Custom Search

Mike Brown turns the Leaf game around and post-game considerations

The Rangers, as NHL fans well know, have had quite the road trip to start the new season.  Exhibition and regular-season games in Europe, a western Canadian road swing and a return home (finally) Thursday night to open their “new” arena—and host the blue and white, of course.

How did it go for the Leafs?  Pretty well, in the end.

Now, if you followed the early goings-on via Twitter, it was quite the show.  Once The Monster allowed the game’s opening goal on, admittedly, a less than un-stoppable shot, the emotions ranged from anxiety and agitation to despair and cries for Scrivens.

I mention this not as a criticism of Leaf fandom, because, hey, I get it.  I’ve been watching this franchise for more than fifty years now, and I’ve been angry with my share of goalies.  In fact, I’m trying to think of a Leaf goalie I didn’t express extreme frustration with at one time or another.  Thankfully, Twitter did not exist in my earlier, less controlled days.  I’m not sure I would have been allowed on. (I even berated Johnny Bower, a legend and modern-day saint in Leaf history.  But I was young, and hey, he wasn’t good all the time…)

In any event, I understand why fans are nervous about Gus.  As I’ve said here many times before, I love the guy’s athleticism and dexterity, but I know that he does not inspire confidence in fans just yet—and maybe not his teammates either. 

He can make huge, five-bell saves, but he also will allow weak goals (as all goalies do).  The bigger problem is often the timing of when he gives up goals.  We need big stops in the third period and at certain key times throughout the game.  He hasn’t always delivered that on a regular basis, but then again, has he really had the chance to play enough to show he can?

In any event, the Mike Brown fight got Leaf fans feeling a bit better after the Leafs trailed 1-0.  Just maybe, he got his teammates thinking they could win this one, too.

They controlled play for large parts of the second period.  For his part, playing against his fellow countryman across the way in the Leaf cage, Lundqvist was not his brilliant self on the Lombardi goal (nor, frankly, on any of the Maple Leaf goals Thursday night).  Waved-off goals, Leaf players hobbling off and Rangers running by or into Gustavsson created even more agitation on our side.  But the Leafs persisted heading into the third.

And then, the worm turned.  Lupul and MacArthur shot the Leafs ahead, and fittingly, Brown delivered the lethal blow to Lundvist and the hometown Rangers.  A late goal provided minor inspiration but little more for the home side.

As I watched the contest, there was time to think about a number of things, including:

  • the “new” building and the still-horrible ice at Madison Square Garden.  It was bad ice there when I was a kid in the 1950s and ‘60s, because there would be a basketball game one night, then the circus the next night, then a hockey game.  It may not be quite as bad as in those days, but given the speed of the game now and the size of the players, it doesn’t help make for great action at times.  Pucks were bouncing all over the place.
  • I feel exactly now as I felt this past summer about Brad Richards.  I don’t mind at all that the Leafs did not sign him as a free-agent, as I posted at the time.  It would have been nice for a while but the guy has played so much hockey in his career.  I think Leaf fans would, in a very short time, become frustrated and bemoan his presence in the lineup—and his albatross of a contract.
  • I said almost exactly a year ago the Leafs had nothing to fear from the Rangers.  New York went on to make the playoffs.  Toronto, of course, did not.  Now, I have more regard for the Rangers.  They are certainly a beatable team, but have strong goaltending and an interesting mix of veterans and young talent. 
  • Kessel missed those second period breakaways, but helped create the Lupul marker in the third, a huge marker in a close game.  Connolly started it all by winning the draw deep in New York's end.
  • Good to see MacArthur score his first of the season.  Lundqvist normally makes that save.  (Kudos to Komisarek for nice poke-check and steal to send MacArthur on his way.)
  • Interesting to see Frattin on the ice as the Leafs were protecting their lead after the Rangers had pulled their goaltender.
  • When I saw Gardiner easily muscled off the puck near his own net in the final couple of minutes with the Leafs leading by two, and the Rangers have a shot at closing the gap as a result, my antenna went up.  I keep thinking we are really rushing this guy when we just don’t have to.
  • Funny how things change.  Two years ago, Del Zotto was a teenage phenom on the Rangers defense.  Last year, he ended up back in the minors.  Against the Leafs, he played 20 minutes and was on the ice when the Rangers were trying to make things close near the end of the game.  He's a key guy again.  I wonder if extended time in the AHL has made him a better defenseman...

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (I said this often last season), I just don’t see a lot to distinguish most teams in the Eastern Conference again this year.  Boston is exhausted after last season.  They should struggle.  Heck, I could see them not making the playoffs, simply because of the hangover issue.  They gave everything they had this past spring to achieve what they did.  I think they’re spent.  We'll see.

The Flyers have re-loaded and should be competitive but if you saw the Winnipeg game Thursday night, you realized that, while it was “just one game”, the Flyers have issues, from the goal on out.

Montreal is starting to turn things around, but have plenty of problems, as do, well… every team in the East.  The Lightning?  Carolina? 

Buffalo should be fine, but parity continues to thrive the NHL and for now, that’s good news for the Leafs.

What does this mean for the blue and white?

Well, mostly that the Eastern Conference is wide open—and not only for teams with aspirations of making the playoffs. 

Who can finish first?  Just about anyone is my guess.

