Blogging the Leafs

Friday, November 29, 2002

Leafs Recall Ponikarovsky from St. John's

Poni gets his first crack at the leaf lineup this year. He is doing okay in St. John's with 13 points in 21 games, but his 8 goals ranks him second on the team in putting the puck away. He'll replace Belak until McCauley or Corson is well again, at which time, he will probably be sent down and Belak will sit in the press box.

The earth doesn't exactly shake with this move...




Thursday, November 28, 2002

After heart attack, McKenny ready to grab mike

Good to see former Leaf Jim McKenny back in the saddle. He's a tough nut and just the model of grit for leaf defensemen.

November 26, 2002
Washington 4 at Toronto 5

Forwards
Renberg – Sundin – Fitzgerald
Tucker – Green – Belak
Domi – Reichel – Hoglund
Healy – Antropov – Mogilny

Tucker – Green – Domi

Antropov – Reichel – Tucker (pp)
Renberg – Sundin – Mogilny (pp)

Mogilny – Sundin (pk)
Reichel – Tucker (pk)
Fitzgerald – Sundin (pk)
Mogilny – Healy (pk)

Defense
Svehla – Kaberle
Jackman – Berg
Lumme – Pilar

Goal
Belfour

You can just feel it turning around now. It’s getting a little tiring to say that every win is important, but that’s the case. And the good news is that all the little things are going right. Turnovers continue to happen but Belfour is in the mood to bail them out. Late period goals get given up, but it doesn’t seem to dent the momentum. And the defensive game has been markedly improved, especially since Quinn assembled the current lines.

The Leafs lost the lead twice in this game and got it back again, holding off the Caps in the third to secure the win, It was a game full of weird bounces and strange things happening, but there was no amount of adversity thrown at Toronto that they couldn’t handle. Belfour played really well when he needed too and the powerplay was a thing of beauty.

The top line is really clicking, even if Sundin has been pointless in the last five games (he has had 32 shots in those last four games though). Renberg has four goals in his last six games and Fitzgerald has been throwing around a little brawn. These guys were really tenacious in this game, putting some very serious pressure on the Capitals all night long. They pinned them down with active forechecking and flurries of shots, like on an early shift in the first when they had four or five shots on Kolzig in about 10 seconds. Late in the third when it really mattered, Sundin played amazing defense at the end of the third too.

The Antropov line was great, and Healy may have seen the last of his days in St. John’s At the end of the game he had a crucial second effort at a loose puck that resulted in Gonchar taking a penalty which relived the pressure. He and Antro continue to impress a lot. Antro is looking good on the power play with Tucker and Reichel, and his regular stints with Mogilny are only serving to improve his game and give him a little more space on the ice to make things happen in front of the net.

Corson is still out, and McCauley had a groin twinge which made him a late scratch, allowing Belak to suit up. He got into it early with Brendan Witt, and in the second he cuffed Witt in the ear leading to a major penalty, a game misconduct and a suspension. The resulting penalty kill was critical in showing the Caps that the Leafs were not going to lie down in this game.

On the blueline, Kaberle and Svehla seemed to find the magic they had going in the first couple of games of the season. Kabby is rushing the puck a lot more and shooting bullets towards the net. And Svehla had three points. He's finding his game again. It’s all coming together for him and he is currently sitting at third in scoring among all NHL defensemen.

Pilar is learning to play within his limitations and I haven’t seen him pinching out of his depth or getting caught out of position as much since he came back up. At one point in the first period he had a couple of options on a clearing play and he wisely chose the safest, up the boards, which actually resulted in Tucker getting a chance and drawing a penalty. Antropov scored on that power play putting the leafs ahead. I hope Pilar gets the message from that decision. Little things often pay big dividends.

With McCabe out, the Leafs are missing some physicality on the blue line, but Jackman seems like he is aiming to fill that job. He played big in this game and contributed with some fast transition play that created chances, especially from the top forward line.

So I like where all this is going. The new lines are defensively responsible and yet each packs a punch. The D is playing steadily and Belfour has been outstanding, garnering player of the week honours for his two recent shutouts. He is playing a lot of hockey these days. We've almost forgotten about Trevor Kidd.

Other than the blank in Ottawa, the team is really starting to pull things together and with a bunch of Conference and Division games coming up and some road tripping in December, they just have to keep it going. Focus is everything. We’ll see how that lasts after the Islander’s game on December 6th. Until then they can prepare against Philly, Buffalo and Tampa.


Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Lots of good stuff happening these days. I've been on the road myself so I haven't had a chance to blog the recent games, but here's the story so far:

Convincing win against the Flyers on Saturday, Belfour's second 6-0 shutout of the year and a well played defensive game from the Leafs. The new lines are working pretty well. Belak played nicely as the utility d-man and the Kaberle - Svehla duo looked fairly solid. Good new that Lumme got his first goal of the year. All told, the defense is playing much much better

The loss against the Sens continues the streak of crappy regular season hockey against Ottawa. Not a problem. If we meet them in the playoffs again this year, the tilt should go the way it traditionally does...

Belfour is getting better and better and the fans have been increasingly behind him. Cheers of "Eddie Eddie" have been echoing around the ACC, and when one casts one's eyes to Detroit, one sees Cujo struggling and one has fewer and fewer regrets about the goaltending switch last summer. I like the fact that Eddie is getting stronger and feeling more and more confident. Those kinds of upward trends are what I like to see in a player. Streaky makes me nervous, but streaky is a Red Wing now, so I'm not as worried as I used to be.

Of course it helps that Belfour is getting good defensive support and some increased scoring power in front of him.

At the moment, the team is winning more games than it is losing, and I sense that the turnaround is in full swing. The challenge for the team is to start playing well against their Conference and pick up the points they squandered early on. It's going to be desperation hockey for the remainder of the season if they hope to show well in the final eight in April, but if the treand continues, it'll only make the season more interetesting.


Sunday, November 24, 2002

Harry Watson dies. The one time Maple Leaf great passed away on Saturday. He played on four Leaf Championship teams in the 1940s, and at 6'1" and 207lbs, must have seemed like the Eric Lindros of his day.



Friday, November 22, 2002

Injury update UPDATE: McCabe out 2-4 weeks with a broken foot, sustained against St. Louis and evidently aggravated since. How tough is this guy that he plays on a broken foot for 5 games, continues to get better and better and more and more mobile, and doesn't notice a broken foot?

It's a big loss, but those are the kinds of apples that fall.

Injury updates: McCauley and Mogilny will be back in shape by Saturday for the Philidelphia game. Corson tweaked his groin in practice and might miss out, and Healy will stay up with the Leafs, and will probably dress on Saturday, especially if Corson doesn't.


Thursday, November 21, 2002

November 19, 2002
Boston 0 at Toronto 2

Forwards
Renberg – Sundin – Fitzgerald
Belak – Green – Corson
Domi – Reichel – Hoglund
Tucker – Antropov – Healy

Tucker – Antropov – Reichel (pp)
Renberg – Sundin – Hoglund (pp)

Corson – Green (pk)
Hoglund – Reichel (pk)
Tucker – Antropov (pk)

Sundin – Renberg (4 on 4)

Defense
McCabe – Jackman
Lumme – Berg
Kaberle – Svehla

Goal
Belfour

This win was just about as big a win as the Leafs could have hoped for. You take the surging Boston Bruins, who have been devastating of late, even if they are missing a few regulars, you add to that the fact that Bruins have these abnormal stats like a 48% power play in the last five games, stir in a little bit of missing Mogilny and McCauley and on paper it adds up to a rout. The other way.

As it was, the Leafs finally discovered what can happen when you play responsible hockey for 60 minutes. The forward line ups coming into the game looked like the Leafs were hoping to eke out a 0-0 tie, what with Fitzgerald on the first line and the Antropov line starting against Thornton. And that's what happened for most of the game, with the Leafs seeing a lot of potential in a tied game at any score, protecting their shot at a quick goal or two and then exploiting the chances when Boston started playing crazy in the third period. It wasn't always pretty, but it worked

The Antro line was wonderful, with Nik coming off his injury and getting right back into the saddle where he left off, playing physically, and responsible defense. Paul Healy continues the trend of Leaf call ups getting a goal in their first game, (and on the powerplay!). Everyone else held their own and Belak even scrapped.

But there was a huge story behind the centre line. The defensive corps was solid and Belfour was outstanding. Everything has turned around for him now and the jeers have become cheers. He is playing better and better, and although he isn't perfect every night, that’s a trend that is heartening to see continue.

Overnight the media circus has turned around in Toronto (with predictable exceptions), the fans are happy (and they were really loud during this game) and the upside seems to be coming into focus. And it all comes back to playing a simple game, frustrating your opponents and exploiting chances.

