Saturday, November 27, 2010

Same old, Same old for Leafs in Buffalo.

     With a record of 27-55-8 all-time against the Sabres in Buffalo, one would think the Leafs might alter their game plan heading back into the Queen City.  It's possible the Leafs were planning a different approach to this game but it only took the Sabres 2 minutes to suck them into playing their game in their barn.  
     The record tells the story.  The Sabres have the Leafs number at home.  They begin by pushing them around and targeting key players.  Last night Kessel and Kulemin were on the radar.  When both were victims of big hits Toronto players began to take the bait.  First it was Luke Schenn.  Credit him for standing up for his teammate, and winning the fight, but unfortunately it was the beginning of the end as far as any game plan may have gone.  With Schenn in the penalty box already, Colton Orr wanted his time in the spotlight.  He got it by trying to seek vengeance on Paul Gaustad for an earlier dirty hit.  Credit might be given to Orr for this as well, if it weren't for the fact that this was exactly what the Sabres were trying to accomplish.  Orr was accessed 4 minutes for roughing and 2 for unsportsmanlike conduct.  Three minutes later and two goals down, Toronto was right where Buffalo wanted them.  The only thing left was to watch Ryan Miller intimidate the Leafs by getting in the way of almost everything they threw at him.  
     Perhaps the most alarming part of this loss was the fact that Buffalo played exactly how the Leafs should have.  It was like they were playing on the road.  They came out hitting hard.  They for-checked relentlessly, and they put lots of bodies in-front of Jonas Gustavsson.  Given the fact Toronto went into the game without Mike Brown, a very good "in your face" type player, and an excellent penalty killer, it was distressing to see how easily they were lured into Buffalo's trap.
     It wasn't all bad however.  The Monster stopped pretty much everything he saw.  Luke Schenn had another strong game.  Phil Kessel looked engaged with seven shots and a short-handed goal, and the Leafs didn't quit.  Fortunately they won't have long to dwell on this loss with a game tonight.  Lets hope they have a  better plan for the Senators and can stick to it!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leafs finally rewarded with Big Effort.

     It started out looking like another disaster at the ACC, but ended looking with a barnburner.  Tuesday night the Toronto Maple Leafs ended an eight game losing streak that spanned 3 weeks and was beginning to look like it would never end.  It did end though with a gutsy win again the Nashville Predators.  
     Who would have thought Leaf fans were to be treated to such a thrilling game after coughing up 3 goals in less than 20 minutes.  Even a late third period goal by Luke Schenn couldn't offer any solace to fans as they watched their team squander another power-play and even give up a short-handed goal to start the second period.  Who knew Brett Lebda's terrible giveaway would spark their most inspired effort of the season.    
     Six minutes into the second period the Leafs were down 4-1 with a 2 man advantage. That's when Kris Versteeg decided enough was enough.  He scored his first of the night and followed it with another one minute later.   By the end of the third they'd scored 4 power-play goals and taken the lead by a 5-4 margin.  They even had a goal called back when Colton Orr got in the way of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne on a Keith Aullie wrist shot.  
     The win wasn't textbook to be sure.  It's not every night a team is handed six power-plays in a row, and two, two man advantages in one period.   We can't expect them to come back from three goals every night either.  Nashville was a slumping team as well.  The Leafs have a long way to go.  All we can hope for is more of the spirit we witnessed last night and some good bounces.  A win is a win though, and that one was  a beauty.  Honorable mention should also go to Clarke MacArthur, the set-up man on 3 power play goals.   As well the Monster stepped in late in the third to make some game saving saves with Giguere leaving with minutes to go.  Let's hope the Leafs can provide some more efforts like this and get back in the hunt for a play-off spot.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kadri to the Rescue?

     Leaf fans are going to get another look at their future soon, maybe even tonight.  Nazim Kadri  just got the call he's been waiting for his entire career.  Let's hope he's ready!
     With only one win in their last eleven games the Leafs have erased any of the optimism they created with their great start.  I suspect no realistic fan really thought they were as good as they showed in their first four games, but we didn't think they were as bad as they were last year either.  With a loss tonight they will be worse! 
     In three of the Leafs last eleven games they've been shut-out 3 times,  and been held to 1 goal three times.  Phil Kessel, by far the best offensive player on the team, has not recorded a point in his last seven games.  Given the fact he's slumped like this before, I can only wonder if he's the type of player we should be counting on to make this team a consistent winner.  Tyler Bozak, Kessel's preferred center is pointless in his last three games as well.  In Bozak's defense, I think it's very unfair to expect much more than what we've seen from this undrafted, U.S. Collegiate free agent, with less than a full year in the NHL. 
     Suffice it to say, this team is very weak upfront.  We were told early on by management not to worry as we would see more scoring from the back end.  That hasn't happened yet either.  With Phaneuf injured and not scoring when he was healthy, and little coming from anyone else on defense, I wonder if that was more talk to ease restless fans, rather than a realistic expectation.  So, where does this leave Nazim Kadri?  
     I can't help but wonder why Kadri has been called to the big club.  On the surface it's obvious.  The club stinks offensively and is in desperate need of a shake-up.  My problem with this is only a few days ago Brian Burke was telling Leaf Nation he wasn't planning on calling on Kadri yet.  At the end of training camp Burke and Wilson both stated Kadri was not ready physically or mentally.  He's had 14 games in the AHL to improve his game.  I hope he has.  Burke says he has, but only days ago wasn't considering calling him up.   My fear is this is just another of Burke's impatient quick fixes.  I hope I'm wrong. 
     So, what should Leaf fans expect from Kadri?   He's been a point a game player for the Marlies this year.  We're told he's a better two way player and strong on the power play.  Again, on the surface this sounds exactly like the player we need right now.  Below the surface I think fans need to remember he's still a very raw prospect, being called upon the help a very weak offensive team.  This team has been embarrassing offensively and for good reason.  They're players aren't very good.  With the exception of Kessel, no one else is a legitimate scoring threat.  Kulemin and Versteeg will get their share of points and MacArthur will do fine.  After that the cupboard is bare.  Even if Kadri can make an impact, it still may not be enough.  So, here's to hoping Kadri will make an impact and give the rest of the team the wake-up call it desperately needs.  He's got the confidence, temperament and skill to be a very good player down the road.  Of this I have no doubt.  He's no savior however and nor should he be expected to be.