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Preds win in Toronto: that wasn’t exactly what we were expecting…

Sometimes we Leaf supporters can be a bit, well, narrow in our thinking.  We have definite opinions on what we like and don’t like about our club, our roster, and that makes sense because we see our guys play all the time.   But we may not always have the breadth of knowledge that we would like to have about other teams around the league.  So our opinions may not mean a whole heck of a lot, as they are based on rather limited first-hand knowledge.  (Of course, this could also be said for many of the credentialed, mainstream NHL media types who vote on major awards, for example, yet rarely see other teams in action more than, at best, a handful of times a season—and base their votes on surface statistics.)

My comments may be especially true when it comes to the Western Conference.

The Predators are an example of what I’m talking about.  How many Leaf fans, for example, could name all the players on the Nashville team?  And how many of us really know what the Preds are all about? Oh, we may know that Barry Trotz is still the coach (and has been, amazingly, since Day One of the franchise) and David Poile is the longstanding the GM.  I’m sure many Leafers recognize the almost venerable (relatively speaking) David Legwand—who is remains part of the glue that holds this franchise together after all these years.  But beyond Shea Weber and maybe the rookie wunderkind, Seth Jones (and ex-Sen Mike Fisher, too), my guess is a lot of us don’t know much about the Preds. (By the way, if you’re interested in hearing about Legwand’s future, check out the most recent “Maple Leaf Hangout”, where respected blogger Dirk Hoag shares something most fans outside of Nashville probably have no clue about…)

We do know the Leafs ran over them in Nashville earlier this season behind Bernier—and we know that Bernier has a sterling track record against Nashville in his career. (I assume that is, in part, why the ex-King netminder started in goal for the blue and white on Thursday night.)

Believe me, I don’t know nearly enough about the current Preds. (For example, I know precious little about the goalie who played for Nashville against the Leafs—and by precious little I mean nothing.)  But I do have high regard for the type of team the Predators have grinded their way to becoming since their inception under Poile and Trotz.  They regularly compete for a playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference, and display a work ethic that few NHL teams have consistently matched over the past decade and more. There is a “Predator way” of playing.  They have an identity, which is not something the Leafs seem to have just yet.

So I wonder if we were perhaps (at least we fans) underestimating the Predators as they took on the Leafs at the ACC, especially without Rinne in goal due to injury?

Hey, maybe the Leafs did, too.

In any event, the Leafs came into the game with a glowing home record, but the Predators, after spotting Toronto an early lead, managed to take a bite out of the home side and walked away with a 4-2 victory, evening the now concluded (if I'm not mistaken) season series.

I’ll leave the game analysis to you.  The Leafs still have a reasonably lofty record, and, as I often say here, this was only one game. But the Leafs have some tough sledding ahead of them schedule-wise, and the Capitals await on Saturday night.  The Leafs will be home again and will welcome back our old friend—and still beloved by many in these parts—Mikhail Grabovski.  Ovechkin seems to be back to being the ‘old’ Ovie, so given Grabbo’s presence, the Leaf effort Thursday night and it being a Hockey Night in Canada night matchup, there should be no lack of intensity in that one.


  1. Michael,

    I really enjoyed another episode of the Hangout. I had to go back and watch the one that preceded the Islander game as well. Great stuff all around, loved hearing from someone other than a Toronto guy. I too, feel that we as fans of the Leafs are a bit myopic about the team. We have talked about viewing habits before, and you know I try to watch a couple of other games every week. But lets be honest, I still watch at least as many Leaf games in that period of time. There are only so many hours in a week that I can spend watching hockey. Now, if I was getting paid to do this, that would be another story. Maybe the Leafs need another scout. At least they could count on me to be honest, thats something right?

    Every year there are some teams, like Nashville, that lose players to free agency. They are a reasonably good talent pool for the rest of the NHL. That's just the way it is. They have lost a lot of talent, and continue to do so, with very little return. Did the Leafs take them for granted tonight? Probably, but honestly, who in that lineup other, than Jones and Weber, were they supposed to be afraid of? Paul Gaustad, Colin Wilson, Matt Cullen? Lots of serviceable NHL'ers, but no one that suggests to me that there needs to be a gameplan in place to stop these guys.

    I know that you are realistic enough to believe that it was going to be near impossible for the Leafs to win 8 out of 10 home games the rest of the way. Only the most optimistic, or delusional, fans of this team are talking about parades, and engraving the Cup. The West is the best right now. Every team competes hard, top to bottom in their lineups, for 60 minutes. The only exception might be those two Alberta teams. But, its not like the Leafs handled them like Vancouver and Chicago handled the Leafs.

    I'll say a little bit about the Leafs identity under our coach. His skilled players have very little compete in them. All this talk about Kessel getting better, he has. I would now give him a 3 out of 10, instead of a zero. He's no Frank Selke. And in my opinion the bottom of the lineup has very little skill. Anaheim when he was there, is an example of what he is looking for, we aren't there yet. If Clarkson and Bolland are bottom six guys, this changes things a bit for me. But honestly, how is a fourth line playing 4 minutes a night, helping this team win hockey games? In order for this team to be anything other than broken down, and beat up at playoff time, more balanced ice is necessary. The top two lines are getting two thirds of the ice time, very little crash and bang, control the puck type hockey is going to happen.

