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Hey Leafs: deliver us an old-fashioned Hab-Leaf rivalry game on Saturday night...

I have precious little new to say today.  The Leafs have played one rather unflattering game since the Olympic shutdown, so we don’t have a lot of assessing to do just yet.  But with the Habs hosting us for an old-time Saturday "Hockey Night" game, this would be a good time for the blue and white to show their mettle as they really kick off their run to the regular season finish line.

Most of us would agree that there are still things this team needs to work on (the “list” has been discussed here for some time), but as best we on the outside can observe, they are indeed working every day to try and fix the holes in their game. There is no lack of effort, I don’t believe.  And while there are still times when we shake our heads and wonder how they have managed to survive games on occasion (and with a victory at that), who can argue with the results since the end of January?

At the risk of repeating myself, the Eastern Conference is open for business.  Did anyone see the Penguins Thursday night, giving up, what, 6 goals?  There is no perfect team out there.  The Bruins gave up a late lead and lost to the Sabres the other night.  Yes, those are just regular-season games in a long, tiring NHL schedule, but my point is: no team in our Conference is unbeatable, and that includes in a playoff series.

I’ll add one thing to provide some historical context:  while Leafs/Habs is a great old rivalry, it’s only in relatively recent times that they have played so often on a Saturday night.  When I was growing up a Leaf enthusiast in a household of, ugh, ardent Montreal supporters in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Montreal and Toronto played 14 times a season.  But they almost never played on a Saturday night against each other.  They essentially played exclusively on Wednesday and Thursday nights—all mid-week games. (In fact, I missed a lot of Toronto-Montreal matchups in those days because where we lived, in southwestern Ontario right across from Detroit, we did not have a CTV affiliate.  So when those mid-week Leaf games (against Montreal or anyone else) were shown on CFTO in the Toronto viewing area, we never got those games back then. I could listen (if we could get the signal) on French-language radio on occasion, or wait for sports updates on the local radio station. I’d often have to wait until the morning paper, usually the Detroit Free Press which we had delivered), to see the summary and read a few of the game details. Only then would I know if I could head off to school happy- or frustrated.

It was a big deal when a nearby Detroit radio station started doing a regular sports show in the late ‘60s, I think it was.  Every night the host would provide scoring updates for NHL and NBA games. I’ll always remember that on one occasion, a host somehow mispronounced Dave Keon’s name. He clearly was not a hockey guy.

In truth, Leaf-Hab games back then weren’t always great games, just like a lot of today's Toronto-Montreal showdowns aren’t anything out of the ordinary. But many were in the good old days, and the rivalry was real—not trumped up as it sometimes feel nowadays.  When Beliveau, Richard and Backstrom went head to head with Kelly, Keon and Pulford, you were witnessing some of the best centers in the game matching up fourteen times a season, year after year.  The emotion—and the intense hatred—on the part of the players and fans was real.

For today’s Leaf fans, the rivalry is still strong, just different.  I don’t know about you, but whether it’s about where both clubs are in the standings or our longstanding rivalry, I’m ready for a classic on Saturday night.  I know we are all harping on the Leafs playing better in their own zone (and rightfully so), but I’d love to see some fire-wagon hockey, with some big hits, tenacious checking and old-fashioned offense.

You?



7 comments:

  1. A win against the Habs and all the sins against the Islanders on Thursday are forgiven.

    Add in a win on Monday against Columbus (which is possible) and people would be piling on the bandwagon again.

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    1. No question a couple of wins would enhance the mood in Leafland, DP!

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  2. Hi Michael,

    For a couple of years I found the Leafs/Habs games had gotten to be a bit boring, with tentative play on both sides then things changed for the better. Grabovski may have had a lot to do with that. Now you never know what's going to happen but it's usually entertaining. They really don't like each other very much.

    In this area my family used to see the Leafs one week and the Habs the next so I can't say we hated them as long as they weren't playing Toronto. Since I now watch the games with my "Habs Hubby" we generally route for a three point game, though my son and I sure want that extra point. I think my Dad had something to do with my son Joe becoming a Leaf fan. He may have been happier as a Bruins fan. They were somewhat popular in this area when I was growing up, but if there was a team my family absolutely despised it was Boston. C.N.

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    1. Depending on the era we're talking about, Boston was an eminently hate-able team, for sure, C.N. For me it was the Habs, but when the Bruins "got good" with Orr, Espo, etc. and became the "Big Bad Bruins" they were easy to dislike intently. Same with the "Broad Street Bullies" when Bobby Carke and the Flyers were at their mid '70s peak.

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  3. Hi Michael,

    You won't like this, but, believe it or not, I'm actually a closet Habs fan. I don't follow them like I do the Leafs, but Montreal is a fantastic city, and the Canadiens are among the great sports franchises worldwide (as are the Leafs). Come playoff time, if the Leafs are out, I cheer for Montreal or another Orginal Six team (maybe not the Bruins anymore, though). I can also get behind Edmonton, Winnipeg, or Calgary, but I will favor almost any team over Ottawa or Vancouver. Those cities have the worst fans outside Philadelphia and the least likable player rosters somehow.

    Still, I'm disappointed the Habs won tonight. The Leafs, for their part, gave us a good dose of what we love and what we hate about our team: Elite-level offense, and terrible defense (including a suddenly awful penalty kill). Though not too impressive (except for the continued otherworldly play of Kessel and his line mates) the Leafs still took two points over two games to stay on pace for the playoffs and even in the fight for home ice. Beating the Habs, and, consequently, moving ahead of them in the standings, would have been sweet, but there is still time for that to happen.

    I think when Bernier (or Reimer) has a couple of uncharacteristically average games like he has since the break, we realize just how much the Leafs have relied on excellent goaltending over the past two 'successful' seasons. Without the goalie playing on his head, the Leafs' deficiencies are glaringly apparent. So here's to Bernier shaking the rust off--or even a hungry Reimer in--against the Blue Jackets to ensure a win. I still believe the Leafs goaltending tandem, despite the disappointment for Reimer (and his supporters like you and me), will prove to be an asset for the Leafs through the remaining, condensed schedule and playoffs.

    Go Leafs!

    Matt

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    1. Hi Matt, I can understand why any hockey fan would be drawn to the Habs as a franchise to support. As you note, it's a tremendous city and the Canadiens are an organization with a remarkable history.

      As to the game, exactly as you described: some exciting offensive moments and the customary defensive letdowns.

      Yes, when our goaltending is just "OK", our ability to close the deal is diminished.

      20 games to go. Should be a fascinating run to the finish line. Thanks Matt.

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  4. In an earlier post Eli mentioned about the defense having to think too much instead of knowing what to do. Franson said exactly the same in an interview after the Islanders game. If the Leafs won't change their system and the players are still having problems with it, I still wish the organization would bring in some extra help for Farrish with some fresh ideas. I'm not sure that trading for more defense will help if the problem is learning/understanding the system and having better forward support. Dion was back up to over 30 minutes last night so there really hasn't been any appreciable improvement. When something hasn't worked over a lengthy period of time, I see little chance that it suddenly will and I don't see it as a lack of effort. Everyone wants to win.

    I'd like to hear some thoughts on this from other posters. Last year I thought Nonis would look at Boumeester but he went for forwards instead. Do you think we need to make a big trade for a top four defenseman? C.N.

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