Archive for February, 2012
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
By: David Alter
Not even the expiration of the NHL’s trade deadline was enough to loosen the Maple Leafs, as they dropped their eighth game in their last nine, falling to the Panthers 5-3.
13 seconds. It only took 13 seconds for the energy to be completely sucked out of the Air Canada Centre. after Luke Schenn whiffed on a clearance attempt in his own zone, only to cough up the puck to Wojtek Wolski, who would then find a wide open Marcel Goc to open the scoring.
“That’s obviously my fault, I messed up there pretty bad the first shift” said Schenn. “It’s a routine play normal D-to-D play, move the puck up the wall and I’ve just got no excuse for it, it’s just a bad play.”
2:08 later, the Leafs found themselves in familiar territory as of late. Down 2-0, Mike Santorelli would break through for a goal (one of two on the night) and James Reimer (confidence already at its’ lowest) had given up two goals on the opening two shots of the hockey game.
As it did on Saturday night, this deficit resulted in Bronx cheering toward Reimer whenever he’d make the routine save. It was the old story fans have been used to seeing over the few weeks… A 2-0 deficit in the opening period, the sixth time that has occurred in the Leafs last seven games.
“It’s sometimes tough as a player you never want to hear that” Reimer said about the fans reaction. “But at the same time they’re the ones paying the money, they make the game exciting. They bring the atmosphere so if we’re not playing up to their standards, who are we to say you can’t boo?”
Reimer wasn’t the only one to feel the wrath of the fans. Ron Wilson heard it plenty with the loudest “Fire Wilson” chants heard at the ACC since he signed on to be the bench boss a little under four years ago.
“It’s frustrating but it’s understandable,” said Wilson about the chants. “Everyone’s frustrated right now. We didn’t do anything at the trade deadline and we came out tentative to say the least. This was a game where we focused on the positive pressure with 20 games to go, we got behind and we didn’t help ourselves at all.”
The Panthers didn’t need to play well at all following the cushion. Joffrey Lupul had a goal and assist. He appeared to have scored late in the first period, which would have given the Leafs some momentum going into the second, only to have it disallowed for kicking the puck into the net. At that point, nothing was going right for Toronto. The end result seemed inevitable.
The Leafs are sputtering at the worst possible time, and to have the trade deadline come and go with no changes makes you feel a little uneasy about the events that transpired…ESPECIALLY, early in the game.
“It was a tough month for guys in our room, that’s not an excuse that’s the reality of playing in a big market like Toronto” said captain Dion Phaneuf when asked if his team is fragile from a mental standpoint. “There’s a lot of media coverage and a lot of rumours and as a group a lot of guys had a lot more stress than they needed. But that’s the business of the game playing in a big market. It’s over, that can’t be used as an excuse. We talked about this being a fresh start, 20 games remaining and we wanted to start well and we didn’t and fell behind and couldn’t get back.”
Leafs GM Brian Burke was adamant that he wasn’t contemplating a coaching change. But if this slide continues, you can bet he’ll start reconsidering. The Leafs are now four points out of the playoffs with 19 games to go.
Social Media Chants
The loudest chants for Fire Wilson didn’t come at the ACC, but online with #firewilson reaching as high as sixth for worldwide trends.
Jonas Gustavsson will start in Chicago. Wilson insists this was the plan from the beginnng given the back-to-back days. There will be a “couple” of changes to the Leafs lineup but Wilson wouldn’t say what those were except for the goaltending.
Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
By: David Alter
The Maple Leafs felt a little looser at their morning skate, just a day removed from the NHL trade deadline.
“Some guys are just relieved” said defenceman Jake Gardiner. “I think everybody is relieved they didn’t get traded, that we have the same group here and we’re going to battle together.”
The Leafs have dropped eight of their last nine games, a slide that have seen them drop to tenth in the Eastern Conference standings. Head Coach Ron Wilson insists that there will be a significant difference in the team with the negativity of trade talk now in the past.
“It’s a different kind of pressure” says Wilson when comparing the difference between the pressure of possibly being dealt rather than the pressure of trying to make the playoffs. “This should be the type of pressure you enjoy, you know you’re going to be here and you’re trying to make the playoffs. This is positive pressure. Trade deadline is usually negative pressure.”
Reimer All The Way?
The most glaring issue for the Maple Leafs remains in goal. James Reimer will make his third consecutive start tonight and it appears Reimer will get a bulk load of the starts going forward.
“I’m going to try and get Reims going here” said Wilson. “All these rumours over the past couple of weeks have shown that they were nothing but rumours.”
