I was going to start posting earlier this season, but the problem with the 2009-2010 Toronto Maple Leafs is that there really was nothing positive to post about...until the last three games.
You see, I live in Vancouver. If the Leafs suck and you live in Toronto, at least somebody, probably lots and lots of somebodys, are in the same boat with you. But if you live in another city and the Leafs suck, AND that other city has a non-sucky team, AND that other city is Vancouver so its fans are total douche-bags...it can get a little depressing. Also it rains a lot here.
Nevertheless, I decided to start posting after I got tickets to the recent Leafs-Nucks battle at GM Place. They were awesome tickets right behind the glass in the Leafs end. Even though the Leafs ended up losing that game due to poor officiating, it was a key game for the Leafs. Because the Canucks are a very good team, and the Leafs outplayed the Canucks to the point where Vancouver fans around me, between empty, half-hearted chants of `Leafs Suck!` were downright terrified of the Leafs attack. For the first time this year, I saw positives...lots of em...positives that should have put the Leafs over the Dallas Stars tonight, two games later...
October 28th, Leafs 3 v Dallas 4 (OT)
I could talk about the Ribeiro embellishment on the phantom high stick which lead to a critical 5 on 3 goal, but hey, everyone already knows Ribeiro is a slimeball. You`d figure that Ribeiro would be used to having long, hard, wood-like objects around his face...
I think its more important to talk about Nikolai Kulemin and his 2 goal effort against Dallas. Kulemin scored 31 pts in 73 games last season, but in his first 5 games of this season he had been held to a handfull of shots and a -3. It wasnt the kind of start the Buds wanted from their sophomore soviet, but it wasn`t totally unexpected. The Leafs have six forwards competing for 3 spots, and thats not even counting Bozak and Hanson. But I think Kulemin`s goals tonight are a sign of good things to come...lets break it down.
Jason Blake. Before tonight`s game, Jason Blake sucked. Hard. The problem with Jason Blake is that his linemates expect him to drive to the net, but so does the opposing team. The beauty of Nikolai Kulemin playing beside Blake is that Kulemin is deceptively hard on the puck - he can grind it out effectively with Blake and set up opportunities for Stajan or Grabovski or whoever is playing up the middle. This combination worked much better than Blake-Stalberg because Stalberg is relatively soft behind the opposing teams net, and his zig-zag rushes seemed to confuse the hell out of Blake whenever they were together. Against Dallas, Blake wasnt confused. He felt at home. He felt comfortable. He felt like playing. He racked up 3 assists. And its all thanks to #41.
Kulemin scored some ugly goals tonight. But that is the kind of goal the Leafs have been lacking. That is the kind of goal that the Leafs have been finding in their own net far too often. With Kulemin and Blake together, hopefully we can start getting some of those back.
Then of course, there was the winning goal, where Kulemin blows his coverage. Kulemin knew he effed up - you can see him look up after Neal pots the winner - but hes not a defenseman, these things happen in OT. The Leafs truly lost this game when Ribeiro snapped his head back and the stupid refs bought it.
It was a break, and the Stars had many. But the Leafs will start manufacturing more breaks if players like Kulemin starting driving to the net with more regularity.