Post-Game Thoughts: Leafs Impressive on HOF Night
With Kessel and Gustavsson integrating themselves into the lineup, the team seems poised to break off a big-time run to put themselves back into the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture. The team is playing very well of late and continued to build on that with an impressive 5-1 victory at home against the Detroit Red Wings on Hall of Fame night.
Update: During post-game media scrum, Wilson says Komisarek‘s injury not serious.
The Maple Leafs appear to be clicking on all cylinders right now, slowly building momentum with a string of strong performances over the past two weeks. The powerplay has continued to carry the team offensively, the penalty killing has been perfect over the past 4 games, and now the Monster is beginning to run away with the starting job between the pipes.
Assorted notes and observations from tonight’s game:
- Right from the opening faceoff tonight, you could feel the Leafs wanted to make a statement game, starting out with a couple good early shifts highlighted by some good work along the boards by Niklas Hagman. Kudos to the Leafs for maintaining the intensity for the full 60 minutes tonight, marking easily their most complete game from start to finish so far this season. Excellent specialty teams play, strong forechecking, high energy and speed, topped off by spectacular goaltending all contributed to the lopsided win.
- Who would’ve thunk it, but Blake and Kessel seem to be working out quite well so far in the early going. Although Blake continues to love playing with the puck on his stick, the difference right now is that rather than settle for low percentage shots, he is using his speed effectively to create passing lanes and is looking for Phil at every opportunity. While all the attention is being focussed on Blake weaving back and forth along the boards (without losing it, which is a pleasant change), Kessel is doing what he does best and that’s lurking around and finding seams in the 5 on 5 set defense. On his stick, off his stick in a split second and there’s a an instant scoring chance. This should be an interesting duo to watch for the rest of the season.
- Not to be forgotten in that trio is John Mitchell, who played a strong game tonight, controlling play along the boards and crashing the net on a number of occasions. It seemed like a strange decision at first, but it appears Wilson made the right choice in swapping out Stajan from this line. They did try to go back to Matt on that line for a handful of shifts tonight, but without a whole lot of success. As for Stajan, he had a bizarre game in my eyes, somehow recording a point, +2 rating, and 60% faceoff percentage but still managed to lose a ton of puck battles and look invisible for much of the night.
- What can you say about Jeff Finger? Sits out a a while and comes in on Friday night to shake off the rust. The next night, he comes back with a 2 point night, solid all-around performance in 18 minutes of ice-time. Speaking of “invisible”, Jeff is exactly that but in the good sense of the word in that as a defenseman he’ll quietly do his job without standing out. No glaring mistakes, a handful of good individual plays, highlighted by a few points tonight. With Komisarek potentially out with a lower body injury, it appears Jeff is going to get another chance to re-establish his worth in Wilson’s eyes.
- Props to Phil Kessel for his first goal and multi-point night in a Leaf uniform, despite actually delivering a stronger performance during his debut against the Lightning. He already appears quite comfortable exchanging passes with Kaberle from the left faceoff circle on the powerplay, much like he did for the Bruins during his time with them. Between Kessel’s righthanded snipe from the left side and Stempniak’s good low point shot from the right, I like the way Wilson is insulating Kaberle with a pair of shooting options on either side. Opposing teams are going to have a horrific time defending that trio, and you may have noticed the Red Wings forwards cheating high towards Kessel to take away his shot during the 3rd period. That may lead to increased use of the low cross ice pass/shot from Kaberle that Gus touched upon last week.
- Grabovski looks like a very different player from the one we first saw early last season. He’s playing stronger on the puck along the boards and is positioning himself better to absorb hits in a way that he can maintain puck possession. He’s also made great strides to improve upon his major weakness from last season, the faceoff circle, winning 75% of his draws tonight. The young Belarussian chipped in an assist, now putting him on an 82 game pace of 66 points. The Leafs did well to lock up the 25 year old to a reasonable contract that will see him earn just $2.9M/season for another 2 years after this one. It’s beginning to look like they may have found themselves a player here, whom is beginning to round out nicely into a two-way threat.
