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Jake Gardiner sits and Vintage Leaf goes to Church as Lupul leads the Leafs…

I was not in my customary perch at home for the Maple Leaf game on Thursday night, as the Carolina Hurricanes visited the blue and white at the ACC.  It’s Easter weekend and Thursday was a special Church night for my better half and I in preparation for Sunday.

Because of that, I need some help.  I was not able to follow the Leaf game until much later than usual, and I’m looking to VLM visitors to ”fill me in” on what you liked- and didn’t like.

I did happen to see, however, that Jake Gardiner was evidently a “healthy scratch”.  I won’t go on—I’ll simply say I have absolutely no problem with Carlyle giving the talented young rearguard a seat in the press box.  If you aren’t one of the ‘six best’ defenseman available, he’s no different than any other young player still trying to prove himself to the Leaf brass.  As I’ve mentioned here recently and on the “Leaf Matters” podcast as well, I’ve not been satisfied with Gardiner's inability lately to handle the physical aspect of his job in his own zone ( most notably against the Bruins). And after a Panther forward swooshed around him a little too easily on Tuesday night, I’m pretty sure Carlyle had seen enough. (Those are the kinds of “plays” that, if any one of Komisarek, Kostka or Holzer—the Leaf whipping boys this season in the eyes of many fan— had made them, well, their critics would be all over their every error.)

These were the very things (I’m guessing) that Carlyle did not like in Gardiner’s game when the former Anaheim draft choice returned (too soon?) from injury to join the Leafs a bit after the lockout ended this season. 

That will be, as I see it, one of Gardiner’s challenges come playoff time.  He will face more forechecking than usual, and tougher play in the corners and around the Leaf net.  It he adjusts well to that level of play, he’ll get plenty of ice time.  If not, Carlyle may look elsewhere at crunch time—despite Gardiner's calm on-ice demeanor, the obvious skill set Gardiners brings at the offensive end of the ice and his ability to skate away from trouble.

Back to the game, I did see the Leafs tie it up at 3 late, on the heels of a power play that they controlled quite nicely and eventually converted with a Phaneuf blast after Semin lost his stick. That was nothing, of course, compared with Lupul’s 200-foot goal, a marvelous ice-length dash which saw him look like Rocket Richard as he cut around defenseman Joe Corvo on Lupul’s off-wing (Richard, in a classic 'posed' photo at left, often scored this way, though he didn't usually skate the length of the ice; he was more of a "inside the blueline' specialist...), deked Peters and took his own rebound off the post to give the Leafs the lead—and a huge victory.

From the little I saw, Kulemin seemed to have some jump (and that was before he unselfishly passed off to McClement for an empty-netter, and Kulemin's own marker moments later).  A few goals and a bit of confidence usually goes to a player’s head—and legs. That seems to be the case with Kulemin- and Kadri has been part of the newfound confidence.

In any event, let me know what I missed—and what you saw.  By the way, some of you may enjoy a piece a did some time ago, when I swear going to Church helped the Leafs win a Stanley Cup many, many years ago.


  1. What did I see tonight?

    A 12 oz steak and some Granville Island Brewing Limited Release Irish Red Ale:

    Both were superb as was the Leafs game, so I am in a good mood.

    I saw that Leafs are becoming a genuinely good team.

    They play tough and can win against the elite teams, but they also find a way to get motivated and take points against the lower ranked teams.

    They won't win every game, but they rarely disappoint.

    I would actually be more interested in what other teams have to say. My guess is that nobody wants to draw the Leafs in the first round.

    My guess...the Bruins, even mighty Pittsburgh are thinking that the Leafs play tough and with skill and they are worried that the Leafs could get lucky and take them out in 6 six games in the first round.

    I am fine with Carlyle sitting Gardiner. No more sense of entitlement from anybody. The Blue and White disease is over. Carlyle is making sure of that. Everybody has to earn their ice time.

