In the debut edition of The Weekender, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at the week that was in Leafs Nation, glances ahead at the upcoming week on the schedule, and dishes out thoughts on the rest of the National Hockey League.
The Week That Was
On Monday night the Toronto Maple Leafs authored an amazing comeback in what could possibly go down as the game of the year when all is said and done. Â Losing 4-1 to the high flying Washington Capitals going into the third period, the Leafs stunned the Caps, scoring three unanswered in the third to force extra time. Â To cap off the memorable night, Mikhail Grabovski scored on the spin-o-rama in the shootout. Â Grabovski also scored in regulation to get the rally started. Â Clarke MacArthur had two goals on the night, including the tying goal, while Tim Brent also scored for Toronto. Â Jonas Gustavsson made 32 saves.
Wednesday night the Maple Leafs ran into the buzzsaw known as the Pittsburgh Penguins (more on that later) and were dropped 5-2 by the Penguins, the Penguins 11th straight win. Â Sidney Crosby continued his scoring ways, scoring his 25th and 26th goals of the season. Â Mark Letestu scored twice as well, while Pascal Dupuis added a shorthanded tally. Â Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak replied for the Maple Leafs. Â Jonas Gustavsson made 21 saves in the loss.
Thursday the Leafs were pressed back in action in the second half of a back-to-back against the Philadelphia Flyers and while the effort was better early on, the results were more of the same. Â Philadelphia skated to a 4-1 win at the Air Canada Centre, a win that drew members of Leafs Nation to shower the home team with waffles (waffles?!) Â Daniel Briere had two to pace the Philly offence, while Ville Leino and Chris Pronger also scored. Â For the second straight night Mikhail Grabovski found the back of the net for the Leafs. Â J.S. Giguere made 24 saves in a losing effort.
Saturday saw the arch rival Montreal Canadiens come into the Air Canada Centre, and after finally scoring first and playing with the lead for a change, the Leafs skated to a 3-1 win over Montreal on Hockey Night In Canada. Â Phil Kessel and Tomas Kaberle ended personal goalless streaks, while Kris Versteeg added an empty netter for insurance. Â J.S. Giguere made 22 saves for the victory.
Player Of The Week
An easy pick this week, Mikhail Grabovski paced the Toronto Maple Leafs offense. Â A key contributor to every game the Maple Leafs played this week, the swift skating forward tallied three goals in regulation, and one shootout winner.
“Usually you have your move and I have that one, It’s a Jason Blake (former Leaf) move. I didn’t feel (nervous). We just needed the two points.“–Mikhail Grabovski on his spin-o-rama shootout goal against Washington on Monday.
â€œI donâ€™t appreciate it, really, a guy throwing waffles at me as I am skating by, Almost hit me. I donâ€™t know if the guy was aiming at me or whatever. Who knows? A guy brought waffles. Weâ€™re trying to make light of it in here. Throw a filet, throw a T-bone. Spend some money.â€–Colby Armstrong reacts to Waffle-Gate
Final Thoughts On The Week That Was
Really, who throws waffles? Â The aftermath to Thursday night’s game in which the Flyers skated away from the Air Canada Centre with a 4-1 win will be something I will remember for a long time. Â Never have I seen waffles thrown onto the playing surface in any sporting event. Â I’ve seen snowballs, pizza, disco records, and promotional baseballs, but never waffles.
With that being said, the Toronto Maple Leafs finished the week with two wins and two losses against the class of the Eastern Conference, something they have to be pleased about. Â In fact, if you include Boston, the Leafs finished essentially 3-2 against the top ranked teams in their conference, which is something they can hopefully build on going forward.
The Week Ahead
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished off one of the tougher stretches of their schedule this past week, going through the throngs of hell as far as the Eastern Conference is concerned. Â Their reward? A week-long swing through Western Canada.
On Tuesday they will travel to Edmonton to battle the Oilers for the second time this season. Â The first meeting was in Toronto earlier this month, and saw the Oilers walk all over the Leafs, coasting to a 5-0 victory in which the Leafs were burnt by homegrown talent (which may or may not have had Leafs management gnashing their teeth over the fruits of drafting.) Â For Leafs Nation, Tuesday’s game should be one of the more eagerly anticipated. Â First of all, we know Edmonton has exciting young talent who have skill and speed. Â The Leafs have the speed to match which could make this game fun to watch. Â Further to the point, the Leafs should be out for a measure of revenge after the humiliating loss a few weeks ago.
