Oct 27, 2009

Monster saves RW's job!

Jonas Gustavsson, aka, the Monster, may have won a hockey game last night in Anaheim, but more importantly he may just have saved Ron Wilson's job.

Backstopping a team that was "struggling" to say the least, and a team with a penchant for falling behind, the Monster stoned Teemu Selanne with a gutsy poke-check at the side of the net in the early minutes. Moments later he made the save of the night with a sprawling post to post pad save of an Erik Christensen one timer, much to the chagrin of the less than full Honda Center.

The Leafs fragile make-up was still evident as they did give up the first goal for the 9th consecutive game, but something was changing, and for those of us with eyes to see, it was visible. Gustavsson would not be beat easily, nor would he allow a soft goal on this night. Instead the message was clearly sent to his mates, we have a chance to win on this night! No soft goals, no two goal deficits...only timely saves when his teammates needed them most.

I've heard more than one pundit over the last few weeks use the cliche, "show me a good goaltender and I'll show you a smart coach!"

“Monster save by Jonas Gustavsson that was the game breaker in Toronto’s 6-3 victory over the Ducks

For one night at least, Leaf fans, management and their coach, can feel that they do know what they are doing and they do have a plan.

On this morning RW is once again a smart coach, having his defense in the right positon, his line combos exquisite, the power play finely tuned, while potting a bushelfull of goals, all under his watchful eye, using his system. Oh yes, coach Wilson was pleased last night.

For this one morning there will be no talk of why certain players, including Gustavsson, were not in the opening day line-up. No, instead the talk will turn to what went right when the Monster single handedly took the proverbial 800 lb. gorilla and shucked it aside.

Years ago, there was a bumper sticker made popular in Boston that read, "Jesus saves, but Espo scores!"

On this night it might be apropos to say, Jonas saves pucks and RW too!

Oct 26, 2009

What has been seen, cannot be unseen.

Former NHL enforcer Tie Domi and partner Christine Hough-Sweeney, "Toughy Houghy" as she was known in her skating days, closed out Sunday night's performances with an energetic routine to The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." (Gerard Chataigneau/FSC-SportIms)

What has been seen, cannot be unseen.

As I peruse the world wide web viewing all sorts of video, images and written reports in an attempt to absorb as much information as I possibly can, that adage is something that I try to follow. If I don't recognize the link, I don't click on it. If someone sends me a video link with high recommendations, I don't click on it without first searching the topic to see if a similar web link shows up in the results. It is with that care that I have avoided viewing some very graphic and disposition altering videos and images on the internet.

I wish I had applied that same credo to my television viewing experience about four weeks ago. It was with some apprehension that I turned the TV on for my daughter and asked if she wanted to watch hockey and figure skating at the same time. I figured it would be great for a lark to watch guys like Tie Domi, Bob Probert, Ken Daneyko, Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer, Glenn Anderson, Craig Simpson and Ron Duguay trying to figure skate along side some of Canada's beautiful figure skaters. Beauty and the beast I was thinking to myself.

Western connection - Olympic gold medallist Jamie Sale paired with Hockey Night in Canada analyst and Stanley Cup winner Craig Simpson. (Gerard Chataigneay/FSC-SportIms)

I was not prepared for what would happen next! CBC's Battle of the Blades was not the hilarious train wreck that I anticipated. Sure, watching Tie figure skate with Tuffy Hough-Sweeney is still funny, but Tie is actually figure skating. The last image I have of Tie Domi is him pounding on an opponents head and working him into the "spin cycle" that he liked to use. Now I can't seem to get his graceful skating out of my head! Ken Daneyko and his partner, Jodeyne Higgins were eliminated from the Charity competition this week. In his exit speech Ken Daneyko compared the feeling he got from figure skating to his experiences winning the Stanley Cup. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, a man known for finishing his checks ... HARD, had enjoyed his brief foray into figure skating.

