Archive for October, 2010

Manny Ramirez would be one of the most popular Toronto Blue Jays of all-time should the Jays decide to take a chance on the 38-year old DH.  Toronto loves its big names, in all forms and in all sports.  This is exactly the move a leisurely fan would instantly approve of because “it’s Manny Ramirez”; he has to be good because his name says so.  Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Rickey Henderson were all enormously popular during their brief stays in the great white north and I feel Manny would trump them all.  Normally I would be totally opposed to a move like this but under the right circumstances (read, incentive laden contract) this might not be the worst move out there.

Now it would have to be a bargain basement base salary, probably something Ramirez would never accept to play for manager John Farrell and the Toronto Blue Jays.  I am not sure if Ramirez would even know what “bargain basement” meant and ultimately this feels like marketing to me (something Ramirez is excellent at) and I think he is simply trying to create markets when none might have existed in hopes of garnering one last ‘decent’ contract.   Of course Manny is interested in Toronto, he is unemployed, isn’t that where all of us go when we are out of work?

In 90 games in the 2010 season, split between two teams Manny slashed 298/411/460 with a respectable (though career low) .162 ISO and .382 wOBA.  With his extremely poor defensive tendencies and adjusted for playing only left-field Manny posted another career low with a 1.6 WAR.  A pretty rough season overall in terms of ROI for the Dodgers/White Sox but his average and on-base percentage would have led the Blue Jays and his penchant for hitting lefties hard over his career could come in handy to a team that was brutal against them last season.

Manny is still patient (14.4 BB%) and has always been a consistent producer with the bat so being a DH in the AL East against teams he has had success for and against in the past might bring out at least one more great season from the aging slugger.  But again there has to be value in it for the Blue Jays and an annual salary of 20 million is not even close to fair value.  If the Jays could get him to sign for a low minimum base of 3-4 million (again, a pipe dream) with the chances of Ramirez earning upwards of 10-12 million with a great season I would be amicable to the idea of bringing in a charismatic and likely fan favourite for one to two seasons. 

Anything that breaks the bank doesn’t help us now or later and I doubt our respected GM Alex Anthopoulos would be moved by any sentimental or fan appeasing motives to pull the trigger on a player-friendly contract when the Jays are inching closer to becoming a borderline contender in the ruthless AL East.

Not sure how many golf fans are out there but I happen to be a huge fan of the game and have played since I was six years old thanks to my grandparents.  I played consistenly until I was 15 years old, even played a few junior tournament circuits but my parents moved us from my local course (beautiful course) and we didn’t join another club in our new town so I left the game for about 8-10 years (only playing 1-2 times a summer max). 

Well, I have returned to the game I love recently and have found that old passion as I realized how much I missed it.  I have my handicap around 12-13 and am hopeful to really start working on my game (time  permitting) next golf season with a full golf season to work with.  The swing still feels solid but I find myself fighting it more than I used to with the limited amount of practise/time over the past ten years so it might take a while, patience is going to be needed needless to say!

From time to time I thought I would do a piece or two on the game of golf whether it is a PGA Tour article, a player profile or like today’s piece a review on golf equipment.  Hope there are some fellow golf fans out there who might enjoy the occassional golf content, it’s a great game and with Tiger Woods struggling on the PGA tour trying to find his groove and swing there are some excellent young (and old) golfers coming to the forefront of the sport.

Some of the rising stars include Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler , Paul Casey, Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar.  While the veterans who are still more than capable of winnings like Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald to name a few.  In short, this is actually an exciting new time in the history of golf and I think we have all learned it is foolish to count out Tiger Woods who is still lurking and working hard on his game (oh, and still ranked number one in the world, for now).

Sooo, I tested the Taylormade Burner 2.0 Irons today and well, these clubs are by far the worst club I have ever tried, in my life.  Actually, I just finished cleaning them in my basement as I took the plunge and purchased them today after a nice demo session, I even had a nice lengthy range session afterwards.

Let’s discuss these Burner 2.0s further and other clubs you have tried or want to try on TWITTER, follow me @tdotsports1

To my quick review.

Looks: These bad boys are stunning, one of the better overall looking irons in the shop amongst the newer sets (store I went to has thousands and thousands clubs). They have a sleek yet stealthy look and the minute I saw they had a set in stock, I knew I was in trouble (well, my wallot anyway). They only had one set left which came with the stock shafts (stiff) and I was extra pumped as that was the exact shaft I wanted anyway. When you see them in person, you want to try them.

I went with the idea of test driving the MP58, Srixon Z-TX and maybe the Ping i15 however I bypassed the other’s and just asked for a Burner 2.0 4 and 7 iron and hit the range. The top line wasn’t as big as I thought and as other’s have commented the half gray topline really is slimming to the eye, kudos. The sole is pretty large, one of the bigger I saw at the store at first glance, but really who cares as at address you don’t notice or worry about the sole of the club. The look at address with the 4-iron was very similiar to the MX25 I had been gaming in terms of the cavity showing on the back of the club face, but not noticeably more protruding and didn’t distract shot making.

Feel: I was honestly expecting the feel to be meh or so-so given I play forged Mizuno’s (MX25) and had an older set of PowerBuilt blade-ish type irons prior to that (which I still love) but the feel of these was way above my expectations. A nice feel at impact, not buttery soft with the 4 iron but not clicky or harsh either. With the 7 iron the feel is just butter for a GI iron, they feel great.

Once I bought them and took the entire set to the range I was absolutely in heaven with the 6-AW as they all felt smooth and accurate. This set was sold to me 4-Attack Wedge so no 3-iron, which was actually a bonus in my mind as hitting a 3-iron can be tough no matter how Taylormade is promoting it.  The 4-iron can still be tricky but not ridiculous like some other newer sets.