Quinn had a really nice quote about playing with emotion in an interview where he refuted the now infamous SI article:

"As biased as that article was against us, there were some truths. We play on emotion, we love it, we get charged by it," Quinn argued. "And yet suddenly now we're monsters because we're full of emotion. My God, didn't that entice us all to play this game? That's what it's all about, to feel something inside, whether it's burning, hate, good, whatever. Emotion's part of us every bloody day. And so now it's bad. We don't want any.

"So I tell our guys to keep it as long as they can (in this case, through three days off until the Philadelphia Flyers get here on Saturday). Clearly others don't see it that way, but that's fine. I'd go around being hated all the time if I could win hockey games."


Almo and Amac are out until Saturday, wearing the scars of the Red Wings game. Mogilny has a sore back, and McCauley is suffering the results on an unpunished spearing. Both will probably be back for the Flyers game.


Tuesday, November 19, 2002

November 16, 2001
Detroit 2 at Toronto 1

Forwards
Renberg – Sundin – Tucker
Domi – Corson – Green
Hoglund – Reichel – Mogilny
Fitzgerald – Holden – McCauley

Tucker - Sundin – Mogilny (pp)

Defense
McCabe - Kaberle
Jackman - Berg
Lumme – Svehla

Goal
Belfour

I was actually in Toronto for this game and the 3-2 victory against Buffalo the night before. I missed most of the Detroit game, but here were the lines, which I think were similar to the Buffalo game as well. In that game, Mogilny seemed finally to get the open net goal he has been trying for in the last few games and Belfour made a couple of saves that turned the momentum and one late play that saved the game.

The Detroit game was different, and the trend of the Leafs running into a hot goaltender continues. From what I heard of the game, the first period was a pretty strong showing for the Leafs, especially with a powerplay that was dominating if not productive. Domi's goal late in the game got the Leafs within one, but it was Legace's game to win and that he did, at the expense of Belfour, and no doubt to the embarrassment of Cujo, who was sitting on the bench.

Although I grew up in Toronto, I haven't been back there for a number of years, and I forget just how much hockey is woven into everyday life during the winter. Every little park has a game going on a snowy Saturday afternoon, ball hockey now, but soon the tennis courts will be flooded and the ice will be put in and the game will continue. Leaf players live in neighborhoods and carry their own bread home. Leaf alumni are everywhere, a it's not uncommon to see them out and about on a busy weekend morning. Hockey is simply a way of life in Toronto, as it is in many Canadian cities, towns and villages. The relationship between the team and the town is always the same even if the scale is different. In Lakefield Ontario, it might be the local copy shop that advertises on the boards at the rink. In Toronto it's Bell Canada. In Fort McMurray, Alberta the junior players billet with families and do their homework between games and practices. In Montreal, former Canadiens have their own businesses, and fit right back into the community when they are done.

Nice to check back in with that sentiment. It's not quite the same out here on the west coast, where pro sports is still a bit of a show, and where the player return to their homes in other towns in the off season or after retirement.

Anyway, now that the team seems to be coming back a little from the grave (two wins in a row!) the poison pens in TO have turned on the front office and the fan culture. Ken Dryden's squabbles with Pat Quinn or Sports Illustrated's "fish in a barrel" investigative journalism aren't really my cup of tea, so you'll have to find links to all those stories by yourself. I can't be bothered.

Tonight it's Boston, for the second game of the season, and Toronto has a chance to square the series against a team with twice as many points.

*Shudder*


Wednesday, November 13, 2002

November 12, 2002
Los Angeles 3 at Toronto 4 (OT)

Forwards
Renberg – Sundin – Tucker
Corson – Green – Domi
Reichel – Holden – Mogilny
Fitzgerald – McCauley – Hoglund

Tucker - Sundin – Mogilny (pp)
Renberg - Reichel – Hoglund (pp)

Fitzgerald – McCauley (pk)
Sundin – Tucker (pk)

Sundin – Mogilny (ot)
Reichel - Hoglund (ot)
Tucker – Renberg (ot)

Defense
McCabe - Kaberle
Jackman - Berg
Lumme – Svehla

Goal

Belfour

There is no question that tonight’s win was the biggest yet this season. Blowing a three goal lead, this game had all the look of the famous 5-0 tp 6-5 defeat against the Blues a year and a half ago. And it seemed as if that kind of a loss would have had the same effect on this very fragile team. The Leafs put together exactly half a great game of hockey, but the third period had them looking really jittery. The first period was great; high tempo, lots of pressure, and three gritty goals as a result.

