As you no doubt aware, the NHL Governers agreed Monday night to Commissioner Gary Bettman's plan for realignment, in an effort to reduce team travel and shake up the structure of the playoff system. Gone would be the two-conference, six-division setup that fans have grown accustomed to since the mid-90s, to be replaced by a four-conference system in which each team is guaranteed home-and-home matches with all other teams.
The recommended format -- which must pass the NHLPA approval process before becoming official -- also promotes inter-conference rivalries, while preserving traditional rivalries which built up under the former (er, current, for now) system.Â While there are several advantages to the new system, which addresses many concerns voiced by fans throughout the years, there are a few disadvantages to adopting this approach also. And since this is a Toronto Maple Leafs blog, I'm sure you're all wondering how exactly these changes will affect the boys in blue. We'll get to that a bit further down.
Following a couple day's break, the Leafs are back in action tonight with a stop in Dallas. After allowing only one goal each to Washington and Tampa Bay in his last two starts, the oft-maligned Jonas Gustavsson seems to have found his game, his confidence, and perhaps the starting role. "The Monster" will tend the net for the third time in four games against a surprisingly good Stars' team, one which hasn't missed Brad Richards at all.
In a bit of an odd schedule quirk, the Leafs will not play a Saturday night game this week (instead, HNIC viewers will see Pittsburgh visit Montreal).Â After tonight, the Leafs head to Anaheim for a Sunday night tilt against the Ducks -- the first visit to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner as members of the Leafs.
Morning links after the jump.
Mislav had to sit this one out, let's hope I can fill his shoes as well as Gustavsson filled the Leafs' net tonight. Glove tap to Alec for contributing a few of his insights as well. [more…]
In the wake of the recent collision between Bruins' winger Milan Lucic and Sabres' goaltender Ryan Miller, in which Lucic escaped a suspension while Miller remains out with a concussion, many among the Maple Leafs' fanbase were quick to recall the October 22nd collision between Canadiens' winger Brian Gionta and Leafs' goaltender James Reimer.
Although the temptation to directly compare the two incidents is understandable (player colliding with goaltender attempting to make a play, goaltender sustains a head injury, player is not suspended), they are in fact two quite different incidents subject to different sets of rules.
Through the course of examining these two incidents, and the reasons for a lack of supplementary discipline in light of the NHL rulebook, we stumble upon a significant debate: does the current iteration of the NHL's illegal contact rules do more to protect goaltenders, or to hinder them?
Fresh off a 7-3-1 month of October, the Maple Leafs begin November on a mini road trip which will take them to New Jersey (tonight) and Columbus (Thursday) before returning home to face Boston on Saturday.Â A quick start to the month will be essential for the Leafs if they hope to finally eradicate the Ghost of November Past.
Maple Leafs' November record, post-lockout:
2010-11: 3-7-3 | 2009-10: 5-5-3 | 2008-09: 4-6-3 | 2007-08: 4-6-3
2006-07: 7-6-1 | 2005-06: 8-5-1
Maple Leafs' rookie winger Matt Frattin, who to the surprise of many earned himself a spot on the team out of training camp, has been assigned to the AHL Toronto Marlies. Coming up to take his spot on the Leafs' roster is veteran winger Joey Crabb.
Although Frattin acquitted himself to the physical game of the NHL quite well, and was able to generate scoring chances, he was only able to register a single assist through the first 11 games (plus a shootout game-winner), and recently appeared to be playing with less confidence.Â A trip to the AHL, where top ice time on a scoring line awaits, may be just what the doctor ordered to get his game back on track. [more…]
After a four game road swing (2-2-0), the Maple Leafs return home for a brief one-gamer versus the Pittsburgh Penguins before heading back on the road for a three game set against Ottawa, New Jersey and Columbus.Â Tonight's game marks an unlikely battle of division leaders: At 6-2-1 the Leafs hold the lead in the Northeast by a single point over the Buffalo Sabres; meanwhile, at 8-2-2 the Crosby-less Penguins hold a commanding seven point lead in the Atlantic.
The embattled Jonas Gustavsson, coming off an excellent performance Thursday night in New York, gets the start in net again as James Reimer will not be eligible to return from IR until tomorrow at the earliest. For Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury gets a rest tonight while backup goaltender Brent Johnson gets the call.
Leafs Nation held its collective breath when news broke yesterday that injured goaltender James Reimer was experiencing "concussion-like symptoms" and was subsequently placed on IR.Â With a maddeningly-inconsistent Jonas Gustavsson set to start against the New York Rangers, The Nation -- rightly or wrongly -- wondered aloud if it was about to bear witness to the beginnings of yet another late-October collapse.
