Posts Tagged ‘Colton Orr’

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!

With the upcoming Toronto Maple Leafs and NHL season now upon us, the pundits and experts are out taking their best shots at making some educated predictions as to where the teams will finish in the standings.  Most publications, TV stations and media outlets all concur on one particular fact: the Toronto Maple Leafs will not be a playoff bound team in 2010/11. 

Here is the projected opening night lineup:

Kris Versteeg Tyler Bozak Phil Kessel
Nik Kulemin Mikael Grabovski Clarke MacArthur
Freddy Sjostrom Tim Brent Colby Armstrong
Mike Brown Mike Zigomanis Colton Orr

 

Dion Phaneuf Francois Beauchemin
Tomas Kaberle Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson Mike Komisarek

 

*JS Giguere Jonas Gustavsson

*starter

Making the playoffs is normally thought of as a successful season and the dividing line between playoff and non-playoff teams is often a very fine one.  I thought I would take a look at a few key factors in a playoff and non-playoff season for our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.  Now, this is based on Ron Wilson being the coach and the team utilizing his particular style and brand of hockey which is a more up-tempo, high pressure fore-check in all three zones.  Whether this is the appropriate strategy given the current makeup of the Maple Leafs remains to be seen and is an issue to be discussed on another day.

The Leafs will have to improve approximately twenty points in the Eastern Conference standings all things considered equal and with a few breaks here and there it can be possible.    Here are a few things to keep an eye as the season progresses and that fine dividing line we spoke about earlier between a successful or disappointing NHL season. 

THE LEAFS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF: THE LEAFS WILL MISS THE PLAYOFFS IF: 
-A few forwards show great internal year over year improvement and development, specifically Kulemin, Grabovski and Bozak -The much needed secondary scoring is not found and teams focus all attention and energy on the Leafs top line
-Phil Kessel remains healthy and productive -Phil Kessel gets injured
-Tyler Bozak can maintain and productive point pace throughout 82 games -Tyler Bozak doesn’t possess the skill or ability to anchor the top line for an entire season
-The goaltending improves and we get a complete season of steady and solid play between the pipes -We get Vesa Toskala type goaltending again, for any stretch of the season
-Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin play the way they are capable of playing -Our relatively deep defense core doesn’t shore up enough to lower scoring chances against
-Luke Schenn continues his development, forcing Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes a night -Luke Schenn’s development stagnates, at all
-Our special teams play is markedly improved -Power play and penalty killing rank in the bottom third of the league again
-Dion Phaneuf is rejuvenated and gives the Leafs a physical and offensive spark from the backend -Dion Phaneuf’s declining numbers continue
-Our bottom six forwards continue their strong play, bringing a defensive and physical edge -Our newly formed checking line (Sjostrom-Brent-Armstrong) doesn’t provide a reliable, consistent and sustainable defensive presence
-We go .500 or better in shootouts and OT games -We continue to struggle gaining the extra point in OT/shootouts

 

The Maple Leafs will be improved and I doubt few could argue that much considering the Leafs might have won a few more games if Vesa Toskala simply left his stick and glove lying on the ice in front of his net as opposed to actually attempting to play goal.  He was one of the worst goalies statistically speaking of the last 10-15 years and for a team that was dead last on the penalty kill it’s not hard to see why the team improved so much when JS Giguere came aboard via trade.  The Leafs had absolutely no confidence in Vesa Toskala last season and it showed when they completely melted down late in games on numerous occasions and almost looked shaken when having to kill a penalty off.

I think one fact the ‘experts’ or pundits are overlooking is the internal improvement from a number of Maple Leafs, most notably Nik Kulemin and Luke Schenn.  Kulemin has the opportunity to blossom into an impact two- way forward capable of scoring upwards of 30 goals if he gets a few bounces, he possesses a lethal shot with a quick release and is starting to utilize his impressive size and strength to his advantage. 

Luke Schenn was the 5th overall selection in the draft for a reason.  For such a young defenseman with limited experience Schenn is calm and cool with the puck possessing solid instincts to go along with a huge frame capable of absolutely dominating opposing forwards physically.  Most defenseman aren’t fully developed until around age 25-27 give or take a year and Schenn is well on his way to becoming an Adam Foote type shutdown defender teams crave and simply do not grow on trees. 