As it was , Sundin pulled this one out with a great goal in overtime, and he continues to come out of his slump. I sense that he’s on the way back.

There were a lot of changes to the look of the team tonight, and I have to say that I liked the line combos that Quinn threw together. Up top, Sundin had Renberg and Tucker. Renberg had a great game, clearly the Leaf player of the night. He generated both of the first two goals with some hard forechecking which won the puck deep in the Kings zone. He then had the presence of mind to find an open man, Tucker and Hoglund respectively. I have written before about how much I like what Renberg has been doing lately, and tonight continued that type of game.

The second line had Green centering Corson and Domi, and Domi was the story here. He had three great scoring chances, two of them off breakaways and one from luring Jamie Storr out of his net and sending the puck in to be swept away at the last second by Aaron Miller late in the game.

Reichel Holden and Mogilny made up the erstwhile third line, and Holden played well, especially defensively

The fourth line produced one goal, the second, with Renberg left out on the ice.

Interestingly, Quinn went with two new, or at least resurrected, powerplay units with Mogilny – Sundin – Tucker and Renberg - Reichel – Hoglund getting time on the second and third penalties. Over the last four games the Leaf power play has been woeful at just under 9%, and they didn’t get any better tonight. The first PP was a write off, bt they were able to create pressure on the last two.

On the PK, which is running at around 93% over the last 60 kills, the Leafs were split. They killed off a questionable Sundin call, but gave up the tying goal on the Fitzgerald penalty.

On defense, Lumme played better. He had one nerve racking turnover in the first period that he got away with, but for the rest of the game he played fairly well, and worked especially hard at keeping the puck in the attacking zone, creating some good pressure as a result. McCabe’s p[physical game is back in spades and Kaberle continues to play well. Jackman had a nice defensive play in overtime to take Smolinski out of a rush and turn the puck up ice to Tucker.

I’m a little high on the win at the moment, and not really able to see the forest for the tree, but I’ll blog later about some of the lingering problems if I can recall them. Mostly the third period was walking on egg shells. The remedy for that is confidence, and Sundin’s overtime goal may have helped that cause a fair amount tonight.


Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Links of note in advance of the Kings game:




Well, what's it going to take eh?

Pilar has been returned to St. John's and Cola has been returned to Erie, probably to prevent him from becoming used to seeing his heros play like goats.

In the offing are these conversations:


My personal opinon (thanks for asking) is that the trade bluster is a little premature. If the season is a write off, then write it off now and stand pat. Give younger guys a chance to develop, try a few new things, make it a learning experience. But if there is life in the season, then these guys have to first find a way to nurture that spark and get some real fire going on their own. If they start playing the way they are capable of playing, then in the spring a trade for a elite defenseman, a sniper or another power forward might make the difference to propelling them through a few playoff rounds.

Anyway, tough week coming up with LA, Buffalo and Detroit in the offing. A win against Cujo might provide some sparks.

Come to think of it, any win could do that...




Sunday, November 10, 2002

November 9, 2002
Toronto 3 at St. Louis 6

Forwards
Renberg – Sundin – Hoglund
Tucker – Corson – Green
Domi – Reichel – Mogilny
Fitzgerald – Holden – McCauley

Renberg – Sundin – Mogilny

Tucker – Corson – Reichel (pp)

Fitzgerald – Reichel (pk)
Sundin – Mogilny (pk)
McCauley – Holden (pk)
McCauley – Fitzgerald (pk)

Defense
McCabe - Kaberle
Jackman - Berg
Svehla – Lumme

Goal
Kidd

This was an absolute cesspool of a game. The officiating was bad, really bad, in fact. But we’ll get to that in a minute because despite calling a total of 20 penalties, many of them crap, the officials didn’t decide this game. Robert Svehla decided this game. And Jirki Lumme.

Two more leaden footed uninspired hockey players I have not seen since the days of Alexandre Daigle in Florida. Those two guys played one of the worst games of hockey I have witnessed in quite a while. There is a litany of proof to offer in this assertion, but all you need is what happened on two key St. Louis goals…

First, the Blues third goal which made it 3-1 very late in the second. Jamal Mayers comes out of the corner, meets Lumme in front of the net and beats him and Kidd who are both standing still. Lumme looked like a mailbox. Except a mailbox would have stopped the shot. He looked like a mailbox with a big hole in it.

Second, the Blues fourth goal. Weight comes in on goal and BOTH Svehla and Lumme back up onto Trevor Kidd.

