Kessel still leading Olympic scoring, Kulemin’s early exit

Kessel still leading Olympic scoring, Kulemin’s early exit

Canadian-born Leafs fans will have their loyalties conflicted this Friday afternoon when Team USA takes on Team Canada in the Olympic semifinals. On one hand we have Team Canada’s gold medal hopes, on the other we have Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk scoring on Carey Price. Hmmm.

The thrilling nature of the one-off elimination format is that, regardless of how each team got here, it’s going to be decided by one 60-minute game between two amazing rosters. Certainly the USA has looked more convincing; no one has been able to quiet them as the Finns and Latvians managed to frustrate the Canadians. That probably doesn’t mean much, given a game spent taking 60-shots, and double that in shot attempts, through the human wall of Latvia is an entirely different animal than playing the US. The Americans have looked great rolling their mostly-constant lines and scoring 20 goals over 5 games (to Canada’s 13).

Kessel still leads Olympic scoring with five goals and eight points in four games. Given Grabner, Radulov and Datsyuk have all been eliminated, Erik Karlsson (one point behind Phil) is going to be his only competition for top spot in the scoring race.

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After JvR opened the scoring on a dirty goal from the side of the net, Kessel scored Team USA’s 5th goal in today’s convincing win over the Czech Republic. Watch how fast Kessel travels from the red line to the back post to create the cross-crease opportunity:

Kessel and JvR were just a fraction off of whipping up some more magic as well:

It’s also great to hear The Phil’s abilities are so spellbinding they’re causing a rift in the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room among their best two players:

 

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Kulemin returns to Toronto early

Meanwhile, it was big disappointment for the Leafs‘ other Olympic participant, Nikolai Kulemin, and host country Russia after their 3-1 defeat to the Finns this morning. Kulemin, who played with Artem Anisimov as his center (mostly Vladmir Tarasenko or Alex Semin on the other wing), didn’t record a point but his line didn’t get scored on at even-strength, either.

In an effort to boost his spirits, let’s commend Kulemin for a couple of great games at center ice before the Leafs went to break. In the Vancouver game, Tyler Bozak deserved the praise he received for an excellent shift in the build up to the Phil Kessel 2-1 goal, but more great pivot play was display on the opening goal by Mason Raymond, by the center who wasn’t a center in the NHL until one game previous.

There are a number of things to like about this shift from Kulemin that go into making the goal happen, starting 200-feet away from the Vancouver net:

  • Providing down-low support to create an outnumbered situation on the back board of the defensive zone, he collected a loose puck while Morgan Rielly tied up his man in the corner, before sending a pass to Raymond on the sideboard to get the breakout started. Initially facing the end board with the puck on his backhand, his first thought was to ring it the other way, but pivoted with a Canuck forechecker to his left and right and sent the puck to Raymond.
  • After Raymond did his job on the half wall to advance the play, Kulemin hustled up ice and made a good read on the play as he arrived as the F3 on the ensuing sequence in the offensive zone. The puck went behind the back of the net, and Kulemin sniffed out where it was going to arrive on the ring-around and was already there. He picked up the puck and slid a nice little backhand pass to Raymond in the slot.
  • Kulemin skated across the zone supporting the puck carrier as Raymond headed left and passed off to Gunnarsson. With Raymond supporting Gunnarsson’s pinch after that, Kulemin went to the net and nearly scored on a loose-puck scramble.
  • After the puck worked its way back up the left side, he identified that Raymond was now charging down the board and took up the support position while Gunnarsson got back.
  • Kulemin received the puck in that position inside the blueline and sent a good slap-pass deep to Raymond in the corner. Kulemin actually stayed at the point while Gunnarsson went to the front of the net and provided the screen. Raymond walked around the far side of the net and put one through Roberto Luongo.

There’s also that great pass to Raymond in stride for the opening goal vs. Tampa Bay:

That’s perfect pivot play on that shift vs. Vancouver. Having all of Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Dave Bolland, Peter Holland and Jay McClement healthy for the first time will be a blessing, but it’s nice to know Kulemin is another solid option at center in a pinch. It only adds to Kulemin’s versatility and often under-appreciated repertoire.

It was also interesting to see Gunnarsson take off toward the net twice during that play, once on a little drive to the net with the puck and the other where he went to the net and provide a screen on Luongo. There was also this rush by Gunnarsson the game before versus Tampa Bay, remember:

Gunnarsson has seven points and 12 shots in his last fifteen games after just four points and 26 shots in his previous 44.

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Leafs Practice Quotes

Second in points (one back of Malkin) over the past three seasons combined still isn’t enough for the “one of the best” label?

This was pretty cool and humble of Tyler Bozak:

 

Here’s your Bolland updates:

 

 

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1454 comments
Loric76
Loric76

1967ers ‏@1967ers  7m

You don't need advanced stats to grasp that the amount of sh!t you talk is directly proportional to the amount you'll eventually have to eat

Dangle_My_Berries
Dangle_My_Berries

good expose on right now on sportsnet, talking about the growth of minor hockey in canada and the US....interesting stuff the rate at which Americans are adopting the game....seems to be gaining a great deal of steam south of the boarder 

WendelGilmour
WendelGilmour

So does Babcock try to match Kessel's line with strong checkers, or offense?

loomx
loomx

@Dangle_My_Berries  That's why I have no problem liking Team USA. their development program is becoming top notch. Obviously Canada is still dominating in the amount of NHL players produced, but they seem to be pumping out great players in each position. McDonagh and Suter are two of the best defensive D in the league, and their goaltending development is rivaled only by Finland. Quick, Miller, Howard, Schneider, Bishop, and probably the best goaltending prospect right now in John Gibson. It should make the Canada-USA rivalry even better.

Dangle_My_Berries
Dangle_My_Berries

@loomx @Dangle_My_Berries  i agree...the more people playing, across the world, the better for the game...we pump out the most NHLr's cause of the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL being world class development leagues....the USHL is getting there...I would even argue the NCAA is developing some solid players too 

Dangle_My_Berries
Dangle_My_Berries

@MaxwellHowe @WendelGilmour  A fool tries to match up a scoring line against  Phil and JVR, they are two of the most lethal counter punch players in the league....need to play them tight cause you give them open ice and they will make plays around you all day 

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Loric76 @rustynail  I don't understand why he was scratched last game.  I thought he and Getzlaf/Perry were the best line the game they were together. Looked like one more game and they might have started finishing.  Glad he's guaranteed to play this time around. 

Dangle_My_Berries
Dangle_My_Berries

@MaxwellHowe @Dangle_My_Berries  yet coming into this game all the offence is coming from the team Canada's defence....not to discredit the talent team Canada has, but the US is scoring goals very confidently, and Canada still hasn't shown that same level of effectiveness despite playing very poor teams. 

WendelGilmour
WendelGilmour

@Dangle_My_Berries @MaxwellHowe@WendelGilmour 

Lol, as good as Kessel has been they would hardly run wild against the likes of Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf. As a matter of fact it would more likely be the other way around, based on their Dzone play. The only thing we need to ensure is the winger could skate with Kessel, and I might choose Duchene.