Thursday, October 9

Leafs Win Opener. Howard Berger's Night Ruined

There's something freeing when you've been released from the shackles of expectations, reasonable or otherwise. Going into the first game of the season, to say that the 08/09 version of the Toronto Maple Leafs were free of expectations would be the understatement of the century, unless those expectations were for them to "suck", and also to "blow".

Well, terrible writer Howard Berger and the rest of the viperous Toronto sports Fourth Estate had another night of developing coronary heart disease ruined Thursday, when the Leafs did what nobody except everyone who reads blogs thought they could: Win. Against the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings ™. In fact, I believe in his Leafs preview/poison pen piece, the friendless Berger predicted the Leafs wouldn't even be able to find the Joe Louis Arena. Well, the Leafs sure did, and in a sad, related story, so did Howard Berger.

I watched the game at the home of an old acquaintance whom you may all remember. His name is Moose? Slightly above average height, medium build, a little too hairy, refuses to write his blog? Yes! We have a positive I.D.!

Moose as pictured, shockingly close to reality

I showed up, excited to actually watch a real hockey game on TV, instead of the endless hours of "Greatest 80's Oilers Moments" Moose has been Tivo'ing all summer on the NHL Network. Hey guess what everybody? The Oilers were really good in the 80's! And now you, me, and Bill Berg all know it! But tonight, we have live, meaningful hockey games! Come on, it's 4:00 (PST), let's go, put on Hockey Night in Canada! Opening night! Yes! What's that? The game's on Versus in the U.S.? So HNIC is blacked out then? OK, after I get over the shock of actually seeing a Canadian team on Versus, we'll get down to business, right? No, of course not dummies. First up is a performance sure to get the North American hockey audience pumped! Ladies, put for lace-gloved hands in the air for Def Leppard! You heard me, Def Leppard! Why Leppard? Cause obviously, when the NHL thinks of Canada's game, naturally it thinks of these guys:

Ron Wilson forced the Leafs to endure the weird spectacle of the Wings doing some scheduled maintenance up in the rafters of the Joe. I don't know what they were doing, putting some things near the roof. The Leafs don't do that. I guess that was to catch excess moisture? I have no idea what that was, but you'd think the Wings would do that on a non game night. And did Gordie Howe have to help? Man, he's really earning his pension. He even wore his old jersey. And holy shit, he's still the captain!

When the latest in G. Bettman's marketing fiascos triumphs was finally over, the Leafs came out dressed in their new (3rd) 36 point "we always win in these" jerseys, and played as sharp as they looked. Relying on young legs and the enthusiasm 5 guys playing in their first NHL game, the Leafs pushed the Red Wings just about all night, relying on things like:
  • Speed
  • Tenacity
  • Fore/Back checking
  • Neutral zone control
On the other hand, here are things the Leafs did not rely on:
  • Mats Sundin
It was an evening of many small victories among one large one. While the Wings were at one point greatly out shooting the Leafs, the chances were even. There were a lot of active sticks all night, and the Leafs forced a lot of Wings turn overs, the most important being the one which led to the Kulemin game winner.

Everyone's favorite fake Facebook friend, Vesa Toskala, looked amazingly smooth and confident, playing his angles super aggresively. Chris Osgood had to make a lot of good saves, and he spent a lot of time flat on his back, pleasing no one in the Wings organization except for Kristen Bell. The second line of Grabovski, Hagman and Tlusty created a lot of great chances, but I think that line had 33% too many Europeans in it. They kind of had a pass first mentality, notably when Tlusty was centered pretty much all alone in the slot with the defenseman sliding away and he elected to dish it back to the high point. It seemed to need a little grit in there somewhere. Like perhaps a little Mark Bell? Nah, you know I'm just kidding!

Antropov was largely invisible, and 4th line detainee Matt Stajan has looked a lot better. Perhaps it was just one of those games for those two. Luke Schenn played 17+ solid minutes and never looked out of place in the #2 spot out of a potentially great looking foursome of him/Kaberle/Kubina/Colaiacovo.

No third period collapse despite the Wings' last minute powerplay. Leafs win 3-2, and the bad people in the world go to bed unhappy. If I had a job, I'd be skipping to work today.