There were other cases too of missed assignments, botched clearing passes and dumb play. All told the pair was -5. Not an inspired combo. It’s back to the drawing board on that one, and maybe even back to the Panthers, to follow up on the interest in Antropov for Yushkevich.

But fantasies aside, and small picky criticisms aside to, the problem with the Leafs is not the little things. It’s the big thing.

Tonight was the best example of the Leaf’s current lack of inspiration or creativity. These are 20 men who are going out every night with a plan or two, a few do’s and don’ts and other bits and pieces. They are in good physical shape, and on paper, pretty much any line combination has it’s strong points.

But they are lacking in desire. They aren’t hungry. They seems to accept that a loss is inevitable every night. There is no team they can beat. There are a million ways to lose.

Now this is actually interesting to me. I am very curious to see how they are going to get out of this, if not this year, then next year. One senses that there are some shakeups coming, but it’s not a great time of year to trade. The only guys who are available are those who are stinking out the joint with their current teams. So what does one do? What is Quinn thinking? How do you unlock this log jam and get these guys playing for all the marbles again? How do you inspire them to be the team they can be?

To be fair there was some well played hockey from the Leafs tonight, mostly from the top line, and it was nice to see Renberg getting a couple of goals, and VERY nice to see Sundin blocking shots in the last minute of the game down three goals. He’s trying to put some leadership into the jam, but it may be falling on deaf ears.

Okay so now that I’ve established that the Leafs really did do themselves in tonight, let’s look at the reffing. This is not a Toronto whine/rant. Even Kelly Chase, the Blues colour commentator was complaining about it.

Remember the names Mike Hasenfratz and Kevin Pollock. They called 20 penalties tonight, many of them appalling. Ready?

    1. Call on Lowe in the first period for barely hooking

    2. After three straight calls against the Leafs to show that interference will not be tolerated (two of them questionable), McCauley gets truly tanked in front of the Blues net and no penalty is called. The Blues score on the return play.

    3. Lumme gets hit from behind by Steve Nash, no call. On the retaliation, Lumme gets called (ok ok it was Lumme, so a certain amount of stupidity is expected, but still)

    4. Domi for diving, but when he was more interfered with that Bryan McCabe’s victim that got him two minutes just before.

    5. My favourite. Mogilny breaking loose and finally finding free ice behind the St. Louis defense. Sundin feeds him a sweet pass which Alex takes on the heel of his stick where instead of controlling it, it flies gently to Braithewaite. Going around the goal, Alex breaks his stick in frustration on the net and gets called for unsportsmanlike behaviour. Not allowed to swear at himself I guess.

    6. Six interference calls and five unsportsmen like calls, one of which resulted in a double minor to Green and one to Svhela.

    7. Svehla was kvetching about an interference penalty that had just been called against him. He was holding his ground, which he is allowed to when he was called. The refs didn’t agree with his opinion.


This was appallingly reffed, badly played and worringly predictable. Time to do something big?


Saturday, November 09, 2002

November 8, 2002
Toronto 1 at Dallas 2

Forwards
Renberg – Sundin – Hoglund
Tucker – Corson – Green
Domi – Reichel – Mogilny
Fitzgerald – Holden – McCauley

Sundin – Reichel – Mogilny

Special teams
Renberg – Sundin – Mogilny (pp)

McCauley – Reichel (pk)
McCauley – Corsonl (pk)
Sundin – Mogilny (pk)
Sundin – Renberg (pk)

Defense
McCabe – Kaberle
Jackman – Berg
Pilar – Svehla

Goal
Belfour

Well now. A new way to lose. No late game coffin nail. No relinquished leads. No fatal turnovers. The defense played somewhat better (except Pilar…I guess SOMEONE has to be the worst defenseman out there) and the Leafs actually turned up the pressure as the game went on, creating chances and pressing for a tying goal throughout the third period.

The fact is, they played a really good hockey team with a really hot goalie, and they didn’t play well enough to win. Dallas is just a great team. Offensive threats abound; double shifting Modano is de rigueur, Guerin, Arnott and Turgeon are always dangerous. Their defense is very strong, and the forwards are all good two way players. So what they did was press for the early lead, getting it on a goal early in the first period, pad it and then wait out the game, daring the Leafs to throw their best effort at them. Coming into the game, Dallas was 7-1-3 when they scored first. This team protects a lead like no other and they showed it again last night.