Nothing unusual here. It’s clear Leafs staff is doing everything they possibly can to instill some confidence in Reimer. Unless he has a terrible game that results in a loss, you will see Reimer back between the pipes the following night.
Mike Komisarek will be back in the lineup tonight after being a healthy scratch for the past four games.
“Whether you are or your not (playing) you could sit there and analyze things and over think” said Komisarek. “At the end of the day, coach is going to go with who can win you hockey games. All you can do is wait for your opportunity and be ready, that’s all you can control.”
Komisarek had been a healthy scratch for an additional six games before he was inserted into the lineup for a pair of games in February. Cody Franson will serve as a healthy scratch on D tonight.
Colby Armstrong will also sit tonight.
Deal Soon for Grabovski?
Leafs GM Brian Burke says he is confident he can get a deal done with Mikhail Grabovski before the end of the season. Grabovski is set to become an unrestricted free agent and Burke elected to keep him on the team despite the risk of potentially losing him for nothing. All signs are that deal appears to be close.
“I’m very happy Brian gave me a chance to play here until the end of this season so I’m going to do my best and play really hard” says Grabovski, who also admitted that while he’s tried to ignore all the rumours he found it difficult to avoid. “I think I found more pressure when my wife said something” Grabovski joked. “Right now my head is thinking about getting points and winning the games, that’s more important than anything.”
The relief of staying in Toronto for the remainder of the season is something the Grabovski camp really appreciates. So much so, that the demands from his camp may soften as both sides now seem optimistic that a deal will get done sooner rather than later.
With all the calls for Ron Wilson’s head, it’s hard to deny the career he has had. Tonight he will coach his 1400th NHL game, it will also put him in a tie for fourth all-time alongside Pat Quinn.
The Florida Panthers leading scorer will be kept out of the lineup tonight after suffering a lower-body injury. Versteeg has three goals in six career games against his former team. Jose Theodore will be between the pipes for Florida
Monday, February 27th, 2012
By: David Alter
In the midst of the team’s most difficult slide of the season, Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke decided to stand pat, making no moves involving his existing roster.
“All the teams we are chasing took people out of their room and brought people in they felt could do the job better and we elected not to do that” says Burke. “If I’m a member of the Leafs I look at this as an endorsement from management that this group is capable of making the playoffs.”
The Maple Leafs made a pair of moves at the minor-league level, first shipping defenceman Keith Aulie to the Tampa Bay Lightning for forward prospect Carter Ashton.
Aulie immediately joined ‘Tim and Sid’ expressing his surprise at the move.
“I didn’t really expect this to happen,” said Aulie. “I think lots of guys work through their agents to see if anything is going on but I’ve never been a guy who’s interested in it to be honest. I just like to play my game and that’s why I’m pretty shocked today”
In Carter, the Maple Leafs acquire a power-forward with lots of upside. He was selected 29th overall by the lightning in the 2009 draft. Carter has yet to play a game in the NHL but all indications are that he may be brought up sooner rather than later.
“Our scouts have been pushing this guy on me for awhile” Burke said. “We feel the emergence of a couple of guys with the Marlies plus the draft picks, it gave us enough depth on D to make this trade possible. he’s a big body guy that can skate, he can finish, he’s got some sand.”
Burk added that he feels defenceman Korbinian Holzer is “NHL Ready.”
The other move saw the Leafs and Ducks trade former third-round draft choices. Forward Dale Mitchell moves to Anaheim in exchange for defenceman Mark Fraser.
Burke On Goaltending Situation
Burke is hoping James Reimer will snap out of his recent funk and confirmed his commitment to his goaltenders.
“Nothing presented itself. We were presented with a trade offer three days ago on James Reimer which we rejected immediately” says Burke. “From my perspective, James Reimer is the real deal despite the fact that he is scuffling a little bit right now. And we wouldn’t be in the hunt with Jonas Gustavsson. He’s the reason this team is in the hunt and we are in the hunt right now. We believe (Reimer) will be a key asset for us going down the road.”
Another Burke Imposed Deadline?
Burke has a self-imposed trade deadline several days before the actual Christmas deadline to put his players at ease that they won’t be moved close to the holidays. According to Burke, the trade talk has reached such a fever pitch, that it has him thinking about another self-imposed deadline.
“I think it’s remarkable that players have kept their focus through this time” says Burke. “I think the trade deadline is hard on players but I think it’s murder on players in Toronto. We just had a serious debate if we are going to do this ten days earlier so they can relax. It’s crazy here. I don’t know how a player focuses here. Not sure if this is the right move to make because we don’t want to tie our hands but we just had a lengthy conversation imposing out our own deadline here.”