  2. I do wonder if many (any?) teams really want to face the Leafs right now, DP. The Leafs have played every team in the East pretty tough.

  3. Well to me the Leafs were the best team on the ice tonight. Even when they got a bit unlucky in the second and had the game tied and then give up the early third goal on a defensive miscue they didn't fold. Nice to see. This is where I agree that the Leafs have a different attitude this year. They don't seem to crumble under pressure like they did in the last month and a half last year.

    As for Gardiner, I haven't been super impressed with his play since coming back. As you point out Michael his defensive play has been downright awful so far. I criticize Kostka for slow decision making and Gardiner has been guilty of the same. He needs to be better, I'm starting to think he may be in a trade as Rielly seems to to be the belle of the ball right now.

    I disagree with Kulemin. I do think a few goals have been good for him but I also think he has been freed from strictly defensive play and given a chance on offense. If you rememkber about three weeks ago Carlyle said Kulemin and Grabo had to be better. he also said that maybe he was at fault for giving them strictly defensive assingments. Since then Kulemin has flourished and Grabo has not (another guy who might be on the move). In the game at Boston I saw something I don't think I have seen before, he left the zone early to get the breakaway goal. He never does that. I'm thinking Carlyle has given him some leeway to go and he has taken the ball and run with it. I criticized Carlyle for his personel decisions a while ago since then he has made some changes. Kudos to both the coach and the player. It also helps he plays with Kadri. Lets not forget Kulemin was amongst the league leaders in points in the KHL playing with Malkin. He has the skill to play at a high level he just has to be used right.

    Nice game by the Leaf big guys. Kessel, Phanuef, Lupul these guys were very good.

  4. Thanks for your assessment of the game, Willbur. I know you have liked Kulemin's game. I'm just not quite there yet. I'd like to see him be a lot more physical and more consistently tough. He's a big guy and there's no reason not to play with an edge all the time. I think Kadri is the main reason he is now putting up points, which is fine. Kadri has done the same for pretty much every guy he has played with this season. I'd be thrilled to see Kulemin contribute in all areas on a regular basis.

    It's fun to be having these conversations, where we can nit-pick smaller things, as opposed to what we have been reduced to talking about the last few years.

    1. I guess it comes down to what consistently tough is Michael. To me it's winning most of the one on one battles along the boards which is something Kulemin does with regularity. Does he win 100%, no but I'd guess he wins closer to 80-85%. He doesn't get knocked off the puck very often and rarely does he get pushed into an area he doesn't want to go. If he wants to go somewhere on the ice he goes. I also think for a Russian player he actualy hits more than most do. I mean we don't get on Franson or JVR for their lack of physical play or another guy whom you like MaClement.

      Your right it is nice to nit pick about small things when the team is winning. This was a dominant game as any this year for the Leafs.

  5. After the Leafs went up 2-0, it felt like we were 'home and cooled' though I didn't expect or see any drop in intensity that would have told me we'd have to launch a comeback later on!

    I had just thought about Reimer's phenomenal/desperate "steal a game" kind of save and dared to think - this would be a great time for a shutout to silence his critics.

    No sooner had the thought settled into a sense of game-long anticipatory satisfaction, than an anti-fortuitous turn of events launched a short-handed breakaway - guess that was my fault... I mean, don't we all have a little magical thinking when these things happen and wonder if we hoped for too much, too early and had it taken away as a result. Funny also how moments like that result from really feeling we are part of the event we've 'entered into'... Perhaps I'm not alone.

    More mature me decided to cast aside the 'blame' and chose to anticipate better things, but then they got worse on the scoreboard despite my general satisfaction with the effort and opportunities I was observing (Kessel, especially, was on fire and dominating play tonight). I felt so bad for James and the entire squad... they didn't deserve this foreboding outcome, yet hope for a better fate glowed as an ember.

    That inner belief and knowing is the foundation for this team to overcome adversity and demonstrate the ability to 'keep on trucking'. They were able to dig down a little deeper and, ultimately, find success.

