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It’s that time of year again. Â The most wonderful time of the year. Â No, not Christmas, and no, you won’t see any of those silly Staples commercials.
It’s time for the NHL playoffs.
The annual spring tournament that features some of the most exciting hockey of the season. Â It’s Â triple overtime games that rage on long into the night, games so long that you’ll hope you saved some sick days. Â It’s players skating through pain, all for the common goal of lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
And the great fans of the NHL, well they have the best seat in the house.
Around this time of year, especially the first round, marriages are postponed. Â Assignments are left on desks unfinished. Â Scheduled are cleared, or built around. Â Kiss your wife or girlfriend, and tell her you’ll see her in a few months, a better person than when you last saw her.
Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs play host to the Los Angeles Kings. Fortunately for the Leafs, they are back at home where they have a better record (9-10-5) than when playing as the visitors (8-16-5) this season. Unfortunately for the Leafs, the Kings have a better away record (15-10-1) than they do when playing as the host team (14-9-2)… also Kopitar. Yeah.
Just wanted to share a fantastic bit of work done by Nights, one of our many enthusiastic and intelligent readers, who evaluated how the NHL landscape would look without the first 8 games of the season during which the Maple Leafs struggled mightily. Great work!
By: Gus Katsaros
Prior to the season starting, I had written about the impact of schedules. In particular, as the Leafs face the Habs tonight after playing the previous night, while Montreal is rested. Interesting enough, the last time this happened, Toronto beat Detroit 5-1.
Schedules make a big difference in the results of NHL teams fates during the season. In some instances, it could be the difference between a playoff spot and a tee time (and I thoroughly enjoy both â€“ FORRRREEEE!!).
Maple Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek is expected to miss 3-4 weeks due to a small quad tear. He got hurt in Saturday night’s game against the Red Wings and left Tuesday’s game versus the Wild early as well.
It started off as a fast paced and strong two-way game for both clubs, but the Maple Leafs just could not keep up with the Wild’s pressure for a full 60 minutes. Minnesota came into this game to make a statement, much like the Leafs did on Saturday night against the Red Wings. There were key chances for the Leafs to score, but a few bad breaks, including costly penalties, and missed opportunities cost the Leafs their 7 game point streak in a loss against the worst team in the Western Conference.
With Kessel and Gustavsson integrating themselves into the lineup, the team seems poised to break off a big-time run to put themselves back into the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture. The team is playing very well of late and continued to build on that with an impressive 5-1 victory at home against the Detroit Red Wings on Hall of Fame night.
Update: During post-game media scrum, Wilson says Komisarek’s injury not serious.
Jonas Gustavsson.Â Phil Kessel.Â Matt Stajan.Â (Ok that last one was just to mess with you).Â The Leafs continued their point streak and began a hopefully lengthy run of wins with a victory over the visiting Red Wings tonight.Â It was an admirable performance across the board tonight as followers of this Maple Leafs squad hover in a state of trepid excitement.Â One thing we can be sure about is that Gustavsson has given us a level of goaltending not seen in these parts for quite a while.
After such a porous start for both clubs, both teams are heading into tonight’s original six matchup with their longest streak of the season and are currently playing their best hockey. The Red Wings are looking to extend their streak to 4 wins, while the Leafs are looking to extend their streak to 2 games for the first time this season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are back on the road tonight with a matchup against fellow Eastern bottomer Carolina Hurricanes. It will be a weekend of back to back games for the Leafs as they head home on Saturday to play host to the Detroit Red Wings (a game I will be liveblogging). But there is a significant question at hand for the Leafs heading into tonight’s game: Can a team aiming for the playoffs beat the worst team in the league?
Leafs fans have been waiting for John Mitchell to step up and start burying his opportunities to legitimize himself as a top 6 forward, where depth is lacking. At Wednesday’s practice, he received that opportunity and looks to excel at it as he was paired up with sniper Phil Kessel to establish some chemistry before Friday night’s matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes.
It is their second meeting this year, and the first played a big part on blinding fans for both teams in the belief that each were elite competitors. Since that opening night, the Habs have on 5-7-0, while the Leafs have gone 1-7-2. But there are always upsides, and tonight marks to start to capitalize on those specifics.
