Saturday, October 21, 2006

You wanted cowbell

What a difference a year makes! 1/10th into the season and the Leafs and Senators are moving in opposite directions. The Sens bloggers are doing an excellent job of kicking the Senators while they are down so I will talk up the Leafs (surprise, surprise).
First, let's give credit where credit is due - John Ferguson was very smart is trading Tukka Rask to the Bruins for Andrew Raycroft. I am on record that the Leafs missed the playoffs last year because Ed Belfour did not provide NHL calibre goaltending. Further, whether the Leafs make the playoffs this year will be determined by the same criteria. So far Andrew Raycroft is providing more than the Leafs could hope for (and I am not just saying that because I have him in the pool).
The second smart move (but by this point necessary) was to replace Pat Quinn with Paul Maurice. The Leafs are playing with more intensity that they have displayed in years. This team cannot win on talent alone and they seem determined to never be outworked (leaving a game against Colorado aside).
Ferguson's moves on defense cannot be judged due to injury to Pavel Kubina but Hal Gill has not been as bad as advertised. But any defense that has Wade Belak on it is a cause for concern. Further power play needs a second unit which Ian White may be capable of but no one else seems to be (until Kubina gets back). Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle have to do a lot more offensively though.
As for the forwards it seems the city of Toronto has finally realized what they have in Mats Sundin. It has taken almost a decade for him to get out from the shadow of Doug Gilmour and paring him with Kyle Wellwood (and the extra minutes) have helped his play. However the coaching staff is still searching for a third. Darcy Tucker is excellent with them on the power play but they seem disinclined to load up even strength. Alexei Ponikarovsky has already flamed out in this role as his foot speed and finishing are not up to the task. For the game in Columbus last night Alex Steen was tried for no other purpose, it seems, than to get him back to playing to last years level after a disappointing start. As my brother says he is all Swede and no Finnish right now.
I have been pleasantly surprised with the play of Michael Peca. He won't provide enough in the way of offense but he is valuable as a shut down centre. Matt Stajan has his good games and bad games and it is unclear which direction Jeff O'Neill is going in. The Leafs must be happy with the play of Bates Battaglia and Chad Kilger though.
So all in all the Leafs have surpassed expectations and if they can keep playing this hard the should be able to get a low seed into the playoffs.

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