On the eve of what should have been the Leafs first preseason game, a couple of Toronto's locked-out players are making news overseas. Earlier today, Nikolai Kulemin played in his first game in Magnitogorsk alongside Evgeni Malkin.
The former Mettalurg linemates immediately displayed the chemistry that made them an effective combination in the past. Kulemin (wearing #14 for Mettalurg) quickly asserted his arrival, scoring the first goal of the game minutes into the match (courtesy of an assist by #71).
The Marlies will take to the ice today in pursuit of the Calder Cup, against a Norfolk Admirals team that has stampeded through the AHL over the last few months. Â Toronto will be without some of its most potent offensive weapons, as Matt Frattin has joined Nazem Kadri and Mike Zigomanis on the injured list. Â As such, Ben Scrivens and Toronto's defensive effort will have to come up big against an Admirals team that features a number of scoring threats.
Elsewhere in the hockey universe, Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement, to the dismay of hockey fans everywhere (seriously, have you ever met someone that doesn't like this Swedish legend?). Â As Matt accurately predicted, there are already a number of career retrospectives on the internets, with many touching on the (admittedly selfish)Â disappointingÂ notion that we won't get to see #5 work the Red Wings blueline anymore. Â It's a presence that the game will truly miss.
Randy Carlyle certainly didn't join the Maple Leafs at an easy point in their schedule. Tonight's game against Boston will test the club's new direction and resilience. The damage the Bruins inflicted in their last two trips to Toronto definitely hasn't been forgotten by the players, as they were blowouts that saw Boston hit six and seven goals in the month of November. Although one cannot expect a massive difference in play over the span of a week, this matchup will serve as a good benchmark for the team's progress.
Previously, the Bruins were one of those teams that were able to shut down the speed in Toronto's game. In doing so, they created numerous turnovers and odd-man chances that, as a good team (against questionable goaltending), they capitalized on. As Carlyle is attempting to instill a conservative approach that only deploys the speed in safe, calculated attacks, it would seem fair to guess that success on his part would see this team eventually be a better match against the Bruins. [more…]
With its typically confusing mix of excitement, frustration and dissapointment, the NHL trade deadline has come and gone. Â For better or for worse, the Toronto team that will hit the ice tonight against the Florida Panthers will have to be the one that ends this franchise's absence from the NHL playoffs. Â Taking into account the tantalizing possibilities of player acquisitions (and departures) that flitted through the collective mind of Leafs Nation over the last few months, it is at first a bit surprising to realize that Burke has made no significant changes to the roster this year (apart from the early, calculated decision to acquire David Steckel).
But with time and consideration of the considerable expenses that would have gone into any theoretical acquisitions, it should be clear that Burke's path was a wise one. Â It's become obvious that Burke hoped to acquire his impact forward without shipping any personnel that are needed for this team's playoff push. Â This choice was an indication of the GM's adherence to his long term plan and player valuations. Â He has thrown all his chips in with what he has built over the last few years, rather than rushing to siphon off talent which he has accumulated in an effort to bring in a big fish. [more…]
Tonight the Leafs will shouldÂ be desperate for a win, as they cling to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Â The players have acknowledged that their trip out west left much to be desired. Â They have vowed to come out strong here at home as they know that even the awful play of Alex Ovechkin won't be able to keep the Washington Capitals below them much longer if they keep losing at this rate. Â They'll be in tough against a New Jersey team that has ripped off eight ROW wins in their last ten games and have consequently surged up the standings.
The Devils have seen success recently, partly due to the steady play of Martin Brodeur, who has been dominant since gettingÂ embarrassedÂ in Calgary last month. Â The goaltending legend is showing that he can still play at an elite level, going 3-0-0 with a 0.956 SV% over the past week. Â Thankfully, Brodeur hasn't played his best games against Toronto in recent years, a trend that hopefully continues tonight. [more…]
Mats announced that he would be exercising his no trade clause on February 25, 2008. Â It may not be a popularly shared sentiment at this time, but this decision should be considered one of the Swede's great moments as a Maple Leaf. Of course, it almost certainly won't be remembered as such, as it is one of the few contentious things Sundin did in his career in Toronto (perhaps the only contentious thing, aside from his January 2004 attempt to use a broken stick as a discus-like instrument of Swedish wrath and frustration).
