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Kaberle is in a happier place but will he make a difference?

How good was it to see a game in which the Leafs (both teams for that matter) were contesting every foot of ice in Boston?

It so reminded me of the many tough and grinding playoff series the team was part of in the early 2000 Quinn years, against Ottawa and  the Islanders but especially the Flyers.  Every night it was a battle, players not giving an inch.  You didn’t want to miss anything, because the games were so good, so intense and you never knew when that key moment would happen.

Well, these Leafs are playing that way.  Skill guys make plays.  Grinders grind.  And every once in a while, the grinders make plays and the skill guys grind it out.

The Leafs are now, officially, hard to play against.

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Kadri is beginning to score, though each of his first three NHL goals have not exactly been of the ‘write-home’ variety.  But that’s OK.  With these in his back pocket, the highlight-reel goals will come.

But you know what I liked even more than Kadri scoring and then his nifty little shootout winner?  It was his rush up the wing in overtime when he went around big Chara and took the puck to the net. 

I have a sense we’ll see that more and more in the years to come.


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In my conversations with people and from the many e-mails and comments I receive on this site, I know that some (myself included!), with good reason, question whether Reimer is the “answer” for the Leafs long-term.  Is this just a short-term mirage, we wonder?

He’s young, inexperienced in NHL terms and we keep hearing that the league has the book on him now.

Yet, he keeps playing well, and is particularly hard to beat when the game is on the line, a la Ken Dryden and Grant Fuhr from earlier generations of winning goalies.

Can he do this next season and beyond?

I don’t know.  But the reason I believe that he can is that he just seems to have the make-up, the demeanor, to handle the adversity that will inevitably come his way.

So while you never know, I say…..yes.

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I’ll keep saying it until he is accorded the honor:  Tim Brent deserves the Bickell Trophy.  How many times have we seen the gritty forward, destined to be a Marlie in September, make huge shot blocks to keep the Leafs alive this season?

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As those who follow this site will know, I’m among those who was sad to see Tomas Kaberle leave the Maple Leafs a few weeks ago.  While I was often frustrated watching the now veteran defenseman over the years, I was mostly a fan of his play and how he conducted himself as a member of the Leafs.

That said, I had been writing for a long time that, as much as I would have, on a personal level, liked to have seen Tomas retire a Leaf, it was best for him to go somewhere else.  (Click here to read one of my earlier posts on Kaberle.)

He clearly wasn’t Burke’s kind of player and though the organization would deny it publicly, Kaberle was as good as gone from the time Wilson and then Burke arrived.

So it had to be awfully uncomfortable, mentally, playing in a place where he knew management and the coaching staff wanted him somewhere else. While he always proclaimed that he loved playing in Toronto, and by all accounts that was probably largely true, he must feel a sense of relief playing in a different market with more modest expectations from the fans.  And he must be pleased with the fact that, at 32, he is on a team that will be in the playoffs this spring (the first time for him since 2004).

Now the question is: can Kaberle be a difference-maker in Boston, a team further along the curve than the Leafs at the moment?  Can he be the difference-maker? 

I really don’t know.  He was always a nice player, a classy guy.  But we know he’s not a physical presence, and playoff hockey can be about how you handle the battles in the front of your net, which has never been Kaberle’s strength.

Thursday night against the Leafs, he was a minus 2, and almost as inauspicious as he was in his first game back at the ACC.  On Lupul’s game-tying goal in the third period, Kaberle had a chance to react and make a play on Lupul, block the shot, something, and he kind of did what he sometimes did in Toronto—he reacted passively.  The result was a goal.

It will be fascinating to see how he handles the opportunity to play in the playoffs.  He doesn’t need (assuming Chara is healthy) to be the top guy on defense, though he will play significant minutes down the stretch and in the playoffs.

How he plays this spring will go a long way toward determining his legacy as a player—whether he is remembered as just a “nice” player, talented but not a guy who made a team a lot better, or someone who was good enough to put a good team over the top.

3 comments:

  1. I loved the effort tonight, too. Every line was going at it, creating chances, forechecking - all the things that make me think we're on to something for the future.
    I agree about Kadri's rush around Chara... and I also liked him standing up to Chara after he shoved a Leaf after the play. Chara basically ignored him, but good on Kadri for the gesture, at least.
    I've been luke warm on Reimer, but his glove hand is getting faster. All three Bruins went high glove in the shootout, and the save he made on the third guy was a beauty. He seems to be settling in... another reason to feel optimistic going forward.
    Brent, Boyce, Crabb, Brown et al... just as you've been praising Brent for this tremendous contributions, I just love watching the so-called "grinders" do their thing game after game.
    As for Kaberle... he actually shot once or twice, which surprised me! i think he looked pretty good with Chara, and made a lot of nice passes. Funny though - I liked him, but don't miss him. And I think our D is better without him.

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  2. Great post, as always.

    This team is looking better and the games are definitely more exciting to watch down the stretch. The month of March showed the Leafs' resilience and ability to grind out those 2 points against tough opponents.

    I sure hope Reimer is the real deal. It's hard not to like the guy. What a story it would be if he could be something long-term to depend on in the back-end. Brent amazes me with everything he's willing to give to keep the team alive. You really can't ask for much more from that guy.

    Kaberle actually made me panic a bit during that OT PK.

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  3. Long suffering Leaf fanApril 1, 2011 at 11:57 AM

    I hated to see Tomas leave because I was hoping to see at least one of our players we drafted retire as a Leaf. Anyhow, since acquiring Kaberle, he has not helped the Bruins all that much. In fact, as we witness in his 12 plus years as a Leaf, Tomas reluctance to shoot, has made Chara’s big shot from the point less effective because the penalty killer are cheating a little more towards Chara. Talk about unsung heroes! How about that Jay Rosehill taking on Bruins bad boy Milan Lucic. It reminded me of another old time Leaf name Scott Garland, who played a similar style as Rosehill when he came up from the minors in the 75-76. That year he took on Philly’s bad boy Dave “the hammer” Shultz and fought him to a draw. You can see it on YouTube. It is good to see that Kadri game is starting to round into shape since being recalled from the minors. I believe playing along side Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb has given him a more workmen attitude. Its funny, but the line rather reminds me of a young Darryl Sittler, Jim Harrison,and Dennis Dupere with a little more speed. Speaking of Darryl Boyce, I believe it would be a shame if the Leafs do not at least give this guy an honest shot to make the club next season. As for James Reim-“minster of defense,” he also deserves a shot next season of being the Leafs number one goalie. Since I have no knowledge of the spring of 59 when another young Leafs team went on a miracle run to make the playoffs behind a less known goalie named John Bower, I have to draw from those who do. Believe it or not, there were those who wonder if Bower was the real deal! Even though they acknowledge that, he was the main reason that the Leafs made the playoffs and to the Stanley Cup finals that season. His skeptics had the same questions as Reimer’s does, “can he still play goal after the NHL shooter had a second round at him?” As we, all know “the China Wall” answer his skeptics with a Hall of Fame career. Now I not saying that James Reimer is the second coming of Johnny Bower, but I do believe he has the “Right stuff” and “attitude” to be a very good goalie in this league. Looking at Bower’s numbers in his first 39 games as a Leaf, he had 15 wins 17 losses 7 ties and goals against average of 2.77 with 3 shutouts and comparing them to Reimer’s 33 games so far, 19 wins 8 losses 4 extra time losses with 3 shutouts, tells me we are in for something special here! Last, note please, I just can not go without mentioning how Phil Kessel has taking his game to the next level since the All Star break. His hard work allowed Lupul to score both of his goals. We can only hope he will keep it up.

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