Tag:Toronto Maple Leafs
Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:11 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:15 pm
 

Injuries starting to build for the Maple Leafs

MapleLeafsBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are losing ground in the playoff race, and they're also starting to lose bodies on the ice.

Just one night after losing forwards Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong, Toronto lost two more players on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh when defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Brown went down on their first shifts of the night and did not return during a 3-2 loss to the Penguins, a game that saw the Maple Leafs blow a two-goal lead, losing for the 11th time in their past 13 games.

Franson did not return after getting hit in the eye with a stick, and Brown left with what was described as a lower body injury.

"We showed signs of enthusiasm and kind of stuck with our game plan," said Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, coaching his third game with the team after replacing Ron Wilson last week. "I thought we were better from a defensive standpoint in the critical areas. I thought our work ethic was stronger, but we ran out of bodies. We lost two bodies in the first ten minutes tonight and taxes it everybody else. Then it showed on some of the ... I would call them questionable decisions. When to pinch, when not to pinch, turnovers, position versus the regroup, all that kind of stuff. It's the little things that are costing us in these situations."

It wasn't hard to see how outmanned the Leafs were on Wednesday night, spending much of the night tied up in their own end of the ice. For the most part, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson did everything he could to keep his team in the game, only allowing two goals, one of which was deflected right in front of him on its way into the net, before giving up what can only be described as a soft goal to Pascal Dupuis early in the third period for the eventual game-winner.

Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf did not want to use the injuries, including the one to Lupul and Armstrong, as an excuse as it should give other players an opportunity to make an impact in the lineup.

"It's an opportunity for guys to step up," said Phaneuf. It gives guys a little more opportunity, but when you lose a guy like [Lupul] and you lose Army in the same game, and we lose two more guys tonight, guys have to step up. Injuries are a part of the game and you can't use it as an excuse.

"Guys have to adapt to it. Every team goes through injury problems. Look over there [at Pittsburgh]. They have one of the top players in the world, if not the top player out, and they're winning hockey games. You've got to adapt, you've got to have guys step up, and guys did step up, but we just made more mistakes than they did tonight."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 7, 2012 10:49 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Pominville keeps Sabres in race



By: Adam Gretz


There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Buffalo Sabres: Thanks to Jason Pominville's overtime goal (as seen above) the Buffalo Sabres managed to gain a little more ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race on Wednesday night.

Their 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes pulled them to within two points of a playoff spot in the East, and they've now won seven of their past nine games, with one of the losses coming in overtime (meaning they still gained a point in the standings). There isn't going to be much time to celebrate this one, however, as they have to get right back into it just 24 hours later when they visit the Boston Bruins.

The Sabres controlled much of the game and after falling behind 1-0 early in the first period, they stormed out in the second period and received a pair of goals from Thomas Vanek and Nathan Gerbe less than two minutes into the period.

Ryan Miller, one of the biggest reasons for the late season turnaround, stopped 22 of the 24 shots he faced.

[Related: Sabres 3, Hurricanes 2]

Brad Thiessen and the Penguins: Rookie goaltender Brad Thiessen was a surprise starter for the Penguins on Wednesday night and he ended up playing a heck of a game, stopping 22 of 24 shots and holding down the fort in Pittsburgh as his teammates erased a two-goal deficit to earn a 3-2, come-from-behind win against the Maple Leafs.

His biggest save of the night came late in the third period, with Toronto on a power play, when he slid across his goal crease and made a fantastic pad save on a Phil Kessel one-timer, preserving what was a one-goal lead for the Penguins one-goal.

The Penguins have only won five games that Marc-Andre Fleury did start this season, and two of them have gone to the rookie Thiessen, his only two starts of the year.

[Related: Penguins 3, Maple Leafs 2 -- Letang: the missing piece]

Losers

Toronto Maple Leafs: On a night where one of the teams they're chasing in the playoff race -- the Sabres -- picked up two points, the Maple Leafs letting a two-goal lead against the Penguins slip away, the second time they've done so in as many trips to Pittsburgh, is not what they were looking for.

