A combination of terrible goaltending and suspect defensive coverage undid the Maple Leafs tonight as they sat on an early 3-0 lead thinking they would ride it to the finish line, failing to take into the account the fact that, with a goaltender that’s seriously struggling between the pipes, leads can disappear on the turn of a dime, let alone over the course of 40 minutes. The end result is one which will please neither side of tanking/playoff spectrum.
Random thoughts and opinions from (roughly) the halfway point of the season:
* Glad to see the mustache is back in style.Â Â In fact, when I was younger I grew a goatee just because everyone else was doing the ‘stache.Â Then the ’93 Canadiens all grew goatees during their Cup run, and it became a social mainstay.Â Â Yes, folks, it’s true: my hatred of the Habs has nothing to do with the Leafs, and everything to do with facial hair.
Slow starts off the hop have been endemic for the Leafs this season, but tonight went above and beyond a poor start as the listlessness didn’t seem to wear off until the second intermission. A woeful first two periods killed the Leafs, but they can take some solace in a much-improved third period of play that made the score-line respectable. Additionally, Bryan McCabe played a role in both the Leafs’ goals and Jason Blake recorded the team’s first shortie in over a year. So it wasn’t all bad.
I don’t care where in the tanking/playoff spectrum you stand, beating the Ottawa Senators is always sweet. Especially in a game riddled with physicality and controversy, against a rival considered at season’s dawn a contender vastly more talented than the re-building Maple Leafs.
The Holiday break is as good a time as any to take a peek at who the Maple Leafs’ leaders are in the major statistical categories, and how they stack up against the league leaders as of December 24th.
The Maple Leafs, now bearers of a winning record at 14-13-6, are looking to continue their offensive onslaught against the league’s fifth worst defense as they return home to host the underachieving Dallas Stars.
You couldn’t help but feel the Southwest Coast whammy was afflicting the Maple Leafs once again as Alexander Frolov streaked in alone and beat Vesa Toskala less than a minute into the three game road spread.
Brian Burke’s exact intentions with the Toronto Maple Leafs will be the source of much speculation likely until after the Christmas season, but there may just be one tweak made in shorter order: locating a genuine heavyweight pugilist as a bottom six “hardhat” in his roster.
1) The Maple Leafs have slogged through one of the toughest schedules across the league for the month of October, playing only three teams below the .500 mark, and currently sit 4-3-3.
This evening’s 3-2 loss was another tough one to swallow for a Maple Leafs team that largely outfought the Tampa Bay Lightning throughout the course of the game. There appeared to be only one real area where the Maple Leafs fell short in this one… star power. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Vincent Lecavalier pulled off a few moments of magic which proved decisive. Backstopped by a stingy Mike Smith, the Lightning were sturdy defensively, but on top of their 39 shots on target, the Leafs missed the 6×4 on an inexcusable 19 occasions (believe it or not, only 2 were off the stick of Jason Blake).
The approach entering the ’08/’09 campaign from head coach Ron Wilson and general manager Cliff Fletcher is that performance is the primary measuring stick while results in the win/loss columns are only of secondary import.
In the ultimate act of callousness by league schedulers, the Maple Leafs will open their regular season account inside the Joe Louis Arena, where they will endure the pre-game banner raising ceremony for the Stanley Cup winning Detroit Red Wings.
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Itâ€™s time to take a closer look at the Maple Leafs roster for the upcoming season. As much as some of the younger players have performed well this pre-season, there seems to be too many one way contracts with a death grip on much of the opening night roster.
A momentum swing in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins can be largely attributed to a couple of in-game changes orchestrated by bench-boss Ron Wilson.
The starting first line of Mikhail Grabovski, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky proved ineffectual in the first frame and rookie Nik Kulemin wasn’t clicking with line-mates Nik Hagman and Alex Steen. The team failed to generate anything in the way of offense until late in the third, when Wilson’s ad hoc lines began to fire, mounting a near come-back with two goals in quick succession.
My post-game notes from tonight’s 3-2 loss inside Mellon Arena:
-Some promising individual performances, but the chemistry amongst many of the lines was lacking.
-All three goals were avoidable. If Anton Stralman and Josef Boumedienne were facing up ice when playing the cross-crease passes there wouldn’t have been an issue. It just seemed to be a freak incident when Stralman lost his footing on the third marker and Kaberle’s jumping of the gun in heading up ice gave the Pens a 2 on 0 situation.
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I sat down to watch the first period just before the remote was ripped from my hands by my girlfriend, who basically took the 42â€ plasma hostage for the premier of Dancing With The Stars. I think I just threw up in my mouth.
So, I saw the first period in relatively high definition before watching sporadically on the 27â€ tube-style in the master bedroom as the second and third periods unfolded.
It certainly seemed like a new era tonight in the ACC as a much more motivated and industrious Leafs team took to the ice and out-played the Buffalo Sabres in a 7-4 win for the new-look Blue and White.
Neither team could honestly say they put forth the best they could offer, but that’s the nature of these early pre-season games. It still can be said that there were some promising signs from a Leafs stand-point.