Saturday, December 17, 2005

Are You Ready?








Not to be overly dramatic about a game in mid-December, but tonight's contest between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators, round 4 of the Battle Of Ontario, has an entire city buzzing.

And it should.

In case you forgot how it went the last time these teams met, let me remind you. To say it was a dominating effort wouldn't be doing it justice. The Ottawa Senators beat the shit out of the Leafs on national TV, in their own building, in front of their own fans.

But that was then, this is now. A lot has changed since then. Or at least, as much change as possible in six weeks.

Ottawa had the best month in the history of the franchise in November, tearing up the league and doing to others what they did that faithful night at the ACC. However, when the calendar turned to December, the team seemed to lose an edge. They've gone 3-2-2 this month and when matched up against top teams of the Western Conference, looked overmatched.

But they've been doing it all shorthanded. Martin Havlat's injury has been well documented, but it's worth noting that six of the team's seven losses has come with "Mach 9" on the sidelines. The secondary scoring that was supposed to step up and fill the holes left by Havlat's absence have been unable to do so on a consistent basis.

As well, a freak knee injury that was supposed to keep Wade Redden out for a week had him watching from upstairs for over 20 days. Redden will play tonight. Some have remarked that you don't know what you have 'til it's gone in regards to Redden, and it's true. Though his play often isn't as flashy as we would like, his role on this team has been huge, and it's no coincedence the powerplay struggled horribly in his absence.

On the other side of the ice, since that thrashing on HNIC at the hands of the Senators, the Leafs haven't been the same. At times, they look like a club capable of playing with any other team in the NHL and contending for a top spot in the conference. Other times, though, the Buds barely look like a playoff team.

This inconsistency has, I imagine, driven their fans insane.

As big part of the last game was Brian McGratton knocking Tie Domi the fuck out. Unless you've been a part of the BoO, you couldn't understand how significant that KO truly was. If you were hoping for round two tonight, and a repeat of the same performane, you'll be disappointed, because Domi is out of the lineup. As as Nik Antropov and Eric Lindros.

Combined with the fact that Mats Sundin has been struggling badly since coming back from that horrific eye injury he suffered on opening night, playing so inconsistently that he's almost become the posterchild for their play this season, and the reality that Ed Belfour is hurt with a groin injury in addition to his own unsteady play between goal, you would think the Leafs are ripe for the taking. That another humiliation is in the cards, this time in front of Sens fans.

But we've learned better. Pat Quinn and his minions are like the cockroach that will not die. No matter how much you stomp on it, it lives. Counting out the Leafs, even with their depleted lineup and superstars underperforming, is a mistake Senators fans have made one too many times before. They've seen this story, with different actors, and now how horrible it can end and refuse to allow themselves to fall into that trap.

However, this feels different. Do the Leafs own the Senators when it matters most? Yes. It's a reality Senators fans have had to live with every day for the last five years. It wakes us up in our sleep screaming.

So what happens tonight, you ask? A Sens win. 5-2.

6 Comments:

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Considering Belfour's inconsistant play and Tellqvist's generally solid play it may actually be better for the Leafs if Tellqvist got the start.

As for McGratton/Domi I think Senators fans read far too much into that. The fact that you have a goon on your team doesn't equate to team toughness and I can guarantee you that not a single Leaf really worries about McGratton. The Leafs have a very big team and the small guys like Tucker generally don't fear a thing (Tucker challenged the whole Ottawa bench once). In fact the Leafs would love to see McGratton on the ice because he isn't a very good hockey player. There is a reason why he rarely plays more than 2-3 minutes in close games. But since Domi is out of the lineup McGratton will have to deal with the younger, bigger, and tougher Wade Belak.

As for who wins this game, that will come down to 3 things.

1. Leafs goaltending. The Sens will burn any team who has sub-par goaltending.

2. Senators big 3. Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson have to produce more offensively as they have combined for just 12 points in December.

3. Penalties. If one team takes a bunch of penalties it could cost them the game.

 
At 2:26 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Considering Belfour's inconsistant play and Tellqvist's generally solid play it may actually be better for the Leafs if Tellqvist got the start.

Wow. Could you imagine yourself saying that two months ago?

I've said it before, but it warrants another mention: going into this season, I thought there were a lot of holes and question marks surrounding the Leafs, but I never thought one of them was Ed Belfour's play.

I wasn't convinced that he would stay healthy, but I figured if he did, he would be spectacular as always. Instead, he looks to have been shaky and unreliable.

And Telqvist struggled horribly in the preseaon, did he not? It wasn't even a lock that he would get the backup job over Aubin and Racine, both of whom outplayed him in the exhibition games.

Now a Leafs fan is saying the team might be better off with him in nets when they face the NHL's best team in their own building.

As for McGratton/Domi I think Senators fans read far too much into that. The fact that you have a goon on your team doesn't equate to team toughness and I can guarantee you that not a single Leaf really worries about McGratton.

I really don't think anyone who makes a big deal out of it is blowing the KO out of proportion.

It was a symbolic event, because for years we've heard this nonsense about the reason the Leafs always beat the Senators was because they weren't tough enough and didn't have anyone to stand up to the Leafs toughguys.

I never really bought into all that, and think it was a simplified explanation, but nevertheless, it was one that has been repeated so often it's become accepted as the truth. The same way "Ottawa has never done anything in the playoffs" has become reality because Leafs fans say it so often, when in reality, Ottawa has won as many playoff rounds and Toronto has over the last three years and has gotten as far as the Leafs have.

Whether or not Leafs players worry about McGratton, I did think it was telling that no one even blinked at him after he KO'd Domi. I realize Belak was with a shield and couldn't fight, but still, I found it very revealing.

 
At 2:58 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Belfour has often been a slow starter in his NHL career. He has shown signs of brilliance so I am convinced he can still play like he has in the past, he just needs to find his consistancy. That said, to some extent the whole team does. But hey, this is nothing new. The Leafs have been this way for several years now.

I've said it here before, but toughness is not about having a goon. There is no fighting in the playoffs and now there is very little fighting in the regular season, particularly in close games. The toughness that matters is crashing and banging in the corners. It's all about making opposing players worry about how they are going to get drilled into the boards when they go in the corner to retrieve a puck. Whether it has been Roberts or Nolan or Tucker or Domi or Corson or Travis Green or this year Lindros, O'Neill, etc. the Leaf players make you think twice as you head into the corners. In any particular game it doens't necessarily make a big difference, but in the latter games of a 7 game series it certainly can. This could still be a problem for Ottawa. But, with that said, the improved goaltending and the new rules certainly help Ottawa's chances in the playoffs against anyone, Leafs included. That is if the Senators can ever adapt to the new rules and stop taking penalties. :)

 
At 3:44 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Whether it has been Roberts or Nolan or Tucker or Domi or Corson or Travis Green or this year Lindros, O'Neill, etc. the Leaf players make you think twice as you head into the corners

And the Senators don't? Chara is probably the most intimidating player in the NHL. In every game this season you see instances where guys avoid going into the corner after loose pucks just because he's there.

Neil, McGratton, Fisher, Volchenkov are all the same way. The Senators have as much "team toughness" as Toronto if your criteria is individually tough players.

 
At 7:29 PM, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Well Chris, it's nice to know where to come for some nice, biased analysis of the Battle of Ontario.

Yeesh, the Leafs are like the cockroach that will not die? I don't think you can harp on Leafs fans with lines like that.

 
At 10:34 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

The cockroach comparison was meant as a compliment, actually.

 

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