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The Leafs This Week – Dec. 1-8

Posted By Ben Fisher On Dec 8 2011 @ 3:45 pm In Toronto Maple Leafs | No Comments

What Happened

The great misleading thing about the NHL standings in the shootout era is the extra category for the “OT loss” and what it says about the team that gets one on their record. The Leafs (15-10-3) are coming off a week in which they went 1-1-1, which resembles an even, “.500” record except for the fact that the team came out on the losing end of two of its three games. Therefore, a seven-day stretch in which they still couldn’t figure out the Bruins, took two points from the Rangers on the road* and came up short in overtime against the Devils at home was, in fact, a losing week.  

*Curious as the Leafs’ utter inability to solve Boston is their apparent mastery over the Rangers. New York sits fifth in the East and has lost just twice at home in regulation this season – both times being to Toronto. While the Bruins still have yet to see the Leafs come within two goals in any of their four meetings this year, Toronto has won both games at Madison Square Garden by a 4-2 score. They will host the Rangers twice in 2012.

What’s Notable

Finishing Strong
There is an often-used refrain in basketball to dismiss obsessive talk over starting line-ups that “it’s not how you start games but how you finish them”. If the same holds true for hockey, then the Leafs appear to be in good shape with the way they’re playing. The club hasn’t been perfect in the third period of games (their five-goals-allowed implosion at home to Ottawa in October being as good an example as any), but it has certainly come through more often than not. When ahead, the Leafs have played solid, safe, defensive-minded hockey and own a 10-0 record when carrying a lead into the final frame. When trailing, their youth helps inject some of the energy needed to make a late push, as they did on Tuesday against New Jersey before falling in OT. If they maintain this tendency to display grit, hustle and character late in games, then it may be time to – I can’t believe I’m saying this – reward Ron Wilson with an extension. For as much as the penalty kill remains a glaring weakness and there are still other holes, the team is clearly playing hard for him.

Where Does Colby Fit?
Great as it is to see Colby Armstrong recovered from his high ankle sprain and ready to play on Friday (although he didn’t look too disappointed being on the shelf here), it’s hard to see where he fits. The obvious answer is that he slides right back into his third-line wing position that vacated by the demoted Joe Colborne, but that slot could be occupied by Matt Frattin, who will lose his second-line spot to the returning Clarke MacArthur and certainly has done enough to merit avoiding fourth-line duty. Therefore, Armstrong could very well find himself trying to regain his timing on the little-used grinder line alongside David Steckel and whichever among Philippe Dupuis and Jay Rosehill happens to avoid press box duty. Probably not an ideal scenario for the likable vet, but ultimately offers a positive indication of the depth suddenly enjoyed in Toronto.

The Ontario All-Star Game
Has the NHL opened voting on the 2012 All-Star Game to anyone outside of Southern Ontario yet? I know that the Senators are hosting the annual event, but it still seems odd to see the voting dominance enjoyed by the Sens, the ninth-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, and the Leafs, the sixth-ranked team in the East. Up front, Ottawa and Toronto boast five of the top six vote-getters among Eastern forwards. I get Phil Kessel, Milan Michalek, Joffrey Lupul and maybe even Jason Spezza being in the mix alongside Sidney Crosby, but how did Daniel Alfredsson find his way in there? Meanwhile, Erik Karlsson and Dion Phaneuf rank 1-2 among Eastern blue liners in voting and James Reimer leads all goaltenders in the East. I guess ballot-stuffing offers an indication of devotion and dedication to one’s team, but it winds up giving a local exhibition feel to what should be a heralded league-wide event.

What’s Coming Up

@ Washington (Friday); vs. Carolina (Tuesday)

Another HNIC-less weekend for the Leafs sees them head into Washington to pay a visit to the Dale Hunter-led Capitals, who aren’t likely to have forgotten the 7-1 beating that Toronto laid on them on November 19 (which might have contributed to the firing of Bruce Boudreau). Then, it’s a few days off for the Buds before Tomas Kaberle, Alex Ponikarovsky, Tim Brent, Jiri Tlusty, Jay Harrison (that’s a lot of ex-Leafs!) and co. come to town with the Hurricanes, led by another new head coach in Kirk Muller.

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