Sunday, May 24, 2015
Authors Posts by Alec Brownscombe

Alec Brownscombe

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]

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NHLI via Getty Images

What a string of hugely important games for the Maple Leafs  this week, starting tonight in Detroit. The Leafs will play the Lightning and Canadiens in their next two games, who are tied for 2nd in the Atlantic Division at one point ahead of Toronto. A good week here puts the Leafs in position to take sole possession of second in the Atlantic; a bad week puts the Leafs’ current wildcard spot in jeopardy. *Dun dun dun*

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 10: Tyler Bozak #42 and Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Bozak's first period goal against the Anaheim Ducks on March 10, 2014 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs rose to the level of competition with a good team effort and beat Randy Carlyle’s (Holland, Lupul and Gardiner’s as well) old team for the second time this season, handing them just their sixth regulation home loss of the season. This was an impressive win by the Buds without a bad effort on the roster to speak of. It has the potential to be a momentum-building win over one of the League’s elite teams, but the fun doesn’t stop here, with a brutally tough turnaround against a rested Sharks team tonight. If you’re the Leafs you’re hoping for two points out of a back-to-back of this difficulty, so the Leafs have put themselves into a position where any points tonight will be a bonus.

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Phil Kessel #81
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 22: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs scores his third goal on Jonas Hiller #1 of the Anaheim Ducks during NHL action at the Air Canada Centre October 22, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

In the next four nights, the Maple Leafs are going to play three teams who they, fortunately, won’t have to meet in the playoffs unless they wind up in the Finals. It’s going to be a stiff pre-playoff test, assuming the Leafs can net 16 of a possible 34 points in their remaining 17 games. These are good measuring stick games coming up this week.

Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

I’d love to say it doesn’t matter how you get the points at this time of season, but forget the constant chatter about the team’s shot totals; the biggest issue — and something that, should it continue, will almost assuredly prevent this team from going anywhere in the playoffs — is its inability to hold onto a lead when the game conditions change in the third period.

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 3: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs scores his 200th career goal in the second period as Antti Niemi #31 and Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks defend during NHL game action December 3, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Here’s your breakdown of last night’s results (highlights in the right sidebar):

Tyler Bozak, Morgan Rielly
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 05: Tyler Bozak #42 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (R) scores at 1:51 of overtime to defeat the New York Rangers 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on March 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs, eh guys?

Never a dull moment.

Neither buyers or sellers, with limited cap space, some expiring contracts they’re playing wait and see on and a market that favoured rental buys, it’s  of little shock there was  zero trade activity by the Toronto Maple Leafs today. Three of the Leafs’ Atlantic Division opponents (Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit), meanwhile, made additions to their lineup this afternoon.

The Leafs were known to be looking for a hockey trade, with salary in-salary out, in what was primarily a rental market. Said Nonis: “We tried to make hockey deals to improve our team long term. In the end, [with what was available] we would’ve been making a trade, a splash, but we wouldn’t be getting better.”

Toronto Maple Leafs brass (left to right) VP of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin, Assistant General Manager Claude Loiselle, Special Advisor Cliff Fletcher and new General Manager Dave Nonis during the dying seconds of the 3rd period of the NHL hockey game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres on January 21, 2013. The Leafs lost the game 2-1. CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR

We unwrapped a vanload of presents on Trade Deadline Eve. What’s left for Deadline Day? Perhaps the biggest moves of all, which are likely to be the deals that move Ryan Kesler and Martin St. Louis out of Vancouver and Tampa Bay respectively.

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 3: Cody Franson #4 of the Toronto Maple Leafs defends as Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates with the puck during NHL game action March 3, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Good-enough first and third periods were spoiled by a lack of finish and a nightmare second 20 as the Maple Leafs dropped a 2-1 regulation decision and were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the season series.

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 20: of the Chicago Blackhawks of the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on October 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 2-1 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

With tonight’s blockbuster between the Blues and Sabres cranking up the heat on trade speculation across the League (DOMINOES!!!), let’s take a quick look at one of the names being batted around the rumour mill as it pertains to the Maple Leafs.

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UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 27: Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Toronto Maple Leafs braces for a shot by Lubomir Visnovsky #11 of the New York Islanders (not shown) at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on February 27, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs gave away a point tonight with their own boneheaded mistakes. That’s pretty much all there was to it, as they gave up the lead on three separate occasions and conceded five goals mostly through a series of avoidable giveaway errors.

Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

Before the NHL broke for the Olympics, the Toronto Maple Leafs appeared to be playing some of their best hockey of the year at the right time of the season. We’ll have to see what happens if and when the top line cools off from the blazing pace it was enjoying when it left off, but the goal production has turned around in a big way in the past 13 games. Leaf sticks have been even hotter in the last 13 games than they were in the opening 14 games back in October.

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 8: Tyler Bozak #42, Nazem Kadri #43 and Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Kessel's goal against the Vancouver Canucks during NHL action at the Air Canada Centre February 8, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

Ten games above .500 (32-22-6), 70 points on the year, and the first win over Vancouver since November of 2003. That’s the way to enter the Olympic Break.

Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

One might look at a 1-0 scoreline after 40 minutes in this game and think it’s not as bad as being down four or five to Dallas a few weeks ago. And yes, there is a difference: The Leafs played better in the first period in Dallas, only they couldn’t get a save. The only reason the Leafs had a chance in the final 10 minutes in the third in this 4-1 loss to Florida was because of Jonathan Bernier, who stopped 44 of 47 shots (hey, he had an easy night against Ottawa, right? It’s the least he could do).

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For his and all of our sakes, I hope the team can stay on the winning track once David Clarkson returns, starting tonight in Florida. The contract, the lack of production and the injuries have already entangled him in a formidable web of bad contract angst, mounting pressure and disappointment, as his first season as a Leaf on his new big deal has started to get away from him. Having this team immediately slow down from their blistering pace once he comes back would just be another angle to the whole thing, one he really rather avoid at this point. The Leafs are 14-6-1 without Clarkson, and around .500 with him.

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What a much more enjoyable month of hockey that was from the Maple Leafs, the latter half in particular. Toronto has seven regulation wins in their last 10 games, and are 9-1-1 in their last 11, after just seven regulation wins total between October 29 and January 14. The Leafs seem to be playing closer to the potential their talent level would suggest after a couple of bleak months culminating in a brief stint spent on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.