Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Leaf Nation celebrates Brian Burke`s 3rd anniversary

In his first two seasons Leafs fans were already grumbling and calling for Brian Burke`s scalp. But that has changed this season. Even the biggest Leafs haters have to acknowledge this team is good. After Florida they are biggest surprise of the season to date.

So let`s give credit to where it belongs - to Brian Burke. He came here with huge expectations but never let the pressure get to him. When his attempt to rebuild quickly failed he smoothly transitioned to another plan ignoring the critics. He also surprised many people when he constructed a young, fast, skilled team while preaching toughness. I had believed in Burke from day 1 and have not been disappointed. In past management positions his trades have had some hits and misses but so far in Toronto they have mostly been hits. We can debate who won the Kessel trade for the next decade but no one expected Kessel to be playing at this level which more than vindicates Kessel`s biggest supporter - Burke.

He has a long way to go before we can start talking Stanley Cup but there is a very good base in Toronto to work from. I know that Burke will not be satisfied with just being competitive. He wants a Cup.

Go Leafs Go!

NHL Power Ranking - Week 9

After a very successful road trip in which the Leafs won games in 3 different time zones, the hockey media is back on board. The Leafs moved up an average of 7 spots in the ranking with SI placing the Buds in 5th overall. You have to admit this November looks nothing like last November despite some significant injuries. Finally nice to see some organizational depth. The big test is this week with a home-away series with the big bad Bruins. The Bruins are hotter than the Leafs and are on top of almost every ranking. In their first 2 meetings the Leafs couldn`t compete with the Bruins so a split would be a significant accomplishment.

Sports Illustrated - 5th (+12)

Hats off to coach Ron Wilson for not just keeping his team afloat without starting goalie James Reimer, but moving it up the conference standings. The Leafs went on the road and got great wins in cities in three time zones: Tampa Bay, Dallas and Anaheim. Forward Clarke MacArthur had a goal in all three and is quietly turning into one of the league's more consistent points producers. He had 62 (on 21 goals) last season for Wilson, and has scored nine goals so far.

CBS Sports - 8th (+4)

We're still waiting for Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul to slow down, but they just keep on rolling.

TSN - 9th (+9)

G Jonas Gustavsson has suddenly become a stable presence in between the pipes, winning his last four starts, stopping 119 of 126 shots (.944 SV%). Now, the Leafs have to figure out what to do with their glut of centres, as Mikhail Grabovski has been activated from the injured list and Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly and Joe Colborne have combined for 25 points in 27 games this month.

The Hockey News - 10th (+5)

Joffrey Lupul/Jake Gardiner trade right up there with Flames heist as Brian Burke’s best in Toronto

CBC - 11th (+8)

The Leafs aren't going away folks. They can thank their much-improved power play (22.8 percent), good for third in the NHL. After being thrust into an offensive role in the past, Tyler Bozak is finally earning his keep. He's put up six goals and 16 points in 22 games. Dion Phaneuf is possibly having his best season as a pro, leading the blue line in minutes (just under 26 minutes of ice-time per game) along with 18 points in 24 games. A home and home with Boston is next. The Bruins have mauled the Leafs in two games this season, outscoring them 13-2

FOX Sports - 12th (+6)

Phil Kessel obviously deserves his credit, but the Leafs wouldn’t be where they are without Joffrey Lupul (11-18-29). Did you see his assist on Tyler Bozak’s first goal in Anaheim Sunday?

ESPN - 13th (+5)

Just when it looked as though the Leafs were about to free fall out of the playoff picture, they've won four of five. Phil Kessel continues to lead the league in goals and points.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Balanced scoring is driving the current Maple Leafs winning streak

There are lot of positives when a team is on a hot streak. The Maple Leafs` earlier streak was a little bit deceiving because they were playing mostly non-playoff teams. There is still a little bit of that going on but to have a realistic shot at the playoffs you have to beat the teams you should be beating. One of those teams is the Anaheim Ducks.

Good - Scoring is coming from all through the lineup right now which means the Leafs are no longer dependent on Kessel and Lupul to win games. In fact the hottest player on that line is Tyler Bozak with another 2 goals tonight has scored 5 goals in the past 5 games. He has pushed both Tim Connolly and Mikhail Grabovski aside to win top line status and minutes.

Good - Another great game from Luke Schenn who clearly has turned his game around after a bad start that saw him earn press box status just a couple weeks ago. Tonight he was a leader in minutes (after former Ducks prospect Jake Gardiner), hits and plus/minus. He also scored his first goal since sometime last season.

Good - Team speed has been the hallmark of this young Leafs lineup. That speed was best demonstrated in Bozak`s second goal to make the score 4-1.

Bad - Nothing.

Nicest goal so far this season

The spinorama pass by Patrick Kane is something really special.

KHL violence is making the league look bush

Vityaz Chekhov of the KHL is making the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s look pretty tame. Most recently their goalie started a rip snorting goalie brawl. Of course both goalies are good old Canadian boys. There were 469 penalty minutes handed out during the game.

