Saturday, November 14, 2009

Now Playing in the Toronto Nets: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

So much for the Monster.

The Toronto Maple Leafs saw what great goaltending can do tonight firsthand, and unfortunately for them, the guy who put on a clinic was wearing white and red.

The Leafs lost to the Calgary Flames on home ice by a 5-2 score in a game they pretty much dominated (outshooting the Flames 40-22, limiting Calgary to just 4 in the second frame), but Miikka Kiprusoff showed off his 2006 Vezina Trophy-winning form on this night, stoning Toronto to the tune of 38 saves and a .950 save percentage.

The home fans were treated to a horror show in their net, though. Starting goalie Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson gave up two goals on the first two shots he faced, helping Calgary put up a 2-0 lead in the first 1:37 of the game. He was chased from the game after just 9:54, giving up three goals on five total shots (that's a .400 save percentage for you scoring at home- yeeouch!) with his team down, 3-1, meaning he also got tagged with the loss, dropping his record to 3-4-3...that save percentage and GAA will really take a hit.

Vesa Toskala came in and was better, but not by much when you really get down to it. He stopped 15 of 17 shots, but only faced four total in the second period and gave up a back-breaker on Jarome Iginla's second of the game (from almost the same spot on the outside, I might add) to make it 4-2, Calgary at 2:30 of the second.

Tonight, the goaltending lost the game for the Leafs, and this when they were a significantly better team than their opponent. This is important, because Toronto just isn't that good a club to begin with, so when they overachieve up front and on D, they've got to have their goaltending in top shape. It wasn't, and it cost the Leafs two important points that they can't have back to help them in the standings.

One more thing about Gustavsson: I know Leafs fans love him and all, but maybe some of them come back down to terra firma a bit after this loss. He simply Was. Not. Ready. To. Play. And that, my friends, is one unforgivable sin as a first-year player, nevermind on a team that can't afford to throw away any points.

HNIC play-by-play man Craig Simpson (who put a dagger in Bruins fans' hearts in 1988 and 1990 when he was a member of the Edmonton Oilers) related the story that Gustavsson blew off the optional morning skate today in Toronto. He made it clear that in his opinion, veteran players have earned the right to do that, but first year NHL goalies...not acceptable. Now, you can make excuses for him if you want, but I watched him on all three goals he gave up and they were just bad ones that not only put his team behind before the game was really underway, but sucked the life out of his players as well. Gustavsson, for whatever reason, opted not to skate, and I think it was a mistake. If you don't believe that might have played into Ron Wilson's quick hook of him in period 1, then give it another go. He's a taskmaster like coach, and even though his team was late getting in from Chicago, he undoubtedly expected Gustavsson to be there. Message sent. Question is- was message received?

The Monster was scary bad in net tonight...and let's rest assured he won't get the option to miss any more skates from here on out. In his first chance to show the coach he was ready to go out get a key win at home after the Leafs dropped a tough loss on the road to Chicago, he took the path of lesser resistance. And it was he who was the horror show instead.

Speaking of horror movies, what on earth was that abomination of an ending in Pittsburgh tonight? For a second there, I thought I was watching a remake of the Blair Witch Project, but alas, no- it was the surrendering of a sure point by Boston at the last second.

For those who missed it, Bruins are up, 5-4 after battling back from 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 deficits thanks to a Marco Sturm deflection of Big Z Chara's point shot in the third. With 9 seconds left and the Bruins hemming the Pens in their own end with goalie Brent Johnson pulled, Patrice Bergeron gets the puck at the point and shatters his stick, allowing the Pens an all-or-nothing jailbreak up the ice. Former Bruin Bill Guerin takes the perfect pass and blasts the shot off the post and into the net with- get this- 0.04 seconds left on the clock to send the game to overtime. Predictably, with all that momentum, a misplayed puck by Tim Thomas behind the net ended up on Pascal Dupuis' stick facing an open net for his 100th career goal and the game-winner in OT. 6-5, Pens and they were dancing at the Igloo tonight.

Just a brutal ending to what should have been two points for Boston.

Unlike the Leafs, the B's at least got a point (and while Thomas deserves the blame for the OT goal, he helped his team steal a point in regulation with some excellent saves, including Sidney Crosby on a shorthanded breakaway), but boy- this Olde Towne Teame just isn't getting it done with any modicum of consistency. Bergeron's broken stick was as confounding as it was unforgivable given the timing of it.

If I were a coach, I would outlaw composite sticks in the final minute of any game when leading and force the players to use wooden sticks. It's inconceivable that a veteran of Patrice's experience and stature would allow something like that to happen when all he needed given the time left on the clock was a soft dump to the corner instead of trying to wire it into the empty net, placing the kind of torque on the shaft which snapped it in two. Maybe the soft dump was what he was trying to do, but once again- we've seen one of these $100+ sticks shatter at a critical moment, and tonight, it contributed to costing the Bruins a point in the standings. These stick manufacturers ought to pay the NHL teams serious money when things like this happen. As Bill O'Reilly likes to say, "It just might be...ridiculous."

B's take the ice next on Monday against John Tavares and the resurgent NY Islanders, while the Leafs travel to Kanata to take on provincial rival Ottawa on Tuesday. Both clubs have some soul-searching to do between now and then.

I'll have the pick updates for you on Monday.

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