Especially as they suffered even more injuries, losing defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Brown within the first 10 minutes of the game, just one night after losing forwards Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong.

Toronto is falling fast in the standings, and with injuries starting to mount the season seems as if it's on the verge of slipping away.

[Related: Playoff race]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:53 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 3:18 pm
 

Kris Letang: the missing piece for the Penguins



By: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the importance of Kris Letang to the Penguins' postseason chances.

When it was announced on Tuesday afternoon that Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact, the next major step in his latest attempt return to the lineup, it sent a wave of excitement and optimism through the Penguins fan base.

It's not hard to see why. He is, after all, their captain, their best player, and the best player in the league when he's healthy.  With him in the lineup the Penguins should go from being a Stanley Cup contender to, perhaps, one of the top two or three favorites -- if not the favorite -- in the NHL ... if their lineup remains intact.

His return, whenever it happens (it apparently won't be before Sunday's game against Boston) will certainly have a significant impact on their chances. But, and as crazy as this may sound, there is still another player they are currently without that may be even more important for any sort of Stanley Cup run in Pittsburgh -- defenseman Kris Letang, who is currently out of the lineup after being hit by Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars at the end of February.

It's the second time this year he's missed time with a head injury, missing over 20 games with a concussion earlier this season after he was hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty.

The Penguins have been without Crosby, minus the eight games he played earlier this season, since the beginning of last January, which is over a full calendar year and nearly a season-and-a-half worth of games, and they have still managed to be one of the top teams in the NHL.

In 65 games this season they are the third-highest scoring team in the league (in terms of goals per game) and have the second most points in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers. It's a testament to the depth they've acquired over the years and the 1-2 punch they still have down the middle at center with Evgeni Malkin (arguably the best player in hockey right now) and Jordan Staal, a duo that few teams in the NHL can match up with.

Even without Crosby they still have another No. 1 center, a darn good No. 2 center, and a pretty potent offense overall. One of the best in the league.

What they don't have without Letang is another No. 1 defenseman, and that's a pretty glaring weakness to have on a potential Stanley Cup team. Their blue line takes on an entirely different look without him, and it simply isn't anywhere near as effective. Just looking at the raw numbers this season: with Letang in the lineup the Penguins are 25-10-5, average over 3.2 goals per game, only allow 2.4 and have a total goal-differential of plus-31.

Without him those numbers drop down to a 14-11-0 record, 2.68 goals for per game, 2.56 against and a total goal differential of just plus-3.

Is Letang by himself worth that entire difference? Well, not exactly, because the Penguins have had other players out of the lineup at various times, but his absence is still huge given the number of roles he's asked to play, and the way he's able to perform within them.

He plays over 25 minutes a night, he is their power play quarterback, a regular on the penalty kill, and during even-strength situations he takes on some of toughest assignments on the Penguins defense, as the scatterplot below, which uses Corsi Relative Quality of Competition and Offensive Zone starts, helps to illustrate. The closer to the top left (meaning tougher opponents and fewer offensive zone starts) the more difficult the assignments, and the closer to the bottom right the "softer" the assignments.

PenguinsDefense

As you can see, the Penguins have a pretty set group of top-four defensemen that stand out from the pack when it comes to their 5-on-5 assignments with Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek. Everybody else that's played on their blue line this season has been relatively protected. And when Letang is out of the lineup, as he's been for 25 games and counting this season, one of those other players has to step into a top-four role, and the results aren't always pretty.

Letang not only draws some of the toughest assignments on their blue line, he also outperforms everybody else. He has a positive Relative Corsi rating (a sign that when he's on the ice the Penguins are controlling the puck far more than they are when he's not on the ice) and he is by far their leading scorer on the blue line despite appearing in just 40 games. Orpik is a great physical presence on the blue line, and Martin hasn't been anywhere near as bad as his many critics in Pittsburgh want you to believe that he's been, but none of them are as valuable to the Penguins blue line as Letang.

His ability to get the puck out of danger, lead the rush and control the game is unmatched by any other player on their defense.

