ALL-STAR PERFORMANCE BY GRABOVSKI SINKS ISLANDERS!

By: Adam Basciano

The Maple Leafs swept the home and home series with the New York Islanders, with a 4-3 overtime win on Long Island.

Unlike last game, the Leafs were unable to keep John Tavares off the score sheet.  He scored in the first two minutes of the game.  In fact, the Islanders made it a two goal lead, before the Leafs answered with a goal from Clarke MacArthur in the late stages of the second period. In the first two minutes of the third period, Jake Gardiner scored his first NHL goal to tie the game. Then with just over three minutes to go, a Mikhail Grabovski shot took a strange bounce and dropped into the net.  Another strange bounce, this time off the boards, allowed the Islanders to tie the game with thirteen seconds left.  Despite the set back Clarke MacArthur would score his second of the game, giving the Leafs the win. Even with MacArthur’s two goal night, tonight was “The Grabo Show”.  Mikhail Grabovski had a goal and three assists for a four point night.  While he won’t be in Ottawa Sunday night, in this game he was an All – Star.

What was with all the early/late period goals, and lucky bounces in this game? Was there a full moon or something?  While Kessel, Lupul, and Phaneuf display their skills at the All Star Game, the rest of the team will enjoy a week off.

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LOMBARDI AND LEAFS LEAVE ISLANDERS STRANDED!

By: Adam Basciano

There is no doubt that Saturday’s loss to Montreal was disappointing.  Lack of net presence and an overall lack of energy put the Leafs on the loosing end of a 3-1 game.  That made this game against the New York Islanders all that more important.

While the Islanders have been the laughing-stock of the NHL for the last couple of years, they’ve been playing good hockey of late.  They’ve won three straight games, with their top line heating up. That didn’t matter as the Maple Leafs kept Gilligan, (John Tavares) the Skipper (Matt Moulson), and the rest of the crew stranded with a 3-0 win!  The Blue & White dominated this game from start to finish, out shooting the Islanders 35 -25.  Forget Johnny Lombardi, the Italian star of Toronto is Matthew Lombardi!  He scored two goals, adding to a streak that has seen him score four goals in the last five games.  He now has 6 on the year.  Phil Kessel tapped home a Joffrey Lupul rebound for his 26th goal of the season.  Jonas Gustavsson recorded his third shut-out in the month of January.  His best save came in the second period.  A split-second pad save that preserved the Leaf lead, one they would never relinquish.

The Maple Leaf will hope for some deja-vu as they face the Islanders again, in the second half of this home and home series.

AFTER LOSING 3 STRAIGHT LEAFS RUN WILD OVER MINNESOTA!

By: Adam Basciano

The Maple Leafs started 2012 undefeated, winning four straight.  Then they went in a downward spiral losing three in a row.  Tonight the roller-coaster started to climb back up, as the Leafs beat the Minnesota Wild.

The losses came at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, and Ottawa Senators.  What’s upsetting is that the Leafs could have won two out of those three games.  A slow start and a couple of bad bounces, cost the Leafs a win, in a game they dominated.  Saturday night was a completely different story, as the Leafs got completely out-shot and shut-out by the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers.  I was at the game against the Ottawa Senators.  This was another case of the Leafs thoroughly out playing the Sens. A goal for Ottawa that should have been disallowed due to goaltender interference, and exceptional goaltending from Craig Anderson cost the Leafs 2 points. As a result, Ron Wilson separated Lupul and Kessel.  In part to have a more balanced attack, and in part, to improve our star players defensive game.  The separation didn’t hinder the duo’s offensive ability, as Kessel scored his 25th goal of the season.  Lupul was the star of the game with 3 assists. In addition to Kessel, Nazem Kadri, Joey Crabb, and Mikhail Grabovski all scored in the 4-1 Leaf win. Jonas Gustavsson made 20 saves.

The Maple Leafs will next face their forever rivals, the Anglophobia inclined Montreal Canadiens.

RUFF NIGHT FOR LINDY AS LEAFS SHUT-OUT SABRES!

