Toronto Maple Leafs 2010-11: Week 19
Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?
Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight – The Beatles
The February Blahs are here, and as sometimes happens with a struggling team, stories emerge that deal less with what happens on the ice and more with drama.
After being benched for part of Saturday’s game against Buffalo, mired in a goalless slump, Phil Kessel was quoted in the Toronto papers saying “I don’t really know what to say about that any more. I’m trying. Obviously, it’s not going right. It might not be working out here. What are you going to do?” When asked if he and the coach had discussed things, he replied “No, me and Ron don’t really talk. That’s all I have to say about that.” Did Phil just say he wants out of Toronto? He and the coach don’t talk? Leaf Nation wondered if the guy that cost them 3 draft picks – the potential to rebuild the franchise – was tying Brian Burke’s hands into accepting whatever was offered just to get Kessel out of town. By Monday, in full damage control mode, Kessel clarified, stating he absolutely wants to stay a Maple Leaf, and “obviously I’m frustrated, right? But in no sense did I ever mean I wanted a trade. I think when someone asked the question – ‘what do you think about your new line?’ – that’s what I meant. It was taken out of context, I guess.” On his relationship with Wilson, Kessel offered “We don’t talk, like, often. I don’t think anyone talks to the coach that often, right? I mean, some guys might, but I don’t. There’s no problem.” Oh, the drama.
On to hosting Atlanta to start a busy week. Thrashers are struggling, falling in the standings and the playoff chase. That did not stop them from scoring twice in the first period, once while Kessel was in the sin-bin. In fact, the Leafs were handed 6 first period penalties, and Atlanta enjoyed 2 separate 5-on-3 chances. Giguere and the penalty killers were up to the task, and were happy to be down only 2-0. The captain Phaneuf scored his first as a Leaf on home ice early in the second, followed by Grabovski’s team leading 22nd. Former Leaf Nik Antropov scored 39 seconds later, but Clarke MacArthur, on a new line, tied it up. Kulemin and Brent scored twice in the 3rd, Ladd getting only one back for Atlanta as the Leafs walked away with a 5-4 victory. Kessel had some chances but was pointless, and is trying to adapt to playing with Grabo and Kulie.
The following night, Leafs showed up in Long Island. This time the drama was from the Islanders. With the Nabokov situation still unresolved, goalie Kevin Poulin was injured before the game (his season is done due to a knee injury). Rookie Mikko Koskinen got his first NHL start, and the Isles had no backup on the bench until Joel Martin arrived from Bridgeport in the 3rd. Armstrong scored on the Leafs’ first shot, followed by Jay Rosehill on a deflection past Koskinen. Matt Moulson halved the lead in the first, and Michael Grabner tied it in the second. The game was fairly uneventful really, and the Leafs salted it away in the 3rd with goals coming from Kaberle on a wide open slapper, Kulemin setting a new career high with 20, and Fred Sjostrom rounding it out before Rob Schremp made the final 5-2. Reimer was solid, redeeming himself after Buffalo by stopping 32 of 34 NYI shots.
Wednesday morning, Burke moved before the deadline, trading Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul, prospect Jake Gardiner and a 4th round pick in 2013. Beauchemin had become a target for fans’ displeasure. Contrary to the solid defenseman of the ’07 Cup winning Duck team we thought we were getting, Beauch had developed a penchant for giving the puck away at the most inopportune times (though he’s not the only one). Despite playing significant minutes, Burke felt Beauch was expendable, and Keith Aulie brought up to round out the 7 d-man rotation. Beauchemin’s $3.8M cap hit is replaced by Joffrey Lupul’s larger $4.25M hit. Lupul, 27, is coming off back surgery and a serious infection. He is a 3 time 20-goal scorer that Burke knows, having had him in Anaheim before trading him for Chris Pronger. Lupul is signed through 2012-13, and is an automatic upgrade of Boyce and Crabb who had been playing top-6 roles. It is hoped Lupul will find his form and while he isn’t the centre Kessel needs, the Leafs now boast a collection of Lupul, Kessel, Grabovski, Kulemin, MacArthur and Versteeg as forwards who will likely all score 20 goals next season. Gardiner is not a blue-chipper, but was one of Anaheim’s top defense prospects. Still playing US College hockey, he is speedy and makes excellent passes. He will need to grow into his frame, and gain some strength to be considered a legit NHLer, but is now projected to be a decent top-4 blueliner. In another move, John Mitchell was waived to the Marlies to make a roster spot open for Aulie.
In other news, Jonas Gustavsson was pulled from his second start in the AHL, precautionary to monitor an irregular heartbeat. Leafs fans and brass have to hope this is not a recurrence of Jonas’ heart troubles that sidelined him early last season.
Leafs welcome a New Jersey Devils team that has climbed out of the basement, but is currently without Marty Brodeur (as well as Zach Parise injured and Jamie Langenbrunner traded). Don’t be fooled, the Devils are one of the hottest squads right now. Jacques Lemaire has New Jersey playing his familiar style – work the boards, clog the middle. It was a game of many shots (Devils 39, Leafs 32), and many missed opportunities. Joffrey Lupul had a couple in his first Leaf tilt, his finish just off enough to keep him off the scoresheet. Reimer made a number of saves to keep his team in the match, and in fact Kulemin’s 21st, from Grabovski and Kessel, gave the Leafs the lead in the second. But Dainius Zubrus tied it, and sent it to OT. Ilya Kovalchuk made a late rush, and at 4:36 of overtime, he managed to cross up Phaneuf and Aulie, and lofted a shot in that Reimer couldn’t quite stop. The win puts the Devils now 13 points back of 8th, while the point for the Leafs was valuable and gets them to within 7 points of a playoff spot.
Unfortunately, this team is unable to carry momentum for very long, and were terrible against a Montreal team that had been on a losing streak. Outshot 39-27, and in the game until the Habs scored twice in less than 2 minutes in the second, Toronto was on the wrong end of a 3-0 shutout. It gives the Leafs a league-leading 9th shutout this season, and highlights the scoring woes that tend to creep back into their game with regularity. Kessel’s goalless drought stretched to 14 games, and Lupul has yet to find his range in only 2 games. Giguere had a decent performance again, raising suspicions he may be of interest to a few teams with the deadline approaching. The loss leaves the Leafs still 8 points out of 8th in the East.
Toronto Maple Leafs record: 23-27-6 – 52 pts (12th Eastern Conference, 26th overall)
Hot Leafs: Kulemin (3G, 1A), Kaberle (1G, 3A), Armstrong (1G, 3A)
Leading scorer: MacArthur (44 pts)
Goals: Grabovski (22)
Assists: Kaberle (33)
PIM: Orr (128)
Wins: Giguere (11)
GAA: Reimer (2.39)
Sv%: Reimer (0.930)
This week: A tough week against 3 divisional opponents. Leafs visit Boston and Buffalo, 2 places they where wins are scarce, and home to Ottawa on Saturday.