Toronto Maple Leafs 2010-11: Week 18
You used to call me paranoid… Pressure
But even you can not avoid… Pressure – Billy Joel
Selected last in the All Star Fantasy Draft, Phil Kessel told James Duthie he wasn’t bothered by it. TSN donated $20Gs in Phil’s name, and gave him a new Honda, so maybe it was all good. Maybe, but you’d be hard pressed to tell.
In Saturday’s Skills Competition, Kessel was unremarkable. In Sunday’s All Star Game, just as unremarkable, taking 3 shots, going +1 and registering no points in an 11-10 win.
During the game, CBC released the results of the HNIC/NHLPA Players’ Poll. The Toronto franchise took a couple more slaps to its ego. The poll asked 318 players their thoughts on a variety of subjects. Toronto tied with Montreal for 5th, receiving 5% of the vote when players were asked where they’d least like to play. Worse, Ron Wilson got 24% of the vote when players were asked what coach they’d least like to play for. That’s about 76 people naming Ron Wilson. If the NHL has about 800 players playing, then 24% is almost 200 players. That’s significant.
Brian Burke defended his coach, quoting Wilson’s career stats and asserting that free agent signings were evidence enough that Wilson was not disliked nearly so much. Similarly, current Leafs speculated maybe the combination of Ron’s sarcastic style, the team’s place in the standings, and media coverage of Wilson makes him an easy name to answer.
It is a troubling result for the Maple Leafs. Wilson has coached in the NHL continuously since 1993, for 4 organizations. Along with his work with USA Hockey, it means Wilson has directly coached or coached against a large number of players currently in the NHL. I don’t know the exact numbers, but we can go back to Wilson’s 3rd year coaching and find 2 players still active, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. I am not saying I know those players were asked to be part of this poll, or that they named Wilson. I am simply saying that Wilson is a known commodity, many, many players know him directly. And of 318 randomly selected NHLers, almost 40% of the league, one quarter of them named Wilson as the coach they do not want to play for. Ultimately one must believe that not too many players think highly of the Leafs’ current head coach, 600 career wins or not.
The Maple Leafs hosted Florida in their first game back from the break. Giguere started in net, Reimer backed him up, and rumors flew the Monster may be headed for a conditioning stint in the AHL. Both teams came out firing, Florida getting 11 shots, Toronto 12 and 2 powerplays. But it was Versteeg opening the scoring, the first time in 11 games Toronto took the early lead. Versteeg grabbed a rebound that Scott Clemmensen could not find and banked it on off the goalie. Late in the first, Stephen Weiss got it back for Panthers, but only 23 seconds later, MacArthur dug the puck out and fed Kulemin who wired one in. David Booth snagged a powerplay goal, while Grabovski also scored on the man advantage to retake the lead in the second. An elbow penalty to Kessel allowed Florida to tie on a Cory Stillman goal. But, the Leafs hung on to get to a shootout, in which Booth’s spinaround goal was outmatched by Bozak and Armstrong, securing the 4-3 win. Giguere was very solid, making 30 saves, many in odd man rushes, to show he’s healed and ready to make a late season charge or be traded to a contending team.
Off the ice, the Leafs announced the re-signing of Mike Brown. Acquired last summer for a 5th round pick in the 2010 draft, Brown has been an energy guy on the 4th line, blocking shots, fighting, hitting, and contributing 2 goals and 3 assists. Signed to a 3 year contract, the 25 year old Brown will earn $2.21M, for a cap hit of $736.667, only slightly higher than his $537,000 cap hit. Despite missing almost 30 games, he’s been a fan favourite. With Colton Orr signed for 2 more seasons, the Leafs have 2 capable enforcer/checkers in their bottom 6 secured.
Also, the Leafs loaned Jerry D’Amigo to Kitchener of the OHL. D’Amigo has struggled with only 14 points in 41 games with the Marlies. The 19 year old also participated in the WJHC, winning a bronze and posting a goal and assist.
Next up, Carolina visited town. Reimer started, backed by Giggy. On this night the Leafs managed to put together a pretty complete game. A scoreless first period included a Jay Rosehill-Tim Gleason tilt, an answer for a punch by Gleason that laid Kulemin out last week. In the second, MacArthur took a pass into the high slot and wristed one past a heavily screened Cam Ward to make it 1-0. Penalties to Komisarek and Reimer put the Leafs down 2 men for 96 seconds, but a shot-blocking clinic by Tim Brent (3 shots blocked) as well as Schenn and Beauchemin (one each) gave the Leafs some jump. After a powerplay of their own, the Leafs went up 2-0 when Darryl Boyce fought his way along the board and cut in on Ward to score. Versteeg added one, and the Leafs outshot Carolina 41-27, while Reimer made some big saves, including one on Chad LaRose, to earn his first career shutout.
Friday morning, the Leafs did what many expected, and designated Jonas Gustavsson for a conditioning stint with the Marlies. While he has not had the opportunity to get his game back on track, Giguere and Reimer have been solid, even in the losses. With Reimer deserving play, and Giguere possible trade bait, Jonas has not been in the net since January 7. The move of Gustavsson to the Marlies also necessitates moving Ben Scrivens from the Marlies back to Reading of the ECHL. Gustavsson will have 14 days to try to correct his game and climb back into the mix for the future.
Saturday night down the QEW to Buffalo to play another team just ahead of the Leafs in the standings. And as usually happens in Buffalo, the Leafs were beaten in every aspect of the game, and by a team that played and lost the night before. Reimer got the start, but his team was outmatched early, with the Sabres creating and forcing turnovers. The numbers tell the story, as the Sabres outshot Toronto 43-25. Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford, Paul Gaustad, Tim Connolly, Stafford again and Thomas Vanek gave Buffalo a 6-2 win. Reimer was chased for the third, replaced by Giguere who gave up Vanek’s goal. It was 4-0 before Kulemin beat Miller shorthanded on a strange goal, and Beauchemin scored when the game was pretty much out of hand.
Tough week for Kessel. He’s had some decent scoring chances. But, he’s slumping again, not registering so much as a point this week.
Toronto Maple Leafs record: 21-26-5 – 47 pts (12th Eastern Conference, 26th overall)
Hot Leafs: Kulemin (2G, 2A), Versteeg (2G, A), Armstrong (3A)
Leading scorer: MacArthur (42 pts)
Goals: Grabovski (21)
Assists: Kaberle (30)
PIM: Orr (128)
Wins: Giguere (10)
GAA: Reimer (2.38)
Sv%: Reimer (0.929)
This week: Busy this week, at home to ATL, on the road to NYI, back home to NJ, and then into MTL for Hockey Day In Canada.