Surely this won’t relieve most Leaf fans who were expecting a change at the current level. The Leafs have dropped eight of their past nine games but Burke is insistent that the group in the room can achieve the goal of making it to the post-season.
“We’re sticking to the blue print here” says Burke. “There is nothing in my mind that would have made us better today.”
Burke also says he hasn’t been contemplating a change at the coaching position. If the team doesn’t advance to the post-season then there will be more things to re-evaluate, not just the coach. The GM is also confident he can reach a deal with impending UFA Mikhail Grabovski before season’s end.
The Entire Brian Burke Audio Below
While the Leafs didn’t add immediate help, the Leafs will adjust their lineup by putting Mike Komisarek into tomorrow’s game against the Panthers. Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson didn’t indicate who would come out, but Luke Schenn appeared to be the odd man out during practice drills.
Joffrey Lupul took part in a practice for the first time in over a week. He’s been playing through a sore ankle. Today he was seen sporting a soft-cast on his wrist but he was able to practice regardless. Lupul says he is fine.
Gardiner and Frattin to see Post-Season Action
While the Maple Leafs chances remain in limbo, two current players will definitely see playoff time as Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin were temporarily sent-down in order to appear on the Marlies Clear Day Roster. The move ensures both will be able to take part in the AHL playoffs upon the conclusion of the Leafs season.
Monday, February 27th, 2012
Sunday, February 26th, 2012
By: David Alter
In a battle of team’s scrambling for one of the final playoff spots, it was the Capitals who showed more desperation as they beat down the Leafs 4-2.
It didn’t take long for the Capitals to expose the Maple Leafs difficulties on defence as of late. Marcus Johansson would go for a ride around the Leafs net completely uncontested, breezing by defenceman Dion Phaneuf and beating goaltender James Reimer just 32 seconds into the game.
A little over three minutes later. Alexander Semin would pick Luke Schenn’s pocket, deep in Toronto’s zone. Semin would then beat Reimer and the Leafs would find themselves down 2-0 in the first period for the fifth time in the last six games.
“The two goals early in the game were stoppable” said Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson. “We’re always kind of waiting for something bad to happen on the goal line and we have to find a way to get over that… Simple.”
The second period would play out similarly to the first. The third Washington goal came from Jeff Halpern, when the Leafs defence was hemmed in after Luke Schenn lost his stick. Keith Aucoin would then score the Caps fourth goal, his first goal of the season on a pretty tic-tac-toe play from Johansson and Alex Ovechkin.
The Leafs would show some urgency in the third period but by that time the damage was done and the same problems linger.
For a team lacking confidence, the hope out of this game was for James Reimer to establish a bit of confidence. This type of game couldn’t help.
“We knew this was a big game” said Reimer. “It’s frustration, they’re a team that was playing last night if we jumped on there early it could have been 4-2 the other way.”
Reimer was classy in response to the fans reaction to his saves when a routine stop would induce a bronx cheer at the ACC.
“They’re been pretty loyal to us and pretty loyal to me. Their the ones that pay the money they’re the ones that derserve to have the guys try and play well in front of them me included. If they feel I wasn’t playing up to snuff and they want to give it to me that’s their right. If that’s the thing to do then that’s the thing to do. I was a fan once too so it’s all good.”
It’s clear that the players are playing a little tighter and a slump will do that. Just how much of it has to do with the trade deadline, which comes at 3pm eastern on Monday.
“When other things aren’t going well and you’re worried that you’ll be the one that gets moved to improve in some way, yeah a young team is going to be affected by that” says Wilson. “The rumours will be gone and what they have to answer to, it’s a month now where the trade deadline (talk) goes on. What the players have to answer to on a daily basis will be gone.”
For all the criticism on the back-end the Leafs haven’t done their part offensively. After tonight, the team is 3/34 on the power-play for the month of February. Previously in the top-5 in that category, the team has fallen out of the top-10 for the first time since the beginning of the season.
Saturday, February 25th, 2012
By: David Alter
The Columbus Jackets have claimed C Darryl Boyce off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto had put Boyce along with Jay Rosehill on waivers yesterday. Rosehill went unclaimed and has been sent down to the Marlies of the AHL.
Boyce was initially signed to an AHL contract back in 2007. He impressed quickly, prompting then Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. to sign Boyce to a two-way entry level contract.
A hard worker, Boyce bounced a round a lot between the big club and the minors. He’s a solid fourth-line player and helped the team improve on their penalty kill. Columbus holds the worst PK in the league and saw value in Boyce.
Matt Frattin has been called up and should be inserted into the lineup tonight against the Capitals. Frattin has been on fire as of late with the Marlies, having scored six goals in his past eight games. Frattin won a job with the Leafs straight out of training camp. In 37 games with the Leafs this season, Frattin has registered five goals and five assists.
