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Ron Wilson

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    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.

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      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?

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        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.

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          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.

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            The Buffalo Sabres are first in their division with a 7-1-1 record, first in the league with average shots per game (36), and have won every game in which the opposition out-shot them. Ryan Miller also holds the best goals against average (1.60) and save percentage (0.944) in the NHL. The Leafs visit them tonight in an effort to try and ruin many of those stats.

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              Ron Wilson was interviewed today after the Leafs practice, and he revealed the plan moving towards the weekend concerning the goaltenders and the return of Vesa Toskala, as well as what we have all been waiting to hear about – the return (or rather arrival) of Phil Kessel to the Leafs lineup.
              Update: Tlusty Up, Stalberg Down, thanks to “canucksnaphook” and “Leafsfan87″ for info.

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                The Maple Leafs deserved better in tonight’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars. It was frustrating to see another strong effort come up short. The Leafs really need to start pulling out some of these close games if they want to get back into contention.

                They can’t afford to lose those games “that they deserved to win,” because it doesn’t seem like they are good enough to win the games “they should have lost.” Take a look at the Montreal Canadiens; 5 of the their 6 wins this have come in overtime or shootout. Instead of being 6-6-0, the Habs could easily be 1-6-5. However, they’ve found ways to pull out those close games. I hate to say it, but it’s a sign of a better team.

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                  I know, I know.  It’s just one win.

                  But you have to admit, it still feels good.   Somewhat of a sense of relief is sweeping through Leafs Nation today.  A sense that, although there is still a long way to go, things are not at a total loss.   This team can find ways to win, and appears to be rounding into the sort of form envisioned by GM Brian Burke during a busy and much-hyped (over-hyped?) offseason.

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                    … they didn’t give up the fight.

                    Maple Leafs’ fans should be very pleased with the effort displayed in last night’s 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.   Although another loss is disappointing on the surface, there is much to feel good about in regard to the team’s play following a week’s break.  It is not often that one can look at a loss as a game to instill confidence; however, last night’s game should serve to do exactly that, among both players and fans alike.

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                      After a seemingly endless week of postulating, panicking, and debating with the fervent passion that only hockey-starved Leafs fans can display, it is finally gameday.  While the prevalent hope amongst Toronto followers is that the winless streak gets broken tonight, there is a veritable maelstrom of other stories convoluting that one simple wish.

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                        There’s nothing like an 0-6-1 start to push the rumour mill into full swing.     The following is a quick rundown of some of the talk working its way through the grapevine.

                        As always, this is only talk — as in, players rumoured to be under consideration, not deals that are on the brink of consummation.  Take it for what it is.

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                          UPDATE: Gustavsson is skating on the ice, and Ron Wilson has suggested he might be playing on Saturday despite just one practice. Also, rumors circulating Leafs could be after Frolov. Hockey Central at Noon suggests the possibility of Burke potentially sacrificing future in order to prevent Bruins from landing top 5 pick.

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                            The Toronto Sun contributes a wildly useful article about various hockey people around the NHL enjoying the Leafs’ slow start.

                            The Columbus Dispatch is very happy with the addition of Anton Stralman to the Blue Jackets powerplay and feels that it’s a great fit. Stralman notes that the Leafs asked him to play a tougher, high intensity game but that it wasn’t something you can change right away.

                            Lance Hornby offers hope by way of historical evidence: there are five teams in the last 15 years that have won but one of their first ten games and still made the playoffs. Fortunately, two of those teams were under the tutelage of Ron Wilson, one of whom he took all the way to the Conference Finals while the other draws a parallel to the Kessel situation, with a young Paul Kariya coming back to lead the team to the playoffs.

                            Patrick King of Sportsnet offers a wrap-up on the whole Ryan-in-Blacker-out situation in Windsor, with quotes from the Windsor GM that the team is very excited at the prospect of adding Kenny for a deep playoff run. As for Blacker, trade talks are heating up and Rychel expects that something could get done by the weekend. You might remember Patrick as one of the contributors to the Maple Leafs Annual.

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                              I must confess, I bought in.  I bought into the mantra of improved team toughness, improved goaltending, improved and revamped defense, and an improved top6 forward unit possessing speed and skill who would be protected and insulated by a tough as nails complimentary group of players.  I watched the pre-season and was salivating at the skill, speed, and determination exhibited by the up and coming Leafs prospects.  But, then something very strange happened, something I cannot comprehend nor understand.  Every single player (with the exception of Stalberg), which had led to such optimism and belief of brighter days ahead – were demoted to the OHL or the AHL.  I sat there shaking my head, and privately and publicly went on and on about how this team could not succeed without the youth.  Ironically enough, I had absolutely no idea how right I was and how bad this could and would get.

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                                The following are the Leafs lines for tonight’s game. Ron Wilson has shuffled the lines quite a bit and has looked to find some chemistry for a shooter to play with John Mitchell. He’s hoping Jason Blake will fill the role while Jamal Mayers can provide some grit on the right side.

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                                  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.

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                                    Time to shake off the lingering effects of a rough Saturday night, by taking a peek at some of the stories headlining today’s Leaf news. A peek at Wilson’s coaching cheatsheet, a case for the Monster to start on Tuesday night, random notes from the games, and some quick prospect updates for Kadri, Blacker and Stefanovich.

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                                      Despite eight new faces in tonight’s season opening lineup against the Montreal Canadiens, many of the recurring themes of futility from last year were evident again in the 4-3 overtime loss. Poor defensive zone coverage, poor penalty killing, questionable moments in the net, and the snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory late in the game. Despite the disappointing loss, there were a few bright spots: namely the play of the top line led by Matt Stajan and Viktor Stalberg.

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                                        Per Kevin McGran at the Toronto Star:

                                        On a day a former Maple Leafs captain formally announced his retirement, coach Ron Wilson said the team would again start the season captainless.

                                        Newcomers Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin however will join Tomas Kaberle as three alternate captains.

                                        McGran notes that Wilson suggested the captaincy issue would be revisited in roughly a month’s time from now, at which point the coach will consider whether one of his three assistants should be given the role or whether the team should remain captainless for another season.

                                        Read the full article from The Star