This is not to suggest the Leafs will march into that opening.  I’ve seen Lucy pull the ball away from Charlie Brown way too many times to believe that’s going to happen. But here is what I am saying:  for all their weaknesses, when you compare what they can do and what they have against every other Eastern Conference squad, Toronto should be able to compete with anybody.

What that adds up to with regard to the standings is impossible to know right now, but they have already handled things better than they did after starting last year with 4 straight wins and falling back badly.

And that makes sense, because they’re a better team.


  1. I really should be in bed, but my brother and I went to the new local Gabby's franchise instead of our usual haunt and we got to see the kind of game I know Gustavsson is capable of, and now he has some real momentum. Watching his play, I think the hardest thing for him is to sit on the bench. If he can be reasonably consistent(IF!), I wouldn't mind a real tandem with Reimer, just in case. I get the feeling it takes Gus 3 or 4 games to get up to speed while Reimer is the same cool cucumber every night. So glad to have some of my fears about Gus alleviated tonight- he can play in the big games and keep the team in it.
    Stupid Rangers, thinking you can jack Grabbo's knee and actually injure him. He was right back on at full speed next shift, I think.
    That MSG ice is something the league should be able to tell them to get fixed or it's a $100k fine per game. It's completely unacceptable- they spent a cool $1M at the ACC to try and get the ice quality up (get it? "cool $1M"), but MSG is too busy building luxury suites for marginal fans to bother with, you know, the most important part of the building as regards hockey.
    Standouts for me-
    Komisarek reaching deep as a Long Island boy to play his best game yet. Funny how I'm less willing to cut him slack than I am Gus.
    Phaneuf's effortless long back-hand pass to spring Kessel. Beautiful. He's going to hit 60 points if he stays healthy this year. Captain, my Captain, indeed.
    Brown should've got the 3rd star tonight. Not many things I love more than a 4th line that can win face-offs, skate like mad, drill the occasional goal past a premier goalie and then punch the crap out of Kris Newbury- I want to see a pic of his face tomorrow. I picture Brown going back to the hotel and discussing law with Burke in the bar or reading War and Peace for fun.
    Someone said that we're 4-0-0 when the other team scores first, and that we have 27 D points for 2nd in the league. New and dangerous Leafs, indeed.

  2. nice review mike...
    i cringed through the first period... watching three pucks go in the net (thankfully only one 'goal').... 2nd & 3rd periods were better... komisarek showed up and gunnarson took-out a potentially dangerous offensive drive... i breathed a sigh of relief.
    i like gustavson and hope he keeps improving in net (his talent is strong, his confidence... not so much).

  3. Not only is the Twitterverse all atwitter ready to have Jonas strung up, not only do his teammates act like court jesters around him much of the time, but he has to endure Rangers smelling blood. “Ooops, sorry Your Highness,” says Matt to King Henrik, and off to the dungeon it is for the lowly rook. (At least he was allowed to keep his head.) Meanwhile, the Rangers of the Kingdom are given free reign to slay the Monster. Plainly, the Monster is under enormous pressure and is responding like a knight. Even on that deflating goal, if you look closely, you can see Saint Allaire beseeching his disciple to find his place in the universe. The Rangers probably have heard some old legends of smashing sticks , concluding, undisciplined rabble-rouser: Drive the Monster mad, exile him to the Nordic territories. Alas, the ugly legends cannot fathom the Monster’s rage, which is mostly directed within. The Reverend James, who has clearly been meditating and drinking green tea for the last twenty-three years, is the best companion the Monster could have. If we finally get our fairy tale ending, these two will have to team up to slay the real ogre, that relentless spectre named Harold.
    PS: Mike Brown’s performance was sublime.

  4. KidK...I appreciate your comment on Komisarek...funny how we are more forgiving of some guys than others, eh? Do you remember my meanderings about Grabovski early last season? I just didn't "like" him, for a whole bunch of reasons I descried (or at least tried to...) in a post. I came around, but it was a slow process of building trust in the player...

    And yes, Brown made a difference at MSG.

    Thanks Alex C. And I concur, Gus' confidence is, I would guess, pretty fragile. But "w's" and good nights overall will hopefully move that confidence needle along for him.

    Bobby C....wonderful prose and a great post, as usual...and we agree on Brown...

  5. Some Leaf fans, it seems, want the team to win every game, want the goalie to never let one past him, want every hit to be a crusher, every pass tape-to-tape, etc etc. Many seem to have Twitter trigger fingers. Sadly, I can empathize! 43 years of tooth-grinding frustration can get to you sometimes. However, here in Real World, Gustavsson looks better every game he plays. Sure the first goal looked soft - but how about the great Lundqvists's night at the other end? If I could relax my Toskala Syndrome fears, I'd have to say he's doing fine.
    Like you, Michael, I've noticed how Gardiner can be pushed off the puck in our end. It's definitely an "antennae-up" event - doesn't happen often, and usually he can get himself out of trouble, but it does happen.
    So far, only the Bruins really outplayed us - and increasingly it looks like we'll have a good shot at top 8. I'm grinding my teeth less frequently these days...

  6. Thanks Gerund O' and I can appreciate the frustration, for sure. Lundqvist looked positively average last night. If that ewas Gus, Leaf fans would be, well....calling for Scrivens, Mike Palmateer...anybody...

    Management seems to love young Gardiner. I do, too...but...we'll just have to see how that develops.