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Northeast Division

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The parallels between these two provincial rivals goes deeper than their matching point totals through 23 games. Both teams are getting good goaltending, sitting top 5 in team save percentage (Senators are 1st at 0.945), despite rotating goalies due to injury, inexperience on the backend and a lot of shots allowed (Leafs – 25th, Senators – 29th). Like the Leafs with Kostka, Holzer and Fraser, the Senators have been giving the inexperienced likes of Eric Gryba, Andre Benoit and Peter Wiercioch significant minutes and so far are hanging in the playoff picture with a goals against total in the top 10 league wide.

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    Anybody still want to debate the wisdom of starting Gustavsson against the Penguins?

    For my money, this was the right play.   Anyway you slice it, after a 2-0 start against two undermanned/terrible teams,  tonight’s game against the Penguins was set to be a measuring stick of sorts (despite the fact that they were somewhat undermanned themselves).  If Wilson runs his number one guy out there and he gets torched, the Leafs’ momentum comes to a crashing halt: we are measured, and found wanting.  Instead, the coach pitches the Monster at a talented (and desperate for a home win) Pittsburgh team, and sends a message to the rest of the squad: bring your lunchpail and hardhat, it will be necessary to win the little battles along the boards and elsewhere on the ice to have a chance at two points in this game.

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    Mike Brown

    Mike Brown

    Mike Brown does his best Bobby Orr impersonation before later settling for a Colton Orr impersonation. Never underestimate the value of versatility.

    Two games in, and the Maple Leafs are 2-0 for the first time in 11 years. While some might be tempted to find meaning within that number, the truth is that in terms of history the number is rather meaningless.

    With still 80 games left on the docket, and the Leafs about to embark on their first road trip of the season, expectations must be tempered despite the hot start (and the rare sight of a 4th overall placement on the ESPN Power Rankings).

    In other words, a 7-0-1 start (to counter last season’s 0-7-1) is probably just a little too much to ask. As if I had to tell you that. Then again, this IS Leafs Nation; somewhere, someone surely needed the reminder.

    Follow the jump for a few first-week impressions and musings.

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    The winless Ottawa Senators visit the undefeated Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at the ACC. With a victory this evening, the Leafs would have their best start to a season since ’99-00 when they won three straight out of the gate. It’s just two games, but the symbolism of a return to the pre-lockout days – let alone a chance to put the Sens at 0-2 and gain early points on another division rival – would be nothing but sweet.

    After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the new look squad hit the ice Thursday night for their home opener against the arch rival Montreal Canadiens, and with it marked the true dawning of a new age in Leafs Nation.

    While it’s true the hiring of Ron Wilson and Brian Burke will go down as the day the team began to turn the page on years of management misfortune, and the Dion Phaneuf day could very well end up being the trade that sparks the team forward much like the Doug Gilmour trade before it, Thursday night’s season premiere was really the first time since all this has taken place that it was truly a different roster.

    Gone were the incumbents of past regimes, It was finally Brian Burke’s team.  Having flipped the entire roster (sans Tomas Kaberle and Jeff Finger) Burke’s vision of the team could finally be implemented, his stamp beginning to form.

    And it was, for one game at least, as advertised.

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    J-S Giguere

    Jean-Sebastien Giguere

    The wait is over. After yet another long off-season following a fifth consecutive year of missing out on the NHL post-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are set to kick off the 2010-11 season against their oldest rival, the Montreal Canadiens.

    Both teams have undergone an off-season where – despite the lack of a full-scale overhaul – crucial moves were made to bring in key players or (in Montreal’s case) provide a better opportunity for players already in the organization. Gone from the 2009-10 Toronto lineup are Viktor Stalberg, Rickard Wallin and Keith Primeau, replaced by Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong, and Brett Lebda. In Montreal, the most impactful move was the trade of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St Louis in exchange for Lars Eller, a move which paves the way for Carey Price to assert his standing among starting NHL netminders.


    Yes, I'm 44 years old and have a Leafs lunchpail. What's your point?

    It begins tonight – the 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs season. New captain, new faces, new year, clean slate. Hope. The excitement of a new journey.

    Whatever level of excitement we the fans have for it, tonight is not a measuring stick. The Habs are somewhat undermanned, with Andrei Markov out of the lineup and Carey Price reportedly feeling under the weather. Moreover, last season’s lengthy run in the postseason notwithstanding, I doubt whether anyone standing out of Pierre Gauthier’s earshot considers the Habs to be likely to repeat that sort of performance this time ’round. Tonight’s match is last year’s 29th place finishers vs. the fluky Conference finalists who lost their rabbit’s foot and are missing their star defenceman. Hardly a Clash of the Titans.