No issues with the grips, I didn’t notice much of a difference between these and the golf pride grips on the MP25s, but a change could be possible if I have any problems going forward.

Distance/Ball-striking/Performance: The 4-iron has been a strength of my game for years and this is one of the more important factors for judging a new set of irons (for me at least) and after the range session the 4-iron was a solid club most of the time. I have been fighting my swing for a couple of weeks and with the weather in my area recently I am definitely not overly sharp but on good hits the 4-iron took off like a shot with a nice high penetrating ball flight with not much ballooning to speak of.

The conditions at the range were awful, it was very windy (though the temperature was pretty decent – nearly 70 degrees) and the grass I used wasn’t ideal for making solid golf shots. However, the Burners didn’t seem to mind and they cut through the surface nicely to give me fairly solid contact even on some questionable swings. As I stated before from about the 6-iron on down to the AW I was so impressed, even surprised at the accuracy and performance, very impressed.

Hard to tell how far these were going as the markings were terrible and likely not that accurate in terms of yardage and the wind was directly in my face but contact felt solid most of the time even on a few heel/toe shots, again very forgiving. I hope to get the 4-iron mastered early next season as that has always been the best club in my bag and old reliable for me.

I play a natural draw and 4-iron to 8-iron I was playing a fairly controlled draw while the 9-AW were pretty straight – and accurate.  These were very forgiving but even better provided enough feedback to know if you missed the sweet spot and when I did miss slightly I wasn’t punished much at all.  I hit a few and instantly knew I had toed/heeled the shot and that was a huge surprise to me, forgiving plus feedback is just the best of both worlds.

Overall: Way to early to tell and I am hoping the coming cooler weather holds for tomorrow to see if I can get a quick 18 holes in with these beauties otherwise it is going to be a LONGGGG winter indoors before I can actually put these stealth bombers into action.

Early impression is favourable but I will check back in again after some real practise/course time so I can get a better idea of what I am working with.  These irons are supposed to be extremely long and a lot of testers have struggled adjusting to the new yardage (lofts are 1-2* stronger on my clubs FYI) but have enjoyed hitting them, I really want to get dialed in as quickly as possible and see if these can help improve my game.

PART II – A follow-up review after multiple range sessions and on course testing.

See my review on the new Nike Pro VR Combo irons!

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So it was another great night of fights as the UFC returned to Anaheim, California for UFC 121 and featured a few dynamic closely fought battles and the beginning of a new era in the heavyweight division.  Here are some thoughts and musings on the matchups.

Brock Lesnar (Heavyweight Champion) versus Cain Velasquez:

-I had a small wager on this fight with a buddy of mine (I picked Brock) as I have just been so thoroughly impressed by his meteoric rise in the world of MMA and I figured his overall size, strength and athleticism would have played a bigger role in this fight.  Not so much.  Cain Velasquez was never going to lose this fight and if there is a style that can beat Brock Lesnar, Cain has it. 

His wrestling ability allowed him to stuff takedowns and get back to his feet quickly when he did get taken down.  On their feet Velasquez was clearly the superior striker.  Lesnar came out with a flawed strategy to say the least as he essentially went for broke in the first minute of the fight with flying knees and wild right hands and was GASSED after a minute and a half.

Velasquez looked surprised by the onslaught but weathered the storm, got up after a nice Lesnar takedown (quickly) and imposed his will (and superior cardio) on Lesnar.  Velasquez dropped Lesnar with a nice right hand and never looked back forcing referee Herb Dean to mercifully stop the fight and Cain Velasquez looked amazing winning the UFC heavyweight championship.

Brock Lesnar’s face was badly bruised, bloodied and cut but he was gracious during the post-fight interview, praising Velasquez’s skills and said he was the better man tonight. 

So where does the heavyweight division go from here?  I don’t see many holes in Velasquez’s game and he has gotten so much better after every fight he could go on a long title reign.   Here are a few of the possible contenders and a quick break down of their chances.

Junior Dos Santos – A great puncher and all around fighter, this guy would give anyone trouble but does he have the wrestling and cardio to avoid takedowns that Velasquez would bring?  This would be an interesting matchup but a tough matchup for Dos Santos with his lack of a wrestling pedigree.

Shane Carwin – I think this is the man who poses the biggest threat to Velasquez with his power right hand combined with just beast like strength.  Carwin is a good enough wrestler to at the very least not get totally dominated on the ground and I think Cheik Congo showed that Velasquez has a ways to go in his overall stand up game.  Carwin could catch him and the loss to Brock Lesnar hopefully showed him the holes in his game, specifically his cardio and conditioning as not every fighter (especially the top notch guys) will be dominated in two minutes.

Frank Mir – This is one guy I feel would have a very solid chance with his proven ground game if Velasquez decided to take the fight there.  However I think Mir would get exposed standing as Velasquez’s boxing is far superior.  Mir will have to get a couple big win’s under his belt, but he has a shot if can do so.

Roy Nelson – Big Country Roy Nelson is a guy few would give much of a chance to become a champion but you can’t deny he always has a chance with his underrated striking and impressive Jiu Jitsu and overall ground game.  Not sure he will be given a chance in the next 12-18 months but a possibility if the top contenders are unimpressive or get injured.

Jake Shields versus Martin Kampmann:

-I thought this would be a very one sided fight but Shields was clearly affected by the drastic weight cut as he did not look overly energetic and allowed Kampmann a chance to win this fight.  After the first round Shields commented in his corner, “The weight cut” referring to the fact he was gassed already.  His corner dismissed it and instead tried to focus him on continuing to battle.  Shields won a close decision but he won’t be beating a top level guy (let alone GSP) unless he can deal with the weight cut properly going forward.

