BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 29: Jay McClement #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs is defended by Henrik Tallinder #20, Tyler Myers #57 and Ryan Miller #30 of the Buffalo Sabres on November 29, 2013 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Rob Marczynski/NHLI via Getty Images)
Splitting the points with the Sabres over three games is far from a sign of promise headed into a tough December. Two of the Sabres’ 6 wins in 27 games have come against the Leafs. Thanks to Cameron for tonight’s Game in 10.
1 – The Leafs came out looking much better to start the game in Buffalo tonight. Granted, the bar wasn’t set high after their collapse in Pittsburgh, but they kept the Sabres off the shot clock for 11 minutes to open the game. However, even during this stretch, there were head scratching moments in the defensive zone. Decision making is really poor right now.
2 – Kessel put the Leafs on the board early. Gardiner made a nice chip up the boards and Bozak handed it off to Phil, who did what he does best, and sniped on Miller. Kessel showed some excellent patience moving in for the shot, waiting for Miller to drop and for something to open up.
3 – The Sabres picked up steam as the first period moved along. It’s becoming increasingly clear that very few of the Leafs defenders are capable of breaking out of the zone with any confidence. Fraser and Franson are looking shaky making reverse passes, and turning routine exits into heart-stopping moments. Gardiner is all over the ice and looking lost on numerous occasions. Ranger is handling the puck like it’s a grenade. It’s not pretty.
4 – The Leafs forwards were actually playing decently, though. Normally I like to point out the enormous gaps they create on the back-check, and their unwillingness to support the defenders down low in their own zone. Tonight they were making a better effort to get there. Everyone on the top line has a moment at some point in the game where they came all the way back and broke up a scoring play. The Kadri line did a good job cycling and getting some zone time.
5 – The second period saw a pretty big drop off in play. Reimer looked a bit rattled, and the defensive troubles started to intensify. It wasn’t helped by two Buffalo powerplays that both looked pretty good. Matt Moulson tallied for the Sabres at the tail end of the first effort after Smithson failed to clear the zone. The puck found its way to the crease and Reimer was down to make the save. As Fraser moved across the blue paint, his foot clipped Reimer, and pushed him right out of the net.
6 – A hard working shift from the Kulemin line put the Leafs back on top, but it didn’t do much to shift momentum. Within a few shifts the Sabres are back in the Leafs’ zone, exposing the defenders and making life difficult for Reimer. Eventually, Franson takes a boarding penalty (worth noting that the referees were not going to call this one, until Stafford sold it heavily, and they changed their minds). The Leafs killed it, but the momentum stayed with Buffalo.
7 – Luke Adam was left all alone in front of the Leafs net and the puck bounced to his stick for him to pot an easy goal. We roll into the third period evened up at two…
The Kessel line got things rolling with a good shift that ended with Bozak whiffing on an opportunity, but drawing an icing call. On the next shift, the Kadri line drew a penalty when Nazem took a high stick to the face in the corner. The Leafs got their first powerplay opportunity of the game. Not a lot of pressure generated, but they do manage an in-tight scoring chance with Kadri hitting the post. The pressure was actually better after the man advantage concluded and the Kulemin line started buzzing.
8 – The next ten minute segment of the third period was pretty even – a back and forth affair with maybe a slight edge to the Leafs. There weren’t really any outstanding chances for either side. Reimer continued to look uncomfortable and made some strange decisions, but ultimately those didn’t result in goals, or even chances. Kulemin seemed to be able to make something happen on every shift.
Also, credit where credit is due, the defense generally looked a lot more confident and less shaky in the third. The decisions were being made much quicker, and Ranger in particular broke up a couple plays quite adeptly.
9 – Despite all the criticism of Reimer, he had to make an amazing save with around seven minutes left in the third to prevent a regulation loss.
10 – In the end, Reimer’s save may have earned the Leafs a point, but it can’t make up for a final burst of bad decision making, and a terrible non-call from the officials. With under two minutes left in regulation Ranger took a dumb penalty, slashing and holding his man as he circled behind the net. However, on the ensuing kill, van Riemsdyk was hauled down on a breakaway with no call, and no penalty shot. Even Carlyle was livid.
