Saturday, May 23, 2015
Authors Posts by Mislav Jantoljak

Mislav Jantoljak

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Hi there, I'm Mislav, a hockey writer from Croatia. My weird hockey journey includes the Maple Leafs Hot Stove, covering the Kontinental Hockey League as a Managing Editor at KHL.hr and doing a piece for the Hockey News that one time. This is me on hockey and stuff in between. Enjoy your stay!

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    Petri Kontiola
    Petri Kontiola

    Petri Kontiola is a 29-year-old Finnish centerman who spent the last five seasons playing in the KHL, where his trajectory toward a return to the NHL began in 2009.

    With his early years spent in Tappara of the Finnish SM-liiga, Kontiola was drafted in the 2004 NHL entry draft (196th overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks. After making his NHL debut in 2007-08, he simply wasn’t good enough to stick around. Regardless of his strong AHL numbers (130 points in 147 AHL games), he couldn’t gain traction in his first time in North America; after the centerman was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in 2009 with James Wisniewski for Samuel Pahlsson, Logan Stephenson and a conditional pick, he spent all of his time with the Iowa Chops, the Ducks’ AHL affiliate at the time.

    It was in Russia that Kontiola found a next level and developed into the player he is today. Gaining confidence after his first semi-productive KHL year with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Kontiola turned into one of the most important players on that team  the following season. His steady climb continued with Traktor Chelyabinsk, where he moved at the start of the 2010-11 season after 108 games and 70 KHL points for Metallurg. With Kontiola on the roster, Traktor enjoyed their most successful KHL spell to date, reaching the Gagarin Cup Finals in 2012-13 before losing out to Dynamo Moscow. The Finnish-born center scored the most points (19) and ended up as the top scorer of the playoffs with 10 goals in 25 games.

    In fact, during his KHL career, Kontiola was always productive in the playoffs and gained quite a reputation for playing well in the post season. His all time KHL playoff points-per-game stands at 0.60, having scored 17 goals and 40 points in 67 Gagarin Cup playoff games. In 2012-13, he was also pretty dominant in international tournament play, once again scoring the most points (16) and becoming the WC top scorer with 8 goals.  While this past season wasn’t as productive, he still topped the scoring charts with 15 goals and 22 assists on a disappointing 2013-14 edition of the Chelyabinsk team that missed the playoffs despite featuring Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Jan Buils, and Stanislav Chistov, all familiar names to the North America hockey audience. All in all, he should be coming to Toronto on a high note, after his five points in six games helped Finland to the bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics. There, he also ranked third among Finnish forwards in ice time.

    Petri is listed at 6’0″ and 207 lbs, but the weight seems a little bit generous. Still, he’s hard to knock off the puck and has really good hands in tight. Kontiola possesses good puckhandling ability and can drive the puck up ice. His passing is top notch; he’s a creative on-ice presence with good vision and can find open ice with ease, which is one of the assets that should help him readjust to the North American game. Kontiola has deceptive speed, a good “change of gears,” and has become a much more dangerous goalscorer in recent years. He still thinks pass first, which was one of the knocks on him earlier in his career, but has found more use for his quality shot, quick release and very good patience in front of the net, made evident by his increased goals total. Like most Finnish players, he’s been well coached and somewhat defensively responsible, although he has never really been made to embrace a checking role on account of his offensive skillset. In the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs decide to use him as a winger.

    Maybe Kontiola’s name winds up but a fleeting memory for Leafs fans in a year’s time, but given the skillset, the KHL success, the stellar international play and possible (still relatively untested) chemistry with newly re-signed Leaf favorite Leo Komarov, signing him to a 1-year, $1-million flyer wasn’t a difficult decision by Leafs brass.

    Photo: Getty Images

    Usually, HBO’s 24/7 beats the actual Winter Classic in fanfare and expectation. This year, it has simply been a welcomed preview. The Big House in Ann Arbour, Michigan gathered a record number of bodies (105,491 people), vastly exceeding 71,217 humans attending the first Winter Classic in 2008. After a tough 5-4 SO loss against the Wings on December 21st, the Leafs were due for a victory. Paul Ranger had the right idea, wearing the eye-paint of the tiger and looking very much up for a game which brought him and all those in attendance to the core of their love of hockey. We’ve all been waiting for this a long time, so let’s see how this one panned out.

    1) The Leafs are 21-16-5 and this was a proper celebration of the game. Also, in the midst of the Classic it was confirmed that JM Liles and Dennis Robertson were traded to Carolina for a dependable shutdown defenseman Tim Gleason. Don’t expect miracles, but the defensive end of things should be somewhat bolstered by his presence. Now, let’s get to the on-ice happenings. Considering the standings, this was an important game for both teams.