Shae-Lynn Bourne and Claude Lemieux rock out during their performance Sunday, Oct. 4. The red-and-black clad couple opened the show. (Gerard Chataigneau/FSC-SportIms)

Then, there is Craig Simpson and Jamie Sale. Jamie is a taskmaster at her craft and her skating medals and championships are testament to that. With those qualities, she has somehow managed to turn Simpson into a pairs figure skating partner. I didn't know what a "Waltz jump" was until Craig did one on Sunday night. That is another image that will forever haunt me. To cap this all off though, Claude Lemieux, a Stanley Cup winner, a Conn Smythe winner, a warrior and arguably one of the dirtier players to ever play in the NHL. Claude and his partner, Shae-Lynn Bourne are also skating as well as any figure skating pair can. Watching Claude "emote" while figure skating ... well ... I seem to recall Claude emoting while playing in the NHL too, but it sure wasn't like this!

What has been seen, certainly cannot be unseen and unfortunately, I may actually be enjoying watching these Ex-NHLer's figure skating with their partners.

Oct 25, 2009

The "Hockey" Gods must be crazy!

The "Hockey Gods", who are they and why do they hate the Leafs?

A common phrase that everyone has likely heard from time to time is that, "The hockey gods will find a way to balance things out". This comment is usually bandied about when a normally good team starts off slow, or a normally bad team starts of really well. But what happens when a habitually "bad" team makes all the right moves on paper to be a better team, but for some reason can't get over the hump to success. Where do the hockey gods fit into this scenario?

Mike Komisarek, making a difference for all the wrong reasons.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing some really bad hockey to start the 2009/2010 season. Even when they play well enough to potentially win, something occurs that enables them to lose convincingly. Take for instance Saturday October 24, and the game against Vancouver. In the 3rd period, a period in which for the first time the Leafs appeared able to dominate a game, they were handed the opportunity to change the tide of the game when for several seconds a couple of Leafs were staring at a wide-open Vancouver net. The only thing between them and a tied game was a bouncing puck, that miraculously jumped over their sticks and laid flat for the Canucks defense to clear out. Now, any player will tell you that some games you get the bounces and other games you don't, but what is happening that the Leafs aren't getting any bounces at all? Even when a break is given, the numerous posts hit on the empty net for example, the end was never in doubt as the puck jumped right onto a Canuck stick at an opportune time and it was buried to end the misery for the Leafs. Is this the work of those infamous "Hockey Gods"?

Francois Beauchemin, uncharacteristic give-aways and bad decisions have specifically lead to goals against.

The players the Maple Leafs have on roster should be better than what they are. The acquired free agents were all coveted by other teams and were difference makers on their previous clubs. (That description pretty much describes, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek.) As a Leaf, the performance given by these players while still being difference makers, are making a difference for all the wrong reasons. Untimely and uncharacteristic give-aways and bad decisions have specifically lead to goals against them. Last season on their respective squads those players were regularly making big plays to bail out their hockey team, why not now?

Are the Leafs players waiting for Phil Kessel to make an appearance as the saviour and completely forgotten how to play until he arrives? The team cannot be as bad as the current record indicates. I believe it is safe to suggest that the presence of an omnipotent "Hockey God" is a mere fallacy. If the players all play well, minimize mistakes, take more shots, practice what is being preached to them, then it should work out that the teams fortunes will eventually turn for the better.

But, in the off chance that some ever-present Hockey deity does exist, then I think the Leafs should consider making a sacrifice to the Gods. May I suggest Jason Blake to start!

Oct 23, 2009

Fun With Numbers Toronto Maple Leafs Style.

As we get ready to watch our beloved Maple Leafs this Saturday I thought we should have something to ponder over.

How much will you make this weekend?

