Monday, 18 February 2013

Game Changers - Fearsome Fighters

Drop The Gloves:

This is a question that will be asked all year, and likely for years to come... Can a fight change the course of a game? Can winning or losing one good dust-up change the momentum of a game enough to win or lose it? I submit for your consideration, my take on the issue from last night's Toronto game against the Florida Panthers.

A Slow Start:

This game didn't precisely explode out of the starting gate. It was back and forth for a little but eventually Florida took over, leading 12-6 in shots on goal and definitely outskating the Leafs. Toronto's game suffered like this until Phil Kessel scored at 17:04 of the first period but what's more important is what happened less than three minutes before. That would be this:

Definitely a decisive bout.

After this point, the Toronto game really picked up. We saw bigger hits, better passing, and more determination in the offensive zone to maintain puck control and put pressure on the Florida defence. This increased effort eventually led to Kessel's marker late in the first.

Throwing in the Towel:

Many people are trying to have fighting taken out of the game which I think is simply ridiculous and I believe it's a bad idea for a few reasons.

My primary focus here is on the psychology of the game. If you put 12 men on an ice rink... Tell them that millions of dollars depend on their scoring against the other team, and allow for a decent level of physical contact as 'part of the game' but take away the fighting you have tantamount to a pipe bomb. fights allow for the release of tension and the last major steps to eliminate fighting only brought in more frequent use of dirty hits, headshots and clipping. We began seeing players targeted very specifically and no one to back them up. Players would go after another team's star forwards, their playmakers and even their goaltenders as Toronto fans know extremely well. This trend is going to keep getting worse so long as fighting is pushed from the ice to the history books.

Second, and almost as importantly, I DO believe that a good scrap can change the pace of a game. It's not necessarily so simple as if you beat a player his team will fall apart, however YOUR team can be inspired by your actions especially if they've been sluggish. Watching your teammate take matters into his own hands can spur a player, lacking in energy to step their game up.

The Unchanging:

There is however, one force that will most likely persist in their fight against fighting in the sport... But don't worry folks, odds are that this won't be going away anytime soon...

Proper signage IS key.
Because who doesn't love seeing him get his ass kicked? Precisely. Take that as one extra bonus when it comes to leaving fighting in the game, someone gets to lay his ass out cold every now and then when he shoots his mouth of... That, or we get to watch him dive like an Olympic 10m competitor.

Enjoy your swim folks, and as always, feel free to weigh-in.

Joshua J. Taylor

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Leafs Line - Montreal Massacre

The Puck Drop:

There's not much else to say really, one team showed up big and the other seemed to have gotten stuck in traffic on their way to the ice because from the scoreboard situation, this was a complete blowout.

The Scoreboard:

So the scoring runs down like this... Toronto scored, then they scored again... and again... then they put another one between the pipes... and another... and finally one more for good measure. In the meantime Reimer had to field 37 shots fired on him and fights broke out left-right-and-centre as the game just fell apart for Montreal.

Toronto Goals:

  • L. Komarov from N. Kulemin.
  • T. Bozak from JVR and J. Liles
  • JVR from P. Kessel
  • PPG - P. Kessel from D. Phaneuf and C. Franson
  • K. Holzer from C. Orr and J. McClement (Yeah, the big boys put some points on the board along with their PIMs)
  • PPG - D. Phaneuf from P. Kessel
Kessel got on the board with three points, Reemer (that's James Van, not a 'Reimer' typo) came up big tonight and I must give a little congratulations to Dion Phaneuf who actually managed to hit the net as opposed to the boards behind it and his own team mates. 

Although it was a high-scoring game for Toronto, the penalty minutes became just as big a story if not something to overshadow the beating that Montreal took in goals.

The Sin Bin:

To put this in perspective early folks, a total of 116 penalty minutes were handed out over the duration of the game and 94 of them came in the 3rd period... Yeah it got a little hairy on the ice as things drew to a close.

Honestly, every time I see a game that's so one-sided, where one team is taking such a ridiculous beating, I'm usually watching someone pound on the Leafs so this was a nice change. But in those cases, tempers almost always flare and the fists start flying and this Toronto-Montreal grudge match was no different. The only change from the Leafs last year compared to their performance in such a physical style of game THIS year is, well... Almost everything. Montreal tried to beat them with skaters and that didn't work. When that failed they tried to rough up Toronto but realized far too late that the likes of Jay McClement, Mark Fraser, Colton Orr, and Frazer McLaren amongst others were waiting to greet them and Montreal simply didn't have enough bodies to put on the ice in order to wear down Toronto's heavy-handed capabilities which is something that they've been seeking for YEARS. Well, it would appear that the Leafs have found a perfectly functional balance between speed, 'magic mittens' and spunk. It came out in a big way against Montreal and for the first time in a long time Toronto has been able to say "WE are the Toronto Maple Leafs. Don't mess with us!"

I suppose it would be unfair of me to tell you about the mayhem without at least featuring the best fight of the night... Well, here's MY pick though you likely have your own. Seeing Colton Orr one-punch Rene Bourque? Yeah that made my night I must say. It's not that I have anything against Bourque, OR that that I think it was a real fight (as there would've needed to be two sides to the altercation) but I just love seeing Colton Orr back in the lineup and moreover that he's been laying people out fearlessly. So, here it is... Orr one-punches Rene Bourque with a bonus bout between Frazer McLaren and Josh Gorges.

Don't blink or you'll miss it

Honestly, the scariest part of this video is the sick, sadistic laughing smile that McLaren has painted on his face for the entire fight... Sort of reminds me of Matthew Barnabe's mug when he got into a scrap with anyone. Seriously, check out Barnabe, then look and McLaren and tell me you don't see the similarity.