    2) The conditions certainly played a major part right from the start, and showering the goaltenders wasn’t really frowned upon as much with all the snow. Frequent breaks for ice cleanup offered a chance for some additional strategizing on the benches. Dump and chase was the name of the game as goalies weren’t advised to take field trips behind their net (Bernier didn’t seem to have any trouble in doing so, though). Also, the surface made it difficult for players like Datsyuk to take full advantage of their puck-handling skills offensively but a lot of it played into Detroit’s hands with the kind of ‘meat and potatoes’ style of play they employ which was obvious by the shot count after the opening frame. The first powerplay of the game came after Abdelkader crosschecked Phaneuf from behind in the corner and the Californian made ice/snow removers were once again called into action. A fresh sheet of ice didn’t help the Leafs who couldn’t really put anything dangerous on Jimmy Howard.

    3) Like Healy noticed (or heard on 24/7) all Detroit defenseman are left handed shooters which made it difficult for their defense to handle the puck on their off-side, especially in conditions like these. Unfortunately, the Leafs didn’t take advantage of that throughout the opening period. The Wings got their first man advantage during the middle of the opening frame when Lupul took a revenge on Kindl’s hit by crosschecking Eaves into the head. Bernier had to be really sharp since the Wings’ powerplay didn’t look as lethargic – still, no goals were scored as Dan Cleary looked to the sky following another good save by the Leafs netminder. The period ended with some grit shown by the Leafs and another good penalty kill following an unfortunate penalty call on Dion.

    4) The water bottles were a tougher opponent for the likes of Todd Bertuzzi today. The things were frozen solid and required frequent replacements to keep the goaltenders hydrated. As the second period played out, Nazem Kadri got absolutely robbed by Howard on the best opportunity of the game created by Joffrey Lupul. The kid was slamming his stick on the bench for missing that one. We also found out that the elements were no match for the greatness of Pavel Datsyuk who was still doing his thing in the second.

    5) The middle frame saw both teams pushing the pace, but the majority of puck possession and chances still belonged to the Red Wings. Half way into it, Dan Cleary couldn’t put the biscuit past a sprawling Jonathan Bernier who got a slight piece of it and continued with his solid performance in this one. Tatar’s rush just prior to that wasn’t something to sneeze at either. The Leafs were spending too much time in their own zone and the Wings almost made them pay. The shot count stood 19-10 in favor of the red team 12 minutes into the 2nd.

    6) Wings got a break on a lucky bounce of the boards which put Zetterberg and Alfredsson on a two-on-one break as Franson got caught up ice. Surely enough, that got them first goal of the hockey game. This was followed by another Leafs penalty, Jay McClement sat in the box as Leafs Nation held their breath. A two goal lead with one period to play, in a game like this – yeah, you’re basically done. Fortunately, the PK did it’s job, thanks mostly to some stellar saves by Bernier. First he stole one from Cleary and followed that up with a 10-bell save on Detroit’s top powerplay unit. Some end to end stuff saw Howard do the same on JVR after his big hit, resulting in a Leafs man advantage. It was surely too late, but the US-born goalie was making his final bid for a roster spot at the Sochi Olympics, stopping the Buds time after time. Be that as it may, our own American wouldn’t be denied. JVR tied the game just 37 second from the buzzer by batting a puck out of the air and scoring past Howard who was seemingly unbeatable down low. Phil Kessel (12:43) and van Riemsdyk (12:34) were leading all forwards in ice time after 2.

    7) The tying goal set everyone up for a terrific third period. Dion Phaneuf’s bloody lip gave him an some added nastiness, which seemed to be squarely aimed at Daniel Alfredsson. He was pinching and frequently finishing checks, the best of which coming against the Swede in the offensive zone where he got the puck and the man.

    8)  Our captain also celebrated his new contract with a huge assist from the point. He simply threw a puck to the net, it passed a bunch of bodies and sticks in front and ended up behind Detroit’s goaltender – a quick review was made but it was definitely a good goal, a vital goal, which should kill all the talk about his extension, even if only for a brief period of time. Bozak was credited with a deflection in the end.

    9) A half-handed effort by Franson let Abdelkader power his way to the net and put the puck behind Bernier. Nothing in hockey, especially in a spectacle such as this, comes easy. The Wings pinched like crazy and it most certainly paid off. Still, if there was any doubt prior to tonight, Jonathan Bernier used the brightest of spotlights to grab the starting position ahead of James Reimer. Perhaps, this will be the biggest storyline of the Winter Classic. Overtime, as exciting as it was, solved nothing and the game went to a shootout where Tyler Bozak, of all people, scored to end the game. Welcome back sir!

    10) The final episode of 24/7 will taste much sweeter now. It’s not a Stanley Cup, but it’s a major win the team can rally around and a soothing sensation for the entire contingent of Leafs Nation, which can finally celebrate something. Enjoy it.