Name Pos. 09/10 Salary Pay Per Game
Jason Blake L $4,500,000 $54,878.05
Phil Kessel C $4,500,000 $54,878.05
Michael Komisarek D $4,500,000 $54,878.05
Tomas Kaberle D $4,250,000 $51,829.27
Francois Beauchemin D $4,200,000 $51,219.51
Vesa Toskala G $4,000,000 $48,780.49
Jeff Finger D $3,500,000 $42,682.93
Lee Stempniak R $3,500,000 $42,682.93
Mike Van Ryn D $3,350,000 $40,853.66
Niklas Hagman L $3,000,000 $36,585.37
Mikhail Grabovski C $2,750,000 $33,536.59
Alexei Ponikarovsky L $2,500,000 $30,487.80
Matthew Stajan C $1,750,000 $21,341.46
Garnet Exelby D $1,725,000 $21,036.59
Wayne Primeau C $1,400,000 $17,073.17
Jamal Mayers R $1,400,000 $17,073.17
Colton Orr R $1,000,000 $12,195.12
Ian White D $950,000 $11,585.30
Jonas Gustavsson G $900,000 $10,975.61
Luke Schenn D $875,000 $10,670.73
Nikolai Kulemin R $850,000 $10,365.85
Rickard Wallin C $800,000 $ 9,756.10
Viktor Stalberg L $715,000 $ 8,719.51
Joey MacDonald G $650,000 $ 7,926.83
John Mitchell C $500,000 $ 6,097.56
Jay Rosehill D $500,000 $ 6,097.56

"I wanted to remain a Maple Leaf," Tucker said. "It was difficult to pick up the pieces after I left. It was tough."

Oh!!!!! A random thought and side note on Tucker...

Tucker was bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs that were in a rebuilding stage, he played eight-years and 531 games.

"I have always been, pretty much, a blue-collar player, and anything I have ever achieved in my career has been through hard work."

Blue collar. Hard working. Gritty. Sound familiar? Leafs general manager Brian Burke wants his team to have, -remember- “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” but we don't have Darcy anymore and still Toronto pays him US$1-million a season--for the next 4 years all to be an elder statesman with the Colorado Avalanche.

Tucker responded on his first return with the Avalanche by scoring a goal and adding an assist in Colorado's 4-1 victory. We paid him $12,195.12 to beat us that night.

Oct 21, 2009

Sophomore Jinx bitten the leafs?

Top left, injured Defenceman Mike Van Ryn; top right, Mikhail Grabovski (C), bottom left, John Mitchell (C), bottom right, Luke Schenn(D) .

The 20092010 Season hasn't started out as a kind season for the leafs. Within the first month, both main roster goaltenders have gone down with injuries. Oft-injured Defenceman Van Ryn is having season ending surgery, and Last year's rookie prospects (Graboski, Mitchell, & Schenn) don't appear to be living up to expectations. Injuries aside, should we expect more from the Leaf Rookies? Have they been bitten by the Sophomore jinx?

The Sophmore Jinx is not exclusive to hockey. All professional sports refer to this strange phenomena. Why is it that a year after a promising rookie season, that a lot of pro athletes appear to suffer from a down year? Is it all psychological? Maybe it's because expectations for rookies are set too high? Are opposing players more ready for these initially unknown players? Could it be that the Rookie Hazings take such a toll on players, that the next season, played suffers tremendously? What if the Sophomore Jinx was nothing at all, and just a fabrication to use as a talking point?

In the 2005/6 season Ovechkin scoed 52 goals and in 2006/7 he scored 46.

I decided to do a bit of fact digging of my own to see whether the Sophomore Jinx could be explained. For my analysis, I decided to pick the top 10 goal scorers of the 2008-2009 season, and examine their progress from rookie to Sophomore. The top 10 are as follows: Ovechkin, Carter, Parise, Kocalchuck, Nash, E. Staal, Hossa, Vanek, Cammalleri & Heatley.

Of the top 10 scorers in 2008-2009, only two suffered a slight drop in scoring from rookie to sophomore seasons. The rest had moderate to significant increases. Although my system is not at all scientific, I doubt that there is a direct correlation between a positive rookie season performance, and a poor sophomore performance.

In the 2005/6 season Carter scored 23 goals and dropped to 14 in his sophomore year.