Big thank you to Mark Seidel, Chief Scout of North American Central Scouting and contributor to The Hockey News, for taking the time to chat about the upcoming 2010 NHL Entry Draft. His agency’s latest rankings can be seen here on THN. This time around, Leaf fans won’t be having the opportunity of watching one of the draft’s elite youngsters, such as projected top pick Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall, fall into their lap. But nonetheless, the draft is always a hot topic in the hockey world.
Given the early-season struggles of incumbent starting netminder Vesa Toskala, speculation is mounting that Jonas Gustavsson could receive his first NHL start as early as Tuesday night when the Leafs face their Ontario rivals, the Ottawa Senators.
Early speculation is Toskala may not be all the way back, mentally or physically, from the groin and hip surgeries he endured last season. While it is obviously far too early to annoint Gustavsson the starter for the rest of the season (he has yet to play a full game in the NHL), it is not unreasonable to expect that in the wake of Toskala’s struggles he could receive an extended look, in the form of more early-season starts than were initially planned.
With the new season quickly approaching, the Maple Leafs have brought backÂ the old commercial in which fans talk about their favourite Leafs goal of all-time (you know the one, right?). So it got me thinking, what’s my favourite Maple Leafs goal of all-time?
Borschevsky versus the Red Wings in 1993? Nope. Gilmour’s overtime wrap-around against the Blues that same year? No, not that one either. My favourite Leaf goal of all-time is Steve Thomas’ OT winner in Game 5 versus the Senators in the 2000 playoffs. Now the overtime goals by Borschevsky and Gilmour may have been bigger, but I have to put Stumpy’s winner at the top of my list because I saw it in person.
The Leafs improved their preaseason win total to six tonight at the ACC.Â These are the final chances for some of the young hopefuls, and they are not going to go away easily.Â Strong nights from Jonas Gustavsson and Viktor Stalberg were the headlines of this matchup.Â Even the defense corps has a rookieÂ strutting his stuffÂ as Ron Wilson deemed Carl Gunnarsson their “best defenseman tonight”.
The Maple Leafs finished as the league’s worst defensive team last season, giving up an astounding 286 goals, which works out to about 3.5 goals against a game. As such, much of the team’s summer remodeling took place on the blueline, which saw the departure of Kubina and the additions of shutdown defensemenÂ Beauchemin and Komisarek. With nearly $20M dollars committed per season through 2011 to the group of Kaberle, Komisarek, Beauchemin, Schenn and Finger, and Tomas being the only player above the age of 30, it appears on paper at least, that this will be the core of the defense for the foreseeable future. If that’s the case, how do they stack up against the rest of the league?
Update: TSN is reporting 3 years, $11.5 million for Beauchemin (3.8 per).
Also, Nazem Kadri has been signed to a three-year, entry level contract.
Leafs also re-upped Ryan Hamilton and Ben Ondrus today. Jeremy Williams and Kris Newbury meanwhile signed with the Detroit Red Wings.
More to come from Alex shortly.
The ability to select future stars or even useful role players in the mid-late rounds is what separates the pretenders from the contenders. The class of the NHL when it comes to late round drafting are the Detroit Red Wings, with players like Helm (5th), Franzen (3rd), Filppula (2nd), Hudler (3rd), Ericsson (9th), Zetterberg (7th) and Datsyuk (6th) all playing key roles on a Stanley Cup Finalist team. As E.J. Mcguire alluded to in the previous chapter of Draft Watch ’09, there will be plenty of potential impact players available beyond the first round of this year’s entry draft. Let’s take a look at some of the names:
Scouting service, McKeen’s Hockey Prospects released their 2009 Final Rankings, in conjunction with their 2009 Draft Guide which includes exclusive content and scouting reports on the top 90 draft eligible players. Patrick King, of Sportsnet familiarity talked about the draft in a Q and A session.
Following suit with the likes of the Redline Report and ISS, John Tavares was not listed at number one. NHL Central Scouting doesn’t release a consolidated rankings, ranks are broken down by North American and International, with Goaltenders ranked independant from Skaters.
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