Earlier in the season they were involved in a line brawl with the team from Riga.

There was coach and ex-NHL goon Andrei Nazarov who attacked a fan with a hockey stick.

In fact some of the Vityaz players got into a brawl over the summer at a wedding.

Montreal Canadiens are too soft

Late in the third period Saturday night, Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens lined up Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang as he took a shot on Carey Price. The result: Contact with the head, Letang bloodied, and no penalty on the play. Pacioretty may be one of the few physical players on the Canadiens.

Letang was hurt but after being check out by doctors he was determined not to have suffered a concussion on the play although he broke his nose. But he comes back to score the winning goal on a great play that also had the Canadiens players on the ice standing around watch Letang poke the puck free from Carey Price. That play wouldn`t make Jacques Martin very happy.

The Monster is playing for survival

Not long ago Brian Burke had acknowledged that he was searching for goaltending help and the media was speculating that Marty Turko would soon be signed. The urgency wasn't just because of James Reimer's injury but more because of the mostly terrible play by his backup Jonas Gustavsson. But a couple of strong games against Tampa Bay and Dallas has quieted the latest goaltending controversy. With decent goaltending suddenly the Leafs look like a playoff contender again as they knock off Dallas 4-3 in a shootout.

Good - I can`t believe the turnaround by the Leafs special teams have gone from awful to great. Especially the powerplay which has been lethal lately. That shouldn`t come as surprise since their powerplay unit has the league`s number 1 and 3 scorers and two of the top point men. I think the turnaround has a lot to do with the players buying into the new systems being introduced by the new coaches hired over the summer.

Bad - Two more players left the game early with injuries. At this point every injury is important as the team`s depth is getting whittled away.The loss of Carl Gunnarsson was most significant because he has been averaging 21:45 minutes per game. Later in the game Ron Wilson benched Cody Franson which left him with only 4 defensemen.

Good - Luke Schenn clearly had his best games of the season but it was also one of the best in his NHL career. He logged 28 minutes of ice time and came up with some key plays including a big hit on Tomas Vincour and goal-saving play off the stick of Michael Ryder.

Bad - Late in the 3rd period Joffrey Lupul was highsticked in the face right in front of an official but there was no call. Although he was cut both above and below his eye, his eye was spared any damage and he was able to return to the game. A 5 minute powerplay might have settled the game. Lupul was able to extract some justice by scoring the only goal in shootout to win the game.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The maple leaf disappears from Maple Leafs Garden

The blue Maple Leaf logo atop the Maple Leaf Gardens’ domed roof disappeared Wednesday, symbolically marking the end of an era. The logo was removed as part of a reconstruction project that will see former home of the Leafs re-open next week as a Loblaws supermarket, Joe Fresh clothing store and LCBO liquor outlet. Eventually a Ryerson University athletic facility will be added.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Phil Kessel watch

Phil Kessel earned an assist against Tampa Bay, his 22nd game of the season to give him 16 goals and 30 points. That projects to 59 goals and 112 points.

The Toronto record for goals in one season is 54 by Rick Vaive.

The Toronto record for points in one season is 127 by Doug Gilmour. Gilmour also has the single season record for assists with 95.

The last Leafs player to win the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) was Ted Kennedy in 1955.

The last Leafs player to win the Art Ross Trophy (scoring title) was Gordie Drillon in 1938.

Another example of how Montreal fans are nothing like Toronto fans

Huge brawl at the Bell Centre last night in a game between the Habs and Bruins.

Sidney Crosby's return is a magic moment

Monday, November 21, 2011

Maple Leafs after 20 games

There have a few surprises so far this season. The biggest surprise has been the play of Phil Kessel who has been able to raise his game to a new level. It's still very early but Kessel is the leading candidate for the Hart Trophy and is trending toward a 60 goal season along with 100 points. In the absence of goalie James Reimer, Kessel has tried his best to carry the team.

Close behind Kessel and 3rd in the league in scoring is Joffrey Lupul who is also on the way to shattering his career best season. Kessel's season isn't nearly as surprising as Lupul's because players normally do not have career years at the age of 28.

Leafs management has clearly illustrated the danger of not having goaltending depth. The Leafs were chugging along in first place overall when James Reimer went down with a concussion. Since then the Leafs have struggled with consistency and winners in only 2 out of the past 8 games. For the most part Jonas Gustavsson has been awful and Ben Scrivens has played like a rookie.

Special teams once again is a weakness, well at least penalty killing has (27th overall). After a slow start the powerplay has begun to click and ranks 6th overall. You would expect results with the man advantage when your powerplay unit has the #1 and #3 scorers in addition to Dion and Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles on the points. The addition of David Steckel who his possesses one of the highest faceoff win percentages in the NHL provides the Leafs with an additional valuable asset.

