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Photo: Getty Images

Phil Kessel is tired of losing, that much is clear.

In layman’s terms, there are two types of hockey players: Those who love to win and those who hate to lose. It took Kessel some time, but he’s become the second one.

Justin Bourne, who now runs The Score’s blog “Backhand Shelf,” discussed this concept last season over at Puck Daddy (view here). In it he says, “Here’s the difference: It’s like putting a cupcake between a chubby kid from a mansion on the hill, and some wiry starving kid from the streets. They both want the cupcake. But our portly friend isn’t fighting to the death over the damn thing. He might take a swing or two, but in the end, he knows if he doesn’t get this one another will come along eventually. And that’s when the wiry punk kicks him in the groin and one-bites the entire cupcake.”


    Who could have expected this? Come on now, be honest. Reimer, Armstrong, Grabovski, MacArthur, Lombardi and Komisarek all missing from the lineup, yet we do this to a team that is pegged for Stanley Cup glory? Sure, they are also in a midst of a crisis, but come on. This was a wonderful night on which every Leafs fan could simply enjoy hockey.


    Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

    Everyone collectively take a deep breath, and hold it..

    ….Hold it a little longer…

    .. Now, exhale.

    You can relax, there is no need to panic.

    The Leafs are 17 games into the season, they are 10-6-1 and they’ve hit a rough patch. Nobody thought this team was going to play great all season, did they? Yes, there are many troubling signs (which I’ll get to), but there are also a ton of positives (which we’ll look at first).

    All the Leafs have managed to do at this point – and it isn’t much – is not blow their playoff chances. They’ve built up a slight cushion, but the New Jersey Devils sit in ninth, four points behind the Leafs with two games in hand. If anyone thought the Leafs gave themselves a ton of breathing room with their solid start, consider that your reality check.


    Photo: AFP

    These might not be the same old Leafs, but it is looking like the same old Leaf penalty kill.

    At this stage of the season, I maintain a couple of things as I write this: it’s still very, very early, and the Leafs are adjusting to a new penalty killing scheme which is bound to cause mix-ups and missed assignments early in the season. So I don’t think this penalty kill is completely doomed, but I do think there is a lot of work to be done.

    First let’s look at penalty killing in it’s most basic form. At the youngest of ages you are taught how to form a box on the penalty kill. You make a box because you can keep the play to the outside and it allows you to have two guys down low to protect the net, and two guys up high to keep the defensemen honest and to take away point shots.


    Photo: Brad White/Getty Images

    Happy Halloween, everyone!

    Quite a four games of hockey for the Leafs. I said last week that I would be interested to see how the Leafs did against some formidable competition and they finished 2-2-0 on the week. That’s not bad at all but there’s certainly room for improvement. There were a lot of positives from this week (that have probably been lost in translation considering the Leafs lost Sunday night) to go along with some glaring negatives too. Let’s take a look at some of the things that have been going on.


    Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images North America

    I wasn’t really sure how to start my first post here at MLHS as half of me wanted to completely introduce myself, and the other half wanted me to just get right into my first article. I guess I’ll settle somewhere in between.I’ve been doing my own blog for quite some time (called the Leafs Dressing Room) and Alec saw it and approached me about writing here. First and foremost, that’s really humbling. Secondly, I think this site constantly pumps out quality work and has great readership. I enjoy reading the articles here as much as I do the comments because of the informed followers, which is what drew me to writing here.

    My first post is something that will become a weekly feature here. I call it ‘Leafs Notebook.’ It was a feature I started on my blog, where each week I go through all the games Toronto participates in and record my observations, counter people’s misconceptions (in my book), analyze what the Leafs are and aren’t doing well, point out interesting stats, and so on. It’s supposed to be a fun read that encourages thought and discussion and it’s something I really enjoy doing each week. I hope you guys like it too and I look forward to interacting with all of you in one way or another.

