Monday, January 01, 2007

Can You Spot The Scoring Line?

O'Neil - Sundin - Steen
Tucker - Stajan - Kilger
Battaglia - Pohl - Devereaux
Ondrus - Newbury - Belak

Can you spot the scoring line? Don't worry, we had the same problem.

The Maple Leafs have hit their second stretch of major injuries, and so far, they aren't handling it very well. The first time around, at the beginning of the season the injuries all came on defense. Ian White (who impressed enough to stay with the big boys) and Brendan Bell were the minor league call ups, and Wade Belak found himself skating backwards again. The Leafs jumped that hurdle handily, relying on lots of goals and stable goaltending.

Fast-forward. The injuries have started piling up again, this time among the forwards. It started with Nik Antropov, but that wasn't news, because hell, that guy's always injured. Then, in the same game even, Kyle Wellwood and Alexei Ponikarvovsky, as crucial to Toronto's game as viagra is to Chris Chelios' (that came off harsh. We've got nothing against the NHL's reigning octogenarian), were both injured. Not to be outdone, Mike Peca, went out and showed the kids how to really get injured, breaking his tibia. His freaking tibia. That's one of them season ending injuries, for those without the advanced degree in human anatomy and sports physiology.

So, the Leafs are down four of their key cogs. Poni and Wellwood are still anywhere from a couple weeks to tomorrow away from being ready, and Antropov, who knows with that guy. The Peca injury is the worst though, obviously. Signed in the off-season, more for his inspiring playoff run with the Oilers and his ace leadership qualities than his 23 points, Peca was one of the cornerstones of this team. And now he's not.

This leaves some gaping holes in important spots. The top line is currently made up of Mats Sundin (who is probably going to carry this team into the playoffs or literally die trying - seventeen points in his last eleven games), Jeff O'Neill (who may share the same name with the guy who scored 40 for Carolina a few years back, but little else - ten in his last ten) and Alex Steen (whose three goals over his last nine games is a major improvement over one goal through his first thirty). Not a line that exactly inspires confidence.

Here's the line we've fallen in love with, though. We call it the Second Chance line. Bates Battaglia (the technical term for Battaglia's job here is "nepotism", but we love the guy anyway), Johnny Pohl (this is still his first chance actually, but he's making the most of it - seven in his last eight) and guess who, Boyd Devereaux. Signed to one of those AHL contracts in the offseason, Devereaux has finally worked his way back into the NHL with Toronto, and he's made the best of it too - he has three points in his three games back in the bigs.

So what the Leafs now lack in skill and goal scoring, they make up for in grit and chutzpah (see last night's checking line of Belak, Ondrus, and Newbury, which actually scraped together a goal. Don't worry, in true checking line fashion, it trickled over the line).

Speaking of grit, the Leafs ground the Boston Bruins into the ground last night, 5-1. You can imagine the Leafs will be happy about that one, since a) this depleted roster has been a little starved for wins lately, and b) the Bruins have summarily kicked the shit out of Toronto all season. To see one go the other way was just a little nice. It helped that the Bruins played to lose, and that the Leafs cut down on the sloppy play that had been costing them recent games, and that Sundin continues to do most of the Leafs' goalscoring (and continues to ensure that no Leaf ever wears 13 again).

Because the NHL schedulers think they are funny, Toronto plays Boston again on Thursday. Believe it or not, it is possible to see too much of the B's, especially when they have this bad habit of winning against Toronto.

Until then,


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