Tito Ortiz versus Matt Hamill:

-Ortiz looked to be in great condition (finally) and his body looked great especially in the mid-section.  The fight started with Ortiz getting the better of the stand up as he was clearly the better boxer and Hamill didn’t try for a takedown in the first round.  I’d give Ortiz the first round, though it was fairly close. 

The second round went about the same for the first half though Hamill slowly started to add some effective leg kicks and finally scored a nice takedown and clearly won the round.  The third round started and Ortiz looked fatigued (again) and was completely dominated.  Hamill scored a takedown and laid a Tito Ortiz ground and pound beat down on Ortiz for nearly the entire last half of the round.

Not sure where Tito Ortiz goes from here as he was completely ineffective for most of the fight and although it wasn’t a great matchup for him (Hamill couldn’t be taken down) it will be hard for Ortiz to get any big time fights going forward for the same reason Keith Jardine was released.  There is no reason for a contender to risk losing to Ortiz while really gaining almost nothing.

Gabe Gonzaga versus Brendan Shaub:

-Pretty boring fight, Gonzaga was gun shy and Shaub dominated on the feet.  I am not a huge believer in Shaub overall and his performance while strong was not that impressive given his competition (or lack thereof) on the night.

Paulo Thiago versus Diego Sanchez:

-This is the fight I was most looking forward to and I was worried they might not show it after I realized they were going to televise the Gonzaga/Shaub fight (for some reason) but they showed it prior to the Shields/Kampmann fight and it was easily the best fight of the night.

I favoured Thiago for his toughness, grit and overall skill level and he was easily winning the fight until about half way through the second round when while scrambling Sanchez ended up on top and from that point on he took the fight to Thiago.  It was a closer fight than the judges scored it in my opinion and both guys fought tooth and nail under the final bell but Sanchez looked extra impressive tonight in the best performance of his UFC career.

BONUS Tom Lawlor versus Patrick Cote:

-I had to review the “Predator” Patrick Cote as he is Canadian and a guy most Canuck’s follow.  However after seeing his physique I was not impressed, needless to say.  He was carrying less muscle mass in his shoulders and more body fat in his midsection and he looked awful the entire fight.  If I were Cote I’d be worried if Dana White might be cutting his contract.

Oh yeah, so that’s why we were attempting to trade one of our better defenseman in the off-season, for a top centre.  Although it is still early with a long way to go, five shots in five games is just not going to cut it.  That is the shot total for our incumbent first line centre Tyler Bozak and you don’t have to be a hockey aficionado to realize that is just an unacceptable level of production for a supposed top line forward  and especially your top line centre.  Outside of one nice setup and two other cheap assists Bozak (6 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, 5 shots) hasn’t quite been performing to the level we expected going into this season.

The jury was definitely out and Leafs fans were split when discussing and debating whether Bozak had the goods to be the main man and be the playmaker for our best goal scorer in Phil Kessel and I’d say the results thus far have left more doubters than believers at this point.  The Leafs were desperately trying to land a top six centre and you can certainly see why Brian Burke felt this was a necessity as the Leafs simply do not have one on this roster.

Tyler Bozak played two shifts in the third period and Mike Zigomanis found himself on the top line late in the second period after Ron Wilson had seen enough.  Even Nik Kulemin took a turn at centre at one point late in the third period as the Leafs were desperate to give the offense some much needed life.  If the Brad Richard to Toronto rumours haven’t officially started I think it is safe to say they might very well start now.

No need to panic though as I was never that high during the four game winning streak and I won’t get too low during a short two game losing streak.  There was bound to be a night where we just weren’t the better team on the ice and for the majority of the game tonight the Maple Leafs were just soundly outplayed in almost all aspects of the game as they lost there first regulation time game 2-1 to the New York Rangers. 

The Rangers outhit, outshot and out hustled the Maple Leafs.  We might start finding it harder to score when Clarke MacArthur isn’t putting the puck in the net at an Alex Ovechkin like pace during the first four games.  We were sloppy and turned the puck over repeatedly and hardly anyone not named Luke Schenn (or Jonas Gustavsson) had a very good game for the Leafs.

Somebody needs to wake Nik Kulemin up and tell Kris Versteeg he is now on the first line and he can feel free to score anytime now as the pair has been fairly abysmal since the first game of the year.  Our sand paper was solid again but there impact will always be negligible based on relatively low minutes for the third and especially fourth line.  Luke Schenn played a very solid and smart game most of the night, throwing some massive hits and showing poise and patience with the puck and even displaying a few dangles.

Derek Boogard and Colton Orr finally fought tonight, the first time they have ever met and it was a very spirited and highly anticipated bout.  First, TSN had some shoddy camera work after Pierre Maguire warned they were about to go at it the camera instead was focused on the Leafs in the offensive zone for at least six seconds after the whistle had blown. 

Luckily they showed a replay of the entire fight and it was fairly close with Boogard scoring a close decision in my opinion.  Orr got the jump and landed a few decent right hands early but Boogard had a huge and undeniable reach advantage and pounded Orr with quite a few good ones before Orr got an impressive takedown to end the fight and the crowd on it’s feet.  Did you know that Boogard hasn’t scored an NHL goal since early in the year 2006?  Colton Orr is a sniper (4 goals or so per season) compared to the Boogey Man when considering Boogard has scored only 2 career goals in nearly 600 NHL games!