The Sabres scored 35 seconds into overtime. Ehrhoff with a blast from the point. Game over. The Leafs fall to 6th in the Conference, and are tied with tomorrow night’s opponent in the Montreal Canadiens with identical 14-9-3 records.
|2:12:00||TOR||Phil Kessel (14) Snap shot - ASST: Tyler Bozak (5), Jake Gardiner (6)||1 - 0 TOR
|7:57:00||BUF|| PPG - Matt Moulson (10) Wrist shot - ASST: Ville Leino (4), Tyler Myers (5)||1 - 1 Tie
|10:23:00||TOR||Nikolai Kulemin (2) Tip-in - ASST: Trevor Smith (4)||2 - 1 TOR
|18:50:00||BUF||Luke Adam (1) Slapshot - ASST: Zemgus Girgensons (6), Christian Ehrhoff (5)||2 - 2 Tie
|0:38:00||BUF||Christian Ehrhoff (2) Wrist shot - ASST: Tyler Myers (6), Ville Leino (5)||3 - 2 BUF
|21||J. van Riemsdyk||L||0||0||0||1||2||3||0||1||0||0||100%||0:36:00||2:41:00||20:34:00
|NO.||PLAYER||SAVES - SHOTS||SV%||PIM||TOI||
|34||J. Reimer (L)||26 - 29||0.897||0||60:27:00||
Leafs / Sabres Shot Data
The Maple Leafs and the Red Wings both decided to save their best for the regular season and ice watered down rosters for the last game of the pre-season. Beyond that, I will spare you a lengthy introduction and jump right to the game:
Photo: National Post
It seems that a large percentage of Leafs Nation is completely convinced that the team they saw in February and March of the 2011-12 season is the true reflection of the roster’s ability. Many have completely disregarded the 99-point pace the team played at for the entire 2011 calendar year and beyond, right up until February 6th of 2012.
This skepticism is not undeserved. The team completely collapsed after that victory over the Oilers in early February that saw the Leafs three regulation wins ahead of the eventual Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings. What followed that victory was one of the worst stretches in the entire history of the franchise. As a result, the fans have decided that a massive roster overhaul is necessary. Now well into the summer, they grow increasingly agitated with each day that passes and does not bring line-up changes.
It is not my intention to try and persuade Leaf fans to get their blue and white goggles back out and start drinking the Kool-Aid again. It is also not my intention to act as a Burke apologist. The Maple Leafs are not a great team, and they do have a long way to go before turning things around in a meaningful way. However, perhaps it would be wise for the fan baseâ€™s collective sanity to reel in some of the pessimism and look at some of the reasons that the playoff drought, the embarrassment, and the general mediocrity may be coming to an end within the next couple of seasons.
courtesy of Garrett Bauman
The Rick Nash sweepstakes are on and speculation about what kind of return he’ll merit is quickly spinning out of control. Â Bob McKenzie tried to dial back the enthusiasm a bit Tuesday night by suggesting that Howson may still wait on dealing his franchise winger until the draft or later in summer. Â Whether it happens that way or not, business has definitely picked up.
Many of McKenzie’s media brethren were not so quick to douse the flames. Â Pierre Lebrun began the hysteria by suggesting that Howson will require four (yes that’s right, four) top notch assets to justify moving Nash. Â From a Leafs point of view, he claimed the package would have to start with Jake Gardiner and Luke Schenn. Â Mark Spector of Sportsnet suggested that those four players might need to be James Reimer, Luke Schenn, Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Part 1 can be found here.
In the Hunt
Montreal Canadiens (10%)
What a dagger in the heart of Leafs Nation it would be if Brad Richards decided to sign with the slightly off-the-board selection Montreal Canadiens. When the Habs were eliminated from the playoffs this year, there was rumors and discussion about the possibility of the team buying out the contract Scott Gomez. His underwhelming play has dragged on for two seasons now, and while he had some heartfelt things to say about wanting to get back to a high standard on the ice, management may have already lost their patience. Whether Gomez is on the roster or not though, the Habs have the cap space to chase a big name like Brad Richards. They have among the fewest players in the league signed for next season, and some have speculated that it is because of the design of GM Pierre Gauthier. On the surface, the Habs appear closer to a championship than some of the other options out there. That said, the thought of Richards wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge is too painful to think about. Suffice to say there is a decent chance he lands there.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
His free agent destination is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Brad Richards has given so many clues for so many different teams, it is impossible to say with any certainty where he will end up. We can only rule out one team without any doubt, and that is his current club, the Dallas Stars. Joe Nieuwendyk has openly admitted the Stars will not be able to offer Brad a contract extension. He is definitely leaving the Lone Star State but what happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.
