The dog days of February are in full effect. It's been almost three weeks since I checked in. The Blog-Star Break is over, and it's time to get back in the swing of things.
First of all, isn't that just a beautiful picture? I shall call it "Come to Kabby". Courtesy of Yahoo! Sports, of course. The joy that a goal can bring to the faces of grown men is one of the most beautiful things about the great game of hockey.
Kabby and Co. are all smiles tonight as they continue their push towards the playoffs. The Leafs have been picking up points these past few weeks, which is exactly what they need to be doing, but are still on the outside of the playoff picture looking in - for now, at least. They're right there. I guess you could say they're siddling the playoffs. One point out of 8th spot. And guess what? The Leafs have a date with Les Canadiens, who are tied for that 8th spot, in Montreal Monday night.
It's time for this set of Leafs to exorcise the demons of last season. It all went horribly wrong in back-to-back must win games for the Leafs in Montreal last March. Those two losses cost the Leafs a trip to the dance. It's time to return the favour to the Habs. They've been choking for about a month now and the Leafs have got to kick these guys while they're down. If the Leafs want to stay in the race they've got to beat Montreal Monday night. It's as simple as that.
It's an intense time of year for the Leafs. The Eastern Conference is still extremely tight and every game is truly a huge game. The Buds have been solid since the new year, yet haven't really made up any ground in the standings. Before each and every game I find myself saying "wow, big game tonight." I love it.
Raycroft has started 23 games in a row. He must be drinking a lot of that Cheetah energy drink. "Yes, I Cheetah all the time."
Seriously, what the hell was Ben Johnson thinking when he decided to take part in those commercials? Yeah I know, he can definitely use the money but those have got to be some of the most ridiculous, low-budget commercials I have ever seen. Ben Johnson has done some messed up stuff before - he raced a horse, for God's sake - but those commercials are amazingly whack.
Raycroft is going to reach the 30 win mark anyday now. He hasn't been super in the net, but he hasn't been bad. He's winning games, and that's all he's paid to do. Screw the personal stats, all that counts is the W.
I have an idea though, for Paul Maurice. If a game goes to a shootout, put Aubin in. Let him come in off the bench cold and nervous. The shootout was another factor in the Leafs missing the playoffs last year, with the factor being that the Leafs sucks at it. This trend, of serious shootout sucking, has continued. And Raycroft isn't the best goalie one-on-one. Deking is the popular choice, but everyone knows Razor is also beatable high glove-side. But some of the dekes have made Raycroft look absolutely foolish. He practically ends up in the net as he moves back too quickly. Raycroft, I know you're the pro and all, but seriously, poke-check. Just try it.
I've got to shout out Jeff O'Neill. He scored his 20th goal of the season, eclipsing his total of last year, 19. This is the guy who I asked John Ferguson Jr. to trade for a stationary bike. I seriously thought it was a good deal for the Leafs. A brand new bike! But here I am publicly admitting it - O'Neill has proved me wrong. Immensely wrong. I'm not sure where the Leafs would be without O'Neill's 20 goals. Three of them have been game winners. O'Neill has got 41 points in 60 games and is a plus 4. He was a minus 20 last year. He's improved his offensive game, and his defensive game. He's bounced back from a really tough year both on and off the ice, and credit has got to be given where it's due.
Poni's new website is fantastic! Not really, but I've got to show love. I took a look, and left a message in the guestbook, confessing by undying devotion to the great Poni. He's got 16 goals. Only 5 more to go...
The injury bug has continued to bite the Leafs, and once again Pavel Kubina is the victim. This guy's just been cursed this season. As soon as he was starting to play well and really fit in, he fractures his finger, and will be out of the lineup for a few weeks. Tough break, literally. Kubey and Kabby were getting along so well. It's a shame.
Kubina's injury has opened the door for the Wizard of Woz - Andy Wozniewski. He played his first game since October, and picked up an assist in just less than 14 minutes of ice time. Not bad. The jury's still out on the Wizard of Woz. He doesn't seem like anything special, but if he can hold the fort while Kubina recovers, all the power to him. I'm off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of WOZ...
Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle have a combined 92 points this season. At about $9.5 million for the both of them per season, that's a bargain, I don't care what anyone says.
The Leafs have 20 games left to close out their schedule. They've got 69 points. To assure themselves of a playoff series, they've got to win 15 games. That's 30 points and would give them 99 on the season. If 99 points doesn't get them into the playoffs, I'll make like Ross Gellar from Friends and drink the fat.
