Here's a graphic representation of last year's trip to California courtesy of Earl Sleek. So far this year it's been much more enjoyable being on the giving end of that graphic. What else was going on last year? Well, when the Leafs last played in Los Angeles the team was in turmoil. Richard Peddie had just admitted that hiring JFJ had been a mistake and the GM joined the club on a West Coast swing that would give them a chance to show that they were playing for his survival. The result: apparently the players wanted a new GM. The performance against the Kings was bad enough to trigger an epiphany from your's truly and, according to Jim Ralph on AM 640 last night, a rant from Mats Sundin after the first period of that game.
Amazing how things change in less than a year.
The Leafs have a brand spanking new GM, the goaltending was the reason that the Leafs stayed in the game, and rather than a team on it's way down the blue and white are a team on the way up.
The game obviously didn't get off to a great start. I am sure that Greener and Tex were a little leery once the Kings scored 57 seconds into the game as Frolov deked Toskala. The breakaway was facilitated by a weak dump-in by Matt Stajan (basically a pass) which Matt Greene turned into an incredible pass. Right then I was hoping that the flu would claim Stajan for the rest of the game. What a mistak that would have been!
Listening on the radio, it was pretty clear that there was one player that was keeping the Leafs in the game. The one guy that we have been waiting to see all year, one guy that some of us were confident would find his game:
|2008 - Vesa Toskala||21||1231||9||6||5||1||62||3.02||567||505||.891||1|
His year-long stats are slowly getting up closer to where they need to be for him to a. get this team into a playoff position and b. get this team some assets on March 4th. After a string of 16 games in which the Leafs outshot their opposition they have been outshot three times and have seen Toskala play three of his best games of the year. Mc79 had an interesting post last May about the correlation between outshooting your opponent and winning and apparently the Leafs need to lay off on winning that particular battle.
The massive turning point was obviously the huge 4-on-3 penalty kill that featured great goaltending by Toskala (good to see PodTosk gone) and a game saving stick check by Our Luke and Saviour. That gave the team the jump to start the third period that led to a 5-on-3 goal by Matt Stajan (thank God for IV) and a goal scorer's goal by Mikhail Grabovski. The second goal highlighted John Mitchell's hockey IQ as he faked chasing the defenceman behind the net and cut across it to pick off the bank pass before finding Grabbo who naturally filtered into a goal scorer's position. My mancrush on both grows by the game.
Finger almost closed things out with a breakaway goal. He made a good move but lost the puck. Luckily he got his shot to redeem himself when he potted the empty netter to seal the win. It was the first time that the Kings had lost this year when leading at two periods and the Leafs up their differential in the third to + 16 (31GF, 15GA).
I actually followed the game on the radio so there were a couple of funny anecdotes from Dennis Beyak and Jim Ralph. Stajan's goal was the 18,000th in Leaf History and Ralphie said he got a text message from someone alerting him to the fact. When Grabovski scored he get another text telling him that that was the 18,001st goal in Leaf history.
Later, when he was doing the recap of the out-of-town scoreboard he said that the Blue Jackets won 5-2. Dennis corrected him that it was 3-2. Ralhpie tried to say that the 's' in Columbus looks like a five. Dennis came back with "well, wouldn't that make it 53?"
And finally, Kubina and Simmonds got penalties for unsportsmanlike which I assume came from questioning each other's sexuality a little too loudly for the referee's taste. It reminded me of this classic Brian Bellows clip (caution: offensive and NSFW language)