The Buffalo Sabres have started well this season. The Maple Leafs have not. Looking on the bright side, the Leafs team has claimed a possible 3 of the 4 points over the past two games. Despite this success, Viktor Stalberg has been sent down to the Marlies. If management is tinkering, and while on the Euro tip, Rickard Wallin is on the cusp in my opinion. I'm surprised (though I shouldn't be) that he doesn't throw his weight around more, and establish his presence in front of the net.
In accordance with my demands, however, Niklas Hagman decided to score a hattrick on Monday, for which I'm grateful, yet went silent against Dallas, his former team, on Wednesday. Nicely, in his stead, young Nikolai Kulemin decided to pop a few in and make a claim for continued good favours from the GM.
Yes, signs of life, and real spirit.
A few weeks ago I sought a goalie who could flip flop with the best and stand on his head to ensure a victory night after night, and I thought The Monster was going to be duly rewarded with a come from behind victory against Dallas. Alas, an unlucky bounce here and a bad call there, and the result was another loss. I noticed an angry goalie leaving the ice... this is very, very encouraging.
Nonetheless, we also saw some stones from Stempniak, who also delivered a truly good one-timer for a goal the other night.
Of course, Jason Blake is still hitting and skating well, and being rather wonderfully pesky at times; leading the team with shots, though not being rewarded with a goal lately, is frustrating. He, like Hagman, needs a breakout night. I wonder if The Sabres will provide the necessary inspiration. Blake's a slow burning fuse right now. He's lit, and it's a matter of time before someone punches him in the face to cause the much-anticipated and entertaining explosion on the scoresheet.
When Phil Kessel is finally inserted into The Leafs lineup, I predict he will have the same infectious impact as young Paul Kariya did when dropped into a disastrous Ducks season. These days I wonder if Burke is seeking to land Marc Savard. In the meantime, it's a good bet that speedy Tyler Bozak is his set-up man down the road.
But back to the big news of the day: the return of young Jiri Tlusty, and his scoring touch currently tearing up the AHL, replacing a stalled Stalberg, and overshadowing this cool stat: the Leafs recent success has moved them to 1st in the league on the PP with a 30.8% success rate. (Though their penalty killers are still worst in the league at 63.4%.) Talented Tlusty during his AHL career has produced 1.07 points per game, and has played very well with Matt Stajan and Hagman previously.
This slow start to the season can be blamed on the players, except Ian White, by the GM, but apparently this is strategic coaching in action, as Coach Wilson aptly demonstrated in San Jose (2003-04) and Anaheim (1996-97) with teams that struggled out the gate but eventually made it into the playoffs. All in all, we're doing well, except the Leafs are heading into Buffalo.
It's games like these that make a break a season, and are defining when viewed retrospectively. The Buffalo Sabres are riding high. Toronto, well Leafs fans, are riding a 3-point wave. I predict a dynamic duo of Mikhail Grabovski and Alexei Ponikarovsky to be heroes of the game, providing some decisive scoring punch and boosting the team shift after shift; being inspirational - simply being leaders.
In terms of turning a corner, both Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek are due for a defining moment early in their careers as proud Leafs. Beauchemin is getting his chances from the blue line, while Komiserek is settling down, and starting to consistently deliver grit, carefully, behind the scenes. This activity is great news as well for young Luke Schenn, who admittedly is struggling but will continue rebound and negate any worries of a sophomore slump in the NHL.
Prediction: Toronto 5 Buffalo 2. Jonas Gustavsson will be the First Star; Grabovski second and Ponikarovsky third.