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The wheels aren’t off, but they’re very loose, as the Leafs head into long Christmas break

There is no real good time to give up a goal in a close game, but giving one up early in the first period—and late in any period—are among the worst times.

Monday’s game against the Thrashers saw the Leafs give up three in the above categories.  That’s not what they needed.


Momentum is so important in sports and can often change in the course of a game—or a season.  When the Leafs scored those two power-play goals in the third period to draw within two, you could just see the sudden jump in their legs—and heads.  Versteeg had a good opportunity with about four and a half minutes remaining.  Then  Bozak had an opening but tried to make a nice play for a tap in to Versteeg.  Grabovski and Mitchell also came close but the Leafs ran out of time. 

It was that close to being a different game at the end.  The final score did—and didn’t—reflect the way the game went.

While the Thrashers were caught frozen in the headlights in most of the last half of the final period trying to protect a diminishing lead, the Leaf mini-surge is a reminder that it wouldn’t take that much, perhaps, to see the team start to score and win a few games in a row.


The Leafs must lead the league (I really have no idea, it just feels that way) in having their shots blocked.  Every game we seem to hear that the opposition has blocked “x” number of shots.

It’s not that the Leafs aren’t getting shots, or chances.  They are.  But they simply aren’t finishing as often as they need to.  Hey, the NBA Raptors brought in a shooting "expert" years ago. Never mind...


Another obvious issue is the continuing run of turnovers.  The almost season-long problem is contagious, and while the end of the third period was exciting, it was hard not to notice the minus “stats” littered throughout the Leaf line-up when the night was over.


Wilson essentially confirmed on Monday that Kadri is on the “Stamkos program” of 2008-’09.  That is, a few games up in the press box, with a focus on learning by observation plus strength and endurance conditioning, before an expected return to the line-up.

Makes sense, though surely they knew he needed to get stronger before now, eh? (Would he need to get stronger, right now, if his shots were going in?)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there are bigger issues than Kadri’s development in Leafland, among them, the need for Gustavsson to play out of his head for the next few weeks to get the Leafs in a consistently confident frame of mind going into games.  I believe the guy is capable, but for whatever reason, he didn’t play out of his head Monday night.

If the players feel they don’t have to score 4 or 5 a game to win, they may just start filling the net, though that's not a prediction.

Unfortunately, they now have a week, basically, to think about the first 33 games of the season.


I’d be interested in hearing what readers think about the (presumably) temporary move of Lebda up to the wing.  Yes, he played there for a number of games with his previous team,  the Red Wings.  But do you see that as a good move, desperation, or a sign of an obvious lack of depth on the forward lines?


It was good to see Mitchell get one, on a rare power play opportunity.  The challenge for him seems to be earning minutes, then keeping his minutes by consistently playing the way he did to earn those minutes.


I mentioned in a recent post that other GM’s have done more, faster, with less, than Burke and the Leafs have, given that Burke is now into his third season with the Leafs.  As I also mentioned at the time, Rick Dudley in Atlanta is a very good example of a team in worse shape than the Leafs two years ago actually leapfrogging ahead of them—at least for the time being.

They have good goaltending (so far), some useful players from the Cup-champion Black Hawks (including Sopel and Eager) and some talented youngsters (Little, Kane, Enstrom, etc.)

It’s a reminder to the Leafs, Kadri—and Leaf fans— that it takes time for most youngsters to develop into the players they can be.  (Look at Tavares on the Island.  He was the best player in the draft by a mile, everyone saying he should have been allowed to be drafted a year before his time.  Now, he hardly gets a mention, with the Islanders struggling.  But he will still be a top talent.)  Time, patience—and circumstance— are so important.  And hard work, too


Byfuglien, another ex-Hawk, kind of came out of nowhere, at least in the minds of fans in most NHL markets, in last spring’s playoffs.  Now, as a Thrasher, and a defenseman, no less, he is flat out emerging as a bona fide high-end talent, a legitimate  impact player.


Leaf fans will remember Modin as a young guy with the Leafs.  Big, fast, with tantalizing potential.  Yes,  to fans, he was very frustrating at times.  We wondered if he would ever fulfill his promise. Would he be the big, skilled winger that we craved for Sundin?

Well, to a certain extent, he did.  He’s never quite reached that elite “star” level, but he has been on a Cup winner, and at 36, has had a lengthy NHL career.

Two goals for him against one of his former teams no doubt brought back memories.


I’m a bit stunned that Lamoriello has not already stepped behind the bench in New Jersey.  Could it be that he wants to let the season “go” and grab a draft choice?  Surely not.

