Andrew has been watching a lot of hockey lately. And that’s good; it’s stipulated in his contract that he does. We get recaps from him on the recent Leafs (3-0-1) games against the Flames from Saturday (3-2 win), and Monday’s with the Avs (3-2 loss). Today finds him gearing up and getting his game
face beard on as his boys host the Jets (1-3-0), to wrap a five game home stand. Those Jets are flying high after Monday’s upset win over the Pens, their first of the season.
“No, I’m not dead (and if you followed me on Twitter you’d know that for sure). I still find it strange that the season JUST started and already the Leafs had to sit for a week. Now they’ve got 3 games in 5 nights (Flames were Saturday, Avalanche Monday and Jets coming up Wednesday). While some Leafs sat last week, some chirped about being played or not. In a game-free week, this made up a big chunk of the news cycle. And by some, I mean one Cody “Number 7” Franson. He got a tad mouthy about being benched for two straight games, earning the ire of Ron Wilson. Which, as we know, is what all players hope to receive.
Yeah, he played decently in Nashville last season and when the trade was made it was pretty much a given in most Leafs fans minds that he’d be in the opening lineup. But he wasn’t. He thought training camp went well, but evidently Leafs coaching staff were not overly won over by the test. So he became the seventh d-man. He was a knife at a gun fight. He was basically like an Ottawa Senator: he could technically play, but just sat around and watched people skate by.”
“What surprised everyone in Leafsland was the play of rookie Jake Gardiner in camp and preseason.
What was even more surprising to some was his signing by the Leafs. He played great in the preseason, naturally, but this kind of NHL-ready belief was not entirely expected.
He only averaged under 13 minutes of ice time for the two games he played, and had a D-man low rating of -2, so maybe it’s not altogether a surprise was scratched so Franson could lace up for the first time. But be expecting good things from Gardiner, at 21 he should be around for a while. Especially Wednesday night.
Also making his first appearance in the regular season Saturday was Clarke MacArthur, having served his suspension for his head hit to Justin Abdelkader of the Wings during the preseason.
He was a star for the Leafs last season (62 points: 21 G/41 A) and the hopes were high he would make just as big an impact.
So that’s the lead up to Saturday’s game….THE HIGHLIGHTS!
I never knew Don Ho designed neckwear. Hawaiian fashion strikes again. In the words of Homer Simpson, slightly modified: There are only two kinds of guys who wear those (ties): gay guys and big, fat party animals. And (Mike) doesn’t look like a big, fat party animal to me.
So maybe that was not such a big story, but really Mike? Anyway…
So instead, that unmitigated bitch decided to knock the power out for two periods. So instead of hockey summations for the first 40 minutes, you get this:
Aren’t scary candlelit faces amazing?! Ok, really.
MacArthur and Franson’s return was overshadowed by the quick 2-0 lead the Flames took, Franson got his first assist later in the game. But he was generally underwhelming. They’ll each definitely need more time to work out rust and fit in better, but you can’t really expect pots of gold and leprechauns during their first game (and game 3) of the season.
The big story of Saturday’s Flames game was the play of Kessel and Reimer. Kessel was in full on beast mode. He skated faster, shot better and overall kicked ass.
Yes, it’s early. Yes, he can go through droughts of scoring, but just the way he looks right now…if he can keep it up, we have a real good thing. Really good. But judgement will be reserved until April. And hopefully June.
For now, Kessel can laud the first star of season opener week to his credit. Awarded on Monday (before the Avs game), Kessel was recognized for his 13 point opening three games (5 goals [including a hat trick] and 8 assists). Not a bad feather in his cap.
Speaking of good things, James Reimer. While not perfect, he’s solid when he needs to be. He keeps the Leafs out of messy areas. And that save he made in the last 20 seconds of regulation? Absolutely brilliant. Highlight of the night material. He just has to keep grounded and focussing on the next win.
While far from perfect, the Leafs did manage to claw back into the win column and finally beat the Flames for the first time in six tries. The speed and vitality of the Leafs (second youngest team in the league) really showed in the latter periods, besting the league’s second oldest roster in the Flames.
By the end of the game, even Jarome Iginla looked really tired. Good, fast moves kept us going that night. They looked reasonably on track for Monday’s Avalanche game.
The Avs come in to town and it was a grand reunion of sorts: Giguere and Liles each playing against their former teams. Except our prom queen team got fat, married ugly and had 8 kids.
For 50 minutes of the game, we played like the Leafs of last season. Turnovers, fans, no positioning around the net or in the slot. Just sloppy, sloppy play. Komisarek…I don’t really have to say anything more than that, do I? Totally overwhelmed by the speed of the Avalanche. But so was the entire team. It looked like the Leafs were trying to play catch up most of the game. Fortunately, Kessel can still kick ass.