Patience is needed with young defenseman more than any other position and I applaud Brian Burke for not using Schenn as a trade chip to acquire a borderline top six forward to appease the fan base starving for another solid scoring threat.  I guarantee teams would be lining up around the block to get a piece of a defenseman clearly ready to take a big step forward.  After a relatively slow start last season Schenn quickly rebounded and was among our best players down the stretch, and still posted 5 goals and 12 assists and was a positive plus 2 on a poor defensive squad.  I think this is the year Schenn takes his place among the games better young defensive defenseman.

So do the Leafs have what it takes to survive an 82 game season and put up enough points to seriously contend for a long overdue playoff spot?

This seems to be the preferred line-up (see below) for Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, at least early into training camp and preseason.  This line-up would not include John Mitchell, Marcel Mueller, Luca Caputi, Brayden Irwin, Jay Rosehill, Jeff Finger, Brett Lebda, Jesse Blacker and Matt Lashoff, among others.  I think it would be a real shame that Rosehill will not break camp with the team if this line-up holds as with the addition of the extremely effective Mike Brown he has become a bit redundant.

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Kadri-Armstrong

3 Sjostrom-Grabovski-MacArthur

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

1 Phanuef-Beauchemin

2 Kaberle-Komisarek

3 Schenn-Gunnarsson

Another player I feel could be AHL bound is London Knights standout centre Nazem Kadri.  He hasn’t looked himself (early) and barring a turnaround and some prolonged consistent play I think the AHL is just what he needs to continue his development physically and maybe more importantly, mentally.  It would be a good test for Kadri and the Leafs to see how we would potentially deal with the disappointment of beginning the year in the minor leagues.  Let’s face it Kadri isn’t Sidney Crosby (duh), he still has a long way to go and I think growing up a bit might actually be the first step and when I view him on most nights his overall body language to me screams ‘entitlement’.  Some of the top players in the game have honed their crafts in the underrated and valuable AHL.

So if Kadri is Toronto Marlies bound to begin the year, what are the Leafs options in terms of the most effective line-up?  I think the defence core remains the same until or unless one of the current “top six” either gets injured or is simply ineffective.  That is an extremely deep and promising group of defenders and with Luke Schenn appearing confident early, it will be a real area of strength for the team on the ice and in the front office should Brian Burke feel the need to address his weakness at the centre ice position by moving one of Kaberle, Beauchemin, Komisarek and depending if he gets blown away with an offer and he comes out of the gate strong, Schenn.

Here is my ideal line-up:

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Grabovksi-MacArthur

3 Caputi-Mitchell/Kadri-Armstrong

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

Honestly I do like the first line-up with Grabovski on the third line adding some solid scoring depth, but only if Nazem Kadri proves to be big league ready right off the bat, which so far (very early on) is just not the case.  So I moved Grabo up to the 2nd line centre role between newcomers Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur.  This could prove to be a solid goal scoring line with all three players capable of sniping up to 20-25 goals while adding a nice touch of speed and skill to the line-up.  We brought in both Versteeg and MacArthur to pick up the scoring slack so no sense wasting either in a lesser 3rd line role. 

Speaking of the 3rd line, this is John Mitchell’s chance to prove he belongs, likely his last opportunity to do so in the NHL.  He’ll be between Luca Caputi and Colby Armstrong, both players who can skate, hit and hopefully score a few while playing a sound defensive game.  Caputi has shown up to camp in tremendous shape and looks to be bigger, stronger and most importantly faster on his skates.  He has been a big prospect for a few years and he needs to start showcasing that potential this season.  We already know what Armstrong brings, and he will be a fan favourite for his rambunctious style of play.  This could be an effective, abrasive and solid checking style line with the chance to pop in a few goals and make some things happen down low and on the cycle.

The argument for keeping Kadri on the team and playing with the 3rd line unit is simple, give him a chance to stay with the big club and hopefully simplify his game and improve his defensive shortcomings by throwing him into the fire.  It is doubtful the Leafs will want to do this and would likely prefer him starring in the AHL in a more prolific offensive role, but it’s a thought to ponder.

