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It was 4-1.

Archive for the ‘Reimer is our savior’ tag

I Learned Nothing From Last Season’s 4-0-1 Leafs Start

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Life — growing up, the human experience — is about making mistakes. They’re inevitable. What’s important on this journey is to learn from your mistakes. Not repeat them. So I’m a bit disappointed in myself because, with the Toronto Maple Leafs sitting pretty at 4-0-1, just as they were last October after five games, here we are, again: I’m ecstatic. I’m thinking this team’s different, this team’s the one that will end the postseason drought. I learned nothing from last year, when the Leafs got my hopes up, only to murder those very hopes a month later, in November, when the games mattered. Nothing at all. Actually, I’m even more excited this time around, after five games. Should the Leafs win four out of their next five, I think it’ll be pretty obvious to everyone else, as it will be to me, that the Maple Leafs are going to win the Stanley Cup.

How could you not be excited after watching The Phil Kessel Show these past two weeks? Sure, people, including Ron Wilson, are talking about Kessel being a streaky scorer and really being in the zone right now, and that might well be the case, but Kessel looks like a different player on the ice. While his supporters, and I’m surely one of them, have continued to trumpet the fact that he is one of the NHL’s most dangerous offensive players, already a three-time 30-goal scorer at only 24-years-old, it’s the complete nature of Kessel’s game that has all of us thinking things we probably shouldn’t be. You know, hardware: a Maurice Richard trophy, maybe an Art Ross, hell, maybe even a Selke. Kessel looks dangerous out there, on every shift. You didn’t have to be watching to know when Kessel had the puck over the Leafs’ first five home games; you could hear it. He had the crowd buzzing. It was … fun. And if Kessel lights up Boston …

I know, I know, this Leafs team isn’t perfect. Far from it. It almost makes them easier to love. Nobody likes a perfectionist. But the flaws are evident, five games in. It’s a serious problem that Kessel and linemate Joffrey Lupul are scoring all the goals. Someone, anyone, please find a pineapple for Mikhail Grabovski to murder; he’s got to get going. The defence has been poor. Not that that’s surprising, really. But my worst fear seems to have been realized: Luke Schenn has been infected by the disease known as Mike Komisarek. Schenn looked awful on Winnipeg’s second goal Wednesday night, just brutal.

But one man’s struggles are another man’s opportunity, and after the way Jake Gardiner played last night, it’s impossible to keep him out of the lineup. And good on the kid. For selfish reasons, of course. Gardiner’s making it easier to let go of Tomas Kaberle.

It’s so much easier to support this team when the trades Burke has pulled off — Kessel, Gardiner, Lupul, Dion Phaneuf — seem to be working, and working out quite well, isn’t it? Speaking of trades, I wouldn’t object to the acquisition of Rene Bourque, but I’m mostly surprised that Calgary would even consider trading again with Toronto. The Flames are one fucked up organization.

A few words on Lupul: helluva finish on his first goal of two last night. What I love most about his success is that I know how much it pisses off, and will continue to piss off, Edmonton Oilers bloggers and fans. I hope he scores 35. In the battle of rebuilders, screw the Oilers, I say.

A favor: If you see anyone out there wearing a Carl Gunnarsson jersey, shake his or her hand. I will do the same.

Another reason to be a lot more excited about this season’s edition of the Leafs, compared to last: James Reimer. The fate of this 4-0-1 team doesn’t rest on J.S. Giguere’s groin, and the wounded psyche of Jonas Gustavsson. Advantage, huge advantage, this year’s squad. In all seriousness, I’m looking forward to seeing how Gustavsson does tonight. The Bruins aren’t scoring goals; they’ve got 11 in six games, Kessel’s scored seven in five. If this Leafs team wants to be taken seriously, now’s the time to capitalize on a struggling Boston squad, and to make sure that not one bloody soul at T.D. Garden is chanting “Thank you Kessel!” Well, except for Leafs fans. They should definitely be chanting “Thank you Kessel!” at T.D. Garden.

