It's been a while. I apologize for those who have been wondering what happened to me...(Roadrunner especially!)
Compacted with some laptop computer issues ($875 and a little bit more for tech support via Geek Squad, that has finally been addressed), coaching both junior high and high school teams in the fall, as well as and other commitments, I have spent the month of October watching games when I can and getting a good sense of what the NHL has to offer so far this young season.
During the month of October, I thought the Maple Leafs and the Kings were holding their own well. Toronto still prone to turning pucks over, but still playing with a very physical edge. LA struggling to score goals, as usual. But solid play overall, the Leafs and Kings were still tough club to beat, especially in regulation.
Now, players are dropping like flies as well as certain players simply not pulling their weight.
Before I get into this, I am just going to make some points, because if I start writing in paragraph, narrative form, this could go on and on like the Bible itself.
On the Toronto Maple Leafs...
1. Nazem Kadri is given the opportunity to be the team's #1 center, instead he plays the worst game of his early career and takes undisciplined runs at a goaltender and another player, both in positions when least expecting to get drilled up high. The result, Kadri gets three games out of action, meaning the Leafs will have to play the next three games without their top three centers. This is definitely not what the Toronto brass was expecting from Kadri, and therefore, I would not be surprised if the team took further action by sending #43's butt to the press box after he is eligible. Not all because of his reckless, out of control play Wednesday, but also because his overall play is nowhere near the level it was last season. Rewarded because of injuries, instead lets the team down at a real bad time.
2. Jonathan Bernier played his rear end off last night, but I still think that James Reimer is the better option in goal. There have been too many moments in which Bernier has "fallen asleep" and allowed bad goals at bad times. The Carolina game and Friday against the Devils still show that Bernier is not yet capable of handling the #1 job for a prolonged period of time, which is discouraging after such a strong shortened 2013 season, in which the Kings really needed him after Quick's back problems and terms of overuse by Darryl Sutter.
3. Toronto defense...Dion Phaneuf has played some of his best hockey since he first came onto the scene with the Flames in 2005. Still, as I have said in the past, the Leafs are yet to pair him with a capable, experienced defensive partner. Say what you want about Carl Gunnarsson; he makes a big play, then moments later, goofs up badly. Cody Franson has been poor to say the least. He is starting to get better, but nowhere near his level of play last season either. Paul Ranger, as mentioned before as well, just needed a little seasoning, and has probably been Toronto's second best defenseman behind Phaneuf. Not sure what happened to Morgan Reilly Saturday in Boston, but that was a mistake to scratch him against Boston, a team which Reilly needs to play against and raise his level of play. Jake Gardiner still plays like a forward, and makes silly mistakes in his own zone at times. In fact, I would have moved him up to forward with the absences of Bozak, Bolland and now Kadri, as Mark Fraser has returned. Notice that the Leafs' level of physicality has risen since #2 return to the lineup.
Overall, still think the Maple Leafs are searching for their identity, and unfortunately the club needs to weather the storm from now until it gets Bozak and or Bolland back...still waiting for the first goal off the stick of #71...
On the LA Kings...
1. The injury to Jonathan Quick is going to be a blessing in disguise, and tonight's amazing comeback victory on Long Island is just the beginning. The kids from Manchester have provided a spark that this group has needed since the season began. The Kings have outplayed just about everyone they've faced thus far, but yet again, goals are hard to come by. There is no reason for the Kings to play guys like Daniel Carcillo, Colin Fraser or Kyle Clifford ahead of youngsters like Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson. Without these three kids, the Kings probably do not manage the five points in the last three games.
2. The play of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Mike Richards has not been up to par. Brown has scored one goal since October 21. Brownie has been a guy who I always thought led by example. Thus far, he has done very little to help back up that sentiment. The former 30-goal scorer, is not scoring, is not hitting and is simply not making things happen. At least, not the way he used to and the way us fans are used to seeing from him. The Kings are paying these guys to be the go-to guys, to make things happen, and they simply are not doing enough. Chipping in from time to time is fine, but I am just not seeing enough from them. Recently, if it weren't for the unsung heroes like the Manchester Kids, Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, the last three contests for sure would be a different story.
3. Drew Doughty is a man on a mission. Due to the lack of scoring from the guys who should be scoring, we are constantly seeing #8 stepping up, trying to make a play in the offensive zone. In the past, Doughty used to go on the attack and forget about the defensive responsibilities, but #8 I think has been the best Kings player thus far this season. If the Kings were to lose Doughty for an extended period of time, then I would be more worried.
