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Flaws apparent but Kulemin helps save a point for the Leafs

About an hour before game time on Monday night, I tweeted that it felt like “a Kulemin night”.

Now, the fact that Kulemin stepped up late in the game to pot the game-tying goal hardly makes me a prophet.  Nik didn’t have a particularly outstanding night, but did save a point for the blue and white late in the game by keeping the puck in at the blueline and then winding his way to the net, where he was able to deposit a bad rebound from Giggy for the 2-2 marker.

But he did score a big goal, so I guess I’ll take modest credit for that.

It’s hard to argue with 7 points in only four games.  The Leafs showed a lot of tenacity in the third period (if they had played that way earlier, they would likely have walked away from a tired Avs team…) but credit to Colorado.  They, like the Leafs, have a young squad with potential and they are riding some early-season momentum, having now won five in a row on the road after losing their opening game.

Observations on the good and not-so-good four games into this new season:

  • Kessel continues to be dangerous.  It will be interesting to see if his productivity ebbs and flows as it historically has, or if he is able to put up points on a steadier basis than in the past.  Not many people are expecting him to keep up this pace, of course.  But if he can avoid prolonged streaks without points, he will step into another class of offensive player.
  • Phaneuf is all over the ice and these days, that’s a good thing.  (Last season, not s much, as he was caught up ice often when he was trying to make things happen and was often criticized because of his penchant for jumping into the play in the offensive zone.)  I’m not quite sure yet if he is making better decisions as to when to join the attack or if he has been fortunate not to get burned.  I guess we’ll see as the season progresses. 
  • This “activate the defense” thing is not new for Wilson, in terms of what he wants to see, (and exemplified by Phaneuf this season) but the Leafs this season seem more capable of making that happen, with Phaneuf, Liles and Franson (Gunner, too) all able to skate and move the puck.
  • Schenn saw more modest minutes, again.  He is working through some early-season yipps.  While it is likely simply a short-term issue, it will be worth watching where his confidence goes from here.  We recall that that was an issue in his sophomore season.
  • On the winning goal, I’m not entirely certain why Franson drifted over to where Liles seemed to have his man under control.  Before you know it, the puck was in the back of the Leaf net.  Not to pin that all on Franson, but I’m guessing Wilson won’t be thrilled with Franson’s effort (or instincts, one or the other) on that particular play.
  • Reimer made some awfully big saves when the score was 2-1.  He continues to show the ability to bounce back after bad goals, or keep the Leafs within a goal in the third period of games.
  • One quick aside:  doesn’t it feel like Hejduk has been around forever? 
  • For his part, Giguere looked good most of the night, but the rebound left for Kulemin was a bad one.  Still, it was a strong night for the ex-Leaf overall.
  • Along with Schenn, I would also put MacArthur on the early season “watch list”.  The suspension meant  that he couldn’t start the season when he wanted to, and it seems to be taking him a bit of time to get going.  Kulemin hasn’t quite been himself just yet, either, though the goal may help.
  • Steckel continues to win face-offs in his own end and he won one for Kessel that could have been the game late in the third.
  • I just like the way Gunnarsson plays.  Another 24 minutes of generally low-key but sound positional play.
  • I know somebody has the stat somewhere, but the Leafs still have a very good record with Colby Armstrong in the line-up.  (I put virtually no stock in that stat, but what the heck…)

One more at home, then a road trip that, frankly, may tell us more about this year’s team than the first handful of home games.  I’m guessing Gustavsson gets his first start of the season on the road, in Montreal, October 22.  But Wilson could surprise us and start the Monster this Wednesday against the Jets.