    When we needed leadership, Phaneuf and Lupul came through on the tying goal and then, one of the most exciting in-season plays I've experienced in years... Lupul's end to end rush was exceptional from start to finish. He seemed to have another gear as he bore down on the net... and the skill set to get his stick on the rebound at high speed... NOTHING was gonna' get in his way! That's the kind of thing we've been waiting a long time to see consistently on display... what joy!


    I just read that Joffrey was working with Barb Underhill multiple times per week for a number of weeks at the end of his most recent recovery time... seems he applied what he learned and proved to others the value of his work ethic!

    If it weren't for the extended shift (for the line that gave up the 2nd goal - getting trapped in their own zone at the end of a long shift on the long change in the 2nd), I wouldn't have much to complain about, except for the Staal's (who would look good in Blue and White)... I like 'em, but not when they play against us!

    Kulemin is starting to look energized (hope it lasts), McClement is so trustworthy, Grabbo looked like he wanted some of the spotlight on every shift (especially thru the 1st), Frattin had some jump and creativity on display... everyone seemed to do some good things. Lupul, Kessel and Phaneuf (yes, Phaneuf) all led with heart tonight... I'm happy! We're banking points and closing in on the playoffs with a team that is showing some promise and potential. I like the work in progress... they seem to be making progress.

  6. It has to be a good sign that the Leafs can have these letdowns and still come back and win a game. The Staals are usually pretty good against us, and from what I hear tonight was no exception. But it's nice to see a Leaf squad that won't denied in situations like this. Thanks for those comments and the game breakdown, InTimeFor62. Glad to hear a lot of guys contributed to the cause...

  7. I saw the fire tonight. It's spreading through the team. As I've said a few times, I believe Phaneuf has had it all along, but now it's throughout the team. Lupul was not to be denied tonight. Kessel was flat out fantastic - had good scoring chances, hit the post on a wrist shot from the blue line that the goalie saw all the way but was still beat by (!), and set up the first two goals with great passes. Everyone in the press is talking about Lupul's goal, and it was a beauty, but Kessel was our best player, in my opinion. Kulemin's looking strong, even JvR looked good tonight. They didn't miss Gardiner. I've said all along that he's not strong enough on the puck, and I don't think we'll be seeing much more of him. If Komisarek or Holzer made the mistakes Gardiner made, they'd be booed off the ice. I won't be surprised if he's part of a trade - for Bouwmeester, maybe? - unless there's a feeling that he can beef up his physical game. Or he's converted into a forward.
    The past two games have been the first in a long while that we've dominated. It will be interesting to see how we stack up against the Senators this weekend.

  8. First thing...LUUUUUUPUL!!!

    Okay, that's off my chest. It just feels good to let the kid in me just marvel at a great play by a great player.

    The Leafs were simply dominating the game until a bad bounce off a post turned into a shorthanded breakaway goal. The momentum was simply sucked out of them. Not that the Leafs played poorly, it's just that they let Carolina back into the game. This is one of those teams, not a great team, but one that always seems to give the Leafs fits. What we saw for the second half of the game was a great, evenly matched battle. So I should not be surprised that the Hurricanes got back into it and went toe to toe.

    Several Leafs had some downright electric plays offensively, including of course Lupul, but Kessel, who managed to cruise past the defense for a one-on-one with the goalie at least twice plus rang one off the post from the top of the circle, Kulemin, Grabbo, Bozak, all kept the Caroline defense on their toes. Van Reimsdyk, I think he is responding to criticism and making a better effort, even if it didn't show up in the stats for him. Frattin is starting to get his jump back too. MacArthur was a quiet scratch, but then he's been pretty much invisible of late anyway.

    Was it just me or did all three Carolina goals go in the same way, from the side of the net, finding an opening on the far side? I won't try to play goalie expert here, but maybe Reimer needs to work on that angle a bit? I have no qualms about the defense, overall they were pretty solid, and did not let the shooters walk right in too often.