The second line of Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur has been a huge disappointment this season. A rash of injuries will prevent that trio from getting on track for a while. The injury bug has hit the Leafs hard recently but outside of Reimer and Grabovski none other are lethal blows. But the loss of Reimer has exposed the Leafs biggest weakness. Also disappointing has been Luke Schenn who for parts of last season was one of the team's best defensemen.

So will can the Leafs make the playoffs based on their first 20 games? Well the fact that they sit in 5th place in the East suggests that they will compete for a playoff spot. But with only 5 points between 1st and 12th, it's far too early to predict what will happen. I calculated that you will need 11.5 points for every 10 games played to qualify for the postseason. In the first 10 games the Leafs earned 15 points. In the following 10 games they earned less that 11.5, 9 points to be precise. But 24 points after 20 games is still on pace for the 94 points needed to finish in the top 8. Should Reimer return soon we can all breathe easier.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 7

The rash of injuries have cooled down the Leafs and lowered their ranking. But Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul keep chugging along .
CBS Sports - 12th (+3)

Phil Kessel has been getting all of the attention in Toronto this season (and rightfully so) but let's not overlook the season that Joffrey Lupul is having, as he's currently third in the NHL in scoring in with 25 points.

The Hockey News - 15th (-1)

Injury bug starting to bite down hard on Jekyll-and-Hyde Leafs.

Sports Illustrated - 17th (-5)

They need goalie James Reimer to return as fast as he can. But with whiplash -- or maybe concussion -- symptoms still lingering, no one knows for sure when that will be. Now coach Ron Wilson will have to make do without veterans Mike Komisarek and Matthew Lombardi for at least three weeks with various injuries. At least Phil Kessel (running away with the goal-scoring race: 16 so far) is still going strong.

Fox Sports - 18th (-7)

As long as Phil Kessel stays healthy, he’ll be in consideration for the Hart Trophy. The Leafs have one regulation win in their last eight.

TSN - 18th (+1)

A nice win over Washington Saturday, but the only regulation win in the last eight isn't enough to get too encouraged about a team that is starting to fill up the infirmary.

ESPN - 18th (-4)

A big win over the Caps aside, the injury-riddled Leafs have only two wins in their past eight games.

- 19th (-4)

Things have certainly cooled in the Big Smoke. The Leafs have just two wins in their last eight games. Injuries to key players have hurt, but the Buds aren't making it easy on themselves. Toronto has been outshot 82-54 in their last two games. Sure, they hammered Washington in one of those games, but if the trend continues, it may not be so pretty for Ben Scrivens and Jonus Gustavsson (combined 51 goals against in 18 games).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Monster comes through

Yes Jonas Gustavsson has his one good game for the month last night in the Maple Leafs 7-1 win over Washington. No I don't think I'm being harsh. He has had two good starts this season and we are well into the second month of the season. The Leafs badly needed this win.

Good - Seven different players scored last night including Matt Frattin scored his first NHL goal, Cody Franson has his first for the Leafs and Tim Connolly had his first since returning from his rib injury. These are all good things considering 7 players are out with injuries.

Bad - The Leafs gave up 41 shots to the Caps but fortunately Gustavsson had one of his best games since coming into the NHL with 40 saves.

Good - Joffrey Lupul was more than just good. He was great. Another goal and 3 assists puts him 3rd in the NHL scoring race behind leader Phil Kessel who had a goal and an assist.

Good - Special teams were good again with 3 powerplay goals and not giving up a goal while a man short. Let's hope this can be maintained.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Where is the pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence?

It will be 3 years later this month when Brian Burke joined the Toronto Maple Leafs as their General Manager. In his first press conference on November 28, 2008 he talked about changing the culture and make up of the team. The term he used was that he wanted to see more "we require a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That's how our teams play."

Only 3 players remain from the team he inherited - Nik Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Luke Schenn. So this is his team. So after 3 years my expectation was a tough, belligerent team.

The Maple Leafs are 23rd in penalty minutes per game (11.11) near the bottom of the league and tied for 11th in fights per game (.47) which puts them in the middle of the pack. Meanwhile Burke's old team, Anaheim, is still at the top of the league in both categories. I couldn't find team stats on hits but in most games I find the Leafs are out hit. There are only 4 Leafs in the top 100 players in hits with Dave Steckel (tied at 24th), Luke Schenn (tied at 24th), Mike Komisarek (62nd) and Dion Phaneul (93rd).

I raise the point not because I want to see more penalties or fights especially with their weak penalty killing. But this appears to be another area that Brian Burke has not delivered. This team is no more tougher than the one he inherited. The culture and the work ethics may be better but I'm not inside the dressing room so I can't tell. I'm just looking at the numbers.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wake me when November is over

November has not been a kind month for Leafs Nation over the past few years or perhaps the Leafs haven't been to kind to November. The 4-1 loss to the Predators was their 5th loss in 6 games to pretty much negate the great start they had. The Leafs have only scored 8 goals in those 6 games and none were scored by forwards on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th lines.