4. Word tonight came from Jim Fox from an LA Times twitter feed that Jeff Carter will miss at least three more weeks with a broken foot. I believe he broke the same foot a few seasons back while in Philadelphia. Carter is the Kings most prolific scorer, so playing without his services also puts a little more pressure on the other four "go-to" guys mentioned above. We all knew that t some point, guys would start getting hurt, and for the first time in his career, Jonathan Quick will eventually spend some time on the IR. This should not hurt the Kings as bad as others think. Guys like Toffoli, Vey, Pearson and even Martin Jones have played solid hockey while in Manchester the last few seasons, just waiting for their chance. What a great start tonight in NY. To reiterate what GM Dean Lombardi said earlier today while joining his team on the trip through the NYC area, "these next few weeks are going to show what this team is made of." These guys sure showed a little bit of what they are made of. The rest is up to the regular guys stepping up and showing that they still are a viable Cup winning team, even without several key pieces.
Should be fun over the next few weeks!
• I said it before, and will say it again; The Boston Bruins are still the class of the East and the team to beat.
• Watch out for the NY Rangers...they are healthy and back in their building after a tough start and all those games on the road.
• Is Tampa Bay for real? Just ask the Ducks and Canadiens the last two games facing the Bolts without their stud Stamkos. If this keeps up, Ben Bishop could be considered a huge fantasy hockey steal, and viable Vezina candidate.
• Colorado Avalanche...? I stated in preseason predictions that this was a young team, with a Hall of Fame goaltender and a guy who doesn't full around in Patrick Roy as a coach. Team has nothing to lose and have played like it. Got smoked tonight in STL...Still not convinced the Avs are a playoff team, but with the realignment fixtures, they could be in a weaker Central Division that feature the likes of the Blackhawks and Blues and not much else.
• I love the Dallas Stars new threads! Love em, especially the road ones!
• Lastly, NY Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin deserves an EMMY for his acting jobs tonight against the Kings. Dwight King never came close to the 23-year netminder, yet the goalie went flying backwards like he had been struck by a dump truck. King got the penalty for goaltender interference, despite not even coming into contact with the goaltender and the ref was standing right next to the goal cage. Bad play and bad call! Later in the game, Anze Kopitar could not stop in time, and ran into Poulin, who once again, collapsed like a pillar of salt making the minor collision seem like the scene from Home Alone 2 with the tool chest charging down the stairs. Well done Kevin. Perhaps you totally deserve the loss and allowing the floodgates to open in the last 15 minutes tonight. Karma is a b***h Kev!
In response to Meeqsb, I understand your point. Right now those teams may be doing quite well, but it is only mid-November. I still do not think that teams like the Wild, Avalanche, Stars, and Blues are as strong as Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver or Phoenix. I would also take Calgary or Edmonton over Winnipeg when it comes to bottom feeders. When all said and done, the Kings, Ducks, Sharks, Canucks and Coyotes will all be considerably stronger than those Central division clubs, excluding of course Chicago. St. Louis is a tough team, but I think the Kings, Ducks and Coyotes are very similar and also formidably stronger versions of the Blues. And when it comes to playoff hockey, the current Blues group still has a lot to prove.
In response to Roadrunner, the trade for Peter Holland was a very solid move by Dave Nonis. He did play very well last night, despite taking a bad penalty at one point. Not sure if you heard Don Cherry's comments last night about Nazem Kadri, pretty much echoing what I said on Wednesday..."smarten up Kadri, you played stupid!" With the acquisition of Holland and impending return of Bozak, Kadri better step up his game, otherwise he may find his way to the press box. Jerred Smithson has also played well as the team's bottom six center, also filling in a bit on the penalty kill with the increased workload of Jay McClement. Those guys have also been winning a good majority of the face offs as well.
More important...Mark Fraser was injured again last night and did not return. Nor sure of his status. I suggest checking the post game videos and interviews on MapleLeafs.com. Toronto cannot bear to have any more significant injures, especially to their toughest blue liner. Moreover, Cody Franson continues to play soft, purposeless hockey. He has turned into a turn over machine just like his partner Jake Gardiner. Both men almost single-handedly gave the Sabres goals on irresponsible plays in front of James Reimer, who was forced to be extra sharp in the final period despite giving up two goals. I know Roadrunner, you like Bernier in goal first, but Reimer finds ways to win. Bernier, recently, has found ways to lose. If Fraser is out again, Franson and Gardiner must play better, although I still think Gardiner should be moved to a wing where the team no longer has to put up with his dangerous defensive play.
Where has Morgan Reilly been? No news of an injury or illness. The Leafs need him out there.
Did you hear what John Scott said about Dion Phaneuf? Called him "Princess Phaneuf". Strong words coming from a guy who can barely play this game, especially on probably the worst team in the NHL. Have fun in the cellar all season Scott. What a disgrace to the game.