The 4th line is a pure energy and momentum changing line with two solid skating big men (Hanson and Brown) who aren’t scared to get their noses dirty and of course the Leafs heavyweight (Orr).  Mike Brown could prove to be one of Burke’s best offseason additions with his tenacity, strong skating and hitting tendencies and a bonus that he is a great penalty killer.  I like Christian Hanson and I think he deserves to be on this team and I look for a breakout season and a potential move up to the 3rd line depending on how Mitchell/Kadri performs.  Colton Orr brings his usual presence and huge right hand on a nightly basis and he could be the best pure fighter in Leafs history?

A lot of the Leafs success will clearly rest with the defence and as long as we stay healthy and each player plays up to his potential it should be one of the better groups in the NHL.  Goaltending will also be imperative to any potential playoff berth and I think I can safely say (knock on wood) that there is no way it can be any worse than what the sieve named Vesa Toskala provided us last season, especially early when we started so terribly.  JS Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson provide a pretty solid tandem and it finally appears we have a couple solid young tenders in the system in Jussi Rynnas, Ben Scrivens and Reimer.

We can make the playoffs a reality if:

-Phil Kessel stays healthy

-Tyler Bozak and Nik Kulemin play the entire season with Kessel and they continue building (and improving) on their success and chemisty from last season

-Dion Phaneuf scores 15+ goals and returns to the dominating (maybe slightly calmer) physical presence and power play star

-Luke Schenn forces Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes due to outstanding play, which in turn allows Brian Burke to move one of our excess defenseman (Kaberle) for a top notch centre

-Mikael Grabovski has a career year (60+ points)

-Nazem Kadri joins the Leafs half way through the season and starts to contribute at the big league level, consistently, adding much needed secondary scoring

-Versteeg, Armstrong, Brown, MacArthur, Komisarek, Beauchemin and Giguere simply play to their career norms, or slightly above

-Jonas Gustavsson’s play forces Ron Wilson to re-think the tandem due to extremely consistent performances

-Improved play from Hanson, Caputi, Mitchell and Kulemin

-Ron Wilson and the coaching staff improve the worst special teams in the history of the franchise, two years running

-We don’t start the year 0-7-1 and we drastically improve our putrid shootout record post lockout

What are your other keys to a successful Maple Leafs season?  What are you looking for from the team this year?  Who are you most excited, nervous, and anxious or worried about?

One game into a pre-season doesn’t mean a whole lot so I won’t focus on the final result of the game but rather give a few observation and musings from game one for the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Ottawa Senators in game the Leafs lost 5-0 and were booed off the ice at the conclusion, you have got to love Toronto fans!

-I know I have been harsh on him already after a relatively poor rookie tournament but Nazem Kadri appears to have taken a step back in terms of his speed and skating.  I know his offseason was focused on adding much needed strength and muscle mass but I think it might have been at the expense of Kadri’s bread and butter speed, agility and quickness.

Kadri appeared to be a boy amongst men tonight and didn’t show half the flash and dash that fans have come to expect from the junior hockey standout.  He turned the puck over and was basically a non-factor throughout the night other than a nice move in the second period that drew a penalty after he beat the defensemen Matt Carkner and was hauled down.  Kadri had ample time on the power play and really didn’t leave much of an impression one way or the other.

My feeling is Kadri begins the year with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, and hopefully Kadri uses that as motivation to improve himself with some hard work in a solid league for a Marlies team that promises to be an interesting and deep group.  I do not think Kadri is operating at one hundred percent currently or he really has put on too much weight for his style of play but he hasn’t been himself at first glance.  Mikael Grabovski is going to be our second line centre as I feel he is just a better option for the team at this point and has looked solid out of the gate.  We gave up a 2nd round pick for Grabo and it’s time we see a return on that investment, this could be the breakout year Grabovski believers have been looking for since his time in Montreal.

Kris Versteeg had some solid moments in the hockey game, showing some solid speed and hands as he knifed his way into the offensive zone on a few rushes and had a lot of hustle on the night.  He should be a solid if unspectacular performer for the season and could potentially be a 25 goal scorer if all things align correctly.