By: Adam Basciano

This game marked the first of a home and home series with divisional rivals, the Buffalo Sabres. Starting off with a win was of paramount importance, because in doing so, the Maple Leafs would not only put Buffalo further behind them, but would also move up in the standings.  That’s exactly what happened, as the Blue & White shut-out the Sabres 2-0.  In doing so, the Maple Leafs are 8 points ahead of the Sabres, and have moved into 6th in the Eastern Conference.  Oh and for good measure, the Leafs have won four games in a row, remaining un-defeated in 2012.

All the scoring in this contest took place in the first period.  Nikolai Kulemin scored his 5th goal of the season on the power-play, and then added an assist on Mikhail Grabovski’s 13th goal of the season.  After that Buffalo got Monster Mashed by Jonas Gustavsson, and fell victim to a defensive clinic put on by the Maple Leafs.  Jonas Gustavsson was like a college student during Spring Break, flashing onlookers left, right, and centre.  Instead of flashing skin, Gustavsson was flashing some glove, blocker, and pads, en route to a 32 save shut-out.  Late in the game, the Sabres started cherry picking at centre ice, but the Leafs had that covered.  When Buffalo realized they couldn’t score, their resident $hi+ Head Patrick Kaleta, started taking cheap shots at our best players.  Nikolai Kulemin put a stop to that, as he flattened Kaleta with a huge hit in the third period.  Overall, the Leafs played their most intelligent game of the season in all areas of the ice.

The Maple Leafs have a few days off, before heading to Buffalo to complete the back-to-back set on Friday. 

LEAFS START FAST, MONSTER MAINTAINS VICTORY!

By: Adam Basciano

Any time the Toronto Maple Leafs have played the Detroit Red Wings over the past couple of years, it’s natural for Leaf fans to be pessimistic.  Expect a loss, and hope for a win.  Well, tonight the unexpected happened. the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Red Wings 4-3.

The Blue and White got off to a fast and furious start, scoring three goals in the first period.  Phil Kessel scored his 24th goal of the season, converting on a penalty-shot.  If Drake was in the building he’d be saying; “oh you fancy huh” to Kessel!  That’s how pretty those moves were.  Shortly there after, Dion Phaneuf was doing his impression of MC Hammer.  It was Hammer Time, as Phaneuf blasted a shot past Jimmy Howard on the power play. Switch your playlist to some Salt N’ Pepa, and Let’s Talk About Stecks.  David Steckel scored his 7th goal of the year, to give the Maple Leafs a commanding lead after one period. 

Was I ecstatic? Damn straight!  Still a part of me said uh oh.  Look Detroit may be an aging team.  Heck, their team age makes Betty White look like a spring chicken!  However, they’re a power-house of a hockey team and are more than capable of making a come back.  That’s exactly what they did, scoring two goals in the second period, while limiting the Leafs to just two shots.  They would tie the game fairly early in the third, before Joffrey Lupul would capitalize on a rare Detroit mistake.  Lupul scored his 19th goal of the season.  Then Jonas Gustavsson took over, making miraculous saves.  Actually, he did that all game, with his best save of the game coming very late.  With just 50 seconds left in the game, Gustavsson would stop his countryman point-blank. No I don’t remember which one, 2/3 of that team is Swedish.  The Monster would stop 37 shots, for the teams third consecutive win.

The Maple Leafs next action is Tuesday night, when the Buffalo Sabres are in town.

A PERFECT MONSTER: LEAFS SHUT-OUT JETS!

By: Adam Basciano

The Winnipeg Jets came to Toronto, offering the Maple Leafs a chance at redemption from their defeat on New Years Eve.  That’s exactly what happened, as the Blue & White grounded Winnipeg’s flight plan by a 4-0 score.

Toronto’s top six forwards were responsible for all four goals in the winning effort.  Phil Kessel scored his 23rd goal of the year, thanks to a pass from none other than Joffrey Lupul.  Tim Connolly scored his 7th of the season, assisted by Toronto’s starting All-Star representative Dion Phaneuf, as well as Joey Crabb.  Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur sealed the deal for the win, with their 12th goals of the year.  The Leafs were very disciplined only taking one penalty, which they killed off… obviously.  Their power-play continued to produce, being responsible for one of the four tallies. As mentioned in the title of this very blog, Jonas Gustavsson recorded a shut-out.  It is his first of the season, and second of his NHL career.  While he didn’t have to make many “10 beller” saves, he made timely saves, when the team needed them.  He also made a save without two key goalie tools, his stick and glove.  That was one of Gustavsson’s 24 saves on the night.

The youthful Maple Leafs will look to continue their strong home ice play, when the NHL’s equivalent of the Golden Girls, the Detroit Red Wings are in town Saturday night.

AFTER LOSING 3, LEAFS STRIKE LIGHTENING FOR WIN!

By: Adam Basciano

Coming out of the Christmas break, the Toronto Maple Leafs played three road games to close out the 2011 calendar year.  Florida, Carolina, and Winnipeg were the opponents, and unfortunately all three teams got the better of the Blue and White on these occasions.  Despite the Leafs out-playing Florida, penalty problems threw away any chance of getting 2 points.  The loss in Carolina was far more disturbing as the Leafs had a 3-1 lead, with 10 minutes remaining in the third period.  Lackluster defensive coverage allowed Carolina to tie the game.  With a power play in overtime, Carolina won the game (but who didn’t see that coming?), 4-3.  In Winnipeg it was more of the same.  Although to be fair, the officiating was atrocious in this game.  At the rate they were going, the fans should have been given the refs whistles.

With James Reimer struggling these past 3 games, the Maple Leafs turned to Jonas Gustavsson against Tampa Bay at the Air Canada Centre.  The Leafs had a great night, winning their first game of 2012 by a 7-3 score.   The Leafs top line was putting up points in bunches.  Joffrey Lupul had a goal and three assists.  Tim Connolly notched two helpers, while Phil Kessel scored his 22nd goal of the year.  Dion Phaneuf and Matt Frattin each had a goal and an assist.  Carl Gunnarsson, Mikhail Grabovski, and Darryl Boyce all added goals to round out the scoring.   Boyce’s greatest contribution was his work on the penalty kill.  Several key blocked shots, and puck preassure led the Leafs to a perfect 5/5 on the PK. In net, Jonas Gustavsson made 21 saves for the victory.

The Leafs struggles recently, have landed them on the outside of the playoff race.  To get back into the top eight, they will need more efforts like this, starting with their next game against the Winnipeg Jets.

LEAFS LEAVE LONG ISLAND WITH 2 POINTS IN THEIR STOCKINGS!

By: Adam Basciano

The New York Islanders are a mediocre hockey team.  Check that, they are a terrible hockey team.  Their alternate jersey’s match their play on the ice, and for my money, are one of the ugliest in the NHL.  Long story short, on most nights the Maple Leafs should beat the Islanders, and that’s exactly what happened.

Most of the 5-3 win was built in the first period, as the Leafs dominated the opening period.  In fact, the Leafs scored three goals in the first 11:15 of  the period.  Dion Phaneuf and Tim Connolly combined with some beautiful passing to set up Clarke MacArthur for his 10th goal of the year.  On the power-play, Mikhail Grabovski and Jake Gardiner set up Nazem Kadri for a beauty of a backhand goal.  It was his second of the season, and his second in as many games. Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur were at it again, this time setting up a Carl Gunnarsson goal.  In the second period, the Islanders cut the Leafs lead to one before Joey Crabb converted a tic-tack-toe 2 on 1 short-handed play, restoring the two goal lead.  Once again the team in the ugly uniforms cut the lead to one.  The tag-team of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul delivered the empty-net insurance goal.  The goal was Lupul’s 16th goal of the season, and Kessel’s 41st point of the season.  James Reimer recorded his 7th win of the season stopping 30 shots.

The Leafs have 40 points heading into the holiday break.  They sit 6th in the Eastern Conference, currently holding a playoff spot.  That is a Merry Christmas indeed Leafs Nation!  

LEAFS CATCH BIEBER FEVER JUST IN TIME TO BURN SABRES!

