November 03, 2007

A New Jersey Night

It was all about the Garden State last night. The Leafs were in Newark visiting the New Jersey Devils while the Raptors were in the swamp looking to avenge last year's playoff-series loss against the New Jersey Nets.

The Good News

Let's go with the good news first: the Raptors look mighty fine after their first two games of the season. Visiting the Nets for the first time since their season ended in New Jersey last year, the Raptors were looking for a big game. They wanted to show the Nets that this wasn't the same team that lost a hard fought first-round series last year. And the Raptors delivered. Big time.

T.J. Ford called it a "statement game." The Raptors wanted this one and, after getting off to a slow start in the first quarter - they were one-for-seven from the field - they beat up on the Nets. It was rather enjoyable to watch. The final score was a joke. 106-69 for our boys in red and black. The Raps shot 51% from the floor and 59% from beyond the arc. It was, as my main man Chuck Swirsky would say, raining three's out there.

Speaking of the Chuck, I love the guy. It's good to have him back on the air calling Raptors games, along with the lovable Jack Armstrong (Hello!!). I'm still not sold on Leo Rautins, but I certainly love the Chuck and Jack combo.

Swirsky is fast becoming my favourite Toronto sports play-by-play man. Jamie Campbell calls a mean Toronto Blue Jays game on the tube (he's done a good job since taking over a couple of years ago), and Joe Bowen and his "Holy Mackinaw!" will always have a special place in my heart, but Chuck Swirsky really brings passion to his broadcasts. He's enjoying himself out there, and it rubs off on the viewer. And he's always bringing out the onions and, of course, the salami and cheese, mamma. Love the Swirsk.

Some perspective on last night's game:
- Toronto went on a 20-4 run in the second quarter to pull away for the rest of the night.
- The Nets had as many assists as they did turnovers (19 a piece).
- The Raptors had six players in double figures in scoring, compared to only one for New Jersey (Jefferson had 27 points while the next most (err, least?) productive Net was Krstic, with nine).
- The Nets scored a combined 28 points (eww) in the second half of the ball game (the Raptors scored 50).
- At one point in the fourth quarter the Raps were up 98-56, a whopping 42 points.

There's no other way to put it - the Raptors bitch-slapped the New Jersey Nets last night. Back-handed!

Bosh even hit a half-court hail mary to end the second half. It, of course, brought out the "Onions, baby onions!" from Chuck Swirsky. Anything less would have been uncivilized.

The Raptors are now off to a solid 2-0 start to their season, and what makes it even more impressive is that Chris Bosh has seen limited minutes in the teams first two games. His conditioning is not where it needs to be, but it doesn't matter, because the Raptors deep bench is coming through. Last night the second unit (Calderon, Dixon, Delfino, and Nesterovic) was the catalyst in laying the smacketh downeth upon New Jersey.

Andrea Bargnani has looked tremendous in the first two games of the new campaign. He was 7-11 from the field last night, including 4-6 from three point land. The guy is just money. And I'm talking Canadian dollars here folks - none of that weak U.S. chump-change. I mean, Il Mago barely even jumps when he takes his three-point shots. His stroke is just bellissimo. I can't say enough about this kid. He impresses me more and more every time I watch him play. Bargnani's quick enough to put the ball on the floor, but he can also burn you from way outside. He's the total package. And only 22 years young. And yes, Toronto, he's all ours. I'll admit it, he makes me salivate.

"TJ Calderon" has also been off the charts in the first two games of the year. The line from game one from the point guard position, you ask? 27 points, 16 assists, and ONLY 2 turnovers. The line last night, you ask? 18 points, 15 assists and ONLY 3 turnovers. I'm telling you folks, "TJ Calderon" is a beautiful thing. Embrace it. Appreciate it. Enjoy it.

And how about Carlos Delfino? I'm loving this guy already. He's finally getting a chance to play some regular minutes, and he's showing that he can do just that - play. He's picking up rebounds, picking up some points and, most importantly of all, playing solid defense. His Majesty Bryan Colangelo can simply do no wrong.

I'm looking forward to Sunday when Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics are in town. Should be a doozy, and another good test for the Toronto Raptors to show that they are, no matter what anyone says, the class of the Atlantic Division.

The Bad News

Oh yeah, the bad news, ugh, those bloody Maple Leafs. It was the Buds' first visit to the Devils' new home, The Prudential Center. Seemed like nice digs. Anything was going to be better than their old arena out in East Rutherford. Oddly enough, the Nets still play out of the old building, now the IZOD Centre. Speaking of which, whatever happened to Jay-Z moving the Nets to Brooklyn? Hmm.

