The Pre-Game: Oh Lordy, we hate being right. Especially if it involves Canada. Not as in: their single-payer health care system is far more efficient than our insurance company-laden poop pie. More like: there’s no more dangerous team than an underestimated one with shelves of talent and an insane fan base. (Either way, it’s a poop pie, frankly.)
So here we are, game 3 of 3 of the road trip, landing us square in Squaresville: Toronto. (Wagging finger in old maid mode:) We warned you about those teams! We cautioned against squads whose numbers didn’t quite look right, yet had piles of skill ready to dump on the ice! What, you didn’t listen? You think you know better? Are you listening to me?
Uh, no, chances are, you’re not. At least not based on the last few Caps’ book in Vegas. We think that changes Saturday.
The Puck Drop
Rumor was, long ago, there was a rainbow in Toronto, and a pot of gold at Yonge Street. Of course, that’s before the city ripped it all up, replacing the record stores and adult theaters with Benettons and Timmy Hos. Progress.
But they still have maple donuts, the CN Tower, and the Maple Leafs, led by none other than Brian Burke. Dare: go look up “truculence” online right now, and tell me that you don’t get a reference to Brian Burke. Look, we love coach Juggles; but head-t0-head against Brian Burke? We know how that comes out, and it’s got the bacony-stink of Canada all over it.
For years the Make Beliefs were a joke just somewhat above the Senators. Or below, depending on the season. But welcome to 2011, where the Toronto Maple Leafs are among the best teams in the league (10-6). Other than the furrowed brow of Burke, what brought the Leafs to this point?
What Makes Them Hot
1: What We Expected: Phil Kessel. We’ve been dealing with this gnat for years, and unfortunately he’s not fading. With a monster 25 points (13 G, 12 A), you might think he’s the cudgel the Leafs draw out whenever it’s not working for them. In truth Kessel isn’t a bludgeon; he’s a game-maker. As in: he has a history of edging the Leafs out of a draw, moving them into a winning position. He’s one of those guys you hate, consistently moving his squad from tie to W. We expect no different Saturday.
2: What We Didn’t: Joffrey Lupul is a square-headed, 28-year-old sausage from Alberta – meaning nobody from nowhere. Yet he’s proving this season he can play with the big boys (which, at 206, he qualifies for.) He’s 11th in the league for goals, and 10th for overall points, which means while Kessel can’t dig the Leafs out of a hole, Lupul likely can. And to top it off, he’s smokin. We hate you Joffrey Lupul. Please call us.
3: Toronto Heat: You ever take a look at the Leafs bench? What is that, “Twilight” stand-ins? OhMyGod, we love our Caps but if you’re just trawling around the web – not like we ever do that – looking for studly hockey players, go no further than Toronto. And they’re good payers, so just relax. We realize this makes some of you uncomfortable (or at least, you say it does) and it has nothing to do with play on the ice. But remember: we called the last two games, and we’re just a couple sissyboys, so give credit where it’s due.
4: We Miss You Stecks! Sure, he may have waffled on Brad’s diss on Sasha, but…we still love you!
What Makes Them Not:
1: It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Capitals fairly leaped off the bench at the start of the season, but seem to be hitting a slow patch. Nicky’s performing better than last year, but Green’s absence has hurt the team, and Vokoun – always a slow starter – is proving unusually slow. Slouches always happen, but ours of late seem to be concentrated on the road. Also, we’re still a better come-from-behind team, which means you need your clutch players like Wideman, Ward, Knuble and others in a pinch. We’d rather see less white-knuckling.
2: Options Open: Burke’s been fairly clear: he’s not spectacularly happy with his netminders. Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens have both been a disappointment this year, and, despite his age, James Reimer is basically a rookie – and by his numbers, always will be (.912 Sv% 2.58 GAA). Do the Leafs need better goal-tending? Obviously. Is Burke looking around for just that? Apparently. But no-one at this point wants to talk about the obvious: these guys have to go if the Leafs are going to move forward.
3: Who’s Your Daddy? This might be shocking for Washington audiences, but do you know who owns the Maple Leafs? No, not a billionaire nor an investment house conglomerate. It’s the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan. Serious. They own a significant majority in the team enterprise, but now a new group (possibly lead by The Great One) wants ownership. Nothing like success to bring out the weasels. And nothing like corporate bullies to ruin a good team. Redskins, anyone?
Predition: Caps 4, Leafs 2.
Four on Four OT
So OK, we sorta knew this already, but we’re just going to ask it for giggles. When did Jeff Halpern get so blazing hot? Perhalpy about 10 years ago, when character starts to bleed into a man’s face. Or maybe he was just born with it. Maybe it’s fatherhood. Whatever: Halpy looks you in the eye – whether you’re a dork hockey fan or a Hadeed carpet commercial camera or, we imagine, an opponent. He’s been bloody good this year, taking and making hits, setting up draws when he can, or just out-maneuvering the other team. We’ll just stick with bloody good.
The Shoot Out
We’ve heard through various channels that some of you, specifically a small, vocal subsection, have taken hurt at some of our jibes in our previews. We understand words can hurt. It’s never our intention to lacerate; merely jest. However, if some of our words have cut, remember that words can heal, too. We apologize. Now grow a pair and get on with it.