Friday, November 17, 2006

Rabbit Punches

I couldn’t be bothered coming up with a cohesive post tonight, so here are a few random thoughts:

After hearing months of, “why won’t Toronto extend John Ferguson?” it was a surprise to read tonight that the Leafs actually hold a club option on his contract for next season.

I’m not a Ferguson booster, but it’s hard to argue with the results so far this year, so exercising the option should be a no-brainer decision. Maybe The Board is waiting to see if the team's resurgence is a fluke before they start throwing the money around at Ferguson.

I tried watching the Ottawa/New Jersey game tonight, but it was so boring I actually fell asleep during the game. So after I regained consciousness, I flipped to what should have been my first choice all along, Pittsburgh/Buffalo. I got to see Crosby viciously cross-check some guy in the back – I think it was Campbell – and stew in the box while Buffalo potted a powerplay goal. Way to go, Crosby. Later on, I saw him curse at the refs, then at his coach for some reason (“F--- you! No! F--- you!” *drinking Gatorade* “F---ing a-hole!”) , and then he aggressively celebrated in the face of Buffalo fans after he scored two goals that almost put Pittsburgh back in the game. I guess it was a pretty well-rounded outburst of emotion, then. Everyone got an equal helping of profanity. I got the sense he knew the cameras were on him when he was trying to look all scary on the bench, but I just wasn’t sold on his scowl. Buffalo’s retro third uniforms look fantastic – I can’t believe they didn’t elevate these shirts to the status of “main bitch” over the truly terrible “Buffaslugs” they revolted everyone with back in July.

Back to check the Ottawa score, and I saw they lost again, 3-2. Don’t worry though Senator fans, it wasn’t a legit loss – according to A-Channel fluffer Gord Wilson as he petulantly wrapped up the final score, “the real story of the game is the two hit goalposts behind Martin Brodeur.” Shameless. Gordie Wilson, wasn’t that the name of the mayor in Back to the Future? “Mayor, Gordie Wilson – I like the SOUN’ of dat!”

TSN pioneered the in-game interview of players this week, blorting on the air about their innovation to the game. I actually dislike this idea myself. If I’m the coach, the last thing I want is my player preening for the camera during a stop in play. His focus should be on the game – so I’d be tempted to tell Pierre McGuire to jam his microphone and wait until the intermission.

I love TSN’s behind-the-goalie “power play” cam. Great angle – CBC needs to copy it.

Ottawa began last season 19-3. This season, they are in last place in their division so far, and Dominik Hasek is 9-3-1 for Detroit, leading the NHL in goals-against average at 1.73, with 3 shutouts. Hmm. Here's a thought - and, I'm just throwing this out there - but maybe the reason Ottawa blows is because of their goalie or something.

At work today, my buddy Ed was moaning again about his team, the Canadiens. “The Panthers killed us. Mr. Gainey has to do something.” I felt bad for him, so I told him to expect a big game out of Souray this weekend, even though I don't care very much about the Habs.

That seemed to make him feel better, because right after that, this girl he thinks is hot walked by, and old Ed perked right up and decided to tailgate down the hall after her. "I'm really happy with my girlfriend though, seriously," he said as he sneaked out. Note: she was wearing these bizarre pants women have been buying lately – these really thin, somewhat baggy, and flippy-looking things that are cut off at the knee, worn with high boots. They look a lot like something Ronald McDonald would put on in the morning, but that didn’t seem to bother Ed much.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Put away those parade maps...

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It seems like my last post had barely begun cooling on the windowsill before something bad happened to ruin everything. Now, that warm glow of success I was feeling from the Leafs’ recent run of dominance feels more like a freshly-laid cowflop instead.

My buddy Roebuck was immediate in his assessment. “I blame Wardo!” he yelled.

Sundin going down to injury so soon after I bragged about his performance is what Roebuck calls, “pulling a Harry Neale.”

Pulling a Neale is when you make the critical mistake of noting a recent trend of success, only to have it end the moment you mention it. Like when he’s doing the colour work during a game, and he says something like, “Belfour hasn’t allowed a goal in almost 128 minutes of play.” And then, seconds later, that’s when Eddie lets in a routine wrister from the point. It’s uncanny how talented Neale is at ruining a good thing, and Roebuck plugs his ears anytime Neale gets rolling with this kind of analysis.

So yeah, I pulled a Neale. Guilty as charged.

It couldn’t be helped, though. I began following the Leafs again this season, fully prepared to expect and accept a rebuilding season, one in which I would take a playoff spot as a bonus rather than a given. But once this Leafs team began to come together, as always, a playoff spot just didn’t seem good enough anymore.

Before Saturday’s win against Buffalo, for instance, there was no doubt in my mind Toronto would beat the Sabres. On the horn with my brother-in-law Vanny, I predicted an overpowering Leaf victory, fuelled by at least four Toronto goals, going with my gut instinct and the fact that Miller had allowed four goals in each of the previous three games. Vanny predicted a Sabres blowout.

After the game, the phone rang, and it was bewildered Vanny on the other end. “Man. Can you buy me a lottery ticket, or what?”

That idea struck me as so sensible, I actually got two of them for tonight’s 6/49 draw. I was feeling lucky, and that 36 million seemed to be as good as in the pocket. Just like the Leafs’ playoff hopes. (I’m not even going to say anything about the Cup part. But of course, I was thinking it. Oh, the humanity.)