Also tonight: Nazem Kadri makes his debut. More skill. And there’s nothing wrong with more skill. Can’t wait.

The Leafs have yet to lose in regulation, their power play stinks, their penalty killing stinks even more (77.3%, ugh), they have zero secondary scoring, and, as cliched as I know it reads, have yet to play a full 60 minutes. Yet I’m thinking 6-0-1, what with Boston and Montreal — both struggling, both beatable — on the schedule before a date with the Flyers.

Should the Leafs take 13 points out of their first available 14, sorry, but I have to think playoffs. It’d be a crime not to. Let’s be honest: I’m thinking playoffs, hockey in spring in Toronto, already. It helps takes my mind off the coming long and depressing winter.

Image courtesy Crystal.  Thanks, Crystal. It’s my favourite.

Written by Navin Vaswani

October 20th, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Today in Goalies Who Screwed the Leafs: J.S. Giguere

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Post-lockout, when 51-year-old Ed Belfour was inexplicably signed to play goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I wished for him to just, you know, go away. After what we all knew to be true was confirmed: that Belfour could no longer play the position, that the Eagle was grounded. I wished upon Eddie — God love him, a great goalie who absolutely owned Ottawa in the playoffs — a bender, the likes of which he’d never seen. The bender I knew he had it in him to go on. It broke my heart to watch a once-proud goalie, who had 10 bloody shutouts in 2003/2004 (for the Leafs!), go out the way Belfour was. It was obvious: he was done.

Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin were never good enough to truly care about. I do remember when the Leafs faced Tellqvist, though, back on December 4, 2008 in Phoenix. He was awful, and played only 40 minutes after allowing three goals on nine shots. Vesa Toskala, Toronto’s goalie, was worse, allowing six goals on 26 shots. Toronto lost, the final 6-3 Coyotes. With Andrew Raycroft backing up Toskala, effectively leaving Toronto without a back-up goalie, the Leafs had no choice but to go down with the leaky ship.

(In his dreams, Toskala owns a boat: The Vesina.)

We’ve watched some awful goaltending in Toronto over the past few years. I mean really fucking awful. And it’s led to some serious personal bitterness. When Toronto faced Raycroft in Colorado in late January 2009, I wanted nothing more than for the Leafs to light him up. Payback. It was a game that I’d have circled on my Leafs calendar, if I had one of those Leafs calendars, you know, from Shoppers Drug Mart, the ones we all had as kids. Actually, physically circled, in red, on the calendar, along with, I don’t know, something subtle like “DEATH TO RAYCROFT.” The Leafs scored on Raycroft that cold, awesome January night, and scored on him often. It was fantastic. Seven Toronto goals on 30 shots. It was fun.

That’s what being a Leafs fan of late had been reduced to: revenge. I won’t lie: I wanted some very bad things to happen to Vesa Toskala. I’m still a little bit bitter over the fact he bolted for some Finnish beer league, where I have no doubt he’s one of the shittier goalies, before the Leafs, and Phil Kessel, got to him.

Tonight, in a few hours, J.S. Giguere makes his not so triumphant return to Toronto. Looking back at his 2010/2011 numbers — 11 wins, 11 losses, and a .900 save percentage — Giguere was better than I thought. Which is fucking sad, because those numbers aren’t very good. They’re average brutal. And that’s how I’d describe Giguere’s time in Toronto: so very average brutal, even though it seemed worse. But I don’t care. About Giguere, I mean. I could care less whether the Leafs light him up. I’d like for them to beat Giguere, and Colorado, obviously, so we can all enjoy another “Four-and-Oh!!!1″ parade, but in the grand scheme of things, Giguere doesn’t matter. (Although I’m still a little pissed off with Ron Wilson and the fact he started Giguere on March 17 in Florida, last season, against the Panthers, a 4-0 shutout loss. Giguere had no business playing that game, it being Reim Time and all, the Leafs still on life support in their valiant and very honorable quest for eighth place in the East. But, whatever.)