- Niklas Hagman is another player who delivered a fantastic effort tonight, despite not making it onto the scoresheet. He played quite sparingly, receiving just under 13 minutes of ice-time on the night, but was certainly a stand-out performer on a number of plays. He did an excellent job with Stempniak choking off the neutral zone rush during the penalty kill and battled hard along the boards to kill off several valuable seconds. One particular play that stood out to me tonight was an end-to-end footrace with one of the Detroit blueliners during the penalty kill where Hagman pushed himself at full speed just to tap it off the defender’s stick a few more feet into the zone and proceeded to turn around and skate at full speed back the other way to break up the play a second time after the outlet pass had been made. A few seconds later you could see him coming off the ice absolutely gassed; that’s the kind of exemplary effort you need night in and night out if you want to win.
- The last player I wanted to touch on tonight was Ian White, whom many of you know is a favourite of mine. Another 2 assists tonight, +2 rating, and a number of underrated but key defensive breakups on odd-man rushes. Besides the obvious puck moving ability and uncanny ability to get shots through from the point, it’s strange to note that the diminutive defender rarely loses those 1-on-1 battles, even against larger more physical forwards. Excellent positioning, an active stick and good upper body strength go a long way in aiding White’s evolution into a very good young blueliner.
- Interesting stat: Gustavsson’s numbers now stand at a 2.60 GAA and .918 SV%
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In the last 7 or 8 games we have played very well and for the most part have been the better team in each of those games, yet were still tied for 28th place in the entire league, so the question is where do we go from here? In five games we will have reached the quarter pole of the season, is it realistic for us to jump past 6 teams and make the playoffs? Of course it is possible but it will definitely be tough. The first place to start is games within the division. As it stands right now we are fifth in the Northeast and in order to have any shot at the playoffs we will have to finish at least 3rd. From November 30 to December 26 the Leafs will play 9 divisional games, and these games will either get us seriously back in the playoff hunt or will be a huge nail in the coffin of eliminating us. The other teams that we are competing with to gain a spot are Florida, Atlanta, NYI, and Tampa Bay. Out of all these teams the one that scares me the most is Tampa. I believe that we are a much better club than FLA, ATL, and NYI, and if we continue to play solid defense and get good goaltending we will finish ahead of them in the standings. The reason Tampa scares me is that they have a very potent offense right now since Malone and Stamkos have picked up the pace from last year, and if VL ever regains his form they will be very scary. The acquisitions of Ohlund and Hedman have somewhat solidified their defense corp and they have a very respectable 1-2 punch in net. Smith has been pretty good so far and Nittymaki has been unbelievable lately, just look at Kessel’s first game. Add all of this to a weaker division now that carolina has seemed to have lost their game, TB looks to have a good shot of making the playoffs. The Leafs are currently 6pts out of 7th(Tampa) and 5pts behind their division rivals Boston, Ottawa, and Montreal. There is obviously plenty of time to make up these points but head to head match ups will be absolutely critical from here on out as all of those games will be 4 point matchups. It is never too early to look at the playoff race especially after the start the Leafs have had. Hopefully the players are smart enough to realize how important these upcoming games will be (especially in December) and get up for them and win a few.
sharp can be a third forth line guy sharp is the same type of player as stajan but with jonathon toews and patrick kane shooting pucks of him…sharp is a little better but same type of player if stajan was playing in chicago i can bet hed have as many points as sharp… my point is too many people rag on stajan hes not a first line guy so stop saying hes terrible cause hes not top two line material hes gunna be dynamite on the third forth line and the pk i really liked how he was used last night although i wouldve rather seen him on the third line instead of wallin cause hes got more offense than wallin
@ Only Sharp isn’t a third line guy! . Jordan said it was on the pp, which wouldn’t count for the +/-. Haven’t checked that, but I’ll believe him. . I just checked and Finger’s assist wasn’t on the pp… so I really don’t get it unless maybe you’re right.
the finger thing didnt he make a pass and jump on the bench so he got an assist but wasnt actually on the ice so wasnt given a plus maybe??