It was another weak effort by the Leafs, especially the usually-reliable Tomas Kaberle and Mats Sundin. Both had third period's to forget. The Devils ended up taking the game 3-2, thanks to a short-handed goal by the speedy John Madden, who rifled a bullet past Vesa Toskala and off the post to give the Devils a 2-1 lead late in the third. The goal was, as they say, a back-breaker.

I'm not sure what the hell Kaberle was thinking about on the Madden goal. He had a chance to at least get a pinky on him, but he didn't, and I'm not sure why. Once again, Kaberle and company left their goalie out to dry. A couple of minutes later, Zach Parise scored on his fourth freaking attempt on Toskala, with Kaberle standing around watching the whole play. How was the view, Tommy? Geez.

I thought Kaberle and Sundin played a pathetic game last night - the emotion and hustle simply wasn't there. I couldn't see it, and it hurt. How can the two guys who wear the "C" and the "A" on their shoulder look like they don't give a rats ass? It's distressing.

What makes it all sting even more is that the Madden goal came while the Leafs were on the power play. Jason Blake decided to shoot the puck while four guys stood in front of him. It, obviously, hit a skate and off to the races went Madden. Kaberle should have been able to catch him, but he was leisurely skating back, assuming Blake would grab him. That's the essence of the problem with the Leafs right now. There's no accountability. It's always up to the other guy. In the end, Toskala is the one who has to deal with his obese goals against average and his lame save percentage because the guys in front of him are not bringing the effort.

Before I forget, I've got to take another opportunity to bash Andy Wozniewski. He played seven minutes and 18 seconds last night, and was on the ice for two New Jersey goals. Does anyone else see a trend developing here? The one that whenever this useless dude is on the ice, the other team scores? Is it just me? Unbelievable. But I'm sure he'll be right back in the lineup tonight. That's just how the Leafs roll.

Madden's goal was the fourth short-handed goal the Leafs have already allowed this season. That's ridiculous, absurd, preposterous, outrageous! (Think Jackie Chiles from Seinfeld.)

The power play, which was so good and often the savior last year, is just killing this team. It's not getting the job done and it's simply time for a change. Put some new guys out there, Maurice. The Gamache's and Kilger's. There's no power on the Leafs power play and if that doesn't change this team is just going to continue to dig it's own grave. It's clear how much the team misses Kyle Wellwood's creativity on the power play when the little guy is out of the lineup.

Speaking of creativity, here's a thought for Alexei Ponikarovsky: raise the puck! Poni had a wide open net in the second period but was robbed by Martin Brodeur's paddle. All he had to do was raise the puck 2 inches, and the Leafs would have had the lead. Ponikarovsky's hands of stone just break my heart sometimes. He's got four goal, and it's looking like 27 is going to be a mission.

I'm not sure if Toronto's salary cap situation would allow it but John Ferguson Jr. should definitely inquire about Peter Forsberg. The Leafs, although Antropov has done an amazing job, could really use another centre. Antropov's proven he can play on the wing and I really don't think Kilger and Devereaux are the best linemates for him.

Matt Stajan has cooled off considerably since his hot start (shocking, absolutely shocking) and he still can't win a god-damn faceoff. The Leafs are one of the worst face-off teams in the league. The only guy who can win one on the regular is Sundin. Forsberg would be a much-needed addition to this team. He's as creative as they come, and he can win a draw or two. Plus, the more time the Leafs spend in the other team's zone, the less chance the puck has of going in to the Toronto net.

(Just for the record, I know Forsberg won't end up in Toronto. Why would he join the Leafs? He's not an idiot. Just let me dream.)

It doesn't get much easier for the Leafs tonight. They're in Montreal to face a hot Canadiens team and in light of the back-to-back games, it looks like my favourite goalie in the whole wide world Andrew Raycroft will get the start in net. Oh, the joy! Raycroft has had multiple chances to step in, play well, and force Maurice to start him. Monday night against Washington when Toskala was pulled was another chance, but one thing keeps getting in the way: the fact that he sucks.

I must admit that even though Toskala is getting most of the work in goal, I still loathe Raycroft.

I must also admit, however, that the Toronto Raptors make the Maple Leafs continuous struggles much easier to swallow...


Anonymous said...

good articles...
love the
"Anything less would have been uncivilized."

classic quoteage

keep it up