On a night where we can say the “Sundin Saga” came to its exciting and fitting end, the Leafs played a second straight game where they showed the hard work and energy that was so characteristic of their early-season stretch of hockey. Upon the shootout conclusion of this game, I received three different messages all musing over the same thing: “Whoever scripted this game did it perfectly.”Â In the steady, reliable fashion that Leaf fans became accustomed to over thirteen years of service, Mats Sundin skated down the ice and with apparent effortlessness netted the shootout winner for his team.Â Except this time, he was doing it for the Vancouver Canucks.
Here are some notes from this Saturday night shindig:
-Enough has been said about what reception Mats SHOULD have heard upon his return to Toronto.Â I think all of us that know the crowd at the ACC could have predicted the boos.Â Then again, we would have also seen the standing ovation coming.Â Hopefully, the message that Mats takes home is that we will always appreciate what he did for us, but we’ve moved on for the better of our club.Â With respect to his game, seeing him on the powerplay and behind the net probably reminded Leaf nation of his natural strength and poise.Â Mats may still be lacking a bit of his overall polish and transition game, but its undeniable that he will serve his purpose in Vancouver by dividing their serious scoring threats beyond the realm of the Sedin line. I would not have been surprised to see his last-minute backhander in the third period seal the win for his new club.Â I for one hope this Vancouver team goes the distance in their playoff run.
-What was the deal with the shove on Jason Blake by Sundin?Â While it will undoubtedly be written off as “playing hard” or “just a part of the game” if either player is ever asked, you have to think there were some other emotions behind that.Â You most definitely would not see Mats toss an unprovoked shot at Tomas Kaberle or Nik Antropov so early in a game.Â Regardless, Jason Blake had yet another strong game with Dominic Moore, capitalizing on a Pavel Kubina point shot with the aid of his rear end.
-I think we’ve all come to realize when Vesa Toskala is playing well.Â Unlike a goalie such as Andrew Raycroft (sorry, even ex-whipping boys get one for old times sake) who clearly doesn’t have the skills to be a goaltender that a team can rely on, Toskala has the athleticism and glove hand that were so prominent for most of last season.Â However, they only serve him well in games such as tonight’s where he challenges shooters with confidence and is aware of what is going on around him.
-The Stajan line also had a strong game tonight.Â One has to think that if we could ever get the Stajan, Moore, AND Grabovski lines all rolling as they have at various points this season, we would be a competitive hockey club.Â Yet, on the same stream of thought, we all need to realize that this inconsistency is a result of young players, fragile confidences, and constantly growing skill sets.
-Almost an afterthought in the Sundin mania was the return of Kyle Wellwood.Â While his relative success has seen the usual outcry of wailing and lamenting over management decisions, an objective viewer will see that he has not changed.Â He is hardly visible during even strength play, but is an asset on the power play.Â Otherwise, he will almost never display the tenacity or effort that is required of any top flight offensive player in the NHL.Â Contrarily, Mikhail Grabovski-seen as many to be Wellwood’s replacement-displayed these qualities in spades in the first few months of the campaign.Â Here’s to hoping he regains that fire so he can contribute in more ways than his nifty shootout goal.
If anything, tonight’s game was an example of two teams moving in different directions, with Sundin being one of the many bridges linking both clubs.Â Vancouver, benefitting from the work of executives such as Dave Nonis, has acquired a foundation of talented youth and a franchise goaltender that it can supplement with wise acquistions, such as our ex-captain.Â Contrarily, Toronto needs to begin exactly that movement, and part ways with their valuable assets in order to ensure their future success.
As always, interested to hear your thoughts.