Anyone still looking for my cannon past the Bloggerazzi's bow: http://my.hockeybuzz.com/...567&post_id=2810
But, enough on that. Now onto Toronto:
Toronto, a team that should be a winner, in a city that is hockey-crazed. I remember my brother and I heading there and experiencing the Ottawa vs Toronto game, smashed at some bar, along with Bernie Nicholl's crazy cousins. I didn't know if one of them was going to punch the guys from Ottawa or buy them a beer who were also at the bar. Perhaps they didn't quite know either.
Toronto sits under a cloud, despite two key offseason changes:
1. Will Toskala take over as he should be doing?
2. Will Raycroft up his game as to show what he can do?
3. Would Jason Blake turn the on-switch on the 1st line and be the right fit with Sundin
Now, with a 1-2-1 record, with neither goalie showing the ability to close doors nor take the lead, there is a building pressure in TO.
Sure it's early. Sure there is a grace period when you add new players and dynamics. But this is a team that is expected, and really should be in the playoffs year in and year out. Yet it has not. And that, besides a very powerful fanbase, has led to the heat that now pervades the city and building.
Add to this Jason Blake's announcement, the air is heavy and thick. And in comes the Isles, Blake's former team.
If there is one man who is ready for tonight's game, it will be Jason Blake. And the Islanders will have to be ready for his speed and aggression. Add to this equation and very hot Mats Sundin who has 1 goal and 6 assists so far.
So far the Isles have weathered the storm of Buffalo and the Rangers. The defense, most of whom are not crease clearers nor immovable object, been using that to their advantage, using their speed and stature to push those opposing forwards clambering in the zone to the outside, to minimize damage. Then trying to block the pass routes, and keep those who do make their way in front of the net to cause trouble.
So far, it has worked. But there were many times versus the Rangers where lucky bounces or just sheer havoc in front of the net didn't go their way. In other words, it won't work everytime unless the Isles 7-man defensive front gets better at it.
In my conversation with Bruno Gervais, besides him confirming my suspicions that this defensive scheme was indeed made to push forwards to the outside, he also confirmed something else: That the 7-man defense each play a role. Whether it was Powerplay/Offensive fixtures like Berard, MAB, Martinek, and even Campoli. Or shot blockers like Witt and Sutton. Or those inbetween, like himself or Johnson. This defense now has all sort of roleplayers for every scenario. Former QMJHL head coach John Chabot is working the PK schemes. Former Bluejackets coach Gerard Gallant is running the Powerplay units. All sorts of roles and delegation is happening, and it's led to some wins, and at least in the failure versus the Capitals, led to peppering the opposing goalie.
But now, on the road, is the true test and to see if those bending of the defense can hold, or break. Toronto is hungry and feeling some pressure. Jason Blake is playing tonight, and you know he will test it's limits against his former team.
The Isles need to not allow too much pressure on Rick, and their defense needs to hold. If they do, then the 1st line and powerplay can create points. Berard and MAB need to produce, and not be liabilities and cough up the puck.
Miroslav Satan and Josef Vasicek need to wake up. Otherwise the focus of the TO lines will be to stifle the Isles only weapons on the first line.
I should call one of Bernie's cousins and ride a nice case of Molson Brador's on the game. Problem is winning and collecting invites a left hook to the jaw.