Toronto Maple Leafs

Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Going from Coast-To-Coast to the most confusing of the new Alignments, the Atlantic. That contains exactly none of the Old Atlantic Division teams (all in the Metropolitan Division). Also, teams from Ontario & Michigan, which  are land-locked (and in Detroit’s case over 600 miles from the Ocean). The Atlantic isn’t the first body of water you’d associate with Buffalo, either. Anyway, it’s a strange mix of old North Eastern teams with a couple of terrible Floridians from the South East and an escapee from Western time-zone tyranny in the Red Wings.

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Winning By Default: Boxing with Blackhawks and Maple Leafs

"Increase my killing power, eh?" (Chicago Tribune)

I guess that’s what you get when pitting a struggling team against another whose name isn’t even grammatically correct.

Luckily for the Blackhawks, they got their suck out of the way in the first period before Toronto melted down and allowed the ‘Hawks to come away with a 5-4 win at the United Center on Wednesday night.

I’ll save you the goal-by-goal rundown and give a couple of quick thoughts:

♦   Johnny Oduya ended up even after going a minus-3 in the first period, including a goal that came on his first shift wearing the Indian head. However, Brent Seabrook didn’t do him any favors on the first two goals with misplays that led to Leafs goals.

I traded emails with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press regarding Oduya, and I’ll post his thoughts this afternoon, so check back later.

♦   Patrick Kane was solid all night and gave the ‘Hawks a spark with his play at center. His goal came on some clean up around the net after a Sami Lepisto shot. More of this please. Like, you know, always.

♦  Nice to see Andrew Shaw get on the board in his first game back, fighting off a check before circling to the near post and potting one. Also, his goaltender interference call followed by a roughing penalty was complete and total horseshit. Shaw’s rush to the net was aggressive and forced Jonas Gustavsson to move out of the crease, causing a collision with Shaw that was the result of aggressive play by both players. After that dog shit call, the refs gave Shaw a roughing call despite simply defending himself against Luke Schenn, who came from about 20 feet away from the play to blatantly attact Shaw behind the net.

♦   After the ‘Hawks tied it, Patrick Sharp committed a hockey sin by taking a horrible hooking penalty in the offensive zone before Chelsea Dagger finished playing after Shaw’s goal. Roughly 28 seconds later, the Leafs regained the lead.

♦   The importance of Marcus Kruger’s goal at the end of the first period may be overlooked the way the ‘Hawks were able to charge ahead through the rest of the game. His tally cut the lead to 3-2 and shifted momentum. Without the goal, the Leafs head into the second period with a two-goal lead and pretty much in control.

♦   That goal may have been especially important for the team’s psyche given Coach Q replaced Corey Crawford with Ray Emery to start the second period. Crawford allowed three goals on 10 shots, while Emery came in to make 24 saves over the last 40 minutes. You’ve got to think Emery is going to be the starter moving forward, and there’s no telling what’s going through Crawford’s head right now after being pulled in two straight.

With 17 games remaining now is the time to commit to the goaltender not hurting you the most, as sad as that sounds. It seems Emery is the one at this point. Someone needs to take the reigns heading into the postseason, and Razor is the closest thing the ‘Hawks have to a playoff goalie. Not to say he’s the answer given his struggles this season, but no team heads into the stretch run and into the playoffs using a pair of goaltenders – unless you’re St. Louis with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Emery has to be the one Q commits to now, in my opinion. We’ll see what happens, though.

All right, here’s Boxing….

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Sinking Fast: Slumping Blackhawks Host Nose-Diving Maple Leafs

Photo: Associated Press

In a perfect world, Mikhail Grabovski would be skating out on to the ice at the United Center on Wednesday night wearing the Indian Head sweater. Such is not the case, as Chicago failed to acquire the playmaking forward that it needs at the trade deadline. Chicago fans will get a chance to see Grabs, however: he and the Leafs will be making a rare appearance at the UC, their first since November of 2009.

