Sunday, November 8, 2009

NHL Odds & Ends: Monstrous Win for Maple Leafs...

Maple Leafs Make a Statement with Second Win in a Row...

The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up an important two points on Saturday evening, handing the Detroit Red Wings a 5-1 loss at the ACC. While the score gives the appearance of a blow out, this game was closer then the score indicates. For the first part of the game, it was goaltender Johan "The Monster" Gustavsson that was the star for Toronto. Phil Kessel and Wayne Primeau picked up their first goals of the season and Gustavsson made 35 saves in the game; 13 of them coming in the first period, holding the fort while Toronto built up a 2-0 lead.

With the win, the Leafs move within a point of the 27th place Minnesota Wild in the overall league standings and they are now six points behind the New York Islanders for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Despite a horrendous start to the season, the Leafs are in striking distance of the playoffs thanks to picking up points in seven consecutive games, a streak that now includes two wins in a row. A turning point may have been the first intermission of the game against Carolina. According to reports from the media members that follow the team on the road, Head Coach Ron Wilson appealed to the sense of pride in the dressing room. Down by two goals against the Hurricanes, losers of 12 in a row as of Saturday night, Wilson reminded his players they had only one victory in the win column and they should get mad and fight for a win. The team responded with a comeback victory and followed it up with a strong effort against the Wings in the annual Hall of Fame Game.

Luke Schenn was a plus 2 in the game, playing over 18 minutes due to an injury to Mike Komisarek and looked better then he has in previous games. Jeff Finger made a statement on his status as a healthy scratch in previous games, scoring a goal and adding an assist in 18 minutes of ice time.

While not everything is perfect in Leaf Land, they have taken several important steps towards respectability. Ever team usually succumbs to a lengthy losing streak during an 82 game schedule and Leaf fans are hoping their team has their losing streak out of the way and they can ride The Monster into the hunt for eighth place.

Red Wings Injury and Goaltending Woes Continue...

Just when it appeared Detroit's Chris Osgood had found his game, he let in all five goals Saturday night, stopping only 23 of 28 shots sent his way by the Leafs. After three wins in a row, including a shutout in Boston on November 3rd, Osgood was on the hook for five goals for the second time this season. Despite two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, Detroit is once again hearing from fans and media members that they need help in nets.

After losing several key offensive players during the off-season, Detroit announced a commitment to defence before the season began but it appears injuries and goaltending will be the Achilles Heel of last season's Western Conference Champions. Osgood's .902 save percentage is 26th in the league, his 2.77 GAA is 23rd among NHL goalies and while his record is 6-3-2, the pair of Jimmy Howard and Osgood must be keeping some Detroit fans up at night. Although Wings GM Ken Holland always stands by Osgood, if he is expected to carry the load all season, he may need some help.

Purely speculation on my part but when Rick DiPietro finally returns to the nets in New York, I would expect Marty Biron or Dwayne Roloson to be on their way to Detroit - if a deal can be made. Think that the Red Wings are OK in nets - backup, Jimmy Howard is 1-2-1 with a 3.42 GAA and a .879 save percentage and Chris Osgood has only played in 43 and 46 games the past two seasons. At 36 years of age, expecting Osgood to start 60 or 70 games this season is unrealistic - Detroit needs help for Osgood in nets and that help does not appear to be coming from Jimmy Howard. If I were Ken Holland, I would have already sent a gift basket or two to Islanders GM Garth Snow with a note wondering what it will take to get Biron on the Wings.

With several key players already out with injuries, Jason Williams left Saturday night's game with an ankle injury. Early reports indicate a broken ankle and he will be out until at least late-December. Add his name to the growing list of Red Wings on Injured Reserve; Valtteri Filppula is out until late December with a wrist injury, Johan Frantzen is out until February with a knee injury and Andreas Lilja is out indefinitely with a concussion.

While it is too early to count out the defending Western Conference champs, it could be a long season in Motown. Perhaps that is a good thing in the end for the Wings. After numerous trips deep into the playoffs and starting the season overseas several times, a drop in the standings could lead to a quality first round draft pick and a return to the top of the standings next year. Add the Olympic break to a struggling, injury plagued team and Detroit may stay in the middle of the pack instead of being in their usual spot at the top.

Carolina not Feeling Sweet about Hurricanes...

Last season's trip deep into the playoffs for the Hurricanes revealed that the team needs to make it deep into the playoffs to come close to breaking even in the finance department. That being said, what will their current 12 game losing streak do to the bottom line?

Already at the bottom of the league with only seven points, several respected hockey writers have been active on Twitter regarding a shake-up in Carolina. One writer said to expect change soon, while another commented that GM Jim Rutherford said, "Changes were coming". In the salary cap era, making significant changes to the roster is difficult during the season; those changes may come behind the bench or perhaps, all the way to the top - including Rutherford himself.

The Hurricanes are 2-4-1 at home and 0-7-2 on the road and have not won a game since a 7-2 victory against the Florida Panthers on October 9th. The only team without a win on the road in the NHL, the Canes must now face their opposition without all-star goaltender Cam Ward for the near future. Ward left Saturday's game against the Blue Jackets with a cut on his leg and is listed as day-to-day until more is known about the extent of the injury. If he misses significant time, the Hurricanes and back up Michael Leighton could see their winless streak continue and any thoughts of making the playoffs evaporate before the season hits the 25 game mark.

Leighton has started one game and played in three this season and his numbers are not impressive. His record is 0-2-0, with a staggering 5.11 GAA and a .813 save percentage - these are not numbers that indicate the Hurricanes will turn things around and start a win streak any time soon.

Carolina appears to be in a constant cycle of missing the playoffs, followed by deep runs to the Conference Finals. With an average of 15,331 fans per game and needing the playoffs to break even, this team may end up on the list of southern teams in trouble. Have a great sports day everyone.

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