Last night the boys from Buffalo and the Maple Buds played the first of 5 games on the schedule between now and the end of the regular season. Completely unlike the 4 previous games where offense was the de rigeur last night defense reigned supreme. Jim Lorentz noted on multiple occasions that the Leafs were playing a very defensively committed game (and that they should be commended for it). I'm sure that for the first time in a while the individuals on that squad actually listened to their coach when he told them that the only way they would have a chance at winning this game was to try and shut down the Sabres on the rush. If Pat Quinn did indeed tell his guys that then the problem in Toronto isn't the coach, as Mike Robitaille pointed out during the 1st intermission, it's the personnel.
From my vantage point, it's a bit of both. The Leafs, night in and night out, are not a terribly disciplined bunch, and haven't been since Quinn took over. That said, there are a few guys on that squad who probably don't listen no matter what is being said. *cough* McCabe *cough*
What was surprising last night was how hard a time the Sabres were having with the Sundin line considering that really none of the other lines made any impression on me whatsoever. In games past this season it's been Steen, Ponikarovsky and Wellwood who've been the engine driving the Buds. Last night, it all came from Mr. Gold Medal himself Mats Sundin.
But, hell, enough about the Queefs, let's talk about the guys that matter... you know, the ones who've won 8 in a row and who've only lost once in regulation since January 21st against Calgary. With Props going to Tim Thomas over in Boston, we now sit just one point out of the division lead setting up near frenzied anticipation for the Saturday evening tilt against the Sens. With 10 out of the last 18 games left against teams named Ottawa, Carolina and Toronto there will be no resting on our laurels coming into the playoffs. I just hope this team hasn't peaked too early.
Timmah! didn't play last night and that is a function of the depth of this organization. If we were in Tampa or Montreal's shoes, Connolly dresses last night, just like Miller gets pulled in the game on Tuesday against the Caps. Hecht re-injured his knee last night. No one's talking about it being serious but again, there's no real need to rush him back into the lineup, especially if Connolly is ready to go for Saturday. In great news, Adam Mair has begun skating with the team again,
with a possibility of being cleared for contact soon. We're going to need his snarl during the playoffs. It may be necessary to dress an honest-to-god shutdown line at some point, and I nominate Mair-Goose-Pyatt for the job.
Dmitri Kalinin was excellent last night, it looks like the fire is returning to his belly. He's moving forward with purpose, taking the body, playing strong along the boards and contributing on offense. He saw a bunch of Power play time last night, which I can only believe is because of our ignominious short-handed goals against statistic. Come playoff time the use of guys like JPom and Big Al on the points of the PP may cost us a game/series. Having Tri man the left point with Numminen (his current partner) allows us to put out an effective unit with no loss of defensive responsibility. As far as his work on the power play, well, his decision making will improve with his confidence. Multiple times last night Drury and Numminen set him up for a big one-timer and he didn't take it, instead corralling the puck and faking the slapper only to move the puck around to set someone else up. I'd like to see him take that shot once in a while, and I'm sure Lindy Ruff would too. Tri played nearly 20 minutes last night and it's obvious that Ruff is giving him every opportunity to regain his 2003-04 form, and surpass it. So far, so good.
The game-winner by Mike Griere was both a thing of beauty and incredibly ugly. The ugly comes from the horrible defensive 'effort' by Aki Berg an d Tellqvist's rebound control while the beauty-thing was Griere's sticking with the play to pot biscuit.
Chris Drury's 3-point effort was much needed as well, and on a rare occasion, Mr Clutch was a plus player tonight (+2). On a night where we got killed in the faceoff circle (Wellwood was an eye-popping 7-1 on draws) Drury's 9 of 19 stands out as exemplary.
That's all for now... except to say that there are some changes in the works around here including a makeover, move and addition to the staff (staff... now that's comedy!). All will be revealed at the proper time, and suffice it to say that I expect these changes to be for the better so that this site can provide better coverage of the stretch run and the playoffs.