    2014 Winter Classic Shot Location Data
    2014 Winter Classic Shot Location Data

    2014 Winter Classic Game in 6

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    Leo pleads his case before the courts (Photo by Davor Sajko / KHL.hr)

    On Friday, hockey fans in Zagreb, Croatia got to see the fantastic Dynamo Moscow, without a doubt the best hockey team outside the NHL. Their ‘pest’ is also a fantastic player, one particularly familiar to Leaf fans – Leo Komarov. Our beloved Finnish grinder is doing a bit of everything in the KHL, including throwing opponents off their game. In last night’s 5:0 trashing of Medvescak, he managed to get Hugh Jessiman thrown out of the game on a major penalty for spearing; the former Rangers prospect completely lost his mind…

    Photo: Richard Lam/Getty Images

    The Leafs visited the Vancouver on Pavel Bure night for the first of two seasonal meetings with the Canucks. In other news, Luke Schenn was a healthy scratch for the Flyers as Paul Holmgren saw fit to reward the former Leafs defenseman on his birthday. More importantly, but certainly less amusing, Liles, Bodie and Ashton were healthy scratches for the Leafs and Mason Raymond was in the lineup against his old team. Anyway, see how this one turned out… or don’t. Your choice. I’d prefer the latter.

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    The Leafs extended their relationship with center Tyler Bozak and signed winger David Clarkson from Free Agency. Bozak’s new deal is a 5-year, $21M deal while Clarkson comes in on a 7-year contract worth just north of $5M per over that span. Clarkson’s contract includes limited No-Trade and No-Movement clauses.

    We all know what Bozak brings, and, in my mind, it’s nowhere close to the term and contract value received. As for Clarkson, it’s an overpayment yes, one that doesn’t worry me so much; not because of him not really being a true 30 goal scorer, but because he’s a player who does numerous other things to help your team.

    David has a solid frame and plays a hard nosed game. He can defend teammates and is a dangerous offensive player on both wings. Clarkson can create havoc when utilized up close on the powerplay. He’s strong on the cycle, he provides net presence and can finish in tight. The Leafs needed a forward like him.

    BUT. It’s the term on the contract is what I find most baffling. Clarkson is 29 years old, and even if he can continue to play on the level shown during the last two years (45 goals in 128 games, 216 PIMs in that span) he probably won’t be at that level for even 2/3 of the contract duration.

    While Clarkson is an upgrade on MacAthur, MacArthur just went to Ottawa for 3.25 million for 2 years. Make of it what you will.

    Discuss.

    If you want to look back and find a Game 7 featuring the Leafs, you need to go back to 2004, the last time the Leafs made the playoffs. The Buds emerged victorious in a 4-1 win over Ottawa to  wrap up a first-round series win. Really, this game 7, the first against Boston in 57 years, should’ve ended much the same way. Instead, hearts were broken. This is the toughest Game in 10 I’ll ever write.

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    Well, here we are. Leaf Nation’s 9 year wait for their team to make it to the post season is finally over and done with. Although this sensation is a welcomed one, many Leaf fans cannot help but now feel like they are in uncharted territory. Indeed, as every bold blue and white explorer ventures on, he confronts new challenges in his fandom.

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    Busting out the classic for this great night. It's funny because the Leafs scrambled them like eggs. Stinky eggs.

    The Leafs and the Habs met for the fourth time this season. In what was potentially a preview of the first round playoff matchup, it was important to get a win, not only because of the 5-2 loss in the ACC last time around, but because a win for the Habs would most certainly give them a home ice advantage in the potential series encounter. Here is how it all, beautifully, unfolded.

    Photo - Jim McIsaac/Getty

    Tonight’s game offered the second of the three seasonal meetings between these two teams. The Leafs were without Joffrey Lupul and they had to get the job done against a team that could creep up to a playoff spot with a win tonight, a Stanley Cup finalist from last year. Komarov and MacArthur made their return and it made things a little bit easier while the Devils are struggling to score without Kovalchuk. Fraser McLaren was scratched because the Devils require less face-punching or something like that. 

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    Photo credit: thestar.com

    The Leafs faced the Bruins for the third time this season. The Bs have taken the first two games along with their 8 last games against the Leafs which made this a statement game for the Buds. A celebration of Sundin’s induction into the HHOF gave it some more flair and we all hoped it wasn’t going to be a repeat of the effort shown on last February’s Sundin night. Fortunately, they got a do-over.

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    Toronto Maple Leafs vs Pittsburgh Penguins

    In this shortened season it’s never too early to talk about playoff implications. The Leafs currently sit 5th in the Eastern Conference while the Pens come into this game as the 2nd team in the East. In recent years, getting into the playoffs was virtually a lock for Pittsburgh. As we all know, the Leafs have struggled mightily. Given how things have played out so far, this season provides hope. This season can be different.

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    Photo: QMI Agency

    Prior to this one, the Habs lost only four regulation games this season, but two of those loses have come at the hands of the Maple Leafs, including the 6-0 shellacking handed to them in the Bell Centre. The 6-0 win also featured physical dominance by the Leafs so this one was expected to be a fiery affair. The Habs added Michael Ryder and PK Subban to the lineup just to make things more difficult.