Crosby's return will be huge news, and it will give the Penguins pretty obscene depth down the middle. But the return of Letang is what would potentially put the the Penguins over the top, on paper anyway.

I'm still convinced they could win without Crosby due to the presence of Malkin and Staal at center. I'm not convinced they can win without Letang (even with Crosby) because they have nobody else that can fill his skates on defense.

(Corsi, Quality of Competition and Zone Start Data all via BehindtheNet.ca)

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:18 pm
 

Leafs' Lupul separates shoulder, out 3-4 weeks

Lupul is right behind Kessel for the team lead in points. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

When it rains it pours, which is what is happening to the Toronto Maple Leafs right now. On Wednesday they announced that All-Star winger Joffrey Lupul is going to miss the next 3-4 weeks after separating his shoulder.

In the process, the Leafs also announced that Colby Armstrong is day to day after breaking his nose and the team called up Ashton Carter to fill in. Carter was the return from Tampa Bay in the Keith Aulie trade.

Just in case you still had hopes that the Leafs were going to turn things around under the guidance of new coach Randy Carlyle and get back into the playoff pictures, this news has to remove any hope. Lupul has been a massive part of Leafs this season since coming over from Anaheim. His 25 goals and 42 assists are good enough for the sixth-highest point total in the league at 67.

Losers of 11 of their last 13 games, this isn't exactly what the Leafs needed to hear, even if Carlyle and Lupul haven't always gotten along going back to their Anaheim days. I can't imagine that Carlyle is too happy with this news.

Sorry to say, Toronto, but at this rate it is looking like you are going to take the lead in the longest playoff drought (as long as the Panthers don't choke down the stretch).

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 7, 2012 9:39 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 10:09 am
 

Pregame Skate: Sabres, Leafs continue push

Lindy Ruff and Buffalo return home. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

7 ET, Carolina at Buffalo

The first of only two games on an even quieter than usual Wednesday, all eyes will be on the Sabres after a good road trip. They went 3-1-1 on a trip that included stops in Madison Square Garden, Vancouver and Winnipeg. It resurrected their previously dead season.

However the question remains if it was more of an anomaly or the Sabres have turned the corner and shown flashes of the team many thought they would be. They can start to find that out with Wednesday's game against the Hurricanes.

Buffalo starts the night four points back of the Jets for eighth place in the East and tonight will play its one game in hand on Winnipeg. So not only would a win bring them to within just two points of the Jets, it would also pull the Sabres even in points with the Capitals in ninth.

The small bit of irony there is they would have to thank the Hurricanes for helping them achieve that as the 'Canes head to Buffalo just 24 hours after taking down the Caps in Washington with a bonus-hockey goal.

Obviously Carolina isn't going to roll over and the idea of an easy win in the NHL is almost non-existent, but this is a game the Sabres should and almost need to win. They can't make that road trip feel like it was for naught by laying an egg in their return home if they want to keep belief in a playoff berth.

7:30 ET, Toronto at Pittsburgh

The Maple Leafs are still trying to regain any semblance of their season. One way they were hoping to do that was with the hiring of Randy Carlyle. The good news? In the two games he has coached, the Leafs are outscoring their opponents by a goal. There's a plus.

The bad news is that they have still lost 12 of their last 13 games and only one of those losses came beyond 60 minutes. That's five out of the last 26 points up for grabs that they have taken. Is it any wonder then that they are almost as close to the bottom of the East as they are to Winnipeg in the playoff push?

NHL Playoffs
2011 NHL Playoffs
More NHL coverage

Now the good news is that it isn't too late to salvage their hopes even if the prospect is dire. But going into Pittsburgh and taking two points from the Penguins could potentially move them back over a pair of teams and just three points out. That's life at the bottom of the East this season, you have to fail really hard to make the playoffs out of reach.

It's pretty tough to go through a stretch of Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in five days but that's where the Leafs are. Then it's on the road for five straight. It's safe to say you'll see a very desperate team playing the Penguins tonight, but the Pens have been handling that a lot lately and are doing just fine.

Don't forget, the Penguins will be unveiling the much-anticipated Mario Lemieux statue outside of the arena.