Good - Special teams have been looking better. Last night the penalty killers were perfect and the powerplay was 1 for 2. But the lone goal was more an individual effort by John-Michael Liles as the rest of the powerplay unit was on a line change. Liles skated through a couple of stationary Nashville defenders and fired a wrist show past Pekka Rinne.

Bad - Lots of defenders of Ben Scrivens out there because he has stretches of strong play but he makes enough mistakes to cost his team games. Last night he let in 1 out of 3 shots he faced in the 1st period and 1 out 4 shots (not counting the empty net goal) he faced in the 3rd. The team has reduced scoring chances but it's not realistic to reduce them to zero.

Good - The Leafs directed 39 shots at Rinne who continues to play brilliantly. Some were very good scoring chances. The score was not indicative of the play as the Leafs dominated in stretches but couldn't break Rinne.

Bad - The Leafs lost Mike Komisarek and Matthew Lombardi to injuriesbut on't accept injuries as an excuse for losing. Every team they face throughout the season has injuries, it's part of hockey. Good teams have depth and players lower in the depth chart should be using these opportunities to westle jobs away from top 10 players. That isn't happening here. Instead, Ron Wilson is giving those extra minutes to Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul who have been playing over 25 minutes a game. Both were also -4 for the night.

Good - Jake Gardiner continues to surprise me. Last night he played forward and did not look out of place. Unfortunately he isn't going to create much offense playing with Philippe Dupuis and Jay Rosehill.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thank you Kessel

The dominant story today was whether the Toronto Maple Leafs’ are looking to sign goalie Marty Turco, who is now 36 years old and out of hockey. Brian Burke denies any interest in Turko who was pretty mediocre last season for Chicago. But no one knows when James Reimer will return from the head/neck/upper body injury. Ben Scrivens and Jonas Gustavsson lack experience and consistency which means Burke is certainly considering Turko who will not cost the Leafs a prospect or draft pick. Stay tuned. Tonight started like previous games, with shaky goaltending.

Good - Phil Kessel had a tremendous game again to maintain his status as the NHL leader in goals and points. He played 26 1/2 minutes, more than Dion Phaneuf who leads the Leafs in ice time every night.

Bad - Another bad start which means the Leafs had to play catchup all night long. Scrivens was entirely to blame on the first goal. Phaneuf tripped over his skates at the Coyotes blue line leading to a 2 on 1. But on the second goal Scrivens misplayed a dump in.

Good - After the bad start Scrivens settled down and wasn't scored on until the shoot out. He made some excellent saves (33 in total) along the way and was the third star.

Bad - Offense is still sputtering but finally someone other than Kessel, Lupul or Bozak scored.

Good - The penalty killers were perfect although the Leafs had only two short handed situations.

Bad - Toronto also lost Clarke MacArthur to an upper-body injury in the second period. He did not return for the third period. Then Mikhail Grabovski left the game in the third after a neutral-zone collision with Hanzal.

Battle of the Blades 3 - week 8

Well folks it's finally over. My wife won't be forcing me to watch another two months of fake figure skating competition until next September. No more lame Ron Maclean puns. No teary-eyed tributes to these brave hockey players in tights.

So Tessa Bonhomme and David Pelletier won. They weren't the best pair but obviously the audience's favourite pair.

Bryan Berard and Marie-France Dubreil were the runners up, while Tanith Belbin and Boyd Devereaux finished third.

Monday, November 14, 2011

NHL Power Ranking - Week 6

Funny how November seems to be when the Maple Leafs flaws begin to show. An injury to James Reimer doesn't help but the 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines are all ice cold and the penalty killing is almost non-existent.

CBC 8th (-2)

Wow, things have certainly changed in the so-called "Centre of the Universe" over the last couple days. Leafs Nation was singing the praise of their beloved Buds, but after being spanked by Boston 7-0 on Saturday, losing Tim Connolly for a couple weeks with an upper body injury, and not having any idea of when James Reimer will be back, some are getting worried. Interesting that Ron Wilson said the team was getting too "fancy dancy" over the last couple games "after reading the papers."

11th (-4)

The rugged Leafs lead the NHL with 286 blocked shots.

ESPN 14th (-5)

The Maple Leafs are quickly starting to resemble last season's squad, which was all over the map and ultimately finished out of the playoffs. They have allowed 19 goals in their past four games and are 1-3-0 in that period. Special teams continue to struggle.

The Hockey News
14th (-5)

Phil Kessel (12 goals, 24 points) still on fire; Nikolai Kulemin (two goals, six points) still ice-cold

CBS 15th (-3)

Toronto has been a .500 (5-5) team since James Reimer was injured against Montreal on Oct. 22. Goaltending has been a big problem over that stretch.

TSN 19th (0)

The Maple Leafs' only win in their last four was a game at St. Louis in which they were outshot 40-22 and escaped in the shootout.

Should the NHL protect goalie from being hit?