Chalk it up to a tough night and a determined New York Rangers team but this game did remind all of us exactly why Brian Burke was hoping he could add a legitimate top centre to a roster not exactly brimming with offensive dynamos or physical specimens capable of driving the net and creating the needed space for our skilled wingers to operate with a bit more freedom. 

So no points tonight, the first game that claim can be made and gaining nine points out of a possible twelve is a run I’d take anyday of the week.  Let’s get refocused and put in a solid effort versus the hated Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and get back in that win column, quickly.

What would you be willing to move for Brad Richards?

Depth is often a critical factor in creating a winning team in most sports and while it is obviously preferable in the NBA and basketball in general it isn’t necessarily as important or vital when compared to hockey, football and baseball.  A winning basketball team can thrive with a six to seven man rotation and often times I’d venture to say it is problematic or a waste of asset distribution to have too deep of a ball club when considering where most pundits or experts feel this team will ultimately finish this season.

Case in point, look at these two squads:

Team A Team B
PG – Jose Calderon PG – Jarrett Jack
SG – Demar Derozan SG – Leandro Barbosa
SF – Linus Kleiza SF – Sonny Weems
PF – Reggie Evans PF – Amir Johnson
C – Andrea Bargnani C – David Andersen

 

Team A is the projected Toronto Raptors starting five while Team B is of course the projected second unit give or take a player.  If these two teams did battle in a seven game set my guess is it would be a knock-em-down, drag-em-out war that might not ever end given the parity between the two sides.  Some might see this as a positive given the roster depth but taking a closer look it is actually almost a negative.

The Raptors do possess a relatively deep roster overall however it is also a team filled with potentially only one legitimate NBA starter in smooth shooting (and much maligned) big man Andrea Bargnani.  The Raptors have stuffed their salary cap and roster full of mediocre roster filler for the most part and obviously lack the top end talent in the wake of losing Chris Bosh.

The Raptors would love to shed the salaries of Jose Calderon, Reggie Evans, Jarrett Jack and Marcus Banks as all four would likely be bench options at best on most current contending rosters.  They are in tough situations with Demar Derozan and Sonny Weems as while both have promise neither has shown they are going to be definite prime time producers yet both are going to be up for raises on longer term contracts in the next 1-2 seasons, like Amir Johnson last year.

They have added veteran bench and depth pieces in Linus Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa but they will both be long gone (at least their best games will) by the time the Raptors are ready to compete on a regular basis and are just receiving a big pay cheque and empty minutes at this point.  At some point Andrea Bargnani will have to either step up his overall game to earn his massive new payday or be moved out to expedite the rebuilding process.

Make no mistake this is not a retooling, at least it shouldn’t be viewed as such given the dearth of quality legitimate NBA producers on the current roster.  This one feels like it should be a complete overhaul with a tear it down and start it over mentality, immediately.  The man in charge is Bryan Colangelo who is a smart basketball mind and has shown a quick trigger when admitted mistakes go awry but he is also fighting for a contract extension and it is doubtful he is willing to go this route when the folks at MLSE are hoping to fill the ACC on a nightly basis but this is something the fan base should be screaming for, loud and clear.

Why a Linus Kleiza was brought in on a four year contract is beyond me, Kleiza is a fine role player no doubt but a guy you bring in when trying to bridge the gap or play to a potential opponent’s specific strength.  For example the Los Angeles Lakers bringing in Ron Artest last season and Matt Barnes this year and this type of move would have looked a lot better last season.

Now he gets a slight reprieve considering the roster might have looked a tad better with the additions of Tyson Chandler, Boris Diaw and Matt Barnes while simultaneously subtracting two bloated salaries in Jose Calderon and Reggie Evans.  But realistically what was the best result that particular group would have achieved, a possible late seeded playoff berth?  I think it’s time to shift that philosophy now that our supposed franchise player has left the building.

I am not suggesting “tank nation” in hopes of landing a top lottery selection as you never know where the ping pong balls will fall but instead I am saying tear it down, let all of our potential “keepers” play and give them a season long audition with heavy minutes.  Demar Derozan, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, Solomon Alobi and Joey Dorsey should be the main rotation and guys like Reggie Evans, Linus Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa shouldn’t steal minutes from players who could potentially help us in the next few years let alone have been brought in at all. 

In closing we need a clear vision from management as to where this franchise is heading and the fans will appreciate some honesty and forward thinking knowing the team is at least moving in the right (or any) direction.  If you want to try and win now with this lackluster group than fine, use the trade exemption along with expiring contracts to bring in the Tyson Chandler/Boris Diaw types, it is a futile effort and waste of assets (not to mention one year too late) but at least it is a plan.  How do we intend to compete with the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics for the next decade, what is our action plan, and I hope it doesn’t involve signing a guy like Erick Dampier

I contend it is time to start over, again.  This is a deep year in the upcoming draft at the point guard spot, a position the Raptors have been dreadfully inadequate for quite some time and looking at the past crop of young, exciting point guards that have come into the NBA in recent years it seems as good a year as any to finish in the bottom three to five teams.  I don’t want this to be a lost season or a waste of a calendar year in a potential rebuild, let’s get to it now. 

Clear valuable cap space whether it can be used immediately or not, jettison our redundant veteran pieces (Kleiza, Barbosa, Jack, Calderon, Evans etc) while letting the youth play to get a good idea of what we have while adding a top pick (preferably point guard, but best available) in the offseason.  That should be the only goal of the 2010/11 season and looking at our roster it wouldn’t take much to make that happen.