Still, there is something to be said for an educated guess. Richards and his agent have done enough talking of late to lend support to some teams over others. They’ve talked about numerous factors which will play a role in the decision. Money, ownership and lifestyle have all been mentioned in the conversation. Using the quotes we have from Richards and his agent, media sources from around the league, a little common sense, and some personal speculation, the following are the teams with the best shot at landing the big prize on July 1st.
The Flyers have decided to make a move amidst a controversial ruling in the Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps the hit by Aaron Rome on Nathan Horton, and the subsequent 8-1 drubbing dealt out by the Bruins will be enough to keep the media focus on Vancouver and Boston. There should be no mistaking though, that something significant is going on in Philadelphia right now. Last night word broke that General Manager Paul Holmgren has acquired the exclusive negotiating rights to Ilya Bryzgalov in exchange for a 3rd round selection in the 2012 entry draft, and a conditional pick to be named later.
This opens up a lot of questions about how the Flyers are going to make this all fit under their cap. They are a team that has limited money to resign the players they already have, and may have to let Ville Leino and Dan Carcillo walk even without bringing in a presumably expensive unrestricted free agent like Bryzgalov. As of right now, it looks like a lot of the speculation and rumors about major players moving out of Philadelphia to make room for a legitimate starting goalie are looking pretty accurate. Given the situation, these are the questions that need to be answered in the coming days, weeks, or maybe even months assuming that Holmgren is comfortable sitting above the cap during the summer:
Photo Credit: avalance.nhl.com
(Part 1) (Part 2)
Now for the (not-so) thrilling conclusion to my blog series on the Leafs trade targets on the back end.Â The following are (in my opinion), the top two options Burke will pursue over the coming months if indeed he does go the trade route:
2.) Brent Burns – Dion Phaneufâ€™s stalwart partner at the World Championship has played with the captain before.Â Thatâ€™s the same kind of sentiment we heard from free agents Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong shortly after they were acquired.Â It seems there is a spot reserved on the bench for â€˜friends of Dionâ€™.Â Â So far, that hasnâ€™t been a bad thing.Â MacArthur had a career year in the blue and white, while Colby Armstrong had an injury-laden year.Â Still, Armstrong became a key part of the club â€“ a heart and soul player whose absences were blatantly obvious.Â Of course, Burns also brings huge offensive potential to the back end.Â He is a big man, who would make the Leafs top four one of the largest and most intimidating in the league.Â His versatility alone is a huge asset that makes him very reminiscent of Dustin Byfuglien in that regard.
Mark Mulville/Buffalo News File Photo
Mark Mulville/Buffalo News File Photo
In part one of this blog we looked at possible unrestricted free agent options for the Leafs. Burke has always been proficient at landing a big name on July 1st, but he also has a reputation for loving a good old fashioned hockey trade. Since the lock-out, Burke has completed major transactions that brought in the likes of Francois Beauchemin, Chris Pronger, Doug Weight, Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, J.S. Giguere and Joffrey Lupul. Going further back, he pulled off massive draft day swaps that brought his clubs Henrik and Daniel Sedin, as well as Chris Pronger. He has moved out high profile names like Sergei Fedorov, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle. The man hardly flinches when dealing away first round picks. When it comes to trading, Burke emits a sense of fearlessness that has no doubt helped him get solid returns over the course of his career. However, he has always maintained that the best deals are the ones that work out for both teams. Given the ‘old boys club’ nature of the job, this stance makes a lot of sense.
So who might be the target for a fair trade that can benefit both clubs equally? Lets break down the top five options using the following three pieces of critera:
Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press
Any Leafs fan with a pulse knows that the number one priority for the summer of 2011 is to find a number one center. The team simply cannot afford to waste another year of Phil Kesselâ€™s talent by pairing him with inadequate and inexperienced pivots. In no way should that read as a shot at Tyler Bozak, who is a talented player with an above average hockey IQ. However, he is not ready to be the man, front stage center, for the most scrutinized team in the sport.
Naturally, a lot of attention has been drawn to the various options at center ice that might be pursued by manager Brian Burke. It could not be any clearer that the plan is to offer Brad Richards an enormous chunk of change to sign with the blue and white on July 1st. However, Burke is obviously already working on a backup plan as rumors of Jeff Carter and Paul Stastny are running rampant. Fans are right to be concerned with the acquisition of what will be such a huge piece of the puzzle, but the excitement has drawn attention away from the back end, where Burke has traditionally upgraded in each off-season.