    There is much to watch for technically in the Leafs’ play – is there improvement on the power play, have adjustments been made on the penalty kill and in defensive coverage generally?  Blue and white hearts, long afflicted with Toskalaitis, will flutter when otherwise harmless pucks are directed at the Leaf net, and will skip a beat as anxious eyes hope innocuous shots are turned aside with a timely glove or some good positional play by J.S. Giguere.

    One thing I’ll be watching for more than anything is signs that this team has bonded and is prepared to play as a cohesive unit.  I’m looking to the Captain to set the tone, to play with a fire in his belly but showing discipline and commitment to team above all. (UPDATE: hope the Leafs come to the rink carrying their lunchpails, logo-emblazoned or not).

    The Leafs should beat this Montreal team; they should be emotionally charged and, being relatively healthy, they ought to find that the support of the faithful will propel them to a momentum-inducing victory over a hated historical rival.  Of course, there are no guarantees, and mid-week games at the ACC being what they are, the support of the faithful can often be mistaken aurally for the waiting room at a seniors’ home.

    I’m excited.  I love home openers.  Love watching the 48th Highlanders march across the ice as the opening ceremonies come to a close, and the two starting centres drift toward the faceoff dot, preparing to lean in and start the battle.  Hope you’re excited too.  Looking forward to sharing this season with you all.

    GO LEAFS GO!

    p.s. To help get you in the mood, check out The Maple Leafs song: a video tribute.

    UPDATE: I’ve posted a picture of my Toronto Maple Leafs lunchpail because (a) I can; and (b) the fact that I’m 44 years old and have a Toronto Maple Leafs lunchpail (for reasons I can’t explain), among dozens of other pieces of logo-emblazoned merchandise,  tells you all about why I have the level of excitement I’m feeling right now.  What’s the weirdest piece of Leafs merch you have squirreled away in your residence?

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    Morrisonn welcomes Ross to the Maple Leafs' organization

    Not a bad start for the Maple Leafs’ 2010 draft class… It was announced on Monday that forward prospects Greg McKegg, the Leafs’ 3rd round pick 62nd overall, and Brad Ross, the Leafs’ 2nd round pick 43rd overall, were named OHL and WHL Players of the Week respectively for the week of September 27th to October 3rd. Not to be forgotten is forward Josh Nicholls, the team’s 7th round pick 182nd overall who is off to a career best start for the Saskatoon Blades.

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    It’ll probably be labeled as a “typical Leafs fan” debate given their status as lower roster players but there has been a number of questions arising out of yesterday’s demotion of Christian Hanson and Luca Caputi in favour of John Mitchell and Tim Brent… and rightfully so, in my opinion, given the “earn your spot mentality” conveyed by Leafs brass and that both followed the off-season regimens recommended to them and came into camp by storm looking bigger, faster, stronger and more dynamic offensively.

    While it’s too early to judge, I am not saying the decisions to originally sign either player in John Mitchell or Brett Lebda were wise; in the cap sense and numerically, both signings have me wondering, particularly in Lebda’s case. It’s hard to see where Burke arrived at the need for someone of Lebda’s ilk and price tag unless better offers were assumed to be incoming for Tomas Kaberle. But the decision made by coach Wilson yesterday, forgetting arguments about the off-season decisions and shifting to training camp and preseason, can be understood:

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    Here are tonight’s lines courtesy of Pension Plan Puppets:

    Versteeg – Bozak - Kessel
    MacArthur – Grabovski - Kulemin
    Sjostrom – Brent - Armstrong
    Orr – Zigomanis – Brown

    Beauchemin – Phaneuf
    Kaberle – Komisarek
    Gunnarsson – Schenn

    Giguere
    Gustavsson

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    Darcy Tucker has officially called it a career. “After spending the whole summer anticipating I would play, it got to a point where I knew it was time.”

    “I just knew, during workouts I didn’t have that same feeling,” Tucker told TSN, “and I needed to be fair with my family.”

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    According to Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star, it appears as if the Maple Leafs could be exploring all options in order to bring in another centreman from outside the organization. While Hunter explains that Bozak and Grabovski have essentially nailed down the top two centre positions to begin the season, both Kadri and Mitchell have struggled enough for Burke to begin considering alternative means of reinforcement down the middle. During the media conference call on Sunday afternoon, Burke had this to say about his current forward group:

    “No one has ever said we’re going with this group. We’re still in a great position for waiver claims. We still have our scouts out scouring. We haven’t ruled out doing something. . . . We may need to go out and grab a centre.

    Regarding Kadri:

    “He’s not played anywhere near to what we had hoped for and expected. I don’t know why that is and he’s running out of time.”