And was Turco ever the story. Dallas knew what they were doing putting their eggs in that basket and letting Belfour go. He is a legitimate NHL goalie, making some huge saves in the game, none bigger than the spectacular steal he made off of McCabe with 29 seconds left in the game and the Leafs pressing with six attackers. McCabe one timed a pass that was marked for the tying goal as it slid through a lot of traffic and headed for the high glove side corner. Somehow, and only the elite goalies seem to be able to do this, Turco caught it. There was no way he could see that puck. He was riding on pure intuition, totally surrendered to a SENSE of where that shot was and he made exactly the right move. That save won the game, and certainly won my undying respect of Marty Turco. He’ll be one to watch.

As for the blue and white there was some fun to be had following these guys, who didn’t play badly. The problem was just that they didn’t play well enough. As has been the case in the last few games, the third and fourth lines impressed. Holden was great in his Leaf debut, getting a nice goal in the second period from a lot of hard work and tenaciousness. On that goal, Arnott lost the puck at the line, Fitzgerald picked it up, spun and shot it towards the goal. Holden was standing right there, hanging on for his life and he managed to put it away. That line stayed on after the goal as a reward and kept the pressure on, generating a chance from a quick pass back to the blue line that Aki Berg sent rocketing in for a dangerous shot on goal. I liked what I saw from Holden, and if the trade rumours about Antropov maybe moving to Florida for Yushkevich are true, then he wouldn’t be out of place on that line.

Reichel’s line looked pretty good too, with Mogilny playing in a starring role, although he wasn’t successful at getting anything substantial happening. Playing as the extra attacker on Sundin’s line with Belfour on the bench in the third, Almo set up McCabe for that final best chance on Turco, but other than that, he was missing his touch again. He’s playing solidly, but he’s not in form.

Corson’s line was probably the best line on the ice in the third period. The other lines were all forced back on their heels by the Stars’ aggressive lead protection play, but Corson’s line seemed to get the best chances. Of course getting penetration on the Stars is risky, because they will turn it back on you the moment you lose possession, and this line’s aggressive play meant that there were some scary moments coming back. But it made for a good quick flow to the third, once the Leafs got going.

On the defense, an area I followed as close as I could, there were improvements. McCabe played with more confidence, and it’s obvious that his cannon is back. Kaberle continues to look for creative ways to thread the needle and Jackman and Berg seem to be coming along as a pair, covering for each other and contributing to the transition game. Only Karel Pilar gave me the jitters. He plays a high risk game, joining the rush and pinching a lot. Right now the Leafs need to play conservatively and everyone but Pilar was doing that tonight. Belfour froze the puck when he had it, McCauley and other forwards did a lot of dumping rather than risk a mid ice turnover and the defensemen were much safer than they have been.

But Pilar’s riskiness cost them the game, and he was caught up ice after joining a rush when Brendan Morrow picked up a loose puck, and fed Guerin. Renberg, who had his wits about him, stayed back to cover for Pilar and he managed to tie up Guerin, (in fact he incurred a delayed penalty on the play) but didn’t stop the puck from getting to Arnott who had an open side in which to score. So I think Pilar wears that one, with the message that getting with the program would be a good idea unless he wants to see his ass shipped off to the Rock for a few games.

As for Belfour, pity this guy. This was an important game for him to win, both for his confidence and to prove the Stars wrong. He needed to put together two wins in a row and he needed to prove that he was still a better player than Turco. Didn’t happen. Best thing Quinn can do is pat him on the back, start Kidd tonight against the Blues and start trying to figure out if the disgruntled Arturs Irbe is a better fit. Belfour is still a great goalie, and I still have optimism that he will get stronger and stronger as the season goes on, but he’s got to start feeling the pressure now, realizing that pretty soon, every start is a playoff game.




Friday, November 08, 2002

Previewing tonight's tilt against the Stars:


For me, the Belfour angle may be interesting but I'm going to look at three other things:

    Can the defense improve its game?
    How will the younger guys and call-ups perform if they are playing (Jackman, Cola, Holden)
    How are the Leafs aiming to build on the momentum of the Tampa win?