And now, Sundin is gone, at least for a month. Knowing how Toronto reports injuries, that’s probably a best-case scenario. A torn ligament ruined Lindros’ season last year – and I don’t want to think about that right now.

There is no replacing Sundin’s presence in the lineup. This season, for the first time in forever, it seemed like the Big Swede had found another gear, and he was putting out like he never had for Toronto. As of today, his points-per-game rate (1.118) was his best rate of production in years, and his 72 shots so far projected to 347 for a full season, which would be by far a career high. Sundin had decided that he wanted to win, and nothing was going to stop him this time around. And then, his elbow exploded.

However, there are a few positives to take from this. But they are kind of like when you're looking at your car that got T-boned and you're thinking, well, at least those Pizza Pops I put in the trunk are still okay.

For one thing, Sundin will be placed on the Injured Reserve list, and if he misses 10 games, which might be conservative, it amounts to more than a few banana-skins the Leafs can use somewhere else. His cap hit is 6.33 million, so 10 games away from the club is almost $800,000 in freed-up salary Toronto can use to sign a guy like, say, Jason Allison to pick up the slack. I'm kidding.

Kyle Wellwood, a natural centre, had been playing out of position on the wing, so he can be re-inserted down the middle.

And surprisingly, Toronto hasn’t had any trouble scoring goals so far this season, and are currently third in the league in that department with 58. It’s keeping them out that’s been the problem, and blueline veteran Pavel Kubina is back Thursday night – so maybe the differential between improved defense and less offense will amount to little in the standings. Or maybe a pig will fly past my office window instead.

For a player like Alex Steen, who has struggled all year, Sundin’s absence could be his Big Chance to redeem himself with some increased minutes and responsibility. Don’t think for a second he isn’t looking in a mirror right now and saying that to himself. “Stor tillfälle!” That means, “big chance” in Swedish. Steen's Viking ancestors probably went around saying stuff like that all the time, but in those days, their big chances had more to do with conquering some defenceless village women. You know, kind of like how the Ottawa Senators look lately. Like a bunch of women. Time for Steen to explore his roots.

And like I mentioned a couple days ago, Stanley Cups aren’t awarded in November. Maybe the layoff will do Sundin good, and he’ll come back full of beans in December, ready to pick up where he left off.

Right now, this is all I’ve got to go with…which is also probably why, tomorrow morning, I’ll check my 6/49 tickets and head off to the ol’ cubicle instead of ordering that new jet I’ve always wanted. That’s right – I’ve gone dozens and dozens of consecutive 6/49 draws without a win.

Here’s hoping “pulling a Neale” can turn around a negative streak, too.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Pwning the League

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And suddenly, with a 4-1 win over Philadelphia (is it just me, or do the Leafs seem to play every night?), Toronto has won 4 out of its last 5, good for 21 points, second in their division, and 4th in their conference.

58 goals, behind only Buffalo’s 63 which leads the league.

Dominating wins over Montreal, Buffalo, Philly. Decisive wins.

Raycroft, one of the NHL’s three stars this week. “It’s cool,” he shrugged, flexing manfully for the cameras in the hours before yet another heroic performance. “But it doesn’t mean anything.”

No, not really. Not in the grand scheme of things. Stanley Cups aren’t awarded in November.

And - it’s worth noting too, that Toronto has played the most games in the league so far, 17. Perhaps if all the other teams had played as many, their standing wouldn’t look so impressive.

Ottawa for instance, is goofing around in the Eastern Conference basement, only 3 points ahead of Philly for second-last place, but they've only played 12 games. However – late box score check – they lost again tonight, this time to Washington, having blown the lead in yet another close game. To elevate the level of Ottawa’s humiliation, Ovechkin reportedly made numerous, “in the bag” motions as he left the ice. No, not really. But can't you imagine it?

I expected a lot of things to begin this NHL season, but Leaf domination wasn’t one of them, and I'm glad for the surprise. I didn't expect such disorganized, dispirited, and second-rate Senator efforts either, which are hard for me to miss right now. “Why did we keep Alfredsson instead of Havlat?” a buddy screamed at work, as he ripped posey Ottawa Sun snapshots of Jason Spezza from the walls of his cubicle. “We're ruined! Trade him now!” Yeah, I’m sure that’s all they need.

So what’s up with the Leafs?

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"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria!"

Why are they scoring so much, for instance? Nobody predicted this. If anything, the big question was, “who is going to score after Kaberle and McCabe?” Tucker is playing like a no-foolin’ 50-goal man. O’Neill has been magically restored to his pre-dead brother edge. Sundin – as always, magnificent. Even a plug like Bates Battaglia is contributing. Imagine that – goals from a 4th-liner. White and Gill have filled in marvelously as the second pairing, and Kubina’s imminent return should boost the defense even more. Belak has actually gotten into the act too, by not ruining any games or anything lately.

“This is no accident,” gloated my uncle Chuckles. “The kingpins of the Leafs this season are quality young players from the Belleville Bulls system, or just Belleville natives like yours truly. The Rayzor. Wellwood. Stajan. Take away those Ottawa games, and those kids are powering one of the best teams in hockey.”

Maybe. I don’t really have an answer. But I don't care right now. I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts, because I’ve been here before, and I’ve seen it all amount to nothing in April.

No real Leaf fan hasn’t.
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