    I expect Ovechkin to come in guns blazing Saturday night. If my recollections are accurate, he plays, and scores against us, rather well. I'm pretty sure Grabbo will have some money on the bulletin board as well. If it was me, it would be a rather sizeable chunk of change. I imagine that his animosity for our head coach hasn't calmed one little bit. They got out everythinged in the game against Pittsburgh yesterday. Ovie hit the post early in that game, or it might have turned out a little bit different. When the Penguins play like that, they are mighty fun to watch, and a match for anyone in the League.

    1. We're on the same page, Jim, when it comes to a lack of awareness about a lot of teams that don't play in the city named Toronto. I'm not talking about all Leaf fans, but sometimes observations are made without much foundation about the rest of the teams in the league. In any event, Nashville is a hard-working side, and has been that way forever- despite, as you say, losing key players (like Suter) who they simply cannot afford to keep. They churn the roster but are still tough to play against most nights.

      I'd give Phil a bit higher "rating" on the defensive side, but I hear what you're saying regarding the overall makeup of the squad right now. The mix may well be lacking. I'm not sure what we are right now, identity-wise.

      Saturday will be a peak into where the Leafs are at. I will feel more confident when we play (and beat) a team that is actually playing well and has really good goaltending when they play us. If the Leafs can win those kinds of games, that would be encouraging. Thanks Jim.

  2. I have the utmost respect for Barry Trotz and Bud Poole. They have laboured under financial restraints in a small market area with little hockey tradition yet they have iced competitive teams. It would be foolish to underestimate a Barry Trotz team.

    The Leafs looked a little flat tonight. Kessel missed the net a number of times and Nashville's fore check was effective. They also were effective in the neutral zone in forcing turnovers.

    These are the type of games our goalies have been stealing for us, just not tonight. The Leafs still do not have cohesive line play. Hopefully that will come if they can keep their lines together over a period of time.

    Michael, you make a good point that most of us are not very familiar with teams like Nashville and really most western American teams. There are so many teams and players in the NHL now it is near impossible to keep up with all of them. Remember the old days; 6 teams that played each other 14 times and we knew the names and numbers of every player on every team.

    1. You're so right, Pete Cam- in those golden days of NHL hockey, even young fans literally knew all the players. We pretty much knew the players, even on our little, old, back and white TV's just by their skating style. It's a different time and a different era, to be sure.

      Yes, the Leafs were maybe a bit flat. It happens. As I mentioned to Jim, it will be important for the Leafs to beat a good team on a night when the opposition receives outstanding netminding. We can't rely on beating teams because their goaltending is sub-par. Thanks Pete.

  3. Hi Michael

    Last night's game was the first one all season long I actually tuned into another program mid way through the 3rd. To me it was an embarrassment of efforts from every single player on the ice. Today's NHL is not where a team win consistently on mere talents alone. On any given night, a team with inferior talent can beat a superior team if efforts are there. Physical play, finishing your check, good defensive acumen, etc. Heck, if you have a hot goalie that night, sometimes that's enough. Nashville didn't even need that last night.

    Granted, there were a couple of swings last night triggered by penalties but it was really frustrating seeing them stick check and gliding their way all night. I know you're a much bigger supporter of Reimer than I but as much as I did not think Bernier played badly last night but barely better than the opposition, I really don't understand why Reimer did not start. Sure Bernier had a shutout the last time these teams met but Carlyle also suggested that is long in history...I guess he's right then.

    Lastly, I don't know what it is about this team's psyche but it bothers me that our captain cannot elevate anyone around him at all.

    1. You've certainly brought forward some sensitive subjects, Lukas, but fairly so. The team that wanted it more won last night, plain and simple. As you say, effort is the key. Stick checking doesn't cut it- never did.

      Bernier is not the reason that the Leafs lost by any means. But I continue to maintain that Bernier is the favoured son. I don't buy that Reimer has been given an equal chance, or that it's a level playing field (some have said, oh, Reimer was sick/injured, that's why Bernier has played more.)

      No, Bernier has played more because yes, he has played pretty darn well this season. But it is also because Leiweke, Nonis and Carlyle want it this way. That's been obvious from the day the trade was made and that's fine, but let's not kid ourselves that, barring an injury, Reimer is in the long-term plans. Competitive guys like that won't be happy being a back-up for long.

      To your last point, I don't know what to say. Dion has certainly played some good hockey this season (again). Whether he is an inspirational leader for this team, though, I don't know. Thanks Lukas.

  4. I am in total agreement with your assessment of the Bernier situation and no press release of any kind will change what's underneath the organizational belief that Bernier is their man. That said, I have greater faith in Bernier at this time then Reimer although it's waning.

    As much as we are always bombarded with analytic, there is one aspect that no Corsi or Fenrick or whatever will be able to digest. A feeling, the dynamic of in game situation, pulse of the situation, mindset of the players at the time (game 7 collapse is a clear example).