Others were watching

There's nothing else. That's all we've got.

Your promised miscellany

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:51 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 12:54 am
 

Winners & Losers: Big night for Kings offense

KingsAdam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Los Angeles Kings: Entering Tuesday's game in Nashville it had been nearly three full months since the Los Angeles Kings scored five goals in a single game, and they managed to do it for the first time since January 9 in a 5-4 win against the Predators thanks in part to a pair of first period goals from Justin Williams.

The Kings offense, which has been the worst in the league for much of the season, is finally starting to show some signs of life in recent weeks and they have now scored 16 goals over their past five games.

Regression to the mean works both ways, and perhaps it was only a matter of time until things started to improve. A team with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty never should be one of the worst offensive teams in recent NHL history, as the Kings have been this season.

[Related Kings 5, Predators 4]

Boston Bruins: It wasn't necessarily pretty, but after losing back-to-back games over the weekend the Bruins were able to get back in the win column on Tuesday night with a 5-4 win in Toronto. The Bruins were led offensively by Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron, each scoring a pair of goals, and the win allows them to maintain their three-point lead over the Ottawa Senators, 7-3 winners in Tampa Bay, in the Northeast Division race.

The next step for the Bruins is trying to figure out how to do something they haven't done in almost two months … win consecutive games.

They have another chance on Thursday night against Buffalo.

[Related: Bruins 5, Maple Leafs 4]

Ilya Bryzgalov and the Flyers: For the second straight game Ilya Bryzgalov came up big for the Flyers, stopping 37 of the 39 shots he faced in a 3-2 win over the Red Wings. Max Talbot continued his career year for the Flyers scoring his 18th goal of the season. The only downside of the night for the Flyers was the hit forward Jakub Voracek received from Niklas Kronwall.

[Related: Flyers 3, Red Wings 2 -- Voracek crushed by Kronwall -- Grossmann's name change]

Dallas Stars: The Stars took over sole possession of first place on Tuesday night with an impressive 5-2 win in Vancouver, and in the process completed a perfect three-game road trip through western Canada, a road trip that saw them outscore the Flames, Oilers and Canucks by a 10-5 margin. Thanks to the Coyotes loss in Columbus (more on that below) the Stars now have a two-point lead over Phoenix in the Pacific Division race.

Mike Ribeiro had a three-point night (two goals, assist) in the win and also won over 50 percent of his faceoffs, while Richard Bachman 29 of 31 shots.

Losers

Phoenix Coyotes: After putting together an 11-0-1 run in February some regression had to be expected for the Coyotes at some point. They weren't going to keep winning forever, and even though they entered Tuesday's game riding a three-game losing streak, they showed some signs of busting out of their mini-slump on Monday night.

But that was all erased on Tuesday in Columbus where they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Blue Jackets, losing to the 30th ranked team in the NHL for the second time in less than a week. Those are points you can not let slip away, and the last thing the Coyotes can afford right now is to have this turn into a five or six game losing streak.

[Related: Blue Jackets 3, Coyotes 2 -- For Coyotes, playoffs have already started]

Toronto Maple Leafs: What started as a positive day with the re-signing of forward Mikhail Grabovski ended with not only a loss on the scoreboard to the Bruins, their fifth in a row this season, but also included injuries to forwards Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong, neither of which is expected to play Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. Not good.

[Related: Leafs re-sign Grabovski]

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 6, 2012 10:08 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:32 am
 

Leafs re-sign Mikhail Grabovski for five seasons

Grabovski has 20 goals this season for Toronto. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Toronto Maple Leafs have re-signed center Mikhail Grabovski to a five-year contract, ensuring that their talented centerman won't hit the free-agent market this summer.

The cost? Well it's going to be a little expensive for the Leafs.

There hasn't been a whole lot of good news coming out of Toronto recently, so consider Tuesday morning's break to be a relief. The team has lost its grip on the playoff position it held for so long, head coach Ron Wilson was just fired and GM Brian Burke has continued to be Brian Burke, making news for something every other day.

