Leafs Attempt Critical Corner against Caps on Way to the Cup

Graeme BoyceCorrespondent IDecember 28, 2008

A few days ago, and a mere week after the debacle in Boston, we saw yet another debacle as the Leafs went down to defeat against the last place Islanders and a few days before that the Leafs were soundly clobbered by the Stars.  All Leafs fans knew (and were expecting) a clobbering, due to the road trip and their collective sore legs, and all hope for a victory was quickly dashed in the opening minutes.

The debacle in Long Island proved statistics mean nothing.  Any team can win on any night.

So, onto Washington.  And Alexander Ovechkin. The teams played recently and the Caps won, but it was close.  Prior to this game, the hometown team was also honouring a former Leafs speedster, Mike Gartner.  This could only serve as inspiration.  Oddly, it did seem like Grabovski was inspired out of the gate—though likely for another reason: Ovechkin.  I doubt they like each other.

Hagman scored a beauty to open it up, a real nice pick in the top corner off a broken play.  Yet "broken" only because in the confusion Grabovski caused controlling the puck deep all opposition eyes were on him and not Hagman who was patrolling near the circle.  Perhaps like a shark. 

Luckily, for all concerned, Toskala did not let the first shot in, and played well throughout the first, without the threat of Pogge ensuring his dismissal. 

The Leafs were not thinking about the previous two (or three) debacles, nor thinking about upcoming games against the Thrashers or Sabres.  Nope. They were off to a good start and quite focused on the task at hand: beating the Capitals in their own vaunted arena.  Especially Ovechkin.

Too bad about Stajan, yet I was truly hoping Mayers would step up, or Williams.  However, it seems the latter has now been taking shooting lessons from Antropov.  In the first period, the Leafs should have gone up 2-0, but Williams shot it into the chest of Theodore.  Nonetheless, despite this, the game progressed nicely.

Kulemin was finally showing some spark, since the outset of the season when he offered some serious promise.  After the debacles, maybe he was told to.  With Schenn still down (due to Ovechkin), it is refreshing to see a new defender, Sifers, come in and replace the injured budding star.

As a Leafs fan, given our history over the years, you can really see a goal coming a mile away in the dreaded dying seconds of any period... so, as the Leafs were flubbering around in our own end as the second was coming to a close, who else was causing havoc in the span of 10 seconds?  Ovechkin. 

Yes, a puck that went right through Toskala.  That shot set the scene for the third.

After getting a goal against the lowly Islanders the other night, Stempniak needed to keep his scoring streak alive.  Getting away with a little goalie interference in the second likely helped.  He had his chances, so did Grabovski.  Stempniak and Grabovski need to shoot more, and on the net.

Blake should have come through though at the end of the day.  I predict Deveaux and Williams are not going to stick around much longer, nor Kulemin—but the players who I thought let the team down were Kaberle and Kubina.  I am not going to mention the play of Antropov, or should I say Mr. Invisible.  Actually, I think Poni had a better game.

Kaberle never demonstrates "brilliance" (yes, there is an occasional decent rush, and an occasional decent shot, but surely tossing the puck out from behind the net to a rushing forward late in the game is simply bone-headed. Not since the days of Bob McGill playing back there have I seen a gaffe like that.

Kubina needs to learn (a) to deliver the snapshot, and (b) stop taking penalties.  When Schenn comes back, I would keep Sifers up and deal Kubina in a heartbeat.  In the meantime, we are back home for four straight and first welcome the Thrashers, then the Sabres.

So, we will be out of this minor slump soon enough.