Colby Armstrong will be a fan favourite early and we finally have a player that can and will hit any and all players on the ice (including stars) which will force the opposing team to engage him in the aftermath of his handy work and hopefully in the process draw some opposing penalties.

-Veterans Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle had horrendous games and made the 2009/10 Maple Leafs powerplay look impressive with a shoddy display of eratic shooting from the point.

-Our best line on the night was easily Jay Rosehill/Christian Hanson/Mike Brown – all three looked strong on the forecheck and were throwing their weight around all night.  Hanson and Brown were two players that looked particularly strong and will likely be joined by Colton Orr to form a solid checking/energy line during the season.  Brown was a great addition for some much needed secondary toughness and he handled the bigger Simpson from the Senators in a spirited tussle.

Christian Hanson has obviously worked hard on his game in the offseason as he also looked to be in strong form with a strong puck pursuit and physical edge, I think he proves to be a solid 4th line centre with the potential to move into a more prominent 3rd line checking line centre role if he continues to impress.  Hanson is up to 230 pounds and kudos for the strong effort in the fight versus Brian Lee, easily winning the decision.

Marcel Mueller was basically invisible and Jerry D’Amigo didn’t get all that much ice time but showed flashes of speed when he did play, Brayden Irwin has big size but needs to make bigger strides to improve his skating if he intends to be a full time NHLer.

Matt Lashoff and Simon Gyspers didn’t look overly impressive on the blueline, while Brett Lebda had a couple promising moments and should add some depth on the blue line in case of injury.

-Goaltending was shaky at times with Jonas Gustavsson outplaying rookie Jussi Rynnas with the latter giving up a couple shaky goals.

With five games in five nights we will get a good look at a lot of different Maple Leafs, stay tuned for more updates, observations and musings!

So, just what exactly is Brian Burke’s vision for the Toronto Maple Leafs? 

I’d like to share my thoughts on what I feel he is trying to do and also to shed the misconceptions being floated around.  I keep hearing the same tired and baseless complaint over and over from the Burke/Leafs bashers, that he does not want talented and skilled players and that he only wants a team full of goons.  That is blasphemy, if he could add the big and talented trio of Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla and James Neal to his “Top Six” he would do so in a second, he’s not a fool.  These are not guys that are readily available and why waste your bullets on spare parts?

But when he hesitates at adding a Maxim Afinogenov, Nik Zherdev or Paul Kariya it’s because these players are not appreciably better than what we already have and do not fit in with what Burke is trying to build – plus less cap friendly than internal options.  John Ferguson would have added one of those aforementioned pieces for better or worse and with the thought process of “if you keep adding parts they will eventually work”, he did not have a vision, and for this I think we can all say about Brian Burke, he has conviction and I for one believe in him.  His vision is simple yet effective, and luckily for Maple Leafs fans entertaining to boot.

His ideal team would consist of two solid lines of highly skilled scoring forwards, hopefully with some size and tenacity as to not be pushed around and he wants his third line to be filled with responsible, defensive oriented pit-bulls who make the opposing teams night miserable.  Mix that with a fourth line of energy guys with an enforcer or two and a big, physical, in your face shut-down defence core along with a decent goaltender and you have a Brian Burke team.

How far is the current team from reaching that vision?  I think ideally Burke would love to have Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel as his second line, an enviable second line, along with Versteeg-Kadri-Armstrong as the third line.  Unfortunately that also goes to show we are basically short three top line forwards all things being fair.  Even with our current roster our third and fourth lines are set, in fact if this league eliminated all of the top two lines in hockey and teams could only play their third and fourth lines, the Leafs would be a perennial contender.

The team is moving in the right direction and we are starting to form a pretty solid base and nucleus of talent that will lead to a contending team night in and night out, and if we can add a Joe Thornton type in free agency next season, get a solid (bigger) top six forward for Tomas Kaberle who can help take the pressure off Phil Kessel we could finally be onto something.  This is of course assuming the continued internal development of Bozak, Kadri, Kulemin, Ross, Schenn, Aullie and of course the Monster Jonas Gustavsson.