from Poni, Stajan and Moore), it’s safe to say this team’s offensive arsenal is incredibly underestimated.

    Finally the Leafs were awake from the start and saved themselves the customary multi-goal deficit to start the game. This team has been far from anticipated in that it’s starting to look like an offense-first outfit, not one that tries to eke out one goal wins on the back of its defensive system and goaltender.

    *During the stream of goaltending-interference penalties, I was half-expecting the Leafs to let an undisciplined series of play ruin an otherwise fantastic effort to that point. The Leafs impressively brushed off the recurring lead evaporation. Offensively, there was a sense of inevitability about this team tonight when the forward corps applied the pressure, particularly from the effervescent Hagman – Grabovski – Kulemin line.

    *Okay, I promised I wouldn’t… but that Tom Kostopoulos hit was filthy and warrants further discipline from the league. To his credit, based on his immediate reaction he knew he was in the wrong. Van Ryn should have been a little more conscientious in protecting himself. Still, inexcusable.

    *The injury diagnosis on Van Ryn: in addition to suffering a broken nose and finger, he was concussed as a result of the play. It’s reported that he’ll be out about a month. Let’s hope this doesn’t seriously derail what was shaping up to be a great rebound season for VR. Alex Tran has more in his blog.

    *Tomas Kaberle seems as lost as ever defensively. His missed mark was squarely to blame for the first Habs’ goal (when he gave the Habs player the keys to the goal crease).

    *Jiri Tlusty looked spry and had a few opportunities to notch one.

    *The Ponikarovsky – Antropov – Stajan line accumulated seven points tonight. In addition to solid work all night, the line provided the icing to the cake with their beautifully-orchestrated goal followed by a man-sandwich in the corner.

    *Matt Stajan was a monster in the face-off circle, winning eleven of fifteen draws. He also saw nineteen minutes of icetime, more than any other Leaf forward.

    *Kevin Gibson suggests there’s a 95% likelihood that Mats Sundin returns to the Leafs when he makes his long-awaited ’08/’09 arrival. I’m still thinking Rangers. But I’ve got really mixed feelings on a potential Blue and White return. Who doesn’t, to some extent, want to see Mats back for one more round. I just don’t want anything to change right now at center-ice. I fear it would impair the impressive progress of Stajan, Grabovski and Moore.

    A lack of consistency is obviously the biggest fault of this Leafs team as it stands. An inexperienced club is always expected to experience a rollercoaster of ups and downs and it’s a tall task for Ron Wilson to surmount. But if these last 15 games are any indication, I’ll happily strap myself in.

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