Ten days ago, the Maple Leafs embarked upon the softest portion of their 2006-07 schedule.
The sked showed six straight games against against non-playoff teams, including two against the Islanders, two against the Flyers, one against the Oilers, Bruins.
With five down, they've picked up six of a possible 10 points. Good, but not good enough to get ahold of a playoff spot.
The last of the six games is Saturday night in Philly. A win is a virtual must. A loss, particularly one in regulation, would mean not enough was accomplished in this soft part of the schedule.
For Paul Maurice's crew, after all, it gets harder again next week. Montreal, then Buffalo, then New Jersey, then the Sabres again.
Other incomplete thoughts:
- The Leafs missed the playoffs last year largely because they sucked huge at the shootout. This year they're 3-6, while the Islanders are 6-4, including two shootout wins at the expense of the Leafs over the past 10 days.
"The shootout's a crapshoot," said defenceman Bryan McCabe after Thursday's shootout loss to the Islanders. Uh, no it's not, Bryan. Minnesota's got 10 points in the standings through the shootout and seventh place in the west. The Wild have a game plan for extra shots and they execute. Tampa Bay has nine points through shootouts, which precisely accounts for the six-point difference between the Bolts and the Leafs in the standings.
Perhaps next summer the Leafs will do something directly aimed at improving themselves in this area.
- Referee Kerry Fraser made the call awkwardly. But what would have been the Leafs' third goal on Long Island clearly shouldn't have been allowed. Alex Ponikarovsky was standing in the middle of the crease with his stick jammed between the legs of Islander goalie Rick DiPietro, who was laying on the ice.
The Leafs can try to make it seem as though DiPietro grabbed Ponikarovsky's stick and tried to give himself a rectal examination, but that's just not the way it happened.
You gotta at least give the goalie a chance to make the save. Fraser's mistake was not blowing the play dead a moment earlier and signalling the faceoff out of the zone. But that won't stop Leaf Nation conspiratorial thinkers from bringing up the non-call on Wayne Gretzky in the '93 playoffs again.
- Just as St. Louis' Dallas Drake is the master of the jump-hit, Ottawa's Chris Neil has made a career out of the slightly late, high bodycheck. His number on Buffalo's Chris Drury Thursday night was the NHL's conundrum, late and high, a clear headshot but one made with the cup of the shoulder pad and not the elbow.
Still, it's always amazing that the guys people want to give authority to "police" the game are quite often the ones who start the crazy stuff.
- I like Lindy Ruff a lot as a coach and a person. Too bad he's got to be suspended for putting his goons out to start a line brawl against the Sens. C'mon, that's junior hockey stuff. Every once in a while you have to think of the game and its image ahead of your own gut reaction.
- Sure, I'm impressed at Ray Emery's boxing skills. I'd be even more impressed if he could stay in the game and prove he could beat Buffalo.
- Was all the craziness and fighting in the Sabres-Senators game exciting? Sure. That, I've always contended, is the only logical defence of fighting in the game: you believe some boxing and some blood adds excitement to a game that isn't as exciting or interesting for you without it.
Just don't try to sell the it-keeps-the-sticks-down, protect-the-finesse-players baloney.
- Darcy Tucker has offically lost the title. Sean (Sideshow Bob) Avery, on the other hand, proved his lack of value this week. Two games, no points, three minor penalties and a lot of on-ice histrionics, and two Ranger defeats.
John Ferguson should be glad L.A. general manager Dean Lombardi turned down his repeated attempts to land Avery for the Leafs.
- Gotta love Jaromir Jagr, that take-charge, heart-and-soul leader. With his team's playoff chances fading, three times in the last four Ranger shootouts Jagr has asked New York head coach Tom Renney not to use him in the top three shooters.
As mediocre as he's been on free shots, imagine the storm in Toronto if Mats Sundin did the same.
- Can people please stop parroting the Leaf company line that getting one or more of Messrs Tucker, Wellwood and Peca back in the lineup is the same as making a trade before the deadline?
No it's not. For starters, they won't be back until a handful of games are left on the schedule, it would appear. Second, it'll take all three time to get back up to speed.
Quite obviously, a significant acquisition before Tuesday's deadline would be much, much more useful to Paul Maurice than waiting on these three.
- Only 10,000 and change showed up for the Blackhawks at home against the Sharks on Thursday. It just makes you wanna cry when you realize how fabulous hockey in Chicago once was.
The Predators, meanwhile, couldn't sell out at home. Phoenix announced just under 16,000, but having been there for two games last week, trust me, don't believe any Coyote attendance numbers you're reading.