The hard part is winning 15 out of 20 games. The chances of it happening are about as good as me making the Dean's List at good ol' Rye High. It ain't going to happen. Actually, the Leafs have a better shot than me and the Deaner List. Anyways, who will step up and carry this team into the post-season? Sundin has been phenomenal so far down the stretch. Raycroft has got to stand on his head. Tucker will come back within the next two weeks - will his return be too late? It's just a beautiful time of year - every game is important.
Tuesday, February 27th is TRADE DEADLINE DAY. The most exciting day of the hockey calendar year! A few deals have already been made, but DEADLINE DAY is always full of action. I'm going to be parked in front of my tv Tuesday afternoon, giddy with excitement. Will Ferguson and the Leafs make a move, maybe acquire a scoring winger, or a grinder like Jamal Mayers?
By the way, John Ferguson, Anson Carter for a 5th round pick? Like Happy Gilmore said, "Where the hell were you on that one, dipshit?"
On a side note, I was listening to Leafs Talk on Saturday night and a caller phoned in saying that the Leafs should let Sundin walk after the season as a free agent, and trade Ponikarovsky and Antropov. I wish I had this guy's phone number, because I want whatever he's smoking. I guess the Leafs should make Matt Stajan captain as well.
The Sundin bashing is just ridiculous. He is the greatest Maple Leaf of ALL TIME. What more do the people want? Sundin will retire a Leaf, deservedly so. He wants no favours. He doesn't want a trade to a contender so he can win a Cup. He wants to win a Cup here, with the Leafs. I'm not sure how likely that is, but I'll always respect Sundin for his years of tremendous service in the blue and white. If the Leafs fail to make the playoffs, this Captain is going down with the sinking ship.
Leafs and Habs Monday night. Deadline Day on Tuesday. The playoff race. It's nail biting time...
Our Toronto Raptors now have a five game lead over the New Jersey Nets in the Atlantic Division. The Raptors are going to make the playoffs. The Raptors are going to make the playoffs. The Raptors are going to make the playoffs. Sorry, I've got to say it three times just to make sure this is real. And it certainly is, baby!
Bring out the salami and cheese!
Chuck Swirsky has been bringing out the salami and cheese on a regular basis this season. The Raps, with 31 wins, have already passed last season's total of 28. It's all about progress, baby. I don't think anyone thought the Raps would be this good, this fast, and contending for home court advantage in the playoffs. I really want to give Brian Colangelo a hug.
The Fred Jones experiment is over in Toronto. He was dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers for Juan Dixon. Jones, who was starting games at the beginning of the year, just flat out stunk. He couldn't hit his shots and soon was plastered to the bench a la Yogi Stewart. I think the Jones deal was the only one that didn't pan out for BC (Bryan Colangelo). He's allowed one bad deal.
I heard this deal was mainly made as a favour to Jones, because it was clear he wasn't part of the mix here in Toronto. Jones is from the Portland area. This deal just shows the class of BC. Jones still has two years left on his contract. He's got to appreciate the fact that BC traded him instead of letting him rot on the bench. BC's a rudey. I know it, you know it, and Fred Jones knows it.
As for the newest Raptor, Juan Dixon, I don't know much about the guy, other than the fact it's going to be tough for him to get in the lineup. The Raptors' rotation is set and solid. Dixon's going to have to fight Joey Graham for minutes, and that could be a good thing. Graham can use some healthy competition in order to better his game. We all know the talent is there - he had a SICK, WICKED AND NASTY dunk against Detroit - but Joey just needs to be a little bit more consistent.
The NBA, like me, also took some time off for their annual All-Star break. The NBA's festivities are the most entertaining when it comes to All-Star games. This year, they decided to have the game in Las Vegas. It was an entertaining weekend and a laugher of a game, with the Western Conference running away with it.
Chris Bosh, our favourite all-star, barely saw the ball in the first half. I guess because he plays in Toronto, Canada, no one really knows who the hell he is, so he didn't get any touches. He did, however, have a sick windmill jam in the second half.
All-Star games don't matter, and it was a well-deserved break for the Raptors, who now have to mentally prepare for their playoff push. The Raptors are no longer the hunters, they are the hunted. They are a first place team and a legitimate playoff contender. Wow, it's been a long time since even I've taken the Raptors this seriously.
I've always been a Raptors fan, and have always watched them with great pride and joy. I really got into basketball when hockey was locked out. The Raptors have come a long way since the end of the Vince Carter era.