NHL VP of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan chose not to suspend Milan Lucic for running over Ryan Miller. Shanahan determined that the 2-minute charging penalty awarded by the referees was sufficient.

The decision guarantees that the hockey world will continue the debate the issue and of course the war of words between the Bruins and Sabres will also continue. And there will be a high level of interest in the rematch later this month.

The NFL has rules to protect quarterbacks but they are offensive players who come out to see. It's a bit of a stretch to suggest that NHL fans come out to see goalies. They come to see goals scored not stopped. Yet like quarterbacks, wins are hard to come by once NHL teams lose their starting goalies. Just look at the Maple Leafs over the past 3 weeks.

Goalies have a distinct advantage if they can play the puck outside the crease without getting hit. The NHL recognized this when they began penalizing goalies who play the puck in the corners. Goalies had been frustrating offenses by taking away the dump and chase. Some people feel that goalies should be fair game if they choose to leave their crease.

However, goalies have very little mobility with those huge pads they wear. That's why many NHL arenas feature goalie races. They look ridiculous bumping into each other. When Lucic collided with Miller, the goalie was stationery. I doubt he could have gotten out of the way if he had tried. For this reason it is unfair for the NHL to allow goalies to be hit - they often cannot avoid collision or protect themselves. They are literally sitting ducks.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ryan Miller is run over by Milan Lucic

It seems to be open season on goalies. More and more players are taking runs at goalies and I don't mean some incidental bumping. James Reimer is still suffering the after affects of his run in with Brian Gionta three weeks ago.

UPDATE: Miller is out of the Sabers line up with a concussion and Lucic has a meet and greet with Brendan Shanahan on Monday.

Leafs lose the latest Battle of Ontario skirmish

On a night when three former Maple Leafs and one ex-Marlie are honoured as part of the Hall of Fame weekend, the Leafs and Senators play one hell of a boring game. That guaranteed that Doug Gilmour would get the biggest cheer of the night. It's hard to say if the 5-2 score was indicative of the game considering it was such a poorly played game. This was a game the Leafs should have won with the Senators coming into Toronto having lost 5 straight games.

Good - The Senators didn't get a shot on Ben Scrivens until 13 minutes into the game. However, the Leafs had only 4 shots up to that point. The Leafs also won 33 out of 52 face offs so at least this is no longer a problem area.

Bad - Although the Leafs out shot Ottawa 33-24, the Senators out hit the Leafs 36-20. Clearly Ottawa was the hungrier team tonight. This is looking like another November swoon.

Good - The Lupul-Bozak-Kessel line continues to generate offense scoring both of the Toronto goals.

Bad - It's been a while since anyone not named Lupul, Bozak or Kessel has scored a goal. Well unless you count the goal Clarke MaArthur scored into the Leafs' empty net. Secondary scoring has disappeared and so have the wins. Oh, and Tyler Seguin had another two goals tonight and is only 4 points behind Kessel but who's counting?

Good - Jake Gardner continue to shine on the defense. Ron Wilson gave him 22 minutes of ice time and although he does make mistakes out there his speed seems to always compensate.

Bad - I may be pointing out the obvious as well as sounding repetitive but special teams were terrible. How can this be so broken?

This is what the Flames have to show for trading Dion Phaneuf...

One of the worst trades in NHL history has to be the Doug Gilmour trade. Although it didn't win the Leafs a Stanley Cup they went from a playoff noncombatant to a Cup contender. Calgary tried to repeat that disastrous trade with another blockbuster swap with the Leafs. It's been almost two years so much of the dust has settled on the deal. It doesn't look good for the Flames.

The Leafs got Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie and Fredrik Sjöström in exchange for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Ian White. Sjöström is now playing in Sweden. Aulie is with the Marlies and whether he develops into an everyday NHL defenseman has yet to be determined. Mayers is a 4th liner with Chicago. White landed this season with Detroit and is paired with Nik Lidstrom. Calgary finally got fed up with Hagman and has put him on waivers.

That leaves the Leafs with Phaneuf who is playing over 25 minutes per game and appears to be a Norris trophy candidate while the Flames are left with Stajan who is now just a 4th line centre who plays only 11 minutes per game. While Calgary fans were at the time happy to see the overpaid ($6.5 million cap hit) Phaneuf leave, they now have to justify Stajan's cap hit of $3.5 million for 2 more seasons.

Note to Calgary management, do not return any calls from Toronto.

Doug Gilmour's greatest moment as a Maple Leaf

The date was May 3, 1993 and I was fortunate enough to be at the game. In fact I was in the gold seats directly behind one of the nets. Unfortunately I wasn't behind the St. Louis net during the second overtime period so I had difficulty following the action at the other end. Back then there was no video screen in Maple Leaf Gardens. I didn't fully appreciate the skill involved until I got home to watch the replay.

