We’ve Got A Team

It’s between the second and third period of the game against the Penguins as I type this.  The Leafs are up 4-3 following another late period surge by the Penguins.

I am prepared to decree that we have a team.  We have a team that skates hard and forces turnovers.  We have a team that plays together.  We have a team that is able to play reasonably competent team defence.  We have a team that can play a smart road game – ignore the fact the zebras are screwing you, play with urgency but also discipline, pounce on the chances you get, take an early lead to get the crowd out of it and above all, stick to the plan.

We’ve got a team.

Think of this: the team effort and systematic forecheck that the Leafs have managed to consistently rely on has tonight masked relatively weak efforts by Kessel and Bozak.  Kessel has been mostly a non-factor in this game so far, but it hasn’t mattered because guys like Mike Brown, Clarke MacArthur, Mike Zigomanis, Colby Armstrong and Tim Brent have been busting their butts, causing havoc (and lots of turnovers).

Our team dominated the first half of the first period so thoroughly, the Penguins didn’t have a shot on net until the fourth minute of a Luke Schenn high-sticking double minor.  Poor fortune saw the shot go in, and worse fortune saw the Penguins (who seemed to briefly come out of a coma following that goal) add another late in the period.  Refusing to surrender, the Leafs stormed back out in the second period and once again imposed their will on the Penguins with speed and determination.  They regained the lead and The Monster came up with an enormous post-to-post save on Max Talbot (UPDATE: right, except that the save was on Pascal Dupuis, as NHLCheapshot points out in the comments below) to preserve a one goal margin at the time.  Shortly thereafter the Leafs counterpunched again and built the lead to 4-2 on a bang bang pass from Grabovski to MacArthur in front of the Pittsburgh net.

The Penguins turned up the heat late in the second and for the last four minutes or so of the period, carried the play.  Gustavsson came up with another huge save on Malkin on a play that saw Malkin awarded a try from the penalty spot – that the enigmatic Russian promptly fired wide.  A late marker from Crosby (on which the Monster could not be faulted) raised the possibility of a third period collapse and a mere moral victory.

It could still happen.  As I type this, there are 14:00 left in the third period, and it has to be said that the Penguins look more desperate and a bit more organized.  Orr has left the game after getting clobbered by Engellard (who?) and Grabovski has taken a shot off the foot, leaving the Leafs possibly undermanned.  Clarke MacArthur has just deposited the puck in the stands to give the Pens a power play.

But I don’t think it’s going to happen.  I believe in this team.  I believe in them so much, I’ve switched seats in my living room.  They can overcome any jinx that would ordinarily prevail.  The Leafs will win this game and go 3-0.

Maple Leafs 2010-2011: Game On(e)!

Watched the Leafs’ home opener last night; originally scheduled to be at a prenatal class, my plans changed when Spouse came down with a cold. Because of work thingys, I ended up getting home a little late, which was fine because we could PVR the game. It rocks skipping over commercials, and my timing was pretty awesome because I ended up catching up to real time right in the middle of the second intermission, so I could watch the end of the game with my virtual peeps at PPP.

From scanning the Interwebs earlier today, there seems to be a lot of angst out there about the opening ceremonies before last night’s game.  Whatever, I zoomed over most of the malarkey before the game.  Was happy to see the 48th Highlanders still a part of opening night tradition, and I stopped fast forwarding (that’s a verb, right?) when I got to the part with the water from all the ponds being collected and used to make the Leafs’ ice.

Say what you will; yes, it’s corny and cheesy, but I liked it.  I liked that the whole ice surface got turned into water by the lighting effect.  I liked it (among other reasons) because Spouse pointed out that water douses fire, and the Habs do that thing where Brian Gionta a much larger child skates around with the torch before a game, then touches it down at centre ice and sets the ice “aflame”.  Water douses fire, as sure as paper beats rock.  Eat it, Habs.

Thoughts about the game:  Gunnarsson was bad.  Schenn looked shaky at times, as did Beauchemin in the early going (though I thought Francois turned it around later in the game, with one notable exception I’ll talk about in a minute).  Komisarek was awful.  Kaberle was excellent, showing on a couple of smooth solo forays up the ice the apparently effortless way he can dart somehow calmly up ice past all (or at least most) defenders in a flash.  Terrific.  Phaneuf had a solid first game as Captain, I thought.

At forward, there was less that was remarkable.  Nice to see Tim Brent notch a goal to start this season;  it would be nice if that were some sort of omen about this mostly under-talented team adopting a lunchpail mentality and chipping in with a concerted effort to score by committee as and where it becomes necessary.  Kessel looked very good and sincerely happy to be back playing games that count.  Versteeg had some nice moments on the Power Play.  Kulemin played a solid two-way game and continues to get better.  Nice goal from Clark MacArthur; more worrisome was the somewhat underwhelming performance down the middle from Bozak and Grabovski, though neither made enormous glaring mistakes of any consequence.

More than anything, the story of that game was the steadiness of J.S. Giguere.  The Leafs were up to their old tricks, taking a late penalty and then brutally brain-cramping in the closing minute of the game.  Our defensive coverage for the final eighty or ninety seconds of that game looked as though it was planned as an homage to everybody’s carnival favourite,  the Tilt-a-Whirl, with Leaf players orbiting one another, spinning and lurching around unevenly and generally making one feel nauseous.  Francois Beauchemin in particular looked bad during this final sequence, weakly attempting to clear the puck at one point on a backhand to the right point that instead made the shallow carom off the boards and failed to clear the zone, setting the scene for one final frenetic scramble in front of Jiggy and a game-saving stop that mercifully prevented yet another Habs OT game.  That stop – it had a reassuring and cathartic quality to it, as Bruce Arthur noted in his column today.  Begone, ghost of Vesa Toskala.

One game, and one game only.  Two points under the W column, and cue the chorus of clucking MSM journalists who take time out from their shrill blizzard of sage columns pedantically warning Leaf fans (unspecified, figurative, mostly non-existent outside of talk radio) not to obsess, despair and overreact about the future of Nazem Kadri, to write a shrill blizzard of sage columns pedantically warning Leaf fans (unspecified, figurative, mostly non-existent outside of talke radio) not to obsess, celebrate and overreact about a single win in an 82-game season.

Only one game, but I’m glad hockey is back.