Carter, who was in town along with his Nets on Valentine's Day, is no longer worth discussing. In that game, he once again showed his lack of class as a person and as a basketball player. It's not even worth getting into what he did. Just when I think I can't possibly think any less of him, he proves me wrong. Vince Carter is a loser (and an ungrateful whore). I'm done ripping on Carter. He's not even worth it anymore.
On a side note, why the hell was Vince judging the All-Star Slam Dunk Competition? Some cat from the Celtics won it, and it was full of mediocre dunks. I think the dunk-off needs to be abolished. Everything has already been done. And when guys like Kobe and Vince are judging, when they should be participating, what really is the point?
Vince Carter is a part of the past. There's no point in dwelling on him anymore. If the Raptors were in last place and the Nets in first, I'd still be bitter and still be booing Carter everytime he came into the ACC. But let's not even give him that much respect anymore. The Raptors are the contenders. The Raptors are going to the playoffs, and Carter will be watching it on television. As improbable as it seemed at the time the Carter deal was made, the Raptors have got the last laugh. The Raptors won the trade - wow, I NEVER, EVER thought I'd be saying that - simply by getting rid of the disease known as Vince Carter.
Sleep easy, Rob Babcock, you did the right thing. Like Tupac said, "I ain't mad at ya."
The Ungrateful Whore is no longer worth mentioning. The Raptors near future involves playoff basketball. The future is all about Chris Bosh, TJ Ford, Anthony Parker, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Sam Mitchell. The future is now. Playoff basketball awaits, and this city is going to embrace the Raptors like never before. It's the Raptors turn.
Let's prove this isn't just a hockey town...
And, in what seems to surprise me every February, Spring Training has begun. The Blue Jays, the boys of summer, are back in business!
What the hell would I do without sports?
February 25, 2007
The dog days of February are in full effect. It's been almost three weeks since I checked in. The Blog-Star Break is over, and it's time to get back in the swing of things.
February 07, 2007
Redemption - noun.
1. an act of redeeming or the state of being redeemed.
2. deliverance; rescue.
The Leafs won again on the road, a 2-1 triumph in St. Louis. That's eight wins in their last nine road games, and four in a row on this five game road trip - their longest of the season. Road Warriors, to say the least.
Andrew Raycroft has redeemed himself. He was once again spectacular in what was a dull and, at times, boring game. A game in which the goalie needed to be mentally sound, and Raycroft was just that.
Razor's save in the third period, on Bill Guerin, who had an empty net, was, like the Cash 4 Life cat says, "FANTASTIC!"
Pure robbery, please! It was definitely worth a couple of rewind's on the PVR. The save reminded me of Felix Potvin, circa 1993, in the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks, lunging across his net to catch the puck.
That save by Razor won the game for the Leafs. He only faced 20 shots, but made a number of quality saves.
The second part of the definition of redemption is deliverance, and rescue.
Razor has delivered, and Razor has rescued this Leafs team a number of times over their recent hot stretch. He's stolen games and been a rock between the pipes. His positional play has been as solid as it's ever been. He's square to every shot and he's really coming out of his crease and challenging the shooters. If they're going to beat him, they're going to beat him because they've made the perfect shot.
Razor has really been great, and you can see how the team feeds off his confidence. Everyone is plugging away right now, and keeping the game simple. The fact that the Leafs are on a five game win steak is a shock in itself, but to think that four of the five wins have come on the road, in some tough buildings, and in a shootout, well, I probably wouldn't have believed you if you told me a month ago that this would be the case.
Hockey is a game of "what have you done for me lately", and Raycroft has done quite a lot for me lately. So props to him. The Leafs are still not in playoff position, but they're in the thick of the race, with a couple of games in hand. My philosophy is don't look at the standings. The Leafs just need to worry about themselves right now. If they win their games, the goal of making the playoffs will take care of itself. The Eastern Conference is so tight that the standings are meaningless right now, there's just too many games left.
And remember, all they have to do is make it. Edmonton was the 8th seed last year, lest we forget.
Less than 10,000 fans showed up in St. Louis to watch the game against the Leafs. After watching this game, I understand why so few fans are showing up. The Blues play some nasty hockey. The majority of the game was spent in the neutral zone. The Blues outshot the Leafs 20-16. Hardly an offensive game. It was one of those grinding road victories for the Leafs, and they'll take the points any which way.
Steen played a good game. He scored his 11th of the season, and it turned out to be the game winner. That's his fifth game winning goal of the season, tops on the Leafs. Sundin only has two this year. Steen's goals have definitely been timely.
Stajan was all over the ice tonight too. He made some nice passes and hit a post off a nice feed from Steen. He's playing ok, I guess. I just wish he didn't get knocked off the puck so easily. I'm trying to like him, really.