So I thought I would try a different format to recap the game and give a much more in depth account of the game and give my opinions, thoughts and general musings while I watch the game unfold.  Something different for the readers to hopefully get a good sense of what transpired in the game, we’ll see how it comes out and if it is something people get value out of or just a total waste.  I’ll focus on big hits, saves, goals, fights and other observations and provide the final shot tallies as well as an end of period overall “Advantage/Momentum” recap as sometimes the shots really don’t tell the whole story.

Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0) at New York Rangers (1-1-0)

*First Period

-In goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs was JS Giguere while the New York Rangers countered with Henrik Lundqvist.

-Colton Orr is in the line-up tonight and I can’t help but wonder if he and super heavyweight Derek ‘The Boogeyman’ Boogard will have a tilt or if Orr will air on the side of caution after recently being kayoed (and possibly concussedagainst the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.

-Dion Phaneuf has averaged over 23 minutes/game thus far being paired with Francois Beauchemin (21+ minutes/game) as the number one defence pairing.

-Leafs start with the 2nd line against the Rangers top line centred by Chris Drury.

-Leafs kill off a questionable interference call on Kris Versteeg, at the end of the penalty kill Dion Phaneuf has a huge scoring opportunity but is stopped by King Henrik.

GOAL: RANGERS, Michal Rozsival at 7:58.  Leafs give up the first goal of the game for the first time this season on a bit of a softy given up by Giggy.

-Colton Orr and Derek Boogard square off to no avail as Mike Brown gets into a scrap and does his usual spin cycle while throwing wild rights and falling off his skates.  You tube Mike Brown’s fights and you will see this is a similar pattern for him, for such a great skater he has awful balance during his fights.

-HUGE saves by Lundqvist to rob the Leafs of a goal as Kessel sets up Versteeg right in front with about 6:00 minutes to play.

-The Rangers do showcase some huge size on their bottom two lines however they appear to be more plodding than the Leafs sand paper and not as a solid all around hockey players, making them less dangerous overall in my opinion.  Derek Boogard as always running around trying to cause havoc, this guy always finishes his checks, even if 5 seconds too late!

-Phil Kessel shows a great burst of speed and gets in alone on Lundqvist but is again foiled.

-HUGE hit by Steve Eminger against Freddy Sjostrom in front of the Rangers bench and gets 2 minutes for roughing with a big forearm shiver. 

-First power play for the Leafs on the night and they look very dangerous in the first minute with some good chances.

-Another penalty call against the Rangers as the horn blows for the end of the first period and the Leafs will begin the second period on the power play.

Score: Rangers 1, Leafs 0

Shots: Maple Leafs 16, Rangers 7

Overall Period Advantage/Momentum: Slight advantage to the Maple Leafs, they looked a bit sloppy in the first five minutes but really settled in and took it to the Rangers for most of the period.  Phil Kessel appeared to have all kinds of jump in that period, hopefully he can pop a couple home before the night is over.  Leafs were 75% on face-offs in the first period.

**Second Period

-Leaf’s start the period on the power play, failed to register a shot after some decent offensive zone possession and pressure.

GOAL!! LEAFS, Clarke MacArthur (5) with the easiest goal you will see, a nice tap-in after some great work by Luke Schenn and Nik Kulemin. 

-MacArthur becomes first Leaf in the history of the franchise to score a goal in his first four games.

-Leaf’s with another clutch penalty kill after Colby Armstrong took a bad one.  JS Giguere with one big save.

-Chris Drury and Marion Gaborik have not returned from the Rangers dressing room, undisclosed injuries.

GOAL!! LEAFS, Mike Komisarek (1).  Bozak provides screen on long point shot.

-HUGE save by Lundqvist as Kessel robbed again.  Moments later Grabovski robbed as the Leafs are ALL OVER THE RANGERS at the 13:00 minute mark, Rangers fans getting antsy.

-Coincidental minor penalties go to the Leafs Mike Brown (diving) and Del Zotto (cross-checking) at the end of major pressure for the Leafs, Lundqvist keeping the Rangers alive.

GOAL!! LEAFS, Phil Kessel (3).  Huge play and pass from Tyler Bozak to Phil the Thrill, who should have a hat trick already.

-Leafs continue to dominate the period in all aspects. 

-Colby Armstrong goats Sean Avery into a dumb penalty as Avery was ready to drop the gloves, Army doesn’t oblige.

-Derek Boogard is a massive, massive man and I bet Brian Burke was in on the off season bidding for the biggest tough guy in the game until Glen Sather gave him the silly 2+ million per season contract, voted the worst off season signing by a lot of GMs.

Score: Leafs 3, Rangers 1

Shots: Leafs 14 (30), Rangers 5 (12)

Overall Period Advantage/Momentum: Huge advantage Toronto, not even a question.  They were buzzing almost all period and looked like the only NHL calibre squad on the ice.  If it wasn’t for Lundqvist this game would be officially over.

***Third Period

-The Leafs appear to be going with 5 defenseman as I haven’t seen Carl Gunnarsson in quite some time and a few different defenseman rotated shifts with Mike Komisarek.

GOAL: RANGERS, Brian Boyle at 2:10.  A tough goal for Giggy.

-Colton Orr given an absolutely TERRIBLE penalty call, he literally shrugged a guy off him by the Rangers bench and was given a brutal and total reputation call. 

-Colby Armstrong draws another penalty, smartly.  This is the truculence Burkie is speaking of, take it to the other skilled players and get a response.  Army has played a big game, laying a big hit on Marion Gaborik which took him out of the Rangers line-up tonight.

-Mike Komisarek takes a vicious baseball swing slash by dummy Steve Avery, taking yet another stupid penalty as he’s really earning his cheque tonight. 

