Leafs’ futility put into sharper focus

- January 20th, 2015

The Maple Leafs really have hit rock bottom.
The Leafs’ sudden inability to put the puck in the net came into sharper focus when they were beaten 4-1 by the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.
Nazem Kadri’s power-play goal at 14:49 of the third period at the Air Canada Centre gave the Leafs their second goal in five games (and it happened to be Kadri’s first power-play goal since April 5, 2014).
This string of ineptitude has marked the first time since January 1929 the Leafs have just two goals in five games.
But there’s more, as there usually is with these kinds of things.
When the 1928-29 Leafs set the futility mark, NHL players could not make forward passes in the offensive zone. That rule changed the following season.
The Leafs of today have managed to get almost nothing in five games despite having the luxury of passing the puck wherever they please.
Some 86 years ago, the Leafs lost 2-0 on the road against the New York Americans on Jan. 10 and fell to the Americans two nights later at home 1-0 in overtime. They tied the Montreal Canadiens 1-1 in Toronto on Jan. 17, and on Jan. 20, lost a road game by a 2-0 score versus the Detroit Cougars. Forty-eight hours later, they lost 2-1 against the Rangers in New York.
In the sixth game of that span, they again tied the Canadiens 1-1, this time in Montreal on Jan. 24.
So if the Leafs score only one goal in Ottawa versus the Senators on Wednesday night before they have a week off for the all-star break, they will tie the franchise record for futility in a six-game span. Get shut out and they set a new mark.
In this present streak, the Leafs have been outscored 16-2 and have been shut out by Los Angeles, Anaheim and St. Louis.
Per Elias, the Leafs are the fourth team in 37 seasons to score as few as two goals in five games. The others were the Chicago Blackhawks (1997-98), Calgary Flames (2002-03) and the Los Angeles Kings (2013-14).
The Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup. The same will not happen in Toronto this year.

Kessel one of NHL’s “best guessers”

- January 17th, 2015

ST. LOUIS — Ken Hitchcock had an interesting take on Phil Kessel on Saturday morning.
“Well, for me, Kessel is one of the best guessers in the league,” the St. Louis Blues’ coach said.
“He has the ability that when he thinks there is a turnover, to anticipate and that is a great quality. It is hard to coach against that because you are one puck bobble away from giving up a breakaway or an odd-man rush.
“Your puck management against that line is really important. For us it is keeping those players in front of us and not falling asleep. It requires a lot of focus to play against that line.”
The Leafs will attempt to put an end to a three-game losing streak when they face the Blues on Saturday night at the Scottrade Center.
Since scoring two goals against the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 16, Kessel has two goals in 14 games. Kessel’s 19 goals ties him for the team lead with linemate James van Riemsdyk.
As for the Leafs’ scoring woes?
“Scoring will take care of itself,” Hitchcock said. “I hope like hell it is not tonight.”

Leafs to face a Blues team that is stingy at home

- January 16th, 2015

ST. LOUIS — The Maple Leafs will try to end what has been a brutally unsuccessful trip against a St. Louis Blues club that nearly is unbeatable at home.
The Leafs spent much of Friday travelling from San Jose, where they lost 3-1 against the Sharks on Thursday night. Defenceman Roman Polak’s solitary goal followed shutout losses in Los Angeles and Anaheim, and the Leafs won’t find it much easier when they line up against the Blues on Saturday night at the Scottrade Center.
In the midst of a seven-game home stand, the Blues are 16-4-2 on home ice and have allowed just 49 goals.
The Leafs, meanwhile, are on a steep learning curve under new coach Peter Horachek. Initially, the Leafs were sound defensively, but that went out the window in the loss to the Sharks, as they allowed 42 shots on James Reimer. Since Randy Carlyle was fired and Horachek was named interim head coach, the Leafs have won once in five games.
The game Saturday will mark the first time defenceman Carl Gunnarsson faces the Leafs. Traded to St. Louis for Polak last summer, Gunnarsson, who missed a month because of a concussion before returning on Jan. 2, has played in 27 games for the Blues.
It is expected Jonathan Bernier will start in goal for the Leafs on Saturday. In six career games against the Blues, Bernier is 2-3-0 with a .896 save percentage and a 3.19 goals-against average.
The Leafs, lugging a 7-11-3 road record into the game, were not scheduled to practice on Friday.