    Enough of that though, it was a busy week in Leaf land. Considering they didn’t play very well for close to three of the four games, the fact that they went 2-1-1 is pretty good. I should note that I covered the Colorado game in last weeks notes, so these only focus on the Jets-Bruins-Habs games:


      The sweetness of the result of this game, a dramatic overtime victory over an ever-hated rival in the most intense game of the season, was overshadowed by a black cloud in the form of James Reimer’s injury situation. It had all the makings of a concussion and has sparked a bit of a Steckel-on-Crosby “did he or didn’t he” debate over Brian Gionta’s intent. The initial word is that it’s whiplash for Reimer, the same injury he suffered against Atlanta early in his Leaf career, so let’s hope the recovery is going to be equally as quick.


      Photo: Charles Krupa/Sports Tri-Cities.com

      The Toronto Maple Leafs met their first serious opponent this season, facing the defending champions, the Boston Bruins, last night at TD Garden. It was a wake-up call for the Leafs, who have mostly faced non-playoff teams as opponents and have received out worldly performances from Phil Kessel to save the game for them, game-after-game. Toronto has had glaring issues with their specialty teams, and even their 5-on-5 play, that has to be raising big concern for the players and coaches involved despite a 4-1-1 start. Facing the Boston Bruins brought this team back to earth and revealed a number of areas in need of work, merely covered up by Phil Kessel’s dominance in the four games preceding last night’s tilt.

      It’s not inconceivable that the Leafs would have had a 1-4 or 2-3 record going into the game against Boston if not for their offensive leader’s best streak in a Leafs sweater. This team has not clicked as a unit from game one and it finally caught up with them in the form of an embarrassing 6-2 loss. There was very little to like about Toronto’s game and, as has become tradition, Toronto’s stacked defence core largely underperformed.


        Back half of a back to back against the Bruins. A lot of Bs in that one. A lot of Bs in the game as well. It was a second game in as many nights, but I can’t excuse the team for the mistakes made that had nothing to do with energy but rather hockey systems and fundamentals. Only then can we look at the effort, which wasn’t there from the start. Against teams like Boston, that counts.


          One of many future games against the Jets, even if they move to the West. Having the Jets back is good for the game and it showed tonight in a very entertaining hockey game. Which the Leafs won. That makes it more entertaining. Welcome back and thanks for coming, but the two points stay in the ACC.


            When you saw Giggy was starting in the ACC you knew it was going to be tough. It had to be. Hockey gods love to write such stories. A point for the Leafs. Bigger than it appears to be.


              We always love a game of traded jerseys. Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, Matthew Lombardi, Niklas Hagman, Dion Phaneuf, Lanny McDonald – wait, that’s getting too far back. Anyways, this game was the best example of what one week’s rust can do to a hockey team. The boys in blue gave up numerous turnovers in the first but managed a supreme comeback to remain perfect.


              Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images

              Their opening two games of the 2011-12 season would indicate the Ottawa Senators, if nothing else, have a knack for playing dead and lulling the opponent into a false sense of security. Thankfully, they still didn’t win on either occasion.

              A scary final ten minutes saw Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza combine to cut a 5-1 Leafs lead down to within one. Phil Kessel then took the game by the horns, completing his first hat trick as a Maple Leaf to let us breathe easy again, if only for a moment before Stephane Da Costa rose from the dead and gave us a final scare. Forget how they got there, the Leafs picked up the win and now take a 2-0 record into their oddly scheduled week off.

              Join me for the post game mashup after the jump.


              James Reimer

              Photo: The Canadian Press

              There was a lot of trepidation going into the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season opener against the Montreal Canadiens, to be sure. Interviews with Brian Burke – featuring sometimes snippy comments and a seemingly reduced air of confidence – have started to show a dent in his armour. Between having to answer questions about his inability to secure a true #1 centerman, the job security of his friend and colleague, Ron Wilson, or the investment of faith in what could be a one-year wonder in net with James Reimer, it’s certain to have had its effect on him.

              Ron Wilson is sure to a be a lame-duck coach if the 2011-12 Leafs get off to a bad start. As good of a job Brian Burke has done rebuilding the entire organization at all levels, there is only so much losing a team can take before fingers start to be pointed at Father Burke, himself.

              Key pre-season injuries to top 6 centerman Tim Connolly, center-turned-winger Nazem Kadri and a suspension to Clarke MacArthur all added even more uncertainty to a team that needed solid footing to start off their 2011-12 campaign. They got it last night—and they got it in spades.


              UPDATE (11:32pm) – Of course, 11 hours after I posted this, Drew Doughty has signed in LA. Early indications put the deal at 8 years for $7 million per. So, the obvious lesson for both sides: procrastinate something as far as you possibly can, because when you do it, the timing will be hilariously perfect.

              While enjoying patios and beer league baseball shenanigans this summer, Leaf Nation couldn’t help but keep one anxious ear primed for any news – or explanation – surrounding the lack of a Luke Schenn signing well into September. Now, late into training camp, fans of the Los Angeles Kings wait with the same baited breath for their own RFA superstar Drew Doughty’s new deal. To call both situations peculiar, given the players’ individual importance to their respective teams, would not be an overstatement. Is there some connection between these prolonged negotiations?

              Might Donald E. Meehan – founding partner of Newport Sports Management and agent to both players – be that common denominator?


              "Salmings_Scar" and James Reimer

              Hey guys. I’m sure many of you have read the James Reimer interview on MLHS regarding Reimer’s off-season training with Adam Francilla in Maple Ridge, B.C., at FitLife Training Centre. Since I live in Vancouver, B.C., I decided I would try and go out to where he trains out here, hoping I could somehow meet him, and possibly get an autograph. So here’s my story. I hope you like it and get more hyped for the season!

              So I had got a tip from a friend who did an interview with Reimer for a local paper, and he told me when I could catch all the guys training. So a couple Thursdays ago (Aug 11th), I made my way out to Maple Ridge BC (in my Leafs jersey and hat of course) where he, Andrew Ladd, and others do their off-season training. No players were there when I arrived at the facility at 8 a.m., but Mr. Adam Francilla himself was. He indicated that they were doing dry land training off sight that day, but that he could call James Reimer on my behalf. So Adam makes a personal call for me, if you can believe it, and asks him if it’s cool if I go out to their dry land track to meet him! Reimer said it was no problem at all and he’d be happy to do it.


              Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

              Earlier this month, Gus projected Nikolai Kulemin as Toronto’s top scorer for the upcoming season in his 2011-2012 Maple Leaf player projections. Now it’s time for me to share my projections, but I’ll be taking a bit of a different approach. In an effort to make this as systematic as possible, I’m going to use a makeshift formula that I’ve created myself to take into account a few determining factors.

              I’m going to start by placing value on a player’s last three years of production, with the more recent years worth more than the earlier years. Year 1 will make up 20% of the total, Year 2 will make up 30% of the total and Year 3 (the most recent year) will make up 50% of the total. This helps take into account a player’s improvement while also buffering for the possibility of overvaluing a career season.


              Photo: Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

              The 2011 Maple Leafs Annual is 99% complete, and we should have preordering information available for you all soon. Remember, if you have read any of our teasers or interview excerpts, you are morally obligated to purchase this magazine. Don’t be a bad person. The Annual can be yours for a mere $9.99 this time around, so no excuses.

              The Burke interview for Annual, conducted by torontosportsmedia, went extraordinarily well. The final product is a must read, as Burke touches on a wide variety of topics including but not limited to the failures of past seasons, the offseason moves, the media, the status of Ron Wilson, and expectations for the season ahead. In the course of conversation, Burke touched on a number of the topics our reader questions inquired about. After the jump, I’ll glean a few small excerpts for your enjoyment.


              Photo: Hans Deryk/Reuters

              More Maple Leafs Annual bonus feature material for your enjoyment. Interview conducted by Steve Dangle. Be sure to check out the Reimer interview if you missed it earlier today.

              Steve: Don’t you think that’s kind of funny though that while other guys are spending their summer relaxing, you’re out farming?

              Aulie: Yeah, it’s just a way of life I guess. I like to do lots of other things other than just hockey. I like to get away from the game a little bit in the summer and do some other things and especially help out with the farm. I think it’s a good way to get a different mindset for a while, and when you jump back into the game you’re really refreshed. Farming’s got its own challenges and it’s kind of neat to work on something else for a bit.