My belief is that when you give something a name, people latch on to it with emotion. Take for instance the H1N1 Flu. H1N1 is being dubbed as a Killer of women in their thirties, with a high mortality rate. The facts are that all Flu cases appear to affect young adults between 20-40 years of age. H1n1 has a mortality rate of between 0.007% to 0.045%, while seasonal flue has a death rate of 0.1%.

Although Schenn, Grabovski and Mitchell are not blowing apart their performance from last season, they're only 7 games in, and play for a winless team. Let's hold off on making a hoopla about the Sophomore Jinx. Let's let the guys play without the added stress and psychological impact. Things will happen; every season has it's ups and downs.

Oct 18, 2009

New season, new faces, new hopes for Toronto Maple Leafs fans...?

Toronto Maple Leafs forwards Lee Stempniak (L) and Jason Blake skate off the ice following their loss to the New York Rangers during their NHL hockey game in Toronto October 17, 2009.

Does anything ever change in Leafland?

At the end of every year we’re given the same song and dance that next year will be better.

Apologies from the Leafs brass about the year not having the “results we were looking for”...

“We are disappointed that we didn't achieve our primary goal of advancing to the playoffs and completing for the Stanley Cup. “...

“We share your disappointment. However, we accomplished much “...

“Preparations for next season are already underway. We know we will be better next year as so many of our younger players will have gained from the experience. Every member of our staff will work diligently in the weeks and months ahead to continue to move forward toward the ultimate goal of bringing the Cup back to Toronto.”... blah, blah, blah.

That was the sentiment and part of a letter sent out by John Ferguson Jr. for the 07 season to all “Leafs fans” who “are the greatest fans in hockey” according to him.

"I think we have some good players that, as our team gets better, will be valuable parts of what we're trying to do. I know people are expecting wholesale change, but I don't expect that." - Leafs GM Brian Burke

How long have we been hearing this fairytale? I’ve been a Leafs fan longer than I can remember, well actually I do remember the 1962 Stanley cup win.

It still is very early in the season, yes, with 75 more games to be played, but a disturbingly familiar pattern is rearing its ugly head once again. The Leafs can’t seem to win a game.

I see plenty of new faces but at the end of every game day and every month and every season, year after year it’s the same result... Leafs miss the playoffs or get knocked out in the first or second round, the latter being a rarity by the way.

I’ve always considered myself to be the eternal optimist when it came to the hapless Leafs, but this is the year where I say optimism be damned!! Enough is enough!

I want to see heads roll and soon, I want to see youth and energy and soon, I want to see that “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” Burke was talking about, after all if there is no action with those words, that’s all they are just words.

Enough! This could be the year that will finally break me as a “loyal fan”.

Oct 16, 2009

Defenceman Mike Van Ryn to Undergo Knee Surgery

Defenceman Mike Van Ryn announced that he has decided to undergo extensive knee surgery which could potentially spell the end of the 30-year old's NHL career.

In a season already filled with bad news, the Toronto Maple Leafs received another helping on Friday.

Sources say Van Ryn is having an osteotomy, a procedure by which the bone is cut and the knee is realigned. That means Van Ryn is done for at least this season - the recovery time is a minimum of six months. This type of surgery is usually performed on the elderly.

Former Red Wings' great and current Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman underwent the same surgery in 2002 and was able to return, however not at the same elite level that he was accustomed to.

Van Ryn, who is on injured reserve and has yet to play this season, missed the last 16 games of the 2008-09 season with a torn MCL in his left knee. Injuries have limited him to only 27 games for the Maple Leafs since being acquired from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Bryan McCabe and a fourth round pick in September of 2008.

The surgery is scheduled to take place on October 22.

The London, Ontario native has suffered through an injury plagued career that has seen him miss numerous games due to concussions, knee and hand injuries. When healthy, he is a solid two-way contributor from the blueline. In 353 games split between the Blues, Panthers and Leafs, Van Ryn has 30 goals and 99 assists.

He was originally a first round draft choice, 26th overall, by the New Jersey Devils in the 1998 NHL Entry draft.