    Hunter speculates that Christian Hanson will likely be slotted in between Colton Orr and Mike Brown on the team’s fourth line, which by process of elimination, suggests that the Leafs could be looking to acquire a veteran third line centre. Presumably, this would be a player who would mesh into Burke’s “top six – bottom six” philosophy as a defensively minded player who will win faceoffs, battle in the corners and contribute on the team’s penalty kill unit.

    One such player could be former Canuck/Duck Brendan Morrison, whom Burke and Nonis are both quite familiar with. Morrison is currently with the Canucks’ camp on a tryout basis, but has been playing well. The 35 year old B.C. native posted 42 points and a +23 rating in 74 games played for the Capitals last season. If he doesn’t manage to snag a full-time job on a very deep Canuck team (Sedin, Kesler, Malholtra down the middle), then look for the Leafs to perhaps inquire about his services.

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    Courtesy of the Globe’s James Mirtle, the Maple Leafs trimmed the camp roster from 47 down to 30 on Sunday afternoon, as the team’s opening night lineup came just a little more into focus. Rynnas, Scrivens, Aulie, Brennan, Gysbers, Holzer, Mikus, D’Amigo, Irwin, Mueller, and Slaney will report to the Marlies, while Blacker, Carrick, Crescenzi and Ross will head back to junior. Despite performing well for two games, veteran checking forward Wayne Primeau has been released, as the club is likely looking to open up another roster spot for a younger player.

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    Coming off a tough shootout loss against the Flyers last night, the Leafs will look to rebound on the road against the Sabres tonight at HSBC Arena. Despite blowing a late third period lead, there was a lot to like about the Leafs’ performance, including a strong bounce back game from captain Dion Phaneuf and spurts of brilliance from the club’s new top line of Versteeg, Bozak and Kessel. The Buds will be in tough tonight against the Sabres, who will be icing a lineup very similar to the one they will open the season with.

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    The Leafs won a game in the shootout. I’m as confused as you are. It was certainly an interesting one, going for 11 rounds before Colby Armstrong put Philadelphia out of their misery. Here are my game notes:

    - The goaltending was great for the Leafs tonight, with Reimer in particular having a very strong performance. Both goals for Philly were flukey and both goalies played strong positional games. The shootout in particular was very impressive for Reimer, showing off his fast reflexes. Reimer is becoming a top goaltending prospect for the Leafs and his year with the Marlies should be very interesting.

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    McKegg will be one to watch tonight

    The Leafs face the Flyers tonight in London in what will surely be a physical endeavor. Paul Hendrick over at MapleLeafs.com has the lines for tonight’s game:

    Forwards

    Versteeg-Kadri-Armstrong

    Caputi-Brent-Mueller

    McKegg-Irwin-Boyce

    Rosehill-Hanson-Brown

    Be sure to check out Nikhil’s post-game thoughts from last night.

    Tuesday night, September 21st, about 6:40 p.m.  I am dancing – yes, dancing, provided you can call a kind of frenetic spasticism punctuated with finger snaps and some twirling hands “dancing” – to no music in my kitchen as I cook our pasta for dinner.  I am in a rush, and I am excited, because after a long summer of legal wrangling over the Kovalchuk contract, eternal speculation about Tomas Kaberle’s status and apparently endless MSM vs. blogger hissy fits, the puck is finally dropping on the preseason.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that the preseason sucks.  I know it’s not reflective or in any way predictive of how the team will do during the regular season – I’ve been a hockey fan long enough to know that, and last year’s brilliant exhibition campaign is still fresh in my memory.  Almost as fresh as the oh-and-eight start that followed it, once the games counted.

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    Be sure to check out Junior’s thoughts from tonight’s tilt.
    Hey, let’s get this straight right off the bat: it sucks to lose 5-0 to the Ottawa Senators.  Any day of the year, any type of game.  There will undoubtedly be at least one mainstream media headline out there along the lines of: “Leafs back to losing ways”.  But a step back will tell us this is the first of a whopping nine exhibition matches Toronto will be playing and a ton can (and probably will) change in the next two weeks.

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    After months of nothing but Kaberle rumours and Grabovski lawsuits, Leafs Nation will finally get a glimpse of their 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs.  Being the first game of the preseason, Toronto is going with a healthy mix of youngsters, borderliners, and veterans.  Luckily, fans will not have to wait to see most of the new Leafs (Clarke MacArthur excepted) as off-season acquisitions Versteeg, Armstrong, Brown and Lebda will all be hitting the ice.

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    Join us in the comments as Alex Tran and I go head-to-head carving up the Leafs youth.

    (Note**) – for the record I will be making the picks for each of us as Alex is boozing busting loose at some bar. I asked him if he was drunk, he said no, but his picks will tell show us the truth.