But if the Devils do "earn" a high pick, and New Jersey selects a talented goal scorer, hopefully the player will eventually be more responsible defensively than Kovalchuk—currently a minus 21 on the season for the Devils.  This must feel like all those years in Atlanta for Kovalchuk.  He wanted to go to a winner—or was it about the money?  He could have achieved both a year ago when Atlanta offered him 100 million, and it wasn’t enough for him.


Are the Senators poised to turn a corner, or are they heading south?  Alfredsson, now 38, has been a hockey warrior for so long for them, but without consistent goal scoring,  a patchwork line-up and injured goalies, it’s hard to fathom them making a run to the playoffs.

Should we be surprised if we see changes behind the bench in Jersey, Ottawa and Calgary?


  1. On Lebda, only playing about 10 minutes and being a -1 is not bad for a 6-3 thumping, and I would rather have Lebda than Orr on the ice any day of the week. Lets be honest, Lebda has not performed well as a Dman for Toronto, no matter what he has done in the past.

    My concern is the development of our players. Watching tonight, I almost broke my TV watching Versteeg missing opportunities, mishandling the puck, and not going to the boards to pick up the puck in our end that our dman would blindly throw that way (especially Schenn, it has been so frustrating watching our dman get scared in our end). Our players need to play according to their ability, Versteeg is a great 3rd liner (unfortunately I thought otherwise, but I am regretfully mistaken) who can add secondary scoring and is smart on the transition. So many others are trying to play beyond their capabilities, that they are making mistakes that are ending up in our net. Yes I agree, we need to have a top six, bottom six cause it is Burke's blueprint to success, but then let our youngsters that are going to take that role, develop in that role. Our top six should have two lines of one sniper, one play maker and one guy that can get dirty. A perfect example is the Grabo line, with Mac Grabo and Kuli playing those roles perfectly. With Kessel playing as sniper and Bozak trying to develop into a play maker, that leaves Versteeg as the guy getting dirty, but he just dose not have the strength. Why not bring in Irwin or even Mueller to let them develop at the NHL level, and have a very strong bottom six. I would even enjoy watching some chemistry develop with Kadri Kessel Armstrong. Let the players develop in their role and lets get a better picture of what is missing on this roster!!!!

    On Mitchell, I was very close to thinking that Mitchell might be giving some special favors to Wilson on their lunch meetings to give him playing time, but these last couple games I have enjoyed watching his work ethic and his lack of fear going into the corner and in front of the net. I hope he can keep this up, cause his stock on the trade market must be rising.

    On Kadri, I was first disappointed when I heard about his seating in the press-box, but I do agree with Wilson. Being able to look from outside of the box, might give a better understanding of what those turnovers can cause (cause our mistakes for some reason always end up in our net) and what some unnoticeable plays can lead to (back-checking leading to a breakout)

    My harangue must sound very pessimistic, but after so many years of losing, it is hard not to be critical, especially at how our young are developed. I don't mind watching the rebuild, as long as it leads to a preferred destination....

  2. Bester30. Thanks for your well thought-out comments.

    I'm still hopeful Lebda can make his mark here as a defenseman.

    The team mis-cast (it seems, anyway- I may be proven wrong) Versteeg as a first or second-line guy. He was a useful player on a really good team in Chicago. Right now the Leafs are expecting more (too much?)from him on a team that is not as strong as the Hawks were last season.

    I can't deny Grabovski continues to have an impact. As I've posted in the past, last season, I did not even foresee him being on the team this year. But he is now a very important guy. Kulemin makes mistakes but should keep improving and MacArthur seems to be taking on a leadership role.

    Mitchell has baffled me for years. He has so many ingredients that scouts look for- size, some skating ability, hands. He has scored some pretty goals in his career, real skill plays, but never seems to be the full sum of his different skills. He is such a personable young guy, you want him to succeed. But he goes games where he is not noticed, so it's confusing. Will the light go on some day?

    A lot of expectations might have been eased if management had taken a more conservative tone earlier on. For example, the Leaf top-six defense is not, as Burge suggested publicly, the best in the league. At least not right now.

    With regard to your comments on player development: with the experienced coaching staff the Leafs have, the development curve for most of these young guys should be moving along nicely. Some nights, that seems to be the case. But yes, there are too many of the same errors being made, in the third year of Wilson's program- albeit with many new faces.

  3. Re: Modin

    The only regret I have about losing him back in his younger days was that it was for Cory Cross, of all people.

  4. The Leafs don't have what it takes to draft and develop. Like a drunk, they will keep drinking until they realize they have a problem.