Finally, I feel indifference towards a former Leafs goalie, and this pleases me. Because I could hate Giguere. I could want the Leafs to absolutely destroy him, and his groin, the one that’s keeping his career alive, albeit barely, because it made absolutely zero bloody sense for Giguere to not have surgery, and play most of last season injured. But to blame Giguere for that would mean I’d have to blame the Leafs, the management, the fucking franchise, because certainly part of the blame for that bonehead decision — to keep playing the ancient and injured Giguere — falls on the Leafs’ shoulders. And, well, I think all of us supporters of the Leafs are past blaming the team. Really, what’s the point? The shit list’s way too long. It’s much easier to breed contempt for players who don’t perform, instead of the geniuses bringing them in in the first place.

The point is: I no longer need to concern myself with the long list of goalies who have, over the years, absolutely screwed Toronto. Because the Maple Leafs actually — finally! — have a goddamn goalie. If Giguere shuts the Maple Leafs out tonight, which he very well might, he isn’t J.S. Giguere the former terrible Leafs goalie who of course shut them out. No, instead, he’s just another terrible goalie who shut out the Maple Leafs. Period.

I wasn’t so sure this day would come. I probably didn’t think it would be today, and I definitely didn’t think the goalie to lead me away from the bitterness would be James Reimer. But today’s the day, and Reimer’s the goalie, and, for a little while at least, everything is perfect. No, literally. The Leafs haven’t lost yet.

UPDATE:

Leafs lose, Avs win, I hate Giguere.

Image via this isn’t happiness.

Written by Navin Vaswani

October 17th, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Delusions of grandeur

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Over the past couple of weeks, as the Maple Leafs have rocketed up the standings, I’ve heard it on radio call-in shows, have read it in emails and text messages, and have even had it said to my face: “Don’t bother. They do this every year.”

“This,” of course, being Toronto’s late season sprint towards eighth place — the promised land — in the Eastern Conference, after the rest of the field got off to a head start.

“Don’t bother”? Really? Would you rather the Leafs didn’t, and continued to, you know, stink?

Personally, I can’t see how anyone, if they’re out there, isn’t over the moon about James Reimer, finally annointed Toronto’s number one goalie. The “deeply religious” and unassuming 22-year-old, who looks so goddamn comfortable between the pipes, as if he feels no pressure at all, has me thinking I need to find God. While Alex Ovechkin’s busy posting photos of Phil Kessel on Twitter, Nikolai Kulemin’s out-scoring his Russian comrade. Kulemin continues to improve, year over year. He’ll pot 30 this season, and I see no reason why he can’t be a 40-goal man in the years to come. Speaking of Kessel, chosen last by his peers in the all-star draft, only 13 players in the NHL have scored more goals than #81. Five of those 13 players have 28 goals to Kessel’s 27. It rings true about the all-star game, too: Draft Schmaft.

The list, headed by career years from Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski, goes on. This isn’t a Leafs squad riddled with underachieving veterans and the Andrew Raycrofts and Vesa Toskalas of the world. This is the youngest Maple Leafs team I can recall, attempting to claw back into a race they were told they were out of months ago. This is fun, goddamnit, and I will enjoy every second of it.

In years past, when the Leafs did “this” before, the killjoys of the world complained that all it did was set Toronto back when it came to the draft. A valid point, sure, even though it wrongly assumes the Maple Leafs can draft decent talent outside of a top-10 pick. Considering Boston’s got Toronto’s first-round pick, I’m having a difficult time wondering why there would be any hesitation to step aboard the bandwagon.

The Maple Leafs are rebuilding. They always have been. Trading two firsts, and one second-round pick, for a proven first-round pick, didn’t make it not a rebuild. Nor did signing a couple of veteran defencemen in free agency, even though Mike Komisarek has turned out to be nothing short of the worst. But: Assets have been recouped. First-round draft picks, and prospects drafted in the first round. All of a sudden, Ron Wilson’s not so bad behind the bench. And Brian Burke’s work in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline was top-notch, or anti-Joe Nieuwendyk. Keith Aulie’s playing 20 minutes a night. Carl Gunnarsson’s playing between 23 and 24 minutes a night. Kessel’s leading the way. Don’t bother, my ass.