This bit of newsmaking is good, though. Very good. Grabovski's name was floated a bit at the trade deadline since he wasn't under contract for next season. But in an interesting phone interview with TSN's James Duthie on deadline day, Burke expressed interest although not a whole ton of optimism they would sign Grabovski. Either way he wasn't going to be traded.

"We are extremely pleased to have Mikhail under contract for the next five seasons,” Burke said in the team's release. “His speed and skill are valuable commodities and fit perfectly with our style of play. He leads by example and his work ethic speaks for itself."

Grabovski is technically the No. 2 center for the Leafs but many would argue he's the best centerman on the team. He helps give Toronto a solid second line. This season he has 20 goals and 25 assists to follow up his 29-29=58 of last season.

The price tag, as you might expect, comes in a little high. But compare it to other recent signings such as Ales Hemsky in Edmonton and it shouldn't be a total shock. Grabovski is a legit top-six centerman and people all across hockey will tell you that's not easy to find. The Leafs have a good one and they had to make sure they kept him.

I get the sense that I'm in the minority on this one in thinking it's not a bad deal for Toronto. Grabovski will still be just 33 when the deal is done and he should consistently give the Leafs 25-plus goals each season at center.

What do you think, good deal?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 3, 2012 11:59 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 12:06 am
 

Winners & Losers: Maple Leafs win Carlyle's debut



By: Adam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Toronto Maple Leafs: It's too soon to start planning the parade in Toronto, but the Randy Carlyle era at least got off to a good start thanks to a 3-1 win in Montreal, and it was a pretty solid performance by the Leafs as well. And a much needed one.

Toronto won for just the second time in its past 12 games, and did so by nearly doubling the Canadiens on the shot chart (42-22) and receiving a pair of goals from Mikhail Grabovski, both of which came in the third period, including the eventual game-winner at the 11:45 mark.

The Leafs still have a ton of work to do in the playoff race now that the Lightning and Sabres have worked their way into it, but it's a good start, even if it's just for one night.

[Related: Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 1 -- Leafs hire Carlyle]

Nashville Predators: Saturday night was a big night for all of Nashville's trade deadline pickups during their 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers.

Andrei Kostitsyn scored his first goal as a member of the Predators and added an assist, Paul Gaustad had an assist and won 68 percent of his draws, and Hal Gill played 18 minutes, blocked a pair of shots and was credited with an assist of his own.

Pekka Rinne was also pretty sensational for Nashville between the pipes stopping 39 of the 40 shots he faced and winning his league leading 36th game of the season.

The win gives Nashville 83 points on the season and has the Predators in a pretty comfortable playoff position, currently fifth in the Western Conference..

[Related: Predators 3, Panthers 1]

Tampa Bay Lightning: I'm starting to believe this can really happen for the Lightning. Making the playoffs, that is.

They're a great home team and the schedule the rest of the way is heavy on the home side, and Steven Stamkos looks unstoppable right now with two more goals, including the game-winner, in a 4-3 overtime win on Saturday night.

[Related: Lightning 4, Hurricanes 3 -- Stamkos does it again]

Losers

Boston Bruins: Bad day all around for the Bruins. Not only did they lose in regulation to the New York Islanders, 3-2, but they also lost goaltender Tuukka Rask to an undisclosed injury that appeared to be to his left leg, preventing him from putting any weight on it as he left the ice.

The Bruins still haven't won consecutive games since the middle of January, and you have to go all the way back to late December to find the last time they were able to string together a stretch of at least three straight wins.

They look … human.

[Related: Islanders 3, Bruins 2 -- Rask injured]

Phoenix Coyotes: The Phoenix Coyotes were pretty much unable to lose in February, going 11-0-1 for the month to take over first place in the Pacific Division, and now they appear unable to win in March.

On Saturday night they dropped the second straight game, this time losing at home, 5-2, to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The worst team in hockey. That is a bad, bad loss for Phoenix, and one the Coyotes might look back on at the end of the season if they lose the division (or, worse, miss the playoffs) by one or two points.

[Related: Blue Jackets 5, Coyotes 2]

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com