By: Adam Basciano

Before their game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Maple Leafs came off a three game stretch that saw them manage a record of 0 – 2 – 1.  Last Friday saw them loose to the Sabres in Buffalo.  Despite matching up evenly, and carrying the play 5 on 5, penalty trouble gave the Sabres the 5 – 4 victory in regulation.  The very next night, the Leafs returned home to play the Vancouver Canucks. Despite keeping pace with the Canucks for most of the game, they are the better team and it showed.  The Leafs got bottled up in their own zone for long stretches of the game, ultimately leading to a 5-3 defeat.  Then the L.A. Kings came to town, and thoroughly outplayed the home team.  James Reimer’s 40 save performance secured a valuable point, before L.A. skated away with a 3-2 win in a shoot-out.

Things weren’t very festive in Leafs Nation.  Colby Armstrong and Philippe Dupuis suffered upper body injuries.  As a result Nazem Kadri and Darryl Boyce were called up from the AHL.  On the day prior to the rematch with Buffalo, self professed Leafs fan Justin Bieber practiced with the team.  Well, the Leafs caught Bieber fever and used it to burn the Buffalo Sabres for a 3-2 win.  David Steckel tied the game for the Leafs, and shortly thereafter, as the home crowd (including myself) heckled Ryan Miller, Phil Kessel scored his 20th goal of the season. The lead was short-lived as Buffalo equalized early in the third.  Nazem Kadri would make an immediate impact, as he picked a corner and snapped a shot past Ryan “Whiner” Miller.  James Reimer solidified the win with yet another 40 save performance.

On a side note, Leafs Nation aren’t the cry-babies other NHL cities make us out to be. We have Canucks fans over indulging in “medicinal” marijuana every decade, destroying their city when their team chokes in the final.  Montreal fans are creating an international incident because their interim head coach doesn’t speak french.  Do these morons not realize that their captain and owner are American, and probably don’t speak french either?  Then their’s Buffalo.  Every time one of their players gets hit, they expect the opposing player to get a suspension.  When they don’t, they whine from anywhere between a week to a month about it!  These are the same hockey markets that make fun of Leaf fans always lamenting over officiating.  I think you all need to suck it up, and grow a pair! In sports, sometimes things go your way, sometimes they dont…C’est la vie (hey, even I speak more french than the Habs coach).  As for the Sabres, if you really want to whine about something legitimate, tell your millionaire owner Terry Pegula to fix the decrepid streets that people need to take to your arena. I mean seriously, the streets are cracked and lack sidewalks, while bricks are falling off nearby buildings. There’s just a general feeling that one may get mugged going to your arena. 

The Leafs head to Long Island to take on the Islanders, in their last game before the Christmas holidays.

IT’S TIME FOR TIM’S: TIM CONNOLLY THAT IS!

By: Adam Basciano

The competition in the NHL these days is closer than its ever been.  You simply can’t take any team lightly anymore. Every team will play you hard, right until the final whistles.  All of these statements were proven true, during the Toronto Maple Leafs recent game against the Carolina Hurricanes.  Carolina sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, while the Leafs are currently 6th.  You would think given their standings, that it would be an easy two points for the Leafs?

The Blue and White did end up with 2 points but it took overtime to get them. Carolina net-minder Cam Ward was the only reason this game was even close, as he stopped 36 of 38 shots.  The Leafs eventually opened the scoring, with just over 4 minutes left in the game.  Tim Connolly deflected a Clarke MacArthur shot past Cam Ward.  Very shortly after that, Carolina tied the game on a power-play, thanks to former Leaf Alexei “I was useless for a decade in Toronto, and still am” Ponikarovsky.  The game went to overtime.  Tim Connolly scored his second of the game, thanks to hard work by Joffrey Lupul.  A booming slap shot, and relentless puck pressure by Lupul, allowed Connolly to tap home the game winner.  Connolly now has 6 goals and 15 points in 18 games this seasons.  Although James Reimer wasn’t nearly as busy as Cam Ward, he was reliable once again in net, stopping 18 of 19 shot.

The Maple Leafs will head to Buffalo to play their QEW rivals, before returning home to face the Vancouver Canucks.