    Overall, the Leafs seemed to play back to their original plan, smart play in the defensive zone leading to good breakout opportunities. I went to bed happy with this performance.

    1. I can't really fault Riemer on any of the Carolina goals. The first is a breakaway that is 50-50. Can't really blame a goalie on those.

      The second was on a powerplay and I know the Semin beat him on the far side but if you give any goal scorer with talent that much time from inside the dots to pick a corner, he will. Whatever a person might think of Semin he is an incredibily talented NHL player.

      The third goal is more on the defense than Riemer in my opinion. Stall should never have been allowed to cut to the inside like that. Riemer covers the short side and trusts his dman to keep Stall out there.

      That is not to say Riemer was perfect and he does have some obviuos weaknesses to work on but last night I think he was all right.

  9. Based on what people are saying, there weren't many passengers (if any) which is tremendous, Gerund O'. Positives multiply, and it feels like we're seeing that now. Thanks Gerund.

    1. Meaning no disrespect, but when you said you'd gone to church, I thought you meant you'd gone to the game!

  10. We all need to let the kid in us out once in a while, Pete!

    Thanks for taking the time, like Willbur, DP, InTimeFor62 and Gerund, to fill me in on a lot of what I missed. (Reimer has his weak areas, for sure, but he got a win, again. eh?).

    Going to bed happy- not something Leaf fans have been able to do too often over the past decade...thanks Pete!

  11. At this point in my hockey following life, Willbur, I'm convinced most goalies have weaknesses- it's a matter of whether the opposition can put the puck where they need to.

    Goalies simply run hot and cold. When they are "in the zone" (like Giguere was in the playoffs in...'03, was it?) they seem to cover so much of the next and are awfully hard to beat. When their mechanics are off and their confidence is flagging, they can't stop a beach ball. I don't think Reimer is much different from most pretty decent NHL goalies. When he's feeling good, he's pretty solid. On his off-nights, he really has to battle just to keep his team in the game.

  12. The best thing I can say about the game and the leafs is that I was expecting the comeback. There are those games where we feel we're just not going to win or we were lucky to get a point, but lately I expect us to win any game. Last night when we were down, I was just waiting for it to happen. Even us fans get a boost in confidence, eh?

    Everyone has broken down the game well so I will just leave a few notes. People knew Kessel could pass the puck (especially Leafs fans) but he looks better this year

    Can we inject Kulemin with some of Komarov's "fight"? Would that be nice or what? His size and skill need some more edge.

    Kadri has leveled off a bit, but is still playing very well. JVR, Grabo, and Frattin seem to be coming around, so it's a great time for the team to gell.

    Round 1, here we come.

  13. "Expecting a comeback"- another sign, portuguese leaf, that things are different than before!

  14. Maybe if it was the old Gardens, Gerund O'! That was a true "shrine".

  15. Just a thought, Michael, which you needn't feel obliged to post on the site given that it's totally off topic, but am I the only person who is quietly sitting here hoping that we land exactly where we are in 6th?

    I have mixed feelings over the notion of professional sports teams not playing to win every game, but ending with the winner of the Southeast in the first round rather than Montreal or Boston has a flavour to it I find a trifle seductive.

    I wondered if it might be a topic for a post as no doubt you will be able to draw upon memories of times when teams (old Leafs or not) have appeared to sidle around within the playoff bracket in the last week of regular season play looking for a match up they want.

    I'm continuing to love the blog, Michael, thanks. I know I haven't been posting much recently but that's just life being busy. Rest assured I'm still reading.


  16. I have no doubt the Leafs will look to win every game they can the rest of the season, Glenn (KiwiLeaf). But there's no question a match-up with the Jets would be preferable to other possibilities!

    That said, wouldn't a second-round match-up with the Habs or Sens be awfully interesting? It just feels like it's time to renew some old-time playoff rivalries.

    Thanks for checking in Clenn. Stay in touch.