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Maple Leafs vs Oilers coverage
Broadcast: Sportsnet Ontario (sorry) and AM640
Puck Drop: 9:30PM EST
SBN Site: The Copper & Blue

Thank God for the Eastern Conference. If the Leafs' played in the West we'd be in the midst of committing seppuku or doing something truly desperate like counting down the days to Spring Training. Instead, the Toronto Maple Leafs travel to Edmonton sitting 27th overall in the NHL while simultaneously being three points back in the race to be crowned the tallest midget. Yes, the Leafs are mediocre and they can't expect to win any games but if they can't beat the Oilers...well, if the Leafs can't win in front of a partisan and raucous crowd then they might as well play in Buffalo. Actually, based on what Edmonton has to offer that comparison isn't too far off.

Meanwhile, the host Edmonton Oilers have lost seven in a row and look poised to kill Pat Quinn with their terrible play. This bothers and surprises me because Pat Quinn is first and foremost a friend of the blog. Also, while a lifetime of unhealthy eating, cigars, and pressure in Toronto could only fell Pat for a few weeks I listened to a presser after the 7-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues that made me think that he might only be able to deal with a few more weeks of coaching the Oilers. There are a tonne of great Oilers blogs (they are the reason I got into this racket) including MC79 Hockey, Black Dog Hates Skunks, and Lowetide and giving them a quick perusal will provide startling insight into the tailspin in which the franchise finds itself. And as bad as it is with the big club things are no better down in the AHL.

The Maple Leafs cannot count on beating the Penguins of the league to make the playoffs anymore than Manchester United can count on beating the other top four teams in order to win the EPL. That is definitely the model that the Leafs need to follow: pound the fodder (even if the Leafs are actually part of it).

So far it looks like Viktor Stalberg and John Mitchell will be healthy scratches as they work their way back to full health. That means that Rickard Wallin remains in the lineup much to the consternation of almost everyone. I am writing this Tuesday night but if Jonas Gustavsson doesn't get the start then I am glad that I'll be in America and likely unable to watch the game.

And a final note: Phil Kessel. When I went to the Leafs-s*nators game I wanted to focus on watching the Leafs' prize possession. I had been noticing that he was getting to the bench really, really gassed at the end of some not so difficult shifts and wondered if I was insane. I noted it to my buddy and he asked me how long he thought it would be until the local media started writing the "Phil Kessel Looks Tired" stories. We guessed one week and we were right. Actually, we joked that Chemmy and I should get ahead of the story and start complaining about his conditioning then.

Chemmy's Festivus post took the sensible approach (shocking, I know) and it is the right one. At this point, Phil Kessel has gone six games without a goal and is -6 in that stretch. He's had 22 shots in those games. Based on his shooting percentage before this cold streak (12.9%) he should have potted 3 goals. It's just a matter of percentages averaging out and a bunching of zeros. If those were spread out rather than in a row things would be received much differently:

2009 - Phil Kessel 28 13 8 21 0 11 2 0 2 0 123 10.6
This is a player that underwent major off-season surgery, missed training camp, and the season's first 12 games. Yes, Phil Kessel has aspects of his game that he has to work on but posts like the one that were link in the FTB the other day that look to overemphasize the negative just for the sake of being contrarian are pretty disingenuous. What seems easier to you? Teaching a mucker and grinder how to pot 36 goals or teaching a 36 goal scorer to be more defensively responsible? That's what I thought.

Last Minute Edit: Here's a fun game - On Twitter, some of you might have noticed Greg Brady try to convince MF37 and I that Paul Maurice was a better coach than Pat Quinn. One of his arguments was that Pat Quinn was struggling with an Oilers team that is more talented than the Leafs were during his tenure. Now, I can't find the tweet but I think he meant 2005-2006 specifically. Either way, let's figure out how crazy he is...