Thursday, November 07, 2002

Update on Antro's injury:



November 5, 2002
Tampa Bay 3 at Toronto 4

Forwards
Renberg – Sundin - Hoglund
Tucker – Corson – Green
Mogilny – Antropov – McCauley
Domi – Reichel - Fitzgerald

Third period after Antro injury:
Domi – Reichel – Mogilny
Domi – Fitzgerald - McCauley

Other combos:
Mogilny – Reichel – Antropov (pp)

Defense
McCabe - Kaberle
Jackman - Berg
Pilar – Svehla

Goal
Belfour

This was an important win on many fronts. The Leafs finally fired on enough cylinders, put all the pieces together and overcame the holes they dug for themselves. We saw the reappearance of Tucker, McCabe and Mogilny and the cross ice feed from Kaberle. We saw Belfour makes a couple of saves that turned things around. We saw production and pressure from everyone. We saw discipline and mindfulness.

And we did see a few echoes of the struggle in the inability to hold the lead until late in the third, the turnover from McCabe that almost sank them and the concession of a late goal that could have turned the game another way.

Bu the really cool thing about this win was just how hard they fought for it. The Leafs had long periods of extended pressure on the Lightning and played a much more physical game than they have lately. These are all good signs, as the home stand ends, that a turnaround might be in the offing.

The Lightning were coming off of two big losses, both of which were on the road and both of which came from late third period goals. That has put the team into a slump that has cooled them off from their big start this season. They needed this win, and they needed it desperately to turn things around, but they lost it the way they’ve lost the last two and that’s got to hurt.

Clearly the star of the game was Mogilny who had a hat trick from 6 shots and who was a threat every time he got the puck. He started off on a line with Antropov and McCauley, but after Antro got injured in the second he was slotted in with Reichel and Domi, who double shifted on the Reichel line as well. The Antro line was really dynamic and played well down low, getting the first goal from traffic and luck. Mogilny’s second goal was absolutely stunning, as it was set up from a thread the needle feed from Kaberle who obviously found his touch in that respect again. And to cap it, late in the third Mogs picked up a puck that bounced funny after Domi cleared it from the leaf zone and raced in on Khabibulin who let it by him.

The Corson line was matched against Lecavalier and they did what they had to do, holding him to 2 shots and 45% face off wins. They also got a goal themselves, Tucker’s 100th of his career, by storming the net and creating havoc.

Defensively, there were a few lapses. McCabe who otherwise had a great game, gave the puck away to a crowd of three Lightning behind his goal line which resulted in a nearly fatal relinquishing of the lead. The coverage on the third Lightning goal was non-existent and two players were able to shoot unimpeded at Belfour. But overall, the D played well. Pilar is developing into a risky attacking defenseman, not afraid to pinch. He nearly created a 2 on 1 by joining a three on 2 in the first period and if it hadn’t been for Svehla, it might have been a big problem. Jackman got his first start and played well, especially in setting up the transition.

McCabe and his big shot have returned, indicating that he is getting some confidence back and that his hand is probably back to 100%. Kaberle was very solid and his pass to Mogs was a thing of beauty, not really seen since the first game of the year.

Belfour found his zone as well, and even came up with that big save I’ve been looking for, stopping Roy in the second and actually snatching away the momentum. His contribution tonight, even is he let in three goals, was of a much higher standard than it has been, and I sense that it tipped the psychological edge to the Leafs.

All told, this is just the way to end this homestand horribilis and head out to play a few Western conference teams over the weekend.


Tuesday, November 05, 2002

November 2, 2002
Montreal 5 at Toronto 2

Forwards
Renberg – Sundin - Hoglund
Tucker – Corson – Green
Mogilny – Antropov – McCauley
Domi – Reichel - Fitzgerald

Defense
McCabe - Kaberle
Lumme - Berg
Belak – Svehla

Goal
Belfour

I heard this game but didn't blog it. I think these were the lines. Someone correct me if I'm wrong. Leafs had a good first period and were looking as good as they have been all year until 18 seconds after they scored their first goal in the second period. The whole show came unglued with the two quick Montreal goals and then the gates of hell opened up. Those goals must have felt like nails in the coffin. The second intermission locker room must have been full of doubt, with questions like "What the hell is happening that we can't hold a lead?"

Anyway, it's getting pretty hairy. So read the link above if you want the game story. It's time to turn our attention to what's happening in the bigger picture.

Seems like most of the coverage lately has focussed on the Leafs frustration with themselves, fingerpointing, name calling and blaming and the potential for a big shakeup through trades or other lineup movements.

So let's start with the frustrating part. The Montreal game, which started with a pretty good first period descended into an emotional spiral with a lot of dumb penalities being taken especially by Domi and Belakas the game went on. The home stand intensifies the locker room chatter as the media and the fans pound away at our guys' inability to put together anything resembling a playoff contender on the ice.