Oct 14, 2009

Could The Toronto Maple Leafs Be Out Already?

Brian Burke looks on all the while contemplating the fate of his players

There are 76 more games in the schedule for the Leafs and even if they play .500 hockey from now on the most points their going to get is 76 + the 1 point they have; that's 77 points by years end....

If you need 92 to 93 points to get into they playoffs.... well... you do the math, could The Toronto Maple Leafs be out of contention before December?...

Last year (2008/09) the Leafs scored 244 times and allowed 286.

This year Toronto is on pace to score 177 times and allow 383 ... again you do the math.

This has been a very frustrating start to a season that was, and maybe still is, full of hope to some of the real blue and white faithful. Unfortunately I am one of the true faithful who will stick it out to the bitter end. Shame on me I guess...

Oct 12, 2009

World's Most Famous Arena!

Ron Wilson points his finger during a press conferenceAs head coach Ron Wilson and his not so merry band of winless Maple Leafs make their way up to the fifth floor tonight in the world's most famous arena, it is safe to say, that a win, against any opponent, in any building, will not be easy!

The Rangers, well rested and against a team that had played less than 24 hours prior to sunday's matinee; were relentless on the forecheck. They not only won convincingly but with their back-up netminder, Stephen Valiquette, shutting out the Ducks, 3-0. Of course he faced only 18 shots all night, with just one in the first period of a then still scoreless tie. The Ducks mustered some offense and energy in the second period but it didn't last long before penalities sapped any thoughts of a comeback.

So tonight, with the Leafs facing the Rangers number one netminder, Henrik Lundqvist, "easy" goals don't appear to be anywhere on the horizon. This means Wilson will be looking to find some sustained offensive pressure from a group of forwards that likely will be without Viktor Stalberg who is "questionable" for tonight's tilt.

John Tortorella points his finger during a game.

The good news is that this is the Rangers second game in as many nights and with such a young defense the Leafs should look to get them to cough the puck up. The Rangers are playing with 22 yr. old Marc Staal averaging 25 minutes a game and have two other rookies playing a regular shift as well. Michael Del Zotto, the 19 yr. old Ontario native has 5 points in 5 games and played just over 17 minutes against Anaheim while Boston University rookie, Matt Gilroy, played 18 minutes. One would think that getting pucks behind these guys on a consistent basis would be the game plan tonight. Along with those three youngsters, the 25 year old Guelph Storm product, Dan Girardi, is also playing a ton of minutes averaging almost 23 a game.

If they cannot play more of the game in the Rangers end tonight, it could spell another long night for their beleagured goalie, Vesa Toskala, who is expected to start again in net tonight. With a GAA of almost 5 and the 48th ranked goalie in the league right now...it's hard to tell who's make-up is more fragile, his or Leafs Nation?

Colton Orr and Vaclav "Vinny" ProspalWith both teams trying to impose their pressure and pursuit systems on the other, it will interesting to see which team executes tonight at the Garden.

Two intersting side-bars: Colton Orr, the 27 year old Winnepeg native, returns to the place he spent the last 3 plus years and Vaclav Prospal who has been reunited with his old coach, John Tortorella, is not wearing a visor for the first time in as long as I can remember. He has a 4 game point streak...is he "seeing" the ice better?

Oct 7, 2009

Training camp be gone!

Just a few short days out of training camp and some teams, it could be said, are already starting some trends. Some continuing good ones from last year, and some, developing disturbing ones in this rudimentary part of the season.

In terms of who we trust to do what, when and how; many players have built up credibility and thus, we put very little credence into what might have happened in the pre-season, let alone camp. A few early season losses and shabby preformances will do little to dull our enthusiasm and faith in their abilities.

Roberto Luongo and Chris Osgood would, to most pundits, fall into that category.

As well as certain teams and their overall preformance, ie., Detroit, Vancouver and Anaheim; come to mind.

Because of their track record, we tend to put very little credence into what goes on in training camp and instead focus on what lies ahead, mainly the 82 game marathon. Makes sense.

