I’ll say this: by now the Maple Leafs should be accustomed to playing without Joffrey Lupul, eh? After a breakout start to his first season with the blue and white a year ago, the veteran winger was lost for almost half the year. While his absence could not be blamed for the Maple Leaf pratfall from February on, there was at least evidence of collateral damage—that much is clear. He was not around to help stop the bleeding.
This season, we had barely got underway after the prolonged lockout when Lupul was knocked out of action again. When he returned, most of us would agree that his play was nothing short of magnificent.
Then came the Flyers at the ACC Thursday night, a day after all the Leaf players could finally exhale—given the rumours that any of a number of them could be headed out of town in return for Kiprusoff, Luongo or some other coveted deadline piece of the new Nonis puzzle.
Suddenly, a hit from Adam Hall (was it really a dirty hit? I looked at it several times and it looked like a shove, nothing more, perhaps I did not see the proper angle) changed everything. Hall ran into Lupul, and that contact shoved Lupul into ex-Leaf Rosehill which apparently id the damage. If it is a concussion, these things are never day-to-day any more. It’s generally a question of weeks—and tons of uncertainty at the other end of a player’s return.
The Leafs certainly have people to fill the slot (Hamilton is already here; Colborne may stick around now that Lupul appears to be going on IR), no question. But Lupul was part of the special three-pronged attack that gave the team two very strong offensive units—and some crucial individual threats in the persons of Lupul, Kadri and of course Kessel.
A loss is a loss, not necessarily anything more meaningful than that. Teams are going to lose games and the Leafs will have a battle on their hands down the stretch, I’m thinking. The Flyer game doesn’t really change anything, but it does reinforce that we aren’t exactly home and cooled out yet when it comes to the playoffs (though no one in the Southeast Division is exactly running away from the crowd…).
The argument could be made that the game meant a lot more to a desperate Flyers team than it did to the Leafs. While I, to a certain extent, accept that psychology and where a player and/or team are “at” mentally influences the outcome of any given game, the Leafs aren’t exactly in a position to be “out-motivated” by another team—any team—at this stage in their development.
It’s been an interesting season, to say the least, and now things get really interesting. Should be fun.
A few observations/comments after the Philly game:
- Those who follow VLM know I hate given up young defensemen in trades. We did that with Schenn and Aulie since the middle of last season. Neither has been exactly spectacular in their new surroundings but both have been solid more often than not. Aulie is a plus 1 on the season, averaging between 12 and 13 minutes a night on a middlish Tampa squad, mostly as a 6th defenseman. At 23, he has his best years ahead of him, if he continues to improve. Schenn has struggled at times, including in two earlier games against the Leafs this season, when he was a minus player (van Riemsdyk beat him to the outside on one particularly memorable goal).
- But things sometimes even out, and I’d say Schenn more than acquitted himself well in Thursday night’s matchup. The Flyers are missing a ton of guys due to injuries, and Schenn has been playing pretty significant minutes some nights, including well over 20 minutes the past several games. Against the Leafs he logged more than 25 minutes, and was a plus 3, nudging him to plus 4 on the season. Once again van Riemsdyk scored against his former mates, but I’ll wait a while to make a declaration as to who “won” the one-for-one trade between the Flyers and Leafs.
- Schenn was the only Flyer to be on the ice for more than 20 minutes.
- Phaneuf was the reason for the Leafs third goal. He jumped off the bench on a mission, made a great play to van Reismdyk and almost flew through the air a la Bobby Orr (while colliding with a Flyer defenseman) after van Riemsdyk scored to bring the Leafs within one.
- Kadri is almost unerring when it comes to his instincts for the game. I’m sure those who have watched him closely for much longer than I have could have told me this, because instinct is just something you have. It’s an extra dimension. I remember watching Gretzky up in Sault Ste. Marie during the 1977-’78 OHL season. I was working there at the time, and for the first time I was able to see the young man in action. More than anything else, I was stunned by the “little things” Gretzky did. How he seemingly always found the open man. How he virtually never went offside. How he had a sixth sense about where the puck was going to be. When I watch Kadri, I am finding myself just focusing on him because of his ability to do the “right” thing, so consistently. It’s amazing to watch. You’d think he would be easy to check, but he’s not. He constantly finds open space, like a Brett Hull, but with more playmaking ability because of his superior vision.
- Question: should Kessel be a minus 5 on the season? I ask this because Kadri, for example, is plus 19. You may say, hey, they play on different lines; Kessel plays harder minutes, etc. But if Kessel is drawing a checking line, this means he is either on for more goals againsts while facing checkers. If he is playing against the other team’s best line, the result is the same. Either way, should your elite offensive player be a minus this deep into the season? I know plus/minus is an imperfect stat, but all stats are, in my view. Plus/minus does usually tell us something.
- Speaking of “minuses”, van Riemsdyk is now minus 6 on the season.
- I think we’ll see Scrivens, the almost-Canuck, on Saturday night.
- Do you foresee other lineup changes? Gardiner and O’Byrne in, perhaps?
Question of the day: do you feel a little less secure about the Leafs and the playoffs or much the same as before, after the loss against the Flyers?