Hockey night in Toronto
Maple Leafs 4, Thrashers 1
I had the good fortune to see last night's Toronto Maple Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre from about the 10th row, behind the net (occupied, for two periods, by Kari Lehtonen) and the ticket didn't cost me a thing.
It's a good thing, too, considering the seat's face value ($173). I have a feeling I won't be at the ACC as a fan again this year.
Thoughts coming out of the game...
- While Atlanta GM Don Waddell guaranteed his club would make the playoffs earlier this week, I'm prepared after last night's game to offer a prediction of my own: It ain't going to happen. The Thrashers came out flat last night, especially considering they're fighting for their playoff lives at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
The only spot that is going to be potentially open there is the eighth place one, and at the moment, three teams (Toronto, Montreal and Boston) are closer than Atlanta. The Thrashers have won just once in their last nine games (and that came against the lowly Florida Panthers). That's not acceptable with only 35 games to play.
- It was a pretty solid effort by the Leafs. Toronto really does have excellent size and some good team speed, both of which were exhibited in Alex Ponikarovsky's breakaway goal that broke the game's scoreless tie 13 minutes into the second period. Prior to that, Atlanta had been outplayed, but the game was anyone's to take. Two other youngsters, Alex Steen and Matt Stajan, had a good game for the Leafs. