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Despite loss in Carolina, Leafs should be a handful going forward…

It’s funny.  The Hurricanes have never been one of those teams, since they moved to Raleigh, that I think of as a threat.  I feel this way as a Leaf fan even though, goodness, they beat Toronto in the 2002 semi-finals and are often a pain to play against, especially, it seems, in Carolina. (I’ve never fully gotten over the loss to the ‘Canes in ’02.  Maybe it’s that I’ve never really accepted the verdict as final…) But fair or not, they are just one of those franchises that I have a difficult time getting “up” for—as a fan.  That Carolina, Tampa Bay and Anaheim have won Stanley Cups in the past decade is monumentally annoying, given how few people in those markets actually care about those teams.

Oh well.  They all earned it—and the Leafs haven’t.

As for the details of the Thursday night loss in Raleigh, my first reaction is: it’s one game.  Did we expect the Leafs to win every night? This is a club that is without it’s presumptive first-string goalie (Reimer), perhaps it’s best all-around forward (Lupul) and the guy who has been a catalyst on the so-called third line (Frattin).  That said, we can’t harp on injuries much, given that other teams (including the rival Senators) are having to dig deep to find enough bodies to field a team some nights in light of the mounting injuries they face.

Funny game.  The Leafs had played some strong games of late, and had two full days off between games.  Yet they didn’t seem to quite have their legs. There were plenty of turnovers and not the usual (at least recently) gusto going to the net.  Would things have been different if the Liles point shot had gone in, instead of hitting the post, when it was still scoreless?  Inches…

A few observations:

  • Kadri is not the best defensive player on the team but he is making strides in that regard.  There were a few blips in that part of his game Thursday night, but he also scored the team’s only goal, parking himself near the net on a power play.  The puck seems to follow him around and those types of players are hard to find.  (It’s ironic that he has been one of our most productive forwards, given how likely it is he had been on the trade table the last couple of years and would be gone by now if other teams had “bit” on certain trade offers.)
  • Phaneuf has notched point the past few games for a simple reason—he has done a better job of keeping the puck low and on net from the point, as opposed to blasting it a million miles an hour off the back glass or a teammate’s ribs.
  • I know people have been lauding Grabovski’s defensive play this season, but I’ll keep saying it:  for what he is being paid as a premier second-line center, he also needs to produce offensively.  Yes he is playing head-to-head against some top lines, but lots of guys do that and still contribute more on offense.  Grabbo will have to as well.  If this is just a short-term thing, no problem.  But despite the team’s recent winning streak, I still, honestly, expect more from him—fair or not.
  • Carlyle didn’t seem to impressed with Scrivens, but I thought he actually made a lot of big saves.  If the Leafs had scored three or four goals on a more “normal” night, we might be praising Scrivens for keeping his team in the game.  He made some pretty tough saves.
  • For the anti-Kostka-ites, he led the team in ice team (over 24 minutes).
  • The Leafs did a pretty good job killing off a five-on-three, with Fraser in particular catching my eye.  They caught a couple of breaks in that sequence, too, but they hung on.  Did anyone think, before the season started, that Holzer and Fraser would be the guys on defense killing a five-on-three?
  • Orr was in another major-league tussle in the first period.
  • Carlyle must have liked van Riemsdyk’s game, because the big forward played more than 23 minutes.

Bottom line, it seemed like one of those games that, if it happened in a regular 82-game season, you’d just toss it aside and say it was one of those nights where things didn’t go your way.  And I still feel that way.  It’s one game, nothing more, nothing less.  Not many guys would get All-Star votes if someone was seeing them for the first time Thursday night, but the same could be said for any team in the league on any given night.

I think the Leafs, if they play with the energy they have usually demonstrated so far and stick to Carlyle’s system, should be a handful most nights.  And that’s all we can ask for—this season.

That said, the bar will be a lot higher going forward…


  1. I am never optimistic when Leafs play teams such as Carolina, Florida and Phoenix. For some reason, be it a hot goaltender or lethargic performance, the Leafs seem to struggle against these teams. It looks like they also have a problem getting up for them.

    I guess it was to be expected given the short no exhibition game pre season schedule but there have been a lot of injuries over a short period of time. The Leafs are missing five key regulars in Reimer, Gunnarsson, Gardiner, Lupol and Frattin but they have more quality depth. Gone are the days when an injury meant the summoning of an unprepared scrub.

    The next two weeks are crucial (8 games - 5 away) and will go a long way toward determining whether the Leafs are a playoff team. If Scrivens and the defense can hold up I believe they have a chance to win at least half those games and remain in the thick of the playoff hunt.

  2. When you said that Pete Cam, it right away made me harken back to the early expansion years...the Leafs would inevitably struggle out west in Oakland and LA, despite having much better teams than the opposition. Then we often had the same issue in Vancouver. Not the best of memories.

    You're right, injuries and a tough schedule, but I guess all teams are in much the same boat these days. Splitting those upcoming games would be just fine, I sense.

  3. There were moments when I thought I was watching "The Keystone Cops". Incredibly, if it wasn't for two of those moments in particular, the game might have been a draw. Poor Scrivens ... He and a few others appeared to be only ones focused on winning. I would forget about it, but the stumbling and bumbling is etched in my mind, for now at least.

  4. Perhaps if it was an exhibition game, Bobby C., we could have found the humour in those moments that were of the slapstick variety. One of the Carolina goals in particular was a series of odd mis-steps (Grabbo, Dion). We move on....

  5. It's the kind of game you just know we're going to have from time to time. Peculiarly unfocused, and reminiscent of last year's team. I think it will be a measure of Carlyle's coaching style to see which Leaf team shows up for the game on Saturday. Three thoughts stuck with me: the Canes played exactly as Carlyle would like us to play; Frattin's loss is a major one, since we're back to just one line that's a scoring threat; and Scrivens looked fine - one bad rebound, one miscue - but lots of great stops.
    I don't know why, exactly, but whereas last year this performance would have been very disheartening, this year it just seems like one more step on our way to being a contender.

  6. Agreed Gerund O'. We'll see how the Leafs show up on Saturday night!