Ponikarovsky scored his 14th of the year. I need him to score seven more in the remaining 28 games. I think it's possible. I beleaf in the PONI.
I've got to shoutout Nik Antropov - he was instrumental on Poni's goal. He didn't get an assist, but he kept the play alive down low during the power play, about 10 seconds before Poni scored. Antropov had the puck behind the net and the St. Louis defenseman charged at him, and Antropov just stood tall and the defenseman bounced off him and hit the ice. It was a sight to see. Antropov and Poni are just awesome to watch down low. Antropov has finally figured out how to use his lanky Kazakh ass to protect the puck, and he's doing it regularly now. He's huge.
I read that Poni is launching his own personal website later on this week. He deserves his own website. Hopefully he'll call it The Poni Express. The Leafs are undefeated, 11-0-2, when Poni finds the back of the net. Suck on that, 40!
The march towards the playoffs is on. The trading deadline is only three weeks away. Sergei Samsonov was placed on waivers today by the Canadiens. I would imagine he'd look great in a Leafs uniform, especially with Sundin, but I don't think the Leafs can fit him under the cap right now. Plus, I don't think I'd want to tinker with the Leafs' roster right now. This unit is playing well, although Tucker should be back in the lineup soon. He better be back soon - I've got him on my fantasy team and could use some of his power play goals.
I hope the Leafs get Tucker's name on a contract soon. With the way the team is rolling, I doubt the Leafs are going into the trade deadline as sellers. Maybe they will be buyers. Maybe JFJ has a trick up his sleeve. Probably not, because he's a jackass, but who knows? Good hockey players like Ladislav Nagy and Shane Doan are available. I love this time of year, and especially Trade Deadline day. It's a rush.
A big test for the Leafs on Thursday in Nashville. If Raycroft keeps playing the way he is, I can see the Leafs coming back to Toronto with an undefeated road trip under their belt.
In other sporting news, the Colts won the Super Bowl! Old news, I know. The game was exciting - well the first quarter sure was. The rest, not so much. There just wasn't the intensity that was so prevelant in the Colts/Patriots game. The Super Bowl came down to Manning vs Grossman, and Rex certainly put the GROSS in Grossman. He was awful. It was no contest. The better team won. Peyton finally got his ring. He'll go down as one of the best quarterbacks ever, and he's deserving of the title. I'm sure Dan Marino's hella jealous of him.
And OUR Toronto Raptors are 3.5 games up on New Jersey in the Atlantic Division. The Nets have lost four in a row, while the Raps have won three in a row. These Raptors certainly look like they're for real, and people are finally starting to notice.
SI.com's NBA webpage has got a feature on Chris Bosh - "The Lead Man" - and the upstart Toronto Raptors.
The Vince Carter era in Toronto is finally, mercifully, being forgotten. It's a new era, with a new superstar, and a true leader - CB4. People are finally starting to notice, and notice they should, because like I said, these Raptors are for real.
Check out the layout:
February 01, 2007
It's not every year I want January to last, but it was quite the month for the Raptors and Leafs.
The NBA announced the winners of their monthly awards today. Chris Bosh is the Eastern Conference Player of the Month. Andrea Bargnani is the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month. Sam Mitchell is the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month.
How's that for you?
The Raps are hot, and spanked the conference leading Washington Wizards for the second time this season. They went 10-5 in January and are now at .500, and leading the Atlantic Division. We all expected the Raptors to be improved, but I don't think anyone expected it to happen this fast. They've been an exciting team to watch and the second half should be just as good as the first.
TJ Ford returned to the lineup last night, but told Mitchell to let Calderon start, so Ford could ease his way back. Ford, like the rest of us, has seen how well Calderon has played recently, and it was the right move, as Jose had a stellar game. It shows the maturity of Ford - he put the team first. Not only is he a great player, he's also a team player, and you can never have enough of those on your team. It's refreshing, especially after Vince Carter's antics of the bad ol' days.
Bosh was on fire again. He even hit a shot from half court. Winning the Player of the Month award is just icing on the cake after he brought the Raps to .500 and made the All-Star game.
Last January, if you recall, the Maple Leafs went on a horrid slide, lost eight in a row, and effectively killed their season.
The Leafs entered 2007 with a lot of question marks, and as they head into February, they've somehow managed to climb back into the thick of the playoff race. They played great hockey in January, going 8-4, all while missing Tucker, Peca and Wellwood, and Poni and Antropov at the start of the month.
