Post-Game: Leafs/Isles – The Deadline Dangles

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    In a shaky and at times sloppy game, the Leafs pulled out of yet another overtime with a shootout win.  Vesa Toskala had a night in net that was a simple summary of his season to date: solid at times, with glaring weaknesses and questionable play marring his effort as a whole.  Nonetheless, in a tilt that saw another Leaf rookie debut and a season stalwart leave the game with an injury, Toronto ironically secured two points against one of the very teams that many “tank-minded” fans badly want to see move up in the standings.

    Here are some notes from this Thursday night tussle:

    -The Kulemin-Grabovski-Hagman line has finally regained some of their dash from the earlier part of the season.  An interesting observation is that it has coincided with an elevation in the play of ALL three players, who experienced obvious degradations in their games over the middle portion of the campaign.  Not much has seemed to change in the play of Hagman or Grabovski, other than their confidence as this has a large factor in the success of the risky, skilled tactics they employ.  On the other hand, Nikolai Kulemin has definitely become more engaged in the game in recent matches, as involvement on the ice has been missing for large stretches of the year.  To say that they are out of the woods completely would be preemptive, as Mikhail Grabovski had a horrendous giveaway on Bergenheim’s shorthanded goal.  Here’s to hoping that the final member of this line, Niklas Hagman, recovers quickly from a fly-by elbow courtesy of Brendan Witt.

    -Tim Stapleton showed flashes of why he has been such a force for the Toronto Marlies this year.  Speed and determination have become much more prominent in the Leaf organization in the last two seasons.  It seems that Leaf management finally got the memo about what works in the “new NHL”.  Good job by Ron Wilson for putting the kid in for the shootout.  Better job by said kid to bury it like a pro.

    -Early on, it seemed like Vesa Toskala would finally be rewarded for his strong play of late, possibly with a shutout.  Then, as if they wanted to set that meaningless overtimes-in-a-row record (this season) that the commentators viciously beat to death, the team as a whole decided to stop playing. Long stretches of running around in their own zone lead to comeback goals on the Leafs netminder, along with some horrendous gaffes of his own.  You could knock it down to a tired team on the back leg of two games in a row–but for a squad that is clearly not headed for the playoffs, you have to expect that they will be prone to taking shifts, or even nights off.  Really, this is something new for Leaf fans in the past decade.  While the last few seasons have obviously not involved postseason trips for Toronto, they have (unfortunately) been races to the last stretches of the season.  The overwhelming and inevitable hopelessness of any one campaign is a fresh, but bitter sensation.

    Following that train of thought, most of us can agree that the definite upside to this is that we are losing with a direction. Part of this involves securing high draft picks.  However, the flipside is that soon enough, we will see likely see significant members of the Maple Leafs shipped out of town.  Whilst the rumour mill will constantly churn out names of who exactly is involved, its clear that this will be the first year in recent memory where such changes will occur.  Previous seasons have seen at most the dismissals of studs such as Wade Belak and Chad Kilger, as hands were tied by no trade clauses or an unwillingness to call the season a lost cause.  Regardless of the way the game tonight had gone,  I think we can all agree that the focus of our excitement is increasingly the trade deadline of next week, and the moves to come.

    As always, interested to hear your thoughts.

    Cheers,

    Nik