-Leafs with a 4 on 3 power play at the 4:00 minute mark.  Rangers kill it off and gain momentum as the crowd starts to get into the game.

GOAL: RANGERS, Brian Boyle (2nd of game) at 6:19. 

-Brian Boyle is a bit of a player, I like his game.  Like a bigger, tougher version of our own Tim Brent.  He has helped turn the game around and the Rangers are pressing with about 12:00 minutes to go.  It’s been feast or famine for the Rangers tonight as they have either been completely awful or completely dominate, no in between. 

-The Leafs lack of size on the top line and down the middle is clearly evident in the third period and they look timid entering the offensive zone in the third.  Brad Richards would be nice about now.

-Mike Komisarek gets penalty for cross checking Steve Avery, who embellishes slightly.  Leafs with the biggest penalty kill of the short season right now with 10:00 to play.

-Steve Avery misses a gaping, wide open cage with 0:30 seconds left in the penalty, WOW.

-Penalty killed, 8:00 minutes to go and the Rangers are out shooting the Leafs 8-3.

-Leafs need to get back to their up tempo, pressure game and settle down.

-Steve Avery lays a nice hit on Mike Komisarek with 6:00 minutes to go, they have been back and forth at each other all night.

-5:00 minutes to go and we have a hockey game folks!

-Big LATE penalty to the Rangers for delay of game (puck directly over glass by Dan Girardi) giving the Leafs one last gasp to take this baby home on the power play with 3:07 to go.

-Rangers kill off the penalty, Leafs now 0-6 on the PP, some terrible ice conditions as the puck is jumping all over the place.

-Big late game save by Giggy on a tricky tipped point shot.

-Leafs gain one point, the game is going to overtime.

Score: Leafs 3, Rangers 3

Shots: Rangers 10 (22), Leafs 6 (36)

Overall Period Advantage/Momentum:  Clearly the Rangers dominated this period.

****Overtime

-Tomas Kaberle with a great show of skill and deked the entire arena out of its jock before getting stripped.

-Another late penalty as the Leafs will end the OT on the power play as Marc Staal takes a tough interference call, the Leafs with their seventh PP opportunity.

GOAL!!!! PHIL KESSEL OVERTIME VICTORY!!!!  Phil Kessel scores his 2nd (4) at the 3:08 mark in the OT period (PP goal).

FINAL SCORE: LEAFS 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

Shots: Leafs 38, Rangers 24

Overall Game Advantage: Leafs.  Outside of about 10 minutes in the third where the Leafs were soundly outplayed they were the better team tonight and deserved two points.

So the seventh time is the charm for the Maple Leafs as they get there first power play goal on the seventh opportunity of the game with Phil Kessel scoring his 2nd goal of the game in OT to give the Leafs there fourth straight win to start the season.

The Leafs power play went 1 for 7 while the penalty kill was a perfect 5 for 5.

Hope you enjoyed the blog tonight and maybe we’ll do it again sometime!

WHAT ARE THE LEAFS BASHERS SAYING NOW??

It would appear Toronto has turned a new leaf in 2010/11 and with the latest result against the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins the nation of Leafs Bashers have to be getting nervous after seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs hold off the Pens for a hard fought one goal victory.  We haven’t seen this type of effort from a Leafs team in quite some time and it was refreshing to say the least as the Leafs improve to 3-0.

The Leafs should have been leading after the first period, forcing the Pens into a ton of turnovers and pressuring them in every zone on the ice, even winning 10 of 14 one-on-one puck battles.  However, they left the ice somehow trailing 2-1 after holding the Pens without a shot for the first eleven minutes or so. 

Heading into the third period, the Leafs were leading 4-3 after a skilful goal scored by the wonder kid Sydney Crosby but again the Leafs probably deserved a larger lead.  The Leafs held a slim one goal lead the big question was whether the Leafs could play a solid final period and keep control of the game and ultimately win the game.  The Pens completely dominated the second half of the game as the Leafs managed only 14 total shots but they weren’t as soundly outplayed as the shot clock might have suggested.

Goal scorers:

Colton Orr (1), Clarke MacArthur 2 (4), Francois Beauchemin (1)

Some more musings and observations from the Leafs effort tonight:

-All comparisons to last season’s Maple Leafs have to cease, immediately.  This isn’t the same roster, let alone the same “attitude” and the comp has no value or meaning to me.  Gone are Matt Stajan, Alex Ponikarovsky, Nik Hagman, Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Jeff Finger and most importantly Vesa ‘the sieve’ Toskala.  Looking at the special teams improvement so far (early on) and I almost have to apologize to Ron Wilson, maybe it really wasn’t his fault and the needed troops just weren’t at his disposal.  This current version has well defined roles, vision and most importantly heart.

-So Clarke MacArthur can play, scoring another pair of impressive goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Brought in by Brian Burke at a ridiculous bargain basement price after the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from his arbitration award at season’s end, he is showing he can be a reliable scoring winger for the Leafs so far.  He does more than score, he is fairly sound position wise and isn’t hesitant to take the body occasionally.  One on play tonight he was the lead fore checker and laid a nice hit on a Penguin defenseman and about ten seconds later was the man touching the puck to secure an icing call. 

-Colton Orr is willing to bang, more so than even some of the toughest heavyweights and from time to time he is prone to get decked, well it happened tonight.  Against an unknown opponent Orr was soundly dropped at the end of a spirited and lengthy bout that Orr was probably winning at the time.  It happened last year unbeknownst to most fans against Jody Shelley, Orr left with what Ron Wilson will likely call “getting his bell rung” but he’ll be back.  Tough break, he played a solid first period.