It was very warm night for that time of the year and the Gardens had no air conditioning so it was a sauna by the second overtime period in the first game of the playoff series. The score was tied 1-1 with the Leafs outshooting the Blues 61-32 at the start of the final period but Curtis Joseph was at his best that night for St. Louis. Early in the period Gilmour had the puck behind the St. Louis net. Nikolai Borschevsky and Dave Andreychuk were jockeying for position in front of the net. Gilmour faked to his right and then to his left. Joseph committed on the second fake and Gilmour spun around followed by a wrap around tucking the puck in the open net.

Doug Gilmour was a game changer and deserving of an Hall of Fame induction.

Friday, November 11, 2011

KHL coach attacks fans with stick

This incident occurred last week in the KHL. Andrei Nazarov Head Coach of Vityaz got involved in quite a brawl with fans. Not exactly helping the reputation of the KHL. Nazarov was later suspended by the league and fined. Nazarov played 571 games in the NHL is no stranger to fighting. He had 133 NHL fights and compiled 1,409 penalty minutes. He still has some nasty left in him.

Below is Nazarov in his playing days taking on the late Bob Probert.

Why all the controversy regarding the trap?

Several years ago when I was coaching youth hockey we had a pretty good scoring team and finished first in our division. But when the games tightened up in the playoffs we had problems holding a lead. I has spent so much time working on the offense that I had largely ignored the defensive part of the game. So I employed the 1-3-1 trap late in games and used no forechecker.

The point I'm making is that defense is part of the game. It doesn't get fans out of their seats. But it wins games and fans seem to appreciate wins too. The hockey world is abuzz because in their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, the Philadelphia Flyers trapped the trap. They skated around in their own zone, ragging the puck and refusing to advance. The Lightning remained in their system, refusing to attack on the forecheck. It was boring and stupid. But so what?

The interesting dynamic in postgame debates about this tactic were that fans and media, by and large, supported the Flyers. Everyone hates the trap. So what are you going to hand out penalties for not advancing the puck? That would be dumb. So teams would no longer be allowed to rag the puck to eat away at the clock? Lets not get carried away because of 1 game out of 1230.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Finally a Leafs goalie steals a win

It's been a while since a Leafs goaltender actually steals a win, especially on the road. Fortunately Ben Scrivens did just that tonight against the Blues in St. Louis.

In the last 45 minutes of the game the Leafs were only able to manage 8 shots on net. Jaroslav Halak went through long stretches without a single shot on net. During the same period of time, Scrivens faced 32 shots and was forced to make some huge saves to keep the Leafs alive. Some pf the saves in the 3rd period were in the spectacular variety.

We already know Scrivens is capable of playing week. We saw that in the game against Columbus last week. The issue is whether he can be consistently good. How long will we have to wait to see another performance like this. Let's hope no longer than Saturday.

Meanwhile Phil Kessel was dangerous all night long in the other end. He scored a goal on a powerplay as well as the only goal in the shoot out. That goal was his 12th of the season and is 23rd point in just 16 games.

The penalty killing was better with only one goal allowed on 5 tries. But I've always said a good goalie will make you penalty killers look better.

You couldn't help but notice how Ken Hitchcock has already has an impact on the Blues. They skated hard and hit a Leafs player as often as they could.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Battle of the Blades 3 - week 7

This year's edition of Battle of the Blades is slowly coming to an end. Finally, the skating is a little more entertaining and challenging. Ron Maclean not so much.

The theme of the evening was duets, as each pair would be skating to a musical duet, and each performance would feature a brief moment where the hockey player had to break away and do 30 seconds of solo skating.

This week's guest judge was former Olympic ice dancing champion Christopher Dean. To kill time the show opened up with a skating duet involving Maclean and Kurt Browning. I'm pretty sure this was the first time in three seasons that Maclean put on a pair of figure skates and it showed.

Tessa Bonhomee & David Pelletier

Tessa and Davide went first, skating to "It's Only Love", by Bryan Adams and Tina Turner. It was a pretty weak performance as Tessa fell attempting a throw job.Tessa was pretty wobbly and her solo skate was pretty pathetic. The finish was strong with an amazing spin with David holding Tessa over his shoulders. As usual, the judges comments were glowing, completely ignoring the fall in favour of glowing praise about carrying on. "The hardest thing to do is come back after a fall, but you came back so hard," Sandra said. Then the judges awarded two 5.9s and a 5.8. Absurd. Total score: 17.6.

Elena Berezhnaya & Curtis Leschyshyn

Elena and Curtis were next, dancing to a cover of "Don't let the sun go down on me". I have found this pair to be the weakest each week yet they never get knocked off. Sunday night was no exception and they were considerably slower than the other pairs. "I thought that was your best skate of the show," Jeremy said, which at this point comes as no surprise to me. Anyway, then the judges gave this performance the lowest score deservedly. Total score: 17.4.