So who is to blame? Well the finger pointing started vaguely but then got more and more specific. Ed Belfour started taking responsibility for his bad play but the rest of the team wouldn't let him do that. I personally don't think he's been the problem either, although he is going to have to start having a few more solid games if his team mates are going to draw inspiration from him. But the fingers have since wagged in the direction of Mogilny and Sundin as well as pretty much everyone else. Panic is setting in and that's not good. This team needs to be more relaxed, and more resourceful. Shifting the lines around every night isn't going to solve the problem. Playing through this IS going to work. The problem is that there is a greater and greater chance of the Leafs being idle in the spring unless this thing gets solved really soon. Like this week.

So now with all of the finger pointing out of the way, thoughts turn to what can be done to help. Either guys are going to get called up into the line up or a trade is going to be made. But both Pat Quinn and Bill Watters proclaim that a crises is no time for a major shakeup, and besides, with 30 teams in the league it's just not as easy to make moves as it used to be. Expect Jackman and Colaiacovo to see some ice time this week.

But maybe the turning point is around the corner. Corson was asked if he would accept a trade and he said no. He still believes in this team. That's the kind of attitude that they need now as they end the disastrous home stand against Tampa Bay tonight and look to get out of Toronto for a few days.


Friday, November 01, 2002

October 31, 2002
Atlanta 3 at Toronto 3

Forwards
Renberg – Sundin - Mogilny
Tucker – Green - Corson
Domi – Reichel - McCauley
Fitzgerald – Antropov – Hoglund

Tucker – Corson – Hoglund

Defense
McCabe - Kaberle
Lumme - Berg
Pilar – Svehla

Svelha – McCabe (pp)
Svehla – Lumme

Goal
Belfour

Sigh.

The Leafs showed some further improvement tonight in some areas tat have been largely absent during this horrible home stand. The transition game picked up a little, with Svehla, Tucker and Corson forming a lethal and quick “up-ice” combination. The turnovers were down and the power play got going again

But you know the same bugbears rode them down as 2 powerplay goals from Atlanta and a late goal killed them. That goal was the result of a brother on brother stand off that OUR Kaberle lost as Stefan got free and got the pass from THEIR Kaberle. And that was followed up later by a miracle save by Nurminen, who, lying on his stomach, stopped the winning goal with his frigging skate blade. For crying out loud. How much closer can you get than to lose a point to a skateblade?

Both teams needed this game badly, and the game got a little chippy as a result. But by and large it was the Leaf offense that dominated, outshooting Atlanta 35-20.

Mogilny could have had about four or five goals tonight, if only he was taking whacks at pucks instead of Mexican jumping beans. He couldn’t get a decent chance with the puck flat on the ice to save his life. Renberg continues to impress on the top line and his forechecking gets better and better. He WAS the first goal, skating in from the left side and jamming in the crease. The puck popped free to Sundin who finished the job. It was the first lucky bounce I have seen come to the leafs all year, I think.

Green’s line might have been the line of the night with several good chances throughout the game. They like to cycle down low and on the powerplay, they are looking for the clear pass out to the point for a shot through traffic. Tucker plants himself in front and the other wait for any rebounds, That was exactly how Green’s goal was scored. More of the same from that line, please.

Reichel’s’ line played all right, with Domi again finding his game. He got into a fight and scored a goal much like Bure’s the other night, taking the puck off his chest, going in alone and dekeing Nurminen, causing him to offer Domi the five hole.

And I also liked Antro who had some dangerous burst of speed, forcing turnovers and getting free so Hoglund could go to work with him.

On D, it looked like Svehla was finding his transition game, the one he showed early in the season. He can nail long outlet passes as well as anyone, when the Leafs are able to play with the confidence to wheel in the neutral zone. Seemed like he danced with a lot of people tonight too, playing with Berg, Pilar and Lumme throughout the night.

Time to sit Lumme I think. I thought Cola might get called in tonight for Lumme, but Quinn stuck with his old friend. He seems to be the one guy not listening to the instructions about holding on to the puck, and a couple of times, in the third period especially, he looked nervous.

Belfour was there, but he still doesn’t strike me as all that important. Used to be with Cujo, I often thought about him back in net, but Belfour seems to keep his head down. He has to play better now, as we need some REALLY good saves at really crucial times if we are going to turns this thing around.

Tie’s a tie. Not much else to say. See how it goes against Montreal on Saturday and then it’ll be time to evaluate the team.


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