Thursday the Toronto Maple Leafs will travel to Calgary to tangle with the Flames, a game that will see Dion Phaneuf return to Calgary for the first time since being traded to Toronto last January. Â It will be interesting to see what type of reception the Maple Leafs captain will receive from the Flames faithful. Â Calgary is 4-4-2 in their last ten games, and sit last in the Western Conference.
Saturday night the Maple Leafs return to Hockey Night In Canada for another all-Canadian matchup when they visit the Vancouver Canucks. Â The Canucks sit third in the Western Conference and have amassed to date a home record of 9-3-2, making the Maple Leafs task that much more daunting, especially when you consider Toronto is a dismal 3-8-1 on the road.
3o Teams, 30 Thoughts
Anaheim: I can’t be the only one happy to see Joffrey Lupul back in the National Hockey League. Â After missing 362 days with different injuries, Lupul returned to the Ducks lineup, and was an immediate factor in his return to action.
Atlanta: The Atlanta Thrashers are 8-2 in their last ten games. Â If only people in Atlanta would notice. Â The Thrashers are playing great hockey, and two big reasons why are offseason acquisitions Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, proving that they were more integral to the Blackhawks success than perhaps people realized at the time.
Boston: The Bruins finally pulled the trigger on the Marco Sturm deal, sending the goal scoring winger back to the Pacific Division when they traded him to the Los Angeles Kings. Â The Bruins are struggling with consistency right now, but are still a dangerous team with a good system in place. Â The contributions of Nathan Horton must have Panthers management shaking their heads saying “where was that the last few seasons?!”
Buffalo: Tyler Ennis is quietly putting together a successful rookie campaign that should see him compete for the Calder Trophy if he continues at this current pace. Â He scored a beauty last night, but it wasn’t enough to lift the Sabres past the Penguins.
Calgary: What’s the shelf life of Darryl Sutter in Calgary? Â We just may find out over the next couple of weeks. Â Sitting in dead last in the Western Conference, the Flames have games this week against Columbus, Toronto, and Minnesota, all winnable games for the Flames. Â If they fail to produce W’s this week, it may not be a very Merry Christmas in the Sutter household.
Carolina: The Hurricanes continue to search for consistency in their game, but are proving that last year was more about injuries and man games lost than it was about the team itself. Â The Hurricanes have kept themselves in the playoff hunt past the first quarter of the season. Â Eric Staal is scoring at a point a game pace, while rookie Jeff Skinner has been a pleasant surprise, third in team scoring with 20 points in 28 games.
Chicago: With the players departed from the Stanley Cup run playing integral roles elsewhere around the league (see Byfuglien, Ladd, and Versteeg) the Blackhawks showed the depth of their organization by coming back this season and continuing to be a force in the West. Â Overcoming these losses hasn’t been easy, but the Hawks are doing just fine at it. Â The real question now is how well they will hold up with Patrick Kane on the IR for three weeks.
Colorado: Trading away Scott Hannan should have weakened the Avalanche’s back end, but they haven’t missed a beat. Â Not the biggest name value group in the league, the Avalanche have used Adam Foote, Kyle Quincey, Ryan Wilson, and Ryan O’Byrne among others. Â The result has been mostly steady, yet unspectacular, defense.
Columbus: Sitting one point out of a playoff spot in the ultra competitive Western Conference, the Columbus Blue Jackets have had a bounce back year, and were among one of the hotter teams to start the season. Â While they’ve cooled off a little bit lately, going 4-5-1 in their last ten, the Jackets are still very much into the mix, and the return to form from Steve Mason has certainly helped. Â On a side note though, the dark blue jerseys are becoming very overdone.
Dallas: What a classy moment the other night in Dallas when warrior Jere Lehtinen, who officially announced his retirement this week, was given a rousing ovation from the Stars fans during a stoppage in play. Â In case you missed it, here it is. Don’t know about you, but I am a sucker for these moments.
Detroit: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Â The Red Wings continue to roll despite Mike Modano missing extended time with an injury, and Jiri Hudler struggling to find his NHL game. Â Pavel Datsyuk is having a heck of a season, while Lidstrom looks like he has turned back the clock.