    Bernier plays a boring, unemotional, stagnant game. Something along the lines of Carey Price. When he get beat, sometimes it looks bad as if he wasn't even trying. But then the saves he makes on what appears to be sure goals are so positionally sound, it make it looks so easy. His lack of rebound is remarkable. There's a sterile part to his game that is hard to get used to in a game that is at time based on emotion. Reimers' on the other hand is just the opposite. Things with him are much more exciting. The battles the stretch saves, the fight for control, etc. Their polar opposites but are both able to get the job done. At this point, goaltending is not a problem for us yet and I just felt that it was odd not to start Reimer last night and if anything his emotional style might have helped. Certainly, Reimer has not done anything that warrant not being equal status. If this continues, like you said someone might not be too happy and no sooner, there will be issues.

    Which leads me to our in room, on ice designated leader. This year would be the opportunity for Nonis to rectify the mistake Burke made. No matter how well he has played this year, I just don't think he is Captain materials. He has just in my opinion the emotional content of none. I just don't think he has the entire room deep down as I have yet heard complete support from all members on the team. IMO Lupul would be much better served.

    1. You have quite astutely (in my view) detailed the contrasts, if we can call it that, in the games that Bernier and Reimer bring. Both are very good netminders in my mind, but oh so different. And as you allude to, it's not just a mayer of style or technique. Just by the way they play, they both deliver a very different 'vibe' to a game. Whether the players in front of them prefer one or the other, I have no clue. But I do know that management wants Bernier to emerge as the guy, no question.

      As for the captaincy, questions will be answered in the months ahead. Will Phaneuf get a new 7 million plus a year contract from the Leafs? Does the organization see him as a true leader on and off the ice? Will they commit to him for the long term?

      More importantly, beyond his play on the ice, is he really the guy guy to 'lead' this team to a championship? Thanks Lukas.

  5. Hi Michael.

    I didn't see all of the game as I'm in the country and have to live-stream during the week. ( It wasn't working well last night)
    That the Leafs are a team that scores their goals on rushes (Pension Plan Puppets) didn't surprise me a bit. We already knew that and it's one of the reasons they needed Bolland and Clarkson. Any team that clogs up the neutral zone will give the Leafs trouble. I also knew a bit about the Preds, a hardworking ethic and coming off wins against the Wings and the Blackhawks. Even with their starting goalie out, these types of teams don't stop working halfway through the game.
    It became a game of individual efforts, and I'd use the example of Gardiner streaking up the ice , ignoring his forwards completetly, soaring over the blue line, around the net and...losing the puck. It's understandable as lines are still changing and no one is together long enough to be familiar with each other's game. Hitting the posts didn't help and Bernier holding us in may have made a difference in the result but not in the way the Leafs played. I still think things will be better when lines are set, even if it's only one line.
    I'm impressed with Kulemin's play and I still prefer him on the 2nd line with Lupul - I would have left Kadri there as well. Holland definitely came to play and I liked him on the 1st. I do find much of this juggling of lines to be unnecessary and hard on the players, Raymond and Clarkson seem to be effective no matter where they are placed- they are the two that can be moved around. I think the Leafs will settle down with Bozak's return.
    Now we have more centers than we need, a problem we didn't expect. Smith is on a one way contract and I can't see him clearing waivers ( he's been too good) so that leaves Holland (almost had 2 last night), Ashton(grit), or Smithson (PK, Face-offs) that will have to go. I have a feeling it will be Ashton, with Jay on the wing. I do like Ashton's determination on the boards. I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts on this.
    McLaren has done nothing but chase players around hoping for a fight. I'd just sit him. ...A long time.
    The Caps will be hard to beat and I'm glad Reimer will be in this game. The puck over the shoulder deal is one James caught mid-air and behind him quite easily two games ago. They never show these types of saves from Reimer in the highlights, even though he's had a good glove this season. If Reimer (1.8 mil) leaves at the end of the season we will have lost over a million more to sign Bernier (2.9 mil), 1/2 a million in wages kept for Frattin and Scrivens, plus any picks or players we might have got for them AND we will need a back-up, which I doubt will be as good as what we already had in Ben. I don't see how this could ever be described as an "up-grade in net".
    Thanks Michael. C.N.

    1. To your last point, C.N., I think we will look back and say it was nice, I guess, to have Reimer and Bernier together for a season. But ultimately the plan will not work. Reimer will leave. Will we get something of real value in return? If it's better than what we gave up for Bernier, then I suppose Nonis will be proven correct. We'll see.

      While set lines are not an absolute necessity, there seems little doubt that changing things around too much may not help either. I realize injuries have been a huge factor, of course.

      Some, including myself, would like to see Ashton get an extended look with real minutes over a period of games. I don't think a young player can be fairly judged based on playing once every few games, and when he does play, only a handful of minutes a night with middlish line mates.

      If he gets a legitimate shot and plays well, promote him. If not, on to the next guy. Thanks C.N.