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Ulmer's Game Blog

Sunday, 02.11.2008 / 4:56 PM / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Ulmer\'s Game Blog
Recap | Box | Stats | Pics Pre | Game In Six | Ron Wilson | Joe & Greg

Pre-Game

The Leafs have won four out of five and have fallen into the habit of scoring in clusters.

Something is happening here. Maybe it's just a great start and a bunch of players performing over their head. But for the first time in three years, Leaf fans are asking "are they really this good?" instead of "are they really this bad?"

We take this up today when the Leafs play in Carolina. I will be on the blog with pithy, achingly illustrative bon mots from the broadcast. Hop aboard.

1st Period


Get out. Ian White on his second shift of the season looks like Wendel Clark after the one has fallen off his sweater. The Leafs win when they fall behind, now they’re trying to win when they take the lead.

Good for him, honest kid who plays a foreign position. Seems to have bought his mustache, used, off Jason Giambi.

The great untold story about Ian White is that he came into training camp shorn of hair. He was burning some wood at his cottage in northern Ontario and his father ran out of gas for burning some brush. They agreed to switch to naptha and the resulting flash is why he’s cueball bald in his headshot.

I think the Hurricanes look great in black but I wonder about naming your team after a natural disaster. Of course, Curtis Joseph is named after a man-eating dog. Quick, do you think he has read the book or seen the movie. The answer is…no.

The Leafs are pretty well having their way with the Hurricanes and part of that is cycling the puck. I think cycling down low is the most overrated element of Leafs hockey. Think about it, all you are doing is putting the puck where the net isn’t. All it takes is one bouncing puck or intercepted pass to wash away 30 seconds worth of control. The Leafs still cycle, sometimes there is no other option but if you watch they are far more prone to move the puck back to the blueline, shoot and crash the net.

Pretty impressive first period, a 10-5 edge in shots and a solid advantage in play.

2nd Period

Greg Millen mentioned that Curtis Joseph had fashioned a great career and stood among the all-time greats in wins. What he didn’t mention was when Joseph arrived in St. Louis, he took the job from Millen.

There are countless invisible threads in the game. It is a very convivial world where people know each other, as Millen and Joseph do, for more than a couple of decades. Millen is also connected with Doug Gilmour, now an assistant with the Marlies.  I always thought a schematic, linking hockey players and people by college, hometown, agents and former teams would amplify why players are signed, kept, coddled and contracted.

For my money, Niklas Hagman has been the Leafs best forward this season. He is relentlessly competitive and as he showed with a clever pass to set up Mikhail Grabovski’s goal, creative.

Some rhetorical questions.

Can you not play 60 minutes and still win. Because everytime a team loses, they didn’t play 60 minutes.

Is there an NHL dressing room that isn’t full of great guys?  Wouldn’t you just love to hear a rookie say “actually, the veterans have been distant and a little pushy.”

Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson is a big believer, even penalties that are killed off, destroy your game. The Leafs incur four straight, their lines are in shambles and even strength, there are signs of panic. Sure enough, the Hurricanes, who looked putrid before the penalties, get the tying goal. Three straight goals give the Hurricanes a 4-3 lead. The only questionable penalty seemed to be the one where Carlo Colaiacovo allegedly closed his hand on a puck that he barely touched.

3rd Period

Hagman scores to make it 5-4 when the puck sits down, as if by magic for him after bouncing over a Carolina stick. Makes you think the supreme being wears blue. Then you remember the last 41 years.

Ian White has gone from the bench to forward, to defence to a spot on the game’s defining power play opportunity with eight minutes left. At this pace he will be coach Tuesday, GM by Friday and Chairman of the Board by a week Thursday.

Wilson has stressed conditioning this season and that has been evident. The Leafs have looked to be dramatically more fit. Both teams played last night and while the Hurricanes have coped with a host of injuries, the Leafs played last night and then flew to Carolina.

Nik Antropov’s excruciatingly obvious penalty in the last minute pretty well seals it. The Hurricanes win it 6-4.

The Leafs got a nice performance from Curtis Joseph and maximized what they had.

The Leafs’ storyline for the season looks set. The Leafs will outshoot everyone they play and outwork most everyone. But sometimes it takes the dominance of an individual to lift a team and on nights like tonight, the Leafs need more of those individuals. This is their hand. They will play it.

 




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