i dont know why every one continues to shit on stajan hes a good player hes not playing himself off the roster hes just being put on a line that makees the leafs successful hes a third line forth line guy who plays pk i have always been a fan of stajan hes been a leader in the dressing room for a while hes always the one talking to reporters after the game but i never believed he was a top notch player. i think stajan is a great player but that doesnt mean i feel he should be a top two line guy he should be centring the third line with a guy named hanson and a guy named Dustin Byfuglien or patrick sharp. so honestly id love to see one person justify there hate of him. just because hes not on the top two lines doesnt mean he shouldnt have an A on his jersey or shouldnt be on this team HES A GREAT DEPTH GUY so wake up and post about how bad aki berg is if you need to hate someone
Could Kessel be Blake’s “Yashin” from his point getting days on the island? Not saying that Kessel plays like Yashin (far from it), but it seems Blake finally has a lot more JUMP and JAM since playing with him. Maybe it’s the possibility of TEAM USA and teaming up together there too…. Just making conversation.
Everytime I miss a first period the Leafs win. I’m 2-0 this year! :) Gusmonster aka GM was great and the team’s fragile ego from the Toskala-powered shellacking at the start of the year looks to be rapidly healing. Hopefully, BB doesn’t lose sight of the rebuilding that needs to be done – and can be opportunistic and trim some of the excess flab from this team as it emerges from last place to the lofty heights of … second last! We still need some muscle up front – and how odd that this is a BB team without his promised toughness on our forward lines. I’m happy to see Primeau and Finger score. It gives the team the sense that everyone is contributing. Go Whitey!
Who the hell is this “gus” everyone keeps referring to? Gustavsson? The MONSTER? Is that what you are trying to say? Thank God people are not actually using “goose” but “gus” is just as pointless. Just say “monster”, a couple extra letters to type, please do it! Ack, I better go get a coffee.
Maybe if I snap my fingers I’ll get back to MLHS. Could it be that easy Beverly. Make it so, Wesley.
Since most hockey related topics have been well covered and discussed, I hope the MLHS denizens will allow me to vent about THE FUCKING DOUCHEBAG BROADCASTERS! God Damn! I am SO SICK of the commentators on HNIC that I actually miss the geriatric fog of Bob Cole. At least he had a personality. The two tools blabbering their way through the game made it sound like it was Detroit leading 3 – nothing for the bulk of the game, spewing their collective wad as they verbally jerked off anyone in the Red Wing organization, the platers the coaches… Even Wasgood, who was plain awful, got a lengthy ass licking after making A SAVE, and the two cheerkeaders in the booth were calling for an almost inevitable Wings comeback just because they killed off a penalty. Look, I know the Red Wings are a great organization. I know Lidstrom is a single digit number of alk time kind of d man. I respect the talent of their players and the vision of their front office and coaches. But the anti Leaf sentiment, the government mandated sweeping under the rug if all things Leafs is just too much, and simetimes I simply boil over. Newsflash HNIC: YOUR SHOW WOULD NOT EXIST, NONE OF YOU WOULD HAVE JOBS uf it wasnt for Toronto and the Leafs. For that matter, many teams in the NHL would not see a sell out save for the few visits by the Leafs. Since when did it become synonimous with political correctness to show this ignorance towards the Leafs?! And even Hendrik on LeafsTV, a guy I generally see as a twit, albeit a harmless and seemingly pleasant one, made me homicidal today. He interviews Gusto after the game – lets remenber, the one HE WON, keeting in only ONE GOAL AND MAKING 35 FUCKING SAVES… and this load that should have been swalkowed asks him… about the one goal he let in, implying that he has a lot to adjust to in the N. American game! For fuck sakes, is this a joke? Is Hendrik senile? Or just stoooooopid? Thanks for letting me vent, I am off to kill some 12 year olds on line, maybe blow off some aggretion on CoD :) Oh yeah, IAN WHITE FOR CAPTAIN.
Have had him in my Yahoo pool for some time,……full time starter. What can you say, the numbers don’t lie. The guy kicks ass….
@ leafs_20 Didn’t see most of the game, so glad to hear it was possibly Schenn’s best game, but I did see him get undressed near the end of the game by Brad “the Magician” May … Ouch! Hopefully his confidence is returning… I have a feeling he might have some lingering effects from that knee problem in the summer, because he just doesn’t seem as quick or mobile as he did before…