 -The fourth line was again terrific with Mike Brown showing great speed and fore checking ability, Colton Orr tipping in a Luke Schenn point shot and Mike Zigomanis winning draws and playing a sound defensive game.  The Leafs were led by their bottom six forward last seasons and so far this season the third and fourth liners are again leading the charge. 

I like seeing the bottom six engage and play physical hockey with the other teams better more skilled players, that is a key going forward.  This team has to be tougher to play against and I don’t mean for the opposing tough guy having to face Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill or Mike Brown I mean the top skilled guys knowing they will be in for a tough night against the Leafs sand paper.  Mike Brown played quite a few important shifts down the stretch on the top line in place of Phil Kessel to add some more defensive ability to the top unit.

-Tyler Bozak hasn’t been overly impressive so far but Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg have picked up the slack and have made a pretty decent first line although they were basically invisible all game versus the Pens.  The second line was again impressive with Nik Kulemin using his big frame to win puck battles and Clarke MacArthur showing surprisingly impressive skill and speed and has scored four goals already while Mikael Grabovski has been the weak link on that line.  Brian Burke has to be on the prowl for a top end centre and with the recent demotion of Jeff Finger freeing up approximately four million valuable cap space dollars he at the very least has his fishing line in the water.

-Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle have been an impressive pairing thus far with Kaberle showing his normal slick puck moving skills and Schenn using his big frame to knock opponents off the puck.  Why a team wouldn’t pony up a reasonable forward for the ultra skilled Kaberle is a head scratcher, when you factor in his contract, maybe it is best we kept him.  Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin gave up a couple goals tonight but for the most part have looked the part of top defence pairing and hopeful shutdown duo.

-Jonas Gustavsson looked a bit rusty and didn’t quite play up to the lofty level that starter JS Giguere has shown in his first two starts of the season.  The jury is still out on the Monster whether he will develop into the number one goalie the Leafs hope and it has to beg the question as to the Leafs plans in the offseason when Giggy’s contract is up.  Gustavsson settled down in the third as the Pens were pressing hard to tie the game and the Leafs were getting hemmed in and held without a shot for sixteen plus minutes at one point he was actually pretty stellar down the stretch and made several timely saves.

 -A lot of money is tied up in the backend and it is a tad worrisome to see Mike Komisarek and his 4.5 million dollar cap hit playing sparing minutes on the third pairing with Carl Gunnarsson.  You would have to think if a team came to Burke looking to snag Komi away it wouldn’t take much at this point, but I doubt many teams are willing to eat that contract.

-Cool to see a new arena in Pittsburgh and the team deserves a shiny new rink but the ice was awful tonight.  Maybe that explains the completely awful Dave Andreychuk looking penalty shot attempt by Evgeni Malkin in the second period?

-Not to be a buzz kill but one has to point out that the Leafs caught the Canadiens, Sens and Penguins without a few key players, but that is just nitpicking at this point and the Leafs have deserved every point they have earned so far with a solid, relentless effort at all ends of the ice.  Kudos to the Buds!

Frank Zicarelli once took a swipe at us dedicated bloggers in one of his articles, basically inferring we are the tiny pest on his shoulder that he has to swipe away.  He is the main basketball writer for the Toronto Sun and covers the Toronto Raptors most of the time and he occasionally writes a half decent piece but after his slight to the blogging community (a pretty tight knit group I might add) I have read his pieces a little more meticulously and his latest article contained a big faux pas, in my opinion.

Dorsey, Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson have formed a strong bond, a group of young and energetic players who aren’t exactly the most talented,” he wrote.

Really?  DeMar DeRozan, often compared to a Vince Carter athletic type with some of the greatest jumping ability in the league and recently invited to the NBA Slam Dunk contest.  Sonny Weems like Derozan is an extremely athletic and talented wing who just hasn’t been given an opportunity to showcase his skills, but it’s clear the stats just haven’t caught up to the ability, and talent. 

Amir Johnson, one of the fastest big men in the game with buttery soft hands and touch around the net, who just signed a contract for $50 million dollars?  Yeah, no talent there.  Finally, Joey Dorsey, with clearly limited offensive skills but have you seen this man’s body?  He is Dwight Howard without the height, with muscle on top of muscle and great jumping ability and rebounding instincts.  He doesn’t get rebounds the way Dennis Rodman got them, this man can simply use his superior strength and jumping ability (combined with great hustle of course) to get that ball.

Picking four of the Raptors most athletic specimens and saying they are more guts than stuff is probably one of the least thought out points I have read in a while especially considering there are plenty of other candidates to choose from on our roster who fit that description almost to a tee.  In the age of dedicated, educated and talented bloggers the time where shoddy (or lazy) journalism would never be scrutinized is over, just because your name is in lights and you are a “professional” doesn’t make you any less fallible. 

Step your game up, Frank.

RAPTORS SHOULD PASS ON DAMPIER?

What is the old saying, hope springs eternal?  A phrase more commonly associated with baseball at the beginning of spring training, the term still has meaning for the beginning of any pro sports league.  With that said following the Toronto Maple Leafs tight 1-goal victory over the Montreal Canadiens (god that feels good to say doesn’t it?) it brings me to an ongoing worry as a paranoid and hopeful fan of the ‘Buds – what happens if we actually do win that beautiful Stanley Cup one of these years?  Law of averages and basic odds say we can’t continue to defy mathematics like this and the Leafs are simply overdue for a championship season.

However, I wanted to talk about the other end of the spectrum and what really worries me as a dedicated and hardcore Maple Leafs fan.  Call it paranoia but this concern has got me thinking about making a list (and checking it twice) and I plan to have that list (whether mental or literally on paper) readily available in the event the Leafs do one day climb that playoff mountain and take home the greatest trophy in sports.  The list will contain the known identities of a certain group of degenerate hockey fans. 