Matthew Lombardi and Joffrey Lupul were both present at the Leafs’ morning skate and both are good to go for tonight. James Reimer gets the nod in goal.
The Leafs host the Washington Capitals tonight at the Air Canada Centre. Both teams are currently tied 65 points. Washington holds the tie-breaker for ninth in the East, having more regulation wins (29) compared to the Leafs (26).
Friday, February 24th, 2012
By: David Alter
Just three days ahead of the NHL’s trade deadline, the Maple Leafs made a pair of moves, placing Darryl Boyce and Jay Rosehill on waivers.
Rosehill, has spent a majority of this season as a healthy scratch. He didn’t register a single point in 16 games and has played in just one game since December 19th.
Darryl Boyce was called up in late December, after he initially lost out on a roster spot to Philippe Dupuis. Boyce spent time as a fourth-liner and penalty kill, but managed just a goal and an assist in 17 games.
“We wanted to clear up some space,” says Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson. “We’re going to promote a guy once those other guys have cleared waivers and we want to bring in someone who’s going to give us a bit of a spark. We’ve been thinking about a callup for a couple of days now and this just clears the way.”
While the player they call up wasn’t revealed, the general feeling is we could see Matt Frattin make a return to the Leafs lineup. He has 12 goals in just 21 games with the Marlies and six goals in his last eight games. Frattin has ten points in 37 games with the Leafs this season.
The call-up will not be able to take part with the Maple Leafs during the morning skate, as a move will not be able to be made until noon tomorrow when both Rosehill and Boyce would be expected to clear.
Joffrey Lupul missed his third consecutive practice as he continues to deal with a nagging ankle injury. Matthew Lombardi missed his second straight practice with an undisclosed injury, although it was hinted he might have the flu.
Colby Armstrong should be back in the lineup according to the Wilson, as a result of the moves. Armstrong has been a healthy scratch for four of the past six games.
James Reimer will get the nod in goal against the Washington Capitals following a 23 save performance in a losing cause to San Jose.
Important to Note
The Leafs are only allowed four call-ups for the rest season following 12:01am on Monday. Making the call-up tomorrow before Monday ensures that they won’t use any of those up. Monday is also the AHL Clear Day. This is where the Marliess have to have 22 players on their active roster that they would list as eligible for the AHL Playoffs. There is a good possibility they would burn one of their callups by sending down Jake Gardiner for a day, so he’d be eligible for the AHL Playoffs once the Leafs are eliminated. This way the stud defenceman gets some playoff experience regardless of where he is.
Monday represents the maximum amount of space for the Leafs under the cap. While they have just a little under $1.5 million in cap space before the recent waiver moves, the actual amount they can absorb for the rest of the season will be multiplied by 4.625 (185 days divided by 40 days in which they would be paying that players salary for that particular year.) Frattin’s NHL cap hit is the exact is $1.3 mill, the exact same as Rosehill and Boyce combined. The Leafs would have just over $7 million in cap space the way it looks right now in order to acquire salary at the deadline.
Friday, February 24th, 2012
By: David Alter
The Maple Leafs had a pretty decent showing against the San Jose Sharks, but when you are in the middle of a dog fight for one of the final playoff spots and you in the midst of a funk, a good loss provides little solace for a team desperate for points.
The Leafs and Sharks both played tentative in the first period. In the second, Patrick Marleau would score twice, giving the Sharks a 2-0 lead.
Through 40 minutes the Leafs mustered just 14 shots on goal. The third period saw the Maple Leafs play with a lot more urgency.
Mike Brown and Jim Vandermeer would get involved in a scrap early in the frame. Shortly after that, Jake Gardiner would score his fourth of the season (third for the month of February) to cut the lead to one. That would be all the Leafs would get in terms of goals, as Antti Niemi managed to see most of the pucks in front of him and make 15 saves in the third period, allowing the Sharks to hold on for the win.
“As the game goes it seems like we get a little better” said Tyler Bozak. “Maybe we have to prepare a little better and get ready to go right off the first drop of the puck.”
James Reimer made 23 saves in a decent performance. With all the attention focused on the Leafs goaltending struggles, Reimer says he keeps himself isolated from what is being said about him by the media and fans.
“Ignorance is Bliss” said Reimer quoting a line from ‘The Matrix.’ I know obviously there are comments floating around but I don’t know what they are and I don’t care what they are.”
Head Coach Ron Wilson is hoping a solid performance put in by Reimer will be enough for the goaltender to gain his confidence back.