Tanith Belbin & Boyd Devereaux

Tanith and Boyd skated to "Falling Slowly" from the movie Once. For once I liked the music and enjoyed the skating program. Boyd's solo was terrific and there was one incredible lift midway through the skate. Sandra raved, "You are a musical being. You've got knees, you understand music," Although they were much better than Tessa and David they received lower scores. Total score: 17.7.

Marie-France Dubreuil & Bryan Berard

Marie-France and Bryan went last and skated to "If I Can't Have You" by Harvey Fuqua and Etta James. It was the best skate of the season by any pair. Bryan's footwork was surprising strong, the couple seemed completely in sync, and his solo bit was excellent. And there was some real passion in the program. The judges thought so too. "It was fun, it was sexy, it was soulful, it was great skating," Sandra said, "It was everything this event should be, it was fantastic." Then the pair were given the first perfect score of the competition. Total score: 18.0.

There was another 3-way tie and skate off on Monday which reduces the need for boring filler. Only Tanith and Boyd automatically moved on to next week's finale. Surprisingly neither Tessa and David or Marie-France and Bryan have been involved in a Monday skate off which reflects their popularity with viewers and not really because of their skating. Finally Elena and Curtis were voted off which finally makes because the other two pairs are so strong at this point of the competition.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's too early to be planning a parade

Leaf players and coaches sit through the final scenes of Saturday night's horror show at the ACC.

No need to hit the panic button after the Leafs get blown out by the Bruins a second time this season. The Leafs had problems with Boston last season until their late season run. Every team has a team that gives them fits. But will other teams be able to imitate the Bruins style to stifle Toronto. So here is the good and bad from Saturday night's 7-0 bomb.


- Nothing


- The Bruins scored 7 goals on just 20 shots. The two Leaf netminders combined for a pathetic save percentage of .650.

- Another dismal night of special team work. The powerplay was shutout on 4 opportunities and the worst penalty killing team was 1 for 2. Why is anyone considering a contract extension for Ron Wilson with this track record?

- The comparisons are tiring yet every time the Leafs play the Bruins, Phil Kessel is totally upstaged by Tyler Seguin. Phil just relax and play your game.

- It's 15 days now and James Reimer's whiplash injury has been reclassified as a upper body injury. Thank goodness he doesn't have a concussion (note the sarcasm) otherwise who knows how long he would be out of the lineup. The Leafs seriously need him back to keep them in games like last night.

- When the run and shoot offense isn't working, the Leafs don't seem to have a plan B. Some nights you need to grind out a win. Coaching? On a night when the Leafs needed some grit in the lineup, Ron Wilson decides it's the right time for Luke Schenn to watch a game from the pressbox. Coaching?

Don Cherry turns down honorary degree from RMCC

Don Cherry and Troops

Don Cherry has turned down an honorary degree from the Royal Military College of Canada after at least one faculty member objected. Cherry's decision was made public by the college on Saturday, less than two weeks before the Cherry was to receive the award.

Media reports this past week suggested at least one of the college's professors opposed the school's plan to openly support Cherry. The professor sent an open letter to a Kingston, Ont., newspaper. It blasted the former hockey player and coach for his controversial views on French-speaking Canadians, immigrants and the gay community. The letter said giving Cherry the award sends the wrong message to students. I have to agree with those sentiments. Cherry chooses to be "colourful", polarizing and controversial. There is a price to be paid for being all those things plus more.

The college's principal, Joel Sokolsky, says the school regrets losing a chance to recognize Cherry's outspoken support for Canadian Forces personnel.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Are this season's free agents earning their salaries?

Ilya Bryzgalov Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers makes a save during the second period of a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 1, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey.

When you look at this season's top free agents, those with a cap hit of over $3.5 million, not too may are off to a fast start and among the top scorers in the league. Only Alex Tanguay is actually leading his team in scoring. Six players have not scored a goal yet including a profile free agent Ville Leino who signed 6-year deal with Buffalo. Brad Richards has a modest 3 goals and 7 assists with the Rangers and has yet to ignite Marian Gaborik. Tomas Kaberle who is strictly an offensive defenseman has only 2 assists with Carolina. Ilya Bryzgalov has admitted that he has been brutal.

Several players have begun the season injured such as Tim Connolly with the Leafs and Andrei Markov with Montreal, I guess players are still integrating into the lineup of their new respective teams. An argument against trading for players at the trading deadline. It can take a while. But the pressure having signed a big contract can really affect a player.

Fleischmann $4.50 4 5 6 11
Tanguay $3.50 5 3 7 10
Richards $6.67 9 3 6 9
Gagne $3.50 2 3 4 7
Pitkanen $4.50 3 2 5 7
Ehrhoff $4.00 10 1 6 7
Laich $4.50 6 1 6 7
Ryder $3.50 2 3 3 6
Cole $4.50 4 3 2 5
Jovanovski $4.12 4 2 2 4
Connolly $4.75 2 1 3 4
Wisniewski $5.50 6 0 4 4
Bieksa $4.60 5 0 3 3
Upshall $3.50 4 1 1 2
Brewer $3.85 4 0 2 2
Kaberle $4.25 3 0 2 2
Hamrlik $3.50 2 1 0 1
Leino $4.50 6 0 1 1
Markov $5.75 3 0 0 0

Bryzgalov $5.67 9 3.04 0.887

Is this the worst warm up in the history of hockey?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hello Big Ben and good bye Monster

John Grieshop/Getty Images

After tonight's Leafs game, how long will it take for Ben Scrivens to take away Jonas Gustavsson's job as back up to James Reimer? It won't be soon enough for me.