I’m looking at you Leaf bashers, in all of your forms but not limited to:

– Message board pirates wasting their lives filling cyberspace with nonsensical and hate filled Leaf bashes yet not identifying which team they root for,

– Office and work email junkies with your constant forwarding of sarcastic jokes, bashes, ridiculous superimposed pictures and supposedly clever puns,

– Crazed fans from other teams taunting us with the constant reference to a year we are obviously all familiar with – 1967,

– Even non-sports fans (oh the worst kind) that couldn’t differentiate between a goaltender and a bartender get in on the act and “pile-on”, you know whom I speak of, your great aunt Betsy who hasn’t watched a single sporting event is suddenly a hockey expert when it comes to the Leafs futility over the past 40 odd years

Oh, there are other forms of these vile, time wasting losers out there and some even wait in the wings just to get in a jab or two from time to time without being labelled full out “Leafs Bashers”.  We know who you are and enjoy it, soak it all in, relish in it because I want the record to plainly show when the time comes, the glorious time when the Maple Leafs will finally sip from Lord Stanley’s mug exactly who you are.

You might ask why I want all of this, haven’t we had enough of the pain, suffering and misery not to mention the butt of too many jokes?  Well I’ll tell you why, because when that day finally comes I don’t want these same despicable people with their years (decades) of countless jokes, barbs, shots and low blows doing something even worse – jumping on the bandwagon

The city of Toronto and let’s be honest the entire country will be abuzz the same way the city of Boston (and the United States) was when the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees after being down 3-0 and going on to win the World Series after 86 (eighty-six!!) years of playoff futility and heartache not even a Maple Leaf fan can fully comprehend and appreciate. 

Don’t kid yourselves, the Leafs will suddenly pick up about a million or so of these ‘fair weather’ fans when this happens, oh they will claim they have been there since day one and they suffered through the same drought as you and I and that is why I encourage you to take notes now so when the unthinkable happens and the Leafs win the Cup we know who the real fans are.

Why?  Simply so we aren’t sipping champagne with the same antagonistic, ignorant and annoying Leaf Bashers that have simply decided to hop on what will undoubtedly be the greatest bandwagon in the history of bandwagons.

Take note Leaf Bashers, because we’re taking notes too!

In a game eerily similar to the 2009/10 season opener last season versus the Montreal Canadiens which saw the Toronto Maple Leafs outplay the Habs only to squander a late game lead setting the tone for a terrible 0-7-1 start to the year, this time around the Maple Leafs hung on for a hard fought 3-2 victory.  I’d say it was a fair result though I think the Canadiens were the slightly better team overall and probably could have just as easily won this contest.  However, a win is a win and this is a superb start for the Toronto Maple Leafs who hung tough and managed to protect a lead, something the team just couldn’t do in the past 2-3 years. 

Here are a few musings from the season opener:

-I know it was the season (and home) opener but that pregame ceremony was long and it had me thinking back to last season’s plethora of pregame ceremonies and the Maple Leafs seemingly coming out flat after each of them.  The emotion was still running pretty high after this one thankfully, but I hope this isn’t a trend going forward during this season.

-The Leafs came out strong in the first period getting an unlikely goal from checking line centre Tim Brent (assist to Dion Phaneuf) and besides the goal given up it was a great debut period for the team.

-Phil Kessel continues to impress, one of the best pure goal scorers the Leafs have ever had, maybe THE best.

-The Habs appeared to be the “better coached” team and were more organized it appeared for a lot of the game.  I still can’t shake the idea that given the current type of roster the Leafs possess a more defensive minded coach would be a better fit if the Leafs are serious about making the playoffs this season.

-Some pretty terrible penalty calls against the Habs benefited the Leafs in terms of keeping the momentum even though the power-play didn’t look strong on the night.

-I hate to admit it but P.K. Subban is legit, he skates well, handles the puck reasonably well and plays a brash, physical style of play from the backend.  The Habs have found a keeper.

Carl Gunnarsson looked awfully shaky early though he rebounded slightly but not the greatest debut.

Luke Schenn looked strong for most of the game outside of a few turnovers which I feel the forwards are as much to blame as the Leafs have terrible spacing most of the night. 

-Dion Phaneuf played one of his better overall games as a Toronto Maple Leaf, and his first as the captain.  He and Francois Beauchemin kept the game simple and were a strong pairing for most of the night.

-As previously discussed JS Giguere was a huge difference maker playing a solid and at times spectacular game making some very timely saves near the end of the third period.  This is a huge factor in any potential Leafs playoff berth as we are going to need the steady goaltending all season.

Clarke MacArthur scored a beautiful goal (the winner) in the third period on a beautiful deke and backhand score on Carey Price.  It will be great when either Tyler Bozak hits the second line or the Leafs finally replace Mikael Grabovski who is just not an acceptable top six centre.  He is still way too weak on his skates, makes some terrible decisions in the neutral zone and is probably the very bane of Brian Burke’s existence.

-The checking line of Freddy Sjostrom-Tim Brent-Colby Armstrong did their job getting in the grills of the Canadiens top line and trying to establish a fore check and keeping the game simple, kudos on the great effort.

All in all Ron Wilson and the Buds have to be happy with the effort however they were outplayed a good portion of this game and they need to shore up the abundance of turnovers, especially in their own zone if they hope on stringing a few decent win streaks together this season.  But you have to give credit where credit is due, the Leafs persevered and they managed to squeak out a win in their first game.