“I hope so,” says Wilson. “There weren’t many scoring chances, we played well, kept them to the perimeter except for a couple of times. We need a win somehow and performance like that in front of James should be good for his confidence.”
Bottom line…the urgency wasn’t there until the final 20 minutes of the hockey game. The Leafs played well defensively but the Sharks burned them with their few opportunities. The Leafs’ focus on their play in the back-end seemed to take away from their flare offensively. Typically this type of performance would be an acceptable loss.
The Leafs have now dropped seven out of their last eight games, a span where they have picked up only three points out of 16 available (0.188 percentage). Key conference matches are coming up beginning with Capitals on Saturday.
Expect Reimer to get another start on Saturday, perhaps some other changes may come with respect to Komisarek and Armstrong who were again, healthy scratches.
Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
By: David Alter
It’s James Reimer’s turn to try and help the Leafs get a win tonight, as they host the San Jose Sharks.
Yesterday Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson, Ron Wilson and Goaltending Coach Francois Allaire all spoke at length about the recent struggles in goal. Today, Reimer was not made available to speak after the morning skate.
During the off-season, Leafs GM Brian Burke elected to not pick up a goaltender, instead going with the tandem of James Reimer (an unproven number one) and Jonas Gustavsson (a tenure that has been more down than up.) Reimer hasn’t been the same since suffering a concussion early in the season, while Gustavsson has played well at times, but has looked pretty bad in certain situations (see three of four goals vs. New Jersey.)
“Our goaltenders confidence hasn’t been there for the last couple of weeks” said Head Coach Ron Wilson. “A good game will probably turn that around. James gets the start tonight, he’s got to stop pucks, he knows that. All the other stuff he can’t control, he can only control how well he plays.”
Last season, Reimer put in a 40 save performance in a Leafs 4-2 victory in San Jose. The win gave Ron Wilson his 600th in his NHL coaching career. Antti Niemi will counter for the Sharks. He was the goaltender for the Sharks in last year’s game in which he made just 22 saves on 25 shots.
Mike Komisarek, Colby Armstrong and Jay Rosehill will be the scratches again for the Leafs.
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
By: David Alter
An innocent looking shoot-in from Mark Fayne turned into an overtime winner as the Leafs dropped their sixth game in their last seven, falling 4-3 to the New Jersey Devils.
Having just helped his team force an overtime session, Jonas Gustavsson had a difficult time with the Fayne shot. The puck would bounce towards the goaltender and as Gustavsson shifted to the left to play it, that would be all she wrote. A bounce, and into the goal…Game Over.
“I think it skipped on the ice, I don’t know I haven’t seen the replay, but it’s not supposed to go in anyways” said a dejected Gustavsson. “It’s too bad, the guys worked hard to get back in the game and that happens. I feel bad.”
With the Maple Leafs trailing by a goal after 40 minutes, the ‘Monster’ appeared to be turning his game around. He made several game saving stops, including a breakaway save off Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk and Gustavsson would stop his own rebound when Zach Parise came in unimpeded.
“We just have to do a better job of supporting our goaltenders,” said Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson who also pointed out that the opponents will become tougher down the stretch. “We’ve got a team like San Jose coming in, you can count on them getting 40 or 45 shots towards the net so we have to figure out a way of helping out goalies out at practice next and go from there.”
The Leafs went down 2-0 in the first period before Tim Connolly would cut lead down to a single goal going into the first intermission.
In the second period, the Leafs defensive coverage would get into all kinds of trouble. They managed to hold their own for awhile, but former Leaf Alexei Ponikarovski would give New Jersey a 3-2 lead, by putting in a seemingly harmless shot from the slot through Gustavsson’s legs.
“I didn’t know how long he was going to keep walking there,” says Gustavsson. I was kind of in between on the push to the right and it went through my legs. It’s one of those goals, when you’re hot you stop those. Of course you don’t want to let in a goal late in a period.”
A game like this begs the question of how you manage who plays in goal going forward.
“I don’t know it’s hard place to play goal” said Wilson. “We have to find a way to them settled down and get them confidence, get them to the top of the crease and go from there.”
Of course the message from the coach to his goaltending after a night like this is pretty clear.
“Work hard in practice, you have to work hard in practice and correct your mistakes, you’ve got to be focused going in not thinking bad things are going to happen” Wilson said. “Nail down your style down, be aggressive, you’re going to make mistakes, don’t make passive mistakes.”
Expect Reimer to go back in goal Thursday in San Jose. Perhaps other changes could be in the works, but one thing was clear. Wilson was not happy with the goaltending on this night, and while he’s got to protect the confidence of his goaltenders, it’s hard to look past the man in the mask on this night.