Scrivens was nothing less than brilliant as he faced 29 shots and only let one by. On the other end, Steve Mason was pulled once again as the Columbus netminder let in 4 goals on just 11 shots. Goaltending was the difference as the Leafs racked up another win to take the East Conference lead. Unlike last season November is looking much like October.

Let's keep things in perspective. It's only one game but a great start to an NHL career. As well, he is 25 years old which makes him the second oldest goalie in the Leafs system (only Gustavsson is older).

Earlier in the season Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were carrying the team. Now the Leafs are the second highest scoring team in the NHL and finding scoring all through their lineup. Right now Clarke MacArthur is hot scoring his 6th goal in 5 games. In addition, recent call up, Joey Crabb has scored 2 goals in just 2 games.

The Leafs now have the most wins in the NHL (9) and points (19), the leading scorer, Kessel (21) and the co-leaders in +/-, Kessel and Lupul (10).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lupul drives the offense in Game 12

I don't think I will ever get tired of saying - Leafs win again!" Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel just won't cool off which means the Leafs keep winning. This time a 5-3 win over the Devils in New Jersey. The high flying offense is winning without the support of strong goaltending. Right now they are getting by with adequate goaltending. Here is the good and bad from tonight's game:

Good - The Leafs are generating offense this year from more than one line. But the first line is sizzling and Tim Connolly has yet to feel comfortable playing along Kessel and Lupul. It's been about 30 years since a Leafs player scored a natural hat trick (3 consecutive goals).

Bad - The penalty killing still sucks (2-4). Can you really make the playoffs with such lousy penalty killing?

Good - Faceoffs continues to be a strength as the Leafs win 30 out o48 against the Devils.

Bad - Devils out muscled the Leafs with 20 hits to the Leaf's' 9.

Good - Although the powerplay sputters at times and the penalty killing is terrible, the Leafs are scoring bunches of goals while evened strength. Quite a change from several years ago where many of their goals came off the powerplay with few were scored with even strength.

Bad - I'm afraid you cannot overlook the weak play of Jonas Gustavsson. The Leafs' offense is glossing over their weakness in net. Gustavsson is basically letting in about 3 goals per game and the Leafs' offense will not be able to compensate for 3 goals every night. As well Martin Bradeur helped the cause by stinking the joint out.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NHL Power Ranking - Week 5

Here is how some of the weekly NHL power rankings rate the Maple Leafs.

CBC 6th (+4)

For all those doubting the Buds because of their "soft" schedule, the victory over the Pens was a pretty good indication that the Leafs have made some vast improvements this season.
ESPN 5th (+7)

The Leafs endured a minor setback with 3-2 loss in Ottawa on Sunday but still boast the league's leading scorer in Phil Kessel (10 goals, 18 points) and an impressive 7-3-1 record.
CBS 10th (-1)

Phil Kessel keeps scoring and still leads the NHL in goals and points.
TSN 12th (-3)

He's had moments, but consistency eludes G Jonas Gustavsson, who is 3-3 with a 3.72 GAA and .888 SV% since filling in for injured starter James Reimer.
Fox 8th (+4)

The Leafs are 5-1-1 in their seven one-goal games. If Phil Kessel ever drops off from his current pace, they’ll go through some dry spells.
The Hockey News 9th (+2)

Resilient Leafs can build on surprising record with road games against Devils, Jackets home tilt against Bruins.

Leaf players lead both the NHL and AHL in scoring

Joe Colborne celebrates his first goal as a Marlie on Feb. 19, 2011 against the Grand Rapids Griffins at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.

As far back as I can remember, a Leaf players have never lead both the NHL and AHL in scoring at the same time. It has been 10 years since a Leaf player (Mats Sundin) finished in the top 10 NHL scorers.

Right now October NHL player of the month, Phil Kessel leads the NHL in scoring with 10 goals and 8 assists in just 11 games. At the same time Joe Colborne on the Marlies leads the AHL in scoring with 8 goals and 8 assists in 9 games and was also selected player of the month by the AHL.

For the first time in two decades the Leafs actually have some prospects in the cupboard. There is no question Colborne will be a Leaf this season. But in past years he would be playing in the NHL right now. These are the kinds of things that are bringing some optimism to Toronto.

Leafs Phil Kessel celebrates scoring the 4th goal, and the winner, during NHL action between Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre. Kessel was named player of the month for October.