The way I see it, the Leafs could be playing out the stretch. In a perfect world, they’d be fighting for home-ice advantage in the playoffs, but the world is far from, and never will be, perfect. Meaningful Leafs games, that’s what these — tonight! — are. Or, as I like to call them, playoffs before the playoffs.

Update:

Leafs 3, Flyers 2. Playoffs!!!1

Image via this isn’t happiness.

Written by Navin Vaswani

March 3rd, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Tim Brent: Storm Chaser

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There’s a theory in and outside of Toronto that we, Maple Leafs fans, are most enamored with the blue-collar guys. The Wendel Clarks, Tie Domis and Darcy Tuckers of the world. I’m not here to argue that hypothesis. I loved those guys. But that theory holds true across the board. Who wouldn’t love a guy like Tim Brent, and put him on a pedestal, after what he did Thursday night?

It takes a certain type of individual to haul himself in front of slapshots. Repeatedly. His team down two men halfway through the game, and only leading by one goal, Brent put on a display that would have made Mike Brown proud. Three blocks. One without a stick. Visible agony. And, finally, a diving play to clear the zone. What the fuck’s not to love?

I like to think I’ll remember Brent for his Mats Sundin-like backhand goal, and faked shot-then-snipe on Cam Ward last week. But I won’t. I’ll remember Brent for his one minute shift on the penalty kill, and his self awareness. Brent’s a grinder. And he knows it. A guy who, before the 2010/2011 season, last scored an NHL goal in 2007, when he was an Anaheim Duck, getting his first taste of the show. Blocking shots and winning faceoffs are what will keep him in the league. Tim Brent knows his role, and that might be the biggest compliment I can give him.

Shutout

For the first time in 362 days, the Maple Leafs kept the opposition off the scoresheet. Really, it shouldn’t have taken this long.

I don’t remember the first four games — wins — of the season; the contests inbetween have led me to drink far too much since then. But I’m quite certain Thursday night’s whitewash of the Carolina Hurricanes was the best the Maple Leafs have played all season. It’s amazing what happens when the defence doesn’t blatantly turn the puck over. And dare I say it: Mike Komisarek has played the part of useful, NHL defenceman over the past two games.

I’m glad, though, that the perfect effort came against Paul Maurice. He deserved it. And I was glad to see Jay Rosehill avenge the honour of Nikolai Kulemin, and fight Tim Gleason. Rosehill’s efforts, by the way, prove that, at $1,000,000 a season, Colton Orr is, on top of being almost completely useless, overpaid.

And: James Reimer. “Optimus Reim.” He’s got a .940 save percentage. In only one game, a 5-1 loss to Phoenix, has it been lower than .932. At even strength, it’s .944. On the penalty kill: .920. And in Toronto’s crease, nine games is a huge, a massive, a larger-than-life sample size. Reimer’s the guy moving forward. Overachieving, obviously, but poised and positionally sound beyond his years.

I want to say that, about Reimer, I won’t get my hopes up. But it’s too bloody late for that. A goalie! One hasn’t been seen around these parts in years. And much respect to J.S. Giguere. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been hard on the guy; it’s nothing personal, I just hate him. As a goalie. But, by all accounts, he’s been great in the room with Reimer, teaching and supporting the future between the pipes.

What? Who the fuck is Jonas Gustavsson?

As of Friday, the Leafs are 10 points out with three games in hand. It’s that time of year. I say it every fucking season, and, in the end, crazier things never happen. But: Crazier things have happened.

One more thing: Jiri Tlusty. First round, 13th overall, in 2006. Draft schmaft.

Image courtesy Reuters, via the fine folks at daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 4th, 2011 at 4:59 am

Bizarro world

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I’m still reeling over what happened Tuesday night out in Silicon Valley. The turn of events that led to the Maple Leafs defeating the Sharks were unprecedented. As George Costanza would put it: There was no precedent, baby!