But here’s where my fear comes in. He’s reminding me of, and being put under the same pressure as, Mats Sundin. Sundin carried the Leafs for many games during his tenure, and I think if the rest of the Leafs don’t start stepping up, he’ll become the workhorse (well, he and Reimer). It’s a lot of pressure to take and we can’t solely depend on one guy making all the offensive moves. Again, it’s game 4 and we’re 3-0-1, but it’s giving me cause for concern. Some may disagree, but the way the media places him on a pedestal….Yeah, we need a solid team, not just a superstar player.
At least we’ve escaped the 4-0 starting record of last season that led to a dismal display in November and the giant sucking noise of despair in Leafsland for months. We’re showing improvement in some areas, but there are still key issues that are beginning to surface again.
On big issue is that we are consistently inconsistent. Crap first, crap second on Monday night. And only the third finally lit our ass on fire. So far, in the 4 games, we’ve had an atrocious first (MTL), third (OTT), first (CAL) and first (COL). Lines still don’t seem to be meshing completely and only light up in truly critical moments.
And the turnovers, my god the turnovers. With the number of turnovers being made, you’d think the Leafs were helping grandma with the church bake sale. It just seemed that whenever Colorado wasn’t icing the puck, Toronto was turning it over. Slopslopslop.
And I think Franson, after his two games and overtime….performance, could start looking in to taking night classes at the Learning Annex. Maybe get a degree in Interior Decorating or Private Investigator from a mail away diploma program. Or take up the pottery wheel. Because he’ll sure as hell not be on skates again for some time. That Gardiner kid from above? Be expecting him against the Jets.
And my beloved Reimer…two really soft goals and the OT clincher was another he should have had. But there’s his enigma: he’ll let in a weak shot from the point, but stop a guaranteed goal right on his doorstep. Again, it’s a matter of consistency. In fairness, though, his defence was consistently fooled. It was as if they couldn’t fool the Avs if it was the foolingist day of their lives and they had an electrified fooling machine. Special teams were both flat as well.
Take this game as a learning experience and move on. The Leafs are getting a good kick in the ass that will, hopefully, with (relatively) solid goaltending, improve them. They’ll have to get better because the week ahead for them is not pretty. Brief aside having mentioned pretty, did you see Gabriel Landeskog? I sure did.
The Leaf’s upcoming games (Jets at home, then away to Bruins/Canadiens/Flyers/Rangers and home to the Pens) will test them far more than their opening salvo of matches. If these issues don’t start getting worked at quick, it’ll be a mess on the road.
Wednesday’s Jets game should be an interesting one, regardless. I’m sure fans in the ACC will give the Jets a warm welcome back to the city. The Jets season has not started off well, losing to the Canadiens, Blackhawks and Coyotes. However, Monday night they played quite well against the Pens. Carried a 2-0 lead up until the end of the second and Pavelec played strongly in net, keeping them in it to notch their first win of the year. Have to admit, it was pretty cool to see the entire MTS Centre lose their collective shit. I haven’t heard an arena that loud in a while. It’ll be an interesting test.
Will the Leafs readjust and go at it with a new vigour? Or will we get a visit from ye olde Leafs of yore? Coming off a strong performance, the Jets will look forward to proving themselves and winning more hockey games. Definitely not a team to take lightly, regardless of what the W/L column says. Remember, Dustin Byfuglien will get all sorts of up in everyone’s grille. Any Canucks fan can attest to that.
Plus Andrew Ladd…. Maybe it’s just me… but damn. Even beaten up.
Wednesday will be a good bellweather for Toronto to see how well they adjust to a loss and prepare themselves for going forward in the season. If they can get it together and come out strong, I might just be able to leave the house come November. If not… well, let’s just not go there right now. Be sure to watch Wednesday if you can, I can guarantee an interesting 60 minutes. Even if I may have to have a glass of wine with it…
And one Jerry Springer-style Final Thought, for those not fortunate enough to watch Toronto games with our announcers. There are four channels in Toronto that transmit Leafs games: CBC, TSN, Sportsnet and LeafsTV. Sportsnet and LeafsTV is host to the play by play of one Joe Bowen. For those who have had the joy of hearing him you’d be familiar with his “HOOOOLY MACKINAW!” phrase.
As an example of the wonderment that is his commentary style: The opening goaltenders were being announced. But no, not opening goaltenders. They were “hobos of the honeycomb hideouts.” Yes, Mr. Bowen went there. He makes me miss Bob Cole. A lot.
I’ll have to put up with Ottawa announcers for the coming weekend, as it’s Sens/CBJ crazy blowout weekend 2011. Be expecting some craziness. Or a Canada-wide warrant for my arrest.”
For the love of God, follow Andrew on Twitter: @manbearpiglpu