The Toronto Maple Leafs finished off their season with a poor effort against the Montreal Canadiens. If this was game 24 or 46 or even 80 this year I'd have been upset at the sloppiness on display. I would be most people lost count of the number of odd man rushes or pure breakaways that were allowed due to the sheer volume. The fact that so many came while the Leafs were on the powerplay was embarrassing - not entirely out of character actually - but more likely an indication of a team that had simply switched off after being eliminated from the playoffs. It's probably fitting that the team lost as a result of its poor special teams but frankly, it's hard to begrudge them a poor effort too much after the run they went on in 2011.
That's not to say that the game was free of any silver lining. Phil Kessel notched his 32nd goal of the season which will leave him probably tied for 12th in the league alongside guys like Rick Nash and Alexander Ovechkin. The scary thing is that he is also tied with Sidney Crosby who hit the mark in exactly half of the games. He also ends the year with 31 assists, his third consecutive year of increased assists. The 64 points leaves him as the team's top scorer. But, in a season that has been much more about the future than the present, the bright side of the game went beyond confirming what we already knew.
There were also two players taking their bows as Maple Leafs. Fresh off of a painful elimination at the national semi-final stage with the University of North Dakota, Matt Frattin dressed in John Mitchell's old # 39. He couldn't have painted a bigger contrast with the former Leaf. While both can be said to hold the physical tools to succeed at the NHL level it does, on first glance, appear that Frattin also holds the requisite hockey sense. A reporter noted that it seemed like the puck was following him around and that was because he was skating into the right position. On another night, Frattin might have ended the night with a couple of goals. Instead, he left a tantalising glimpse of a player that may be closer to contributing at the NHL level than we might expect. It's not exactly going out on a limb but I'd think that while Frattin will likely begin the year with the Marlies that he won't finish it with them.
Joe Colborne also made his debut as a Maple Leaf after playing with the Marlies since arriving in Toronto as the key part of the Tomas Kaberle trade. Whereas Frattin ended the night with a goose-egg on the scoresheet, Colborne notched his first career NHL point after he picked up an assist on Phil Kessel's goal. He didn't look as comfortable as Frattin on the ice, he struggled on face-offs, but he sure looks to have the makings of the big number one centre the Leafs have been searching for since Mats Sundin rode off into the sunset. He can obviously stand to put some more meat on his bones but that'll come with time.
Don Cherry Versus Ron Wilson, Logic, Reality
Grapes' vendetta against Ron Wilson is well documented. Greg Wyshynski laid it out pretty clearly on the rare ocassion of Cherry actually defending Wilson from his detractors, in this case when that anonymous players poll came out and named Wilson as one of the least desirable coaches. Last night's Coach's Corner marked a return to the days of calling Wilson 'Napoleon'. No topic was spared as Grapes' careened wildly down his list of grievances.
To recap, Don Cherry just ripped Toronto for not playing Frattin & Colborne in the AHL, then ripped Toronto for sending Kadri to the AHL.
The crux of his complaint about Kadri's demotion was that he was strong in the pre-season. Cherry could not have cared less about the glaring defensive issues although, as was noted on Twitter, all of the clips showing Kadri's strong defensive play came from after he returned from the Marlies. One play that highlighted, for me, the impact that the time in the AHL had on Kadri came after he turned the puck over at the Habs' blueline. It's a play that he would have previously likely watched move back down ice but this time he was back covering for the defenceman that he had left hanging and he broke up the rush. His second run with the team has seen him post 3-3-6 in 12 games played and a +1 rating. In his first 17 games this year he was 0-6-6 with a -4 rating. Beyond that, observers are almost unanimous in saying that Kadri looks much more prepared for the rigours and realities of the NHL game.
The obsession with Zigomanis is funny when it's tongue in cheek. When Cherry is pretending that somehow Zigomanis was the key to the Leafs' penalty killing woes it simply serves to highlight why Don has been out of the game for so long. Grapes might want to take a look at the Leafs' penalty killing save percentage. He'd find that the team had the 68th, 72nd, and 80th best save percentages when down a man. While that's likely a combination of systemic issues and player personnel I doubt that Zigomanis would make such a big difference. If he truly could drive PK results I'd bet other teams might have tried to pry him away from Toronto.
And as for the complaints about Frattin and Colborne getting to play before Zigomanis, the Leafs have rewarded him enough by paying him a generous AHL salary for two years to serve as a mentor on the farm. It is much more important for the franchise to give the players of the future a taste of the NHL before the summer so that they know what they are working towards. This is hardly a unique phenomenon to the Maple Leafs as a number of NCAA and junior signings were inserted into NHL and AHL lineups throughout the league.
Although, the absolute worst part of Cherry's rant was that it opened the door for Habs fans and reporters to whine about the 100% Toronto focused intermission. God forbid Cherry talk about one of the two teams playing but maybe in this case they had a point. I'd rather have heard him pouring forth on Carey Price's atrocious playoff record. I'm sure Habs fans would have been much happier with that topic.
Game In Six