Edmonton: Linus Omark you are sick, wicked, and nasty (props to the great Chuck Swirsky for your Sunday morning.) Â The Oilers may not be getting big results in the point standings, but one thing is for sure. Â With Eberle, Hall, Paajarvi, and Omark, they’re among the most exciting to watch.
Florida: After looking for a little while like they may turn the corner, the Panthers have regressed back to being an also-ran in the Conference.
Los Angeles: If there’s a Western Conference team who’s game I hate to miss, it’s the L.A. Kings. Â An exciting young group that includes Kopitar, Brown, Simmonds, Doughty, and Quick, the Kings are a fun group to watch that plays the game with energy and skill.
Minnesota: Paging Jacques Lemaire. Â The Wild are struggling with goals against, and it has bogged them down in the standings. Â They’re getting full value out of Martin Havlat though, and it was great to see Pierre-Marc Bouchard return to action after a lengthy stay on the IR with concussion related issues.
Montreal: I was surprised to see the numbers, or lack thereof, that Mike Cammalleri had against the Toronto Maple Leafs going into last night’s game. Â They also lost defenseman Jaro Spacek, who was knocked out of the game after a fight with Clarke MacArthur.
Nashville: Who doesn’t appreciate the Preds? Â year after year, they continue to ice a competitive team, and this year is no different. They sit in the thick of things in the West, and got a big victory over division rivals Detroit this past week.
New Jersey: This isn’t your daddy’s Devils. Â It was completely uncharacteristic of the New Jersey Devils to put one player ahead of the team, or organization, like they did with Ilya Kovalchuk. Â They’re paying for it now however, and it’s strange to see them battling in the basement.
New York Islanders: They’re won just five games this season, and things are not looking up on the Island. Â Coach Scott Gordon took the fall for management incompetence.
New York Rangers: Despite a losing record at home, and severe inconsistency, the Rangers continue to hang on in the Eastern Conference. Â As usual, Gaborik has been limited by injuries, but when healthy he has been a threat.
Ottawa: Are Cory Clouston’s days numbered in Ottawa? Â Are Alex Kovalev’s days numbered in Ottawa? Â Things in the Nation’s Capital are not looking that good lately. Â The Sens have gone 3-6-1 in their last ten.
Philadelphia: Have the Flyers finally found their goalie? Â Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky has been great for the team, and with Boucher and Leighton providing stability, the Flyers could once again be a force in the Eastern Conference.
Phoenix: Road Warriors Phoenix Coyotes continue to build on last season’s surprising finish. Â The Coyotes are getting balanced goal scoring from all around, and the usually spectacular Ilya Bryzgalov has been up to his old tricks.
Pittburgh: 18 game point streak for Sidney Crosby, 12 game win streak for the Penguins. Â There’s not much I can add that hasn’t already been said. Â They’re a dominant team right now, with a dominant player. Â Fleury is back to his Stanley Cup winning form, Crosby is making a mockery of the scoring race, and his teammates are reaping the benefits.
San Jose: The big boys are producing, they’re getting good production from young guns like Logan Couture. Â Their goaltending, which has been average at best, has them struggling to stay afloat in the Western Conference.
St. Louis: Jaroslav Halak is proving last year’s playoffs were no fluke, they put pen to paper with David Backes, and the young core of the St. Louis Blues continues to get better. Â Another team that is growing into a very exciting team to watch.
Tampa Bay: really Marty St. Louis? Â The guy who skates in sideways/quasi-backwards in shootouts is ripping on a young player for showing creativity and making the game exciting for fans around the world? Seems like sour grapes to me, and that’s a shame. Â Like the shootout or not, it’ put in there to entertain the fans, and goals like the one scored by Linus Omark do just that.
Vancouver: Very classy ceremony last night by the Canucks to retire Markus Naslund’s number. Â People in my age range remember a time not too long ago when the likes of Brendan Morrison, Markus Naslund, and Todd Bertuzzi were fun to watch with the Canucks, and I am sure Leafs GM Brian Burke remembers it fondly as well.
Washington: 4-5-1 in their last ten, the Capitals were struggling a little bit as the calendar turned, and are currently riding a two game losing streak. Â Their home record is a menacing 12-4-2, and despite their struggles, any team with the likes of Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Knuble, Fehr, Green, and Laich is going to score goals and stay competitive, especially in the East.
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