As it turns out, fans need not have worried. "The Monster" turned in an excellent performance against the Rangers, stopping 28 of 30 shots on net, and providing the fanbase a glimmer of hope that he can still recapture the form he displayed in his rookie season two years ago.Â Gustavsson's pure ability has never been denied; his ability to put it all together on a consistent basis, however, has left much of the fanbase in doubt over what his role -- and future -- with the organization will ultimately be.
Gustavsson's challenge now is to prove he can turn in reliable performances such as last night's on a regular basis.Â With Reimer not eligible to return until Sunday at the earliest, he should have an opportunity to do exactly that Saturday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins roll into town.
Morning links after the jump.
The Maple Leafs continue their road swing this week with stops in Philadelphia (tonight) and New York (Thu), before returning home to face Pittsburgh (Sat), after which they head to Ottawa (Sun) to close out October.Â The week ahead will prove a difficult test for a Toronto squad which has not played nearly as well as its 5-1-1 record might otherwise suggest.
The Flyers can be expected to ice a gameplan similar to that of the Bruins last Thursday: physical, hard-forechecking forwards crashing the net and forcing defenders to try to move them.Â Things won't get any easier against the Rangers, where perennial Vezina candidate Henrik Lundqvist has had success against the Leafs (9-4-4, 2.54, .911 in his career vs Toronto), as have forwards Marian Gaborik (11-6-6-12) and Brad Richards (30-16-14-30). And the Penguins, largely without the services of Evgeni Malkin, have found a way to get it done sporting a 6-2-2 record while allowing a mere 2.2 goals per game.
Although it may be tempting to declare Sunday's game a reprieve, the Senators are quietly starting to find their stride. As evidenced by the first installment of the Battle of Ontario, in which Ottawa nearly came back from a four-goal deficit, nothing can be taken for granted in a league where so little separates the teams at the bottom from those in the middle of the pack.
All in all, a very tough week ahead -- one which represents an opportunity for the Maple Leafs to prove to the critics that, unlike last season, this time their hot start is for real.
Morning links after the jump.
The Good: The Maple Leafs sport a 4-0-1 record, having garnered 9 of a possible 10 points during a 5-game homestand to start the season. Optimists, you may stop reading right now.
The Bad: In the second game of the season the Leafs nearly coughed up a 4-goal lead, and in three subsequent games have had a lousy first 30-40 minutes followed by an exceptional final 20. That just won't cut it over the long haul.
The Ugly: The team's defensive play -- chiefly, that of its blueliners -- has run the gamut from excellent to unfocused to "meh" to worryingly-disorganized to gone-completely-off-the-rails in the span of five games. Making matters worse, the past two weeks were the easy part of the October schedule.
Ultimately, it is the play of the defense corps which dictates the entire flow of the game. Everything from puck possession, to the transition game, to the subsequent genesis of scoring chances for and against, begins and ends with the defensive unit. If the defenders aren't doing their jobs, the play of the forwards, and the goaltender, will invariably suffer. The Leafs got very lucky last night -- as they have in their past three games -- but can't expect to survive many more performances like those.
But hey, at least the powerplay is clicking again!
Recommended A.M. reading after the jump.
The Toronto Maple Leafs wrap up their preseason with a home-and-home beginning tonight, and continuing Saturday, versus the Detroit Red Wings.
With Nazem Kadri out for 3-4 weeks, and Tim Connolly due to miss the final two preseason games, several Leafs' players will be looking to capitalize on the opportunity to lock down roster spots or earn consideration as early call-ups. Among these will be Matt Frattin, looking to cement a role on the third line in place of Kadri; Jay Rosehill, who will be looking to supplant Colton Orr in the enforcer role; Darryl Boyce and Philippe Dupuis will continue to duke it out for the fourth line centre role; and the impressive Jake Gardiner, looking to crack a deep Leafs' defense. Goaltender Ben Scrivens remains locked in a battle with Jonas Gustavsson for the backup role to James Reimer, while Matthew Lombardi -- arguably the greatest benefactor of Connolly's absence -- will continue his quest to prove he is finally healthy.
It should all add up to an intriguing final two games for the boys in blue and white.
Morning links after the jump.
According to the Toronto Marlies Twitter feed, Brayden Irwin (signed out of the NCAA toward the end of the 2009-10 season by the Leafs, but [more…]