Fabbri’s “tough” season continues

- January 4th, 2015

Robby Fabbri’s hockey season has been playing on a frustrating loop.
The old adage along the lines of ‘If it wasn’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all’ applies to Fabbri.
“Yeah, I have had a bit of a tough year,” Fabbri said.
“Everything happens for a reason and you just have to build off it and build character.”
Fabbri leaned on crutches as he spoke to reporters on Sunday, his right ankle clad in a walking boot. The Canada forward and Guelph Storm star suffered a high ankle sprain when he collided with Denmark defenceman Anders Krogsgaard during the first period of Canada’s 8-0 win on Friday night.
There have been various estimates as to how long Fabbri, a St. Louis Blues prospect, will be out of action. What’s clear is that it will be many weeks before he is on the ice again, as high ankle sprains often involve a lengthy recovery process.
“It has been pretty tough,” Fabbri said of the past 48 hours. “But I still have a smile on my face coming to the rink every day, cheering on the guys, supporting them and making sure I don’t bring anyone down.”
It’s bad enough that Fabbri no longer can represent Canada in the 2015 world junior, but he is from just down the road in Mississauga, and he kind of had it in his mind that playing at the Air Canada Centre in Canada’s colours would have been pretty sweet.
The injury has followed a pattern for Fabbri. He suffered a charley horse at Canada’s summer camp in Montreal and was on crutches when the camp ended. At the Blues’ training camp, he suffered an upper-body injury.
He has been great when he has played, scoring 18 goals in 22 games for the Storm prior to the start of Canada’s camp in December.
Now, his teammates are motivated by Fabbri’s difficult situation.
“We all know who we are playing for now,” Max Domi said. “It sucks to see him go down. He is a great guy on and off the ice. His attitude is still really positive and he has not changed at all. We’re going to need that from him.”
Fabbri said Blues forwards Jaden Schwartz and T.J. Oshie and members of the team’s front office have reached out to him.
As for what needs to be done on the ice, Canada faces Slovakia in a semifinal on Sunday night.
The winner will play the winner of the Russia/Sweden game in the gold-medal match on Monday. The losers will meet to contest the bronze.
Canada beat Slovakia 8-0 last week. Now?
“(We have improved) in every way possible,” Domi said. “You watch video on the first game and video of our last game, and it is almost like a different team. In a good way, obviously. We still have some stuff to correct and fix, but we just have to play our game.”
Canada chased Slovakia goalie Denis Godla in that opener on Dec. 26. Godla knows what he and his teammates are up against.
“I think myself and all the team, it’s the game of our lives and (we’ll) leave everything on the ice today,” Godla said through an interpreter. “Canada has very strong, good players and we have to be careful not to (let) them score goals on us.”

It’s Fucale against the Finns

- December 28th, 2014

MONTREAL — Zach Fucale and Eric Comrie were eating breakfast on Sunday at the team hotel and watching the Spengler Cup when coach Benoit Groulx approached the pair.
He gave Canada’s goaltenders the news many had expected.
Fucale will start in goal against Finland on Monday when Canada plays its third game of the 2015 world junior.
“Both have played really well, so it’s just a question of coming back with a solid goalie tomorrow, and we think Zach is the guy,” Groulx said.
“It was a very brief conversation. I just told Zach that he was in. The way we have been playing, both of them want to have the net, but they know how it is.
“Eric is a pro and there is no issue there. We have two competitors, two very good goalies.”
Fucale, who became Canada’s starter at the 2014 world junior, posted a 12-save shutout against Slovakia in an 8-0 Canada win on Friday; 24 hours later, Comrie stopped 17 shots in Canada’s 4-0 win against Germany.
Canada did not practise on Sunday.
Fucale and his teammates could make a bit of history against Finland, as Canada never has started the world junior with three consecutive shutouts. Finland is the defending gold medallist, but has managed to score just two goals in two losses.
A year ago, Finland beat Canada 5-1 in the semifinal before knocking off Sweden in the championship game. That loss resonates with Fucale, a Montreal Canadiens prospect.
“I would not say it is fresh in my mind, but I remember what happened,” Fucale said. “I learned from it. It certainly is going to serve as a motivator for tomorrow’s game.
“I learned a lot (in the tournament overall). The competitive level is really high and you have to make sure you play as a team and you stick together all the time, no matter what happens. We have that this year.”