Sundin made a difficult choice knowing that many would not understand it. Painfully aware that in a city like Toronto, many would also lash out at him for it. Â But as he said yesterday, loyalty was both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. Â The Swedish centerman was loyal to a fault, literally.
With a healthy lineup and two confident/competent goaltenders, this Toronto Maple Leafs team has been impressive and successful. Â They have wedged themselves back into the playoff picture and have a squad that could finish anywhere from fourth to eighth in that bracket. Â While the Leafs still need that big bodied forward in their top six, there is a very likely possibility that asking prices, injuries, or the team's current play may negate the chances that Brian Burke orchestrates a significant deal.
This is a Toronto team with a deep defense and many fast forwards, a number of which are proven scorers. Â The plethora of blueliners has fueled the common assumption that the Leafs will ship one out as part of a package for a forward with size. Â While there is no doubt that Burke is exploring this option, certain factors such as the JVR injury or contract details of possible targets (Carter) could have made this an impossible venture. Â Instead, the Leafs could use their surplus of defenders as insurance against injuries, or in a lower-value trade for an improvement on the third line. [more…]
The Maple Leafs will step straight out of the All-Star Break into a back-to-backÂ set with the Penguins, starting with tonight's tilt in Pittsburgh. Â They'll finish out this week's slate of games against the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday night. Â With these clubs almost directly above the Leafs in the standings, it's safe to say that Toronto will look to build on their two game sweep of the Islanders last week. Â While they won't be ready for tonight, the return of some injured Toronto players bodes well for the impending playoff push.
The recently-extended Liles and Colby Armstrong look to be returning to the Maple Leafs lineup in the near future. Â Liles will energize the Toronto powerplay and add to the offensive dynamics of the club. Â There's little certainty when it comes to Armstrong's play after this incredulous run of injuries, but at the very least Colby should add some checking and grit in the corners, along the boards and on the puck. [more…]
The Canadiens visit the Air Canada Centre tonight fresh off of blowing a two-goal third period lead to Evgeni Malkin the Pittsburgh Penguins. Â It's been a rocky season for the "big mess" (according to Jaroslav Spacek) that is the Montreal franchise. Â Sitting nine points back of a playoff spot, the Habs will be desperate to pick up points in an effort to get back in the race. Â They're probably hoping that playing away from the raving pressure cooker that is the Bell Centre will allow Carey Price to focus on his game (0.925 SV% on the road vs. 0.899 SV% at home). Â Price will be opposed by Jonas Gustavsson, who has settled comfortably into both his role on the ice and with his teammates outside of the rink. Â The amused adoration that defines the Maple Leafs' attitude towards the Monster has undoubtedly contributed to their recent success as a cohesive unit on the ice.
Toronto will begin the second half of their schedule with a tilt against the Buffalo Sabres this Tuesday night. Â While they've often proved to be more than the Leafs can handle in recent years, the Sabres limp into tonight's game having won just two of their last ten games. Â That being said, I know a number of diehard Buffalo fans that believe in one simple fact: if there is any team that the Sabres consistently get psyched to play, it's the Leafs. Â It should be a fast, tight, and exciting match at the Air Canada Centre as Ryan Miller faces off against Jonas Gustavsson.
The roles and responsibilities associated with captaincy in sports are often difficult to identify. Â Mired in the vague ambit of "leadership" and often prone to media sensationalism, fans commonly have their own personal definition of what they want in a captain. Â Yet there is the concrete realization that at the very least, a captain must be recognized as such by those he leads. Â That is why this TSN article is as good an indicator as any that Dion Phaneuf is on the right track with this young Toronto squad.
As you no doubt have heard, the NHL will look radically different starting next season. Â Originally, the Board of Governors were considering a simple interconference swap of Detroit or Columbus with Winnipeg. Â Instead, they largely voted in favour of a much grander realignment that has created four separate conferences. Â Let's take a look at some of the ramifications of this realignment that apply directly to the Maple Leafs.
1. While the format of the final two rounds of the playoffs have not yet been clarified (the GMs will decide the matter in March), it is quite likely that Toronto could end up playing a team from the former Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup. Â While this will not include anyone directly within our new unnamed "conference", the possibilities of a seven game series with the likes of the Penguins, Rangers or Flyers is certainly exciting. Â The Penguins, Flyers, and even the Capitals are successful new-era teams stacked with young talent. Â On the other hand, facing off against New York for the Stanley Cup is an original six matchup that most never thought we'd see in this day and age. [more…]