  1. I was at the game last night, and would echo some of your observations.
    - Kessel looks dangerous on almost every shift. He's trying hard, and Lupul looks like a good fit for him.
    - Phaneuf continues to play a solidly, despite a couple of glaring giveaways per game, but the player who's impressed me most is Gunnarsson. To my eyes, he's easily been the strongest defenceman over the first four games.
    - The "activate the defence" approach is something we've been missing for a while. I like this aspect of Liles' game as well, and Gardiner was also strong.
    - It's early days, of course, but Schenn looks like he's labouring under the weight of that big contract, and the Grabovski line seems out of sync - perhaps from trying to live up to the pre-season hype. The good news is that they're getting chances, so perhaps it's just a matter of time.
    - I'm not convinced about Reimer yet. He seems to be fighting the puck about half the time, and often appears to lose track of it. Both goals looked pretty soft from the stands, and brought back memories of Toskala. Aarrggh! However, both Reimer and the team didn't get discouraged, so maybe the team is maturing.
    - Hedjuk! I know what you mean. I used to feel the same way about baseball players Chili Davis and Harold Baines. They seemed to have 40 year careers!
    - Steckel looks like a great catch for the Leafs. In fact, overall, I'd say Burke has done an excellent job on the last few deals.
    - To my eyes, the best line last night was Armstrong's. They stirred it up, and coulda/shoulda had a couple of goals. Frattin looks strong - his first goal can't be far off. The least effective players were Schenn, MacArthur, and Franson.
    - The most disturbing aspects of last night's game, bringing back the bad old days: a dreadful start (we were penned in our own end for the first 3 minutes or so); way too many errant passes; way too many turnovers; and, my personal burr-under-the saddle, way too many no-look drop passes.

    I know we need a few more games before we can assess accurately, but at the moment Franson's not an improvement on Gardiner. Like many, I can't help feeling there's a trade a-comin' down the line.

  2. Great observations on last night's game, Gerund O'...I'm guessing being at the game in person provided a useful (and a bit different) overall perspective.

    You know from visiting here that I'm a Gunnarsson guy. Just like the way he plays and want him here, not becoming an All-Star somewhere else.

    I have to admit the Steckel acquisition looks good early on. I always wonder why a useful player was so readily available. Maybe simply a cap issue...

    I think we can assess things with a clearer eye after ten games. Despite the strong early record, at some point we have to see improvement on special teams, though.

  3. Long suffering Leaf fanOctober 18, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    Same old, same old Leafs. For the past 6 seasons, for an unknown reason,the Leafs play has been lethargic at best in the early week.
    --Props to Reimer for standing up and saying he should have had two of those goals, although I believe Phaneuf, Komisarek, and the forwards had a hand in the first one.
    --What were the two forwards and the D doing on the OT goal? Looked like they were gathering for a meeting! If Franson wants to stay in the lineup, he'd better start paying close attention to who is behind him-hello there's Cory Cross!
    --Poor Schenn, he looks lost without his buddy Carl Gunnarsson along side of him.
    --Power play was nonexistent again-Leafs haven't had a good one since the 05-06 season.
    I know this going to sound crazy-but where is Jason Allison?

    Question, is anyone all that impressed with Philippe Dupuis? My personal feeling its time to call up Darryl Boyce.

  4. For my part, Michael L. and Gerund O’ effectively analyze last night’s game. I have nothing to add to what was said about that match at this time. If I can return to yesterday’s fascinating post for a moment, and the Leaf’s managements’ ostensible wavering patience with Kadri. Nazem Kadri reminds me of Kyle Wellwood in certain ways, an exceptionally creative player who sees the game differently from 99% of the players around him. Kadri probably has more potential than Wellwood had, evident in his conditioning, speed, and higher evaluation by scouts and managers. I understand where the frustration might come in for management, given his unconventional and sometimes high-risk, detrimental team play. I recall watching Kadri and Brayden Schenn play together in an exhibition game for Canadian juniors against university players in Regina. My feeling, at the time, was that I was watching two markedly contrasting blue chip players. Schenn fit the mould of a conventional can’t miss, Saskatchewan player, dependable as hell, but with something profoundly conformist about his game. Kadri showed something less predictable, something of an unknown quality, something I had never seen before. Whereas Brayden Schenn could paint a beautiful reproduction of the Mona Lisa with his play, Kadri would add a goatee, changing what we were seeing altogether. Where I at a drafting table (God forbid), I would have probably taken Brayden Schenn over Kadri, and probably still would. Nazem Kadri could well prove me wrong in the long run, a tantalizing possibility that, I hope, keeps him off the trade table for the time being at least.

  5. Long Suffering...well-said, thanks. That early week thing is odd, for sure.

    It will be interesting to see if they make an adjustment with the defence pairings re Schenn...and the PP has been frustrating in the early going, absolutely.

    Love your Jason Allison reference. He was much maligned here but he could make things happen with a man advantage...

    Bobby C- outstanding post! I can see your Kadri/Wellwood comparison, for sure. Different guys but I see what you mean. I think we all liked Schenn the younger coming out of junior and it will be intriguing to see how both Kadri and Schenn develop over time...

  6. Bobby C wins VLM comment of the month.