The bad news is that Toronto has been a team that, like the ‘Hawks, has had streaks of unstoppability during the season. The good news is, now is not one of those times. The Leafs have notched a win only once in the last 10 games, a losing streak severe enough to drop them to 10th place in the East and out of playoff contention.

Those familiar with the Maple Leafs are aware that February is usually when any successful Leafs squad starts to implode, and this year is no exception. They have wheeled the defibrillator and the oxygen cart into Damien Cox’s cube at the Star.

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Two Unstoppable Forces: Winning Streaks Clash in Toronto

Photo: CBC

What the Blackhawks have done the last 10 games in the Western Conference, the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in the East. With who’s-THIS-fucking-guy goaltender James Reimer between the pipes, the Leafs have surged to a 6-1-3 record over their last ten games. After having been written off for another year by pretty much everyone as recently as the All-Star Break, they are now within 4 points of a playoff spot.

Tonight the Leafs play host to the similarly-resurgent Chicago Blackhawks, setting up a Clash of the Titans in the NHL’s broadcast media Coliseum: an Original-Six matchup on CBC’s Saturday night edition of Hockey Night in Canada. The only thing that would make this more perfect is if it were at Maple Leaf Gardens. But alas, time marches on.

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Comparing the Blackhawks to the Florida Marlins is downright stupid

I know. The Blackhawks are 23 days removed from winning the Stanley Cup, and  Stan Bowman is crossing faces off the team photo like  Ace Ventura. It’s a lot to handle for ‘Hawks fans to see pieces of a championship team sent packing by management for financial reasons.

Nobody wanted to see it, yet everyone expected it. Now, nobody wants to accept it. Well, get over it. Panic all you want, but you knew this was coming — and there may be more, too.

The Atlanta Blackhawks Thrashers will sport at least five Stanley Cup rings next season with  Dustin Byfuglien,  Brent Sopel,  Ben Eager and now  Andrew Ladd (who has another ring with Carolina). Combine those departures with the trades of  Kris VERSTEEG! to the Toronto Maple Leafs and  Colin Fraser to the Edmonton Oilers,  then add  Adam Burish’s defection to the Dallas Stars, and you’ve got the recipe for one hostile fan base.

Yes, the Blackhawks are ridding themselves of salary by dumping it on other teams at cost of losing contributors to a Stanley Cup champion. But to compare the ‘Hawks to the Florida Marlins, who broke apart two World Series championship teams? C’mon.

From  Puck Daddy  Greg Wyshynski:

Worst Dismantling: The trade of Andrew Ladd to the Atlanta Thrashers marks the sixth player from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to be traded this offseason. The Florida Marlins comparisons are starting to inch toward validity.

I normally agree with 90 percent of what Wyshynski writes. But to use the word “validity” in regards to the comparison is down right ridiculous. Trading players is one thing, but the Blackhawks have their core intact — something the Marlins failed to do. If this was meant as a joke, great. It should have been mentioned as such.

If any of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa or  Brent Seabrook were sent packing, then the comparison could be “valid.” Count  Patrick Sharp,  Antti Niemi and  Niklas Hjalmarsson as large pieces of the puzzle who are staying in Chicago to defend the title, and you’re still looking at a hell of a contender.

The main point is this: I’m not sure if the Blackhawks are a worse team with these subtractions. The hockey world lauded the ‘Hawks depth last season and through the playoffs. A team with depth can rid itself of some spare parts. Replacing the aforementioned traded commodities with suitable NHL-ready players whose names may not be as familiar isn’t such a bad thing. People forget they complained about Byfuglien and Versteeg during roughly 50 regular season games. Because they scored some goals in the playoffs means they’re irreplaceable? Gimme a break.

Before everyone blows a fart in the direction of Stan Bowman’s face, they should do a bit of research. Byfuglien was once your whipping boy for being lazy, and Versteeg was an unknown until he came out of nowhere as a regular and Calder Trophy finalist two years ago.

What’s to say the next wave of role players can’t win your heart? After all, the Marlins dismantled their ENTIRE roster and won another World Series. The Blackhawks are letting go of replaceable assets, not the core. In my book, this is still the best team in the Western Conference, hands down.

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