But what about the team and it's players who haven't made the playoffs, and haven't built up credibility over the last 4 years, sans playoff appearences?

One might argue that almost every player in one of those camps would, should or could be fighting for his job daily? After all, we're not talking about the Crosby's, Ovechkin's or Datsyuk's here? Those superstars and many others are expected to use training camp to "sharpen" up, possibly get in game shape...certainly not worry about their jobs!

Those cliches that everyone's job is on the line, and we're starting over, are for the perenial losers, the doormats, the teams that year after year have been on the outside looking in at the playoff dance.

Now let's take a look at Maple Leafs training camp. Not our subjective point of view from the outside looking in...but let's say, from an insiders viewpoint, up close and personal if you will.

Coach Ron Wilson a week removed from camp said, "A few guys made this team based on what they did last year, not on how they preformed this year in camp."

What they did last year???

Oct 2, 2009

I am a Leaf fan.

I am a hockey fan and I am a Leaf fan.

That admission in most places these days usually elicits a few jokes and some ribbing. I’m sure all Leaf fans have heard their share of it over the years. You know how they start, your buddy at work says his car was broken into on the weekend … nothing was taken, but they left a pair of Leaf tickets and a couple of Leaf sweaters on the seat. “Ha Ha, good one, you got me” is the usual response to this.

But when should this all stop?

The Detroit Red Wings were, for many years before turning into the juggernaut they are today, called the “Dead Things”. Nowadays, all that history seems forgotten and no one remembers, or cares to hear about the 42 years between Cup victories. For the Detroit Red Wings, its fans and its pundits it’s all about the future.

As a Leaf fan, I look to the future and I see many big changes occurring both in on-ice personnel and off-ice personnel. Brian Burke is doing all the right things to bring respectability back to the Blue and White sweater that was so viciously dismissed in Roch Carrier’s short story, “The Sweater”. A usually depleted scouting staff is being replenished with capable people, draft picks that have been scarce are being recouped with free agent acquisitions of undrafted College prospects and late bloomers. The kind of pick that is reminiscent of the Red Wings has emerged on the Leafs in the form of Viktor Stalberg, but where are the accolades at finding the prospect? Heaps of praise is thrown at the Detroit organization for finding unknown gems in the draft, yet when the Leafs find one it’s what? It’s a fluke?

When should all this stop?

When will this Toronto Maple Leafs organization begin to get its credit back and have people looking forward at the direction the team is heading, instead of backwards at where it has been? Too many hockey fans have gotten so used to quipping “1967” as a derogatory remark that even they can’t see a team that is progressing, or for that matter, other teams that are regressing. The last 42 years has been open season on the Leafs and its fans. For this fan … the crap stops now! If you want to remind me about how long it’s been since the Leafs won the Cup, why don’t you also tell me when the last time your favourite team won the Cup. (and, NO! telling me you're a bandwagon fan who’s team wins every year doesn’t count)

Edmonton Oilers – 20 years

Vancouver Canucks – (Have never won) … 39 years

Calgary Flames – 21 years

Ottawa Senators – have never won since joining the league in 1992 (a little grace here)

Montreal Canadians – 16 years ( I don’t care how many, what have they done lately? Same as the Leafs, zero!)

New York Rangers – 15 years

New York Islanders – 26 years

Chicago Blackhawks – 49 years (Wow, that’s a long time!)

Philadelphia Flyers – 34 years

Boston Bruins – 37 years

A lot of other teams that are not the Toronto Maple Leafs have also failed to win a Stanley Cup over a long duration. So if you want to laugh at me because I’m Leaf fan, don’t stand there smugly grinning at your own joke. This year’s rendition is a team full of Pugnacity, Testosterone, Truculence and Belligerence. You’d better duck and avoid receiving your own version of the hockey grin.

The Habs Outlasted The Leafs.

Game 1 of the regular season was played last night between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. The Leafs lost 4-3 in overtime. In case you missed it or if you just want to check out the highlights, here is the game in 6 minutes.!

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