Exhibit A:

Check 30s into it... THAT smile lol

In any case, the point just needs to be understood that McLaren looked like he was having the time of his life, and it scared me a little to see a man taking such enjoyment out of pummelling poor Josh Gorges.

The Return of Optimus Reim:

Not since his electric start with the Leafs have I seen James Reimer look so comfortable between the iron.  Reimer was on his game tonight and little did I know when I jokingly said "OH! Reimer made a save on the first shot! It's gonna be a good game!" how right I was soon to be.

As I stated before he saved 37 shots, 8 of them on power plays, and he seemed unflinching when the bodies started flying around him... Not Ron Hextall level unflinching but good enough for my tastes. Reimer seemed to stand a foot taller than his 6'2'' frame as he faced down Brian Gionta and the Montreal Canadiens who only last year left him with his concussion that has since hounded his time with the Leafs. If he was nervous about staring down the elbows of Gionta he sure didn't show it, nor did his team mates give him any reason to fret as they did quite the job keeping Montreal's bodies away from their goaltender. It was refreshing to see Toronto finally stepping up and protecting good ol' 'Optimus Reim'.

Way to go Jimmy!

The Final Buzzer:

With all the misconducts, minutes, goals and goaltending out of the way, the game went into the books as yet ANOTHER Toronto road win, earning them the nickname "The Road Warriors" to a few with only Chicago boasting a better away-game standing. Toronto has now  (soundly) beaten the Montreal Canadiens twice this year and here's hoping that's not the last Montreal Massacre we see this year.

Actually, the next time they're scripted to meet is on my birthday. Anyone wanna get me tickets? Just kidding.

Enjoy your swim!

Joshua J. Taylor

Friday, 1 February 2013

Leafs Line - The Frat-Factor

A Look Back:

While writing for my original Fishbowl I put my opinion out there (as I always do) about a young Leaf forward that I had a great deal of faith in. Went on to detail his relative success in the minors, his pre-Leafs-affiliation performance, and the impact he'd had in the few games Burke had him playing with the big boys. "That kid's going to be someone big on the Toronto offence" I'd say to anyone who'd listen... "That kid's going to do great things". It would seem that he's on the right track.

Before the Buds:

Raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Matt Frattin has had a bit of a rocky history before getting into the big leagues. Admitting to excess partying nearly being his downfall while at the University of North Dakota, being charged with a DUI, and losing his athletic scholarship all nearly ended his career in sports before it had even started but he was later cleared of all charges and made it back to join his North Dakota team mates.

Frattin has a history of being a very influential force in the sport, leading the NCAA Mens Division I in goals scored (2010-11) and he scored more goals in his senior season than in his first three years put together. He managed to pot a pair of game-winners in the WCHA playoffs and was awarded the WCHA Player of the Year honours.

This photo actually comes from a great article I found wherein Frattin is being interviewed about his success back in his North Dakota days. They cover his attitude looking ahead, his roles in major wins, him "leading the nation" in scoring and most amusingly about him pranking his coach... Randy Carlyle watch your back, this kid's got a mischievous streak in him although that may help to add levity should the team start trending downhill again this year. You can read the entire thing here if you'd like.

Some of the Numbers:

Here's a little chart from the Maple Leafs' official roster page for Frattin. You'll notice that he's developing a habit while in the NHL of scoring game-winners (must be a habit from his university days) and as it stands he's holding six points over his last four games played in two of which (the last two Toronto games in a row) he's put in the winner.

2010-2011MAPLE LEAFS1000-1000050.0
2010-2011UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA-WCHA44362460421036
2011-2012MAPLE LEAFS568715-425002928.7
2011-2012TORONTO MARLIES-AHL2314418-2203036820.6
2012-2013MAPLE LEAFS442622002757.1
NHL TOTALS6112921-32700410411.5

Game-Winning Goals:

Now don't start believing the nega-hype from Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller, who'd have you be of the mind that he 'gave' Frattin the winning point by being in the wrong place, wrong time, and not covering the angles. Frattin shelfed the puck over Miller's right shoulder to put them over Buffalo and Miller was about as flush to the post as he could've been. With only two seconds left on the clock and in overtime it takes a certain something to muster up the confidence and composure to slide one past a netminder like Miller.

January 29th, 2013: TOR @ BUF - 4-3 Toronto in Overtime

"What a goal" is right!

I'd like to take just a quick second to point out that Frattin's 'first' NHL goal came in a shootout and so, didn't actually count as a goal scored on his numbers sheet. My ex and I had an "awwwe, Frattin" moment when we watched him nail the shootout as we both knew he'd be getting a lot of grief from the rest of the players about the technicality of it all.

January 31st, 2013: WSH @ TOR - 3-2 Toronto in Regulation Time

Unfortunately the goal hasn't made it onto Youtube yet (in a format I'm willing to post on here) but I do have the link to the Maple Leafs' official website which hosts an HD quality video of the play. You can watch the video here and I recommend that you do because it comes off of a beautifully salvaged play and a set of wonderful moves by the other youngster in Nazem Kadri. This pairing seems to be working much to the Leafs' advantage and I have no qualms in saying that they're going to be a line to watch for the rest of the season.

Going Forward:

The only thing that Frattin needs to be careful of right now is that he doesn't develop the same problems Kadri ran into when he first made waves in the NHL. Burke sent him (Kadri) back down to the Marlies for good reason as Kadri had -and still has to a lesser extent- a problem with his attitude, viewing himself as God's gift to hockey as it would seem. Sometimes a player just isn't ready for success and accolades and they get caught up in their own hype (see: Downfall of Alex Ovechkin for reference). However, if Frattin can keep this from going to his head and stay focused on the games ahead, we should see a highly productive career from him.