Think about it. First and foremost: James Reimer. James motherfucking Reimer. The keeper who’s come out of nowhere and swept a hockey-mad city, one that wants nothing more than replacement-level goaltending, off its feet. Through two periods, Reimer had stopped 33 of 34 shots, including all 21 he faced in the second period. With Toronto trailing 1-0, Reimer was doing what goalie after goalie after goalie had failed to do so for the Maple Leafs since the goddamn lockout ended years ago: keep his team in the game.

In the second period, the Maple Leafs killed five San Jose power plays, including a short two-man advantage, and one four-on-three advantage. Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, coached by Ron Wilson and, among others, Keith Acton. Five power plays. In one period. In one game. I celebrated with drink. Reimer, of course, was a big part of the effort. And one of the penalties, the final one to Francois Beauchemin, was complete bullshit, a retaliation call after he was dangerously tripped by Devin Setoguchi in a race to the puck.

When trailing after two periods, Toronto’s record was 1-17-2. But they came out in the third period with a purpose. You know, to win. To not waste the solid effort from their rookie between the pipes. And it was Phil Kessel, of course, who tied the game at ones. His goal, number 19 on the season, good enough for eighth in the NHL, was a dazzling display of skill and patience, as if to justify Kessel’s selection for the all-star game.

Four minutes later, Toronto’s power play struck. Clarke MacArthur’s backhand found the net, after a beautiful pass from — who else? — Tomas Kaberle. And that power play, which couldn’t buy a goal early in the season, is now top-10 in the league, rolling at 18.9%. Ben Eager’s thank you card is in the mail.

A minute later, San Jose tied the game. Typical. Surely the Leafs, in the second of back-to-back games, would fold. But they didn’t. Cue more bizzaro happenings.

Like defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, for some reason skating by the front of the San Jose net, deflecting a Dion Phaneuf shot from the point past Antti Niemi. It was only the eighth goal scored by a Maple Leafs defenceman all year, and would eventually be only the second game-winning goal courtesy the back end. The point is: Maple Leafs defencemen don’t score. Especially not on the road in a 2-2 game in the third period.

Could the Leafs hold on? Again? Just as they did the night before in Los Angeles? If there was any doubt, Dion Phaneuf erased it by almost ending the life of Dany Heatley as he skated into the Toronto zone. Phaneuf clocked him. It was the finest hit I’d seen Dion throw as a Maple Leaf. The bodycheck I’d been waiting for.

Reimer shut the door, of course. Just like he did in Los Angeles. He stopped seven of eight shots in the third period. The Leafs won important faceoffs in their own zone, and iced the game thanks to another MacArthur goal, this time into an empty net, which, let’s be honest, is just as intimidating as Niemi. Four wins in a row. Five straight victories on the road. Likely the apex of 2010/2011 Toronto Maple Leafs fandom.

In the end, Ron Wilson had victory number 600 in his back pocket, becoming only the seventh coach in history to reach the milestone. And it came against his former team. I won’t lie: Based on Wilson’s time in Toronto, I was still in disbelief he’d won 599 games before Tuesday night. But it’s not too late for Wilson. Should the Leafs turn it around, Ron may get his own statue yet. (Looking smug, of course.)

The power play’s working. There’s a guy in the crease playing as big as his six-foot-two frame. Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail “Mickey Grabs” Grabovski, Kris Versteeg, Kessel and MacArthur are all on pace to have career offensive seasons. Luke Schenn has found his game. Kaberle is reborn. The penalty kill, the useless goddamn penalty kill, hasn’t allowed a goal on the road trip. It’s 10-for-10. It’s creeping towards an 80% success rate, and respectability. Believe it or not, after the bizarro Leafs assured themselves of a winning road trip (!) Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Wilson hasn’t been given enough credit.

While I’m doubtful Toronto Maple Leafs hockey can get much better than it was on Tuesday, all I ask is that there be no return to regularly scheduled programming. Fuck losing. And poor goaltending. They’re both bloody exhausting.

Image of a beaming Clarke MacArthur courtesy of Reuters via daylife.