What makes their January even more impressive is the fact that six of their eight wins came while on the road. Their only road loss in January was in Pittsburgh. In their six road victories, they only let in 10 goals against. What does that tell you? Yes, they're finally getting some goaltending. Raycroft stole two games on his own, and was solid in the other contests.
All Razor has to do is be as good as the goalie at the other end of the rink. That's all the Leafs want out of him, and in January, he was certainly up to the task. He's definitely stepped up his game, and the Leafs needed that from him. I'm not going to find anything negative to say about him right now. He's playing solid, and he's doing his job, and that's what he has to do.
Yes, the Leafs have issues playing on home ice - especially Razor. It just seems like everyone's trying to hard - especially Razor. But the Leafs open February with three more road games, so they'll want to finish this road trip strong, especially after getting off to a good start.
Raycroft has started the last 13 games for the Leafs. It's clear he is the number one man. Maurice gave him the ball to run with, and he has. He's turned his game around after the laugher against Vancouver. JS Aubin is not going to see any ice any time soon either. I've heard rumours that Aubin and Maurice don't get along, so that's not helping Aubin's cause either. But to be fair, Aubin had his chance. Unlike last year, when he took full advantage of his opportunity when Tellqvist couldn't handle the job, Aubin has struggled mightily this season. When Raycroft was crappin the bed in December, Aubin came in and didn't turn heads. I guess last year was a fluke. There's a reason why Aubin is a backup, and has been for most of his career.
Raycroft is the man right now. If the Leafs get to the playoffs, it's on him. His statistics aren't amazing, but he's winning, and that's all that matters in Leafs Nation.
Shoutout to the one and only, Mats Sundin. Scored number 20 Wednesday night against the Rangers, to give the Leafs a 2-1 win. It was a beauty, top shelf over Lundqvist's glove. It was the kind of goal that just made me feel all good inside; the kind of goal that makes me love the beautiful game of hockey.
Ian White made a great pass to Mats, who was streaking down the middle of the ice. He was all alone. I jumped out of my seat when he went in past the blue line, and when he put it up top past Lundqvist, I pumped my fist a la Tiger Woods.
That's what Sundin is - money. He's been in the NHL 16 years, and has scored 20 goals in each of those 16 years. Twelve of those 20 goal seasons have been with the Maple Leafs. He is the true model of consistency, and continues to get the job done. Another game winning goal to add to his stellar resume. No Leafs player has even been as clutch as Mats Sundin - he's scored 74 game winning goals with the Leafs, the most in club history. He is the greatest player to ever wear the Maple Leafs jersey.
The Leafs improved play in their own end in January was a product of Raycroft playing better, but also better team defense.
Ian White returned to the lineup from his shoulder injury and the Leafs top six defenseman are all healthy and playing together. The results are showing. With everyone healthy, Kaberle and McCabe's ice-time have gone down. They both played less than 23 minutes against the Rangers - thats a hefty drop from their usual 28 or 29 minutes. Kubina is now playing upwards of 20 minutes a night, while Gill, Colaiacovo and White are playing about 17 or 18 minutes each.
This was the defense Ferguson put together at the start of the year, and it's looking like a solid one now.
Speaking of White, he's clearly made a name for himself this season. He's definitely made this team for good, as the 5th or 6th defenseman. Brendan Bell played ok while White was injured, but Maurice doesn't give Bell the same amount of minutes, and just doesn't trust him enough. White and Gill have good chemistry playing together, and White made his mark immediately when he came back into the lineup. He got an assist in his return against the Canes on Tuesday, and set up Sundin on Wednesday. He's second in rookie defenceman scoring. Not too shabby at all for a guy who was supposedly way below on the depth chart. The future on defense looks pretty bright with Colaiacovo and White.
Big game Saturday night against the Sens. They've been on fire recently and it will be a great test for the Leafs and Raycroft.
And I've got to mention the play of Chad Kilger. I don't know how he does it, but he throws at least two or three bodychecks on every shift. He is the Leafs best forechecker and bodychecker. He's an amazingly hard worker. It's been a total team effort of late, especially in the physical play department. Guys like Belak, Newbury, Green and Kilger have been tremendous on the forecheck. Everyone's contributing.
Antropov has been great since he came back. He really is a big fella, and he's dominating downlow when he's using his huge frame. Him and Poni are great on the cycle.
To say the Eastern Conference is tight is the understatement of the year. Paul Maurice said back in September it was going to be a race, and it's shaping up to be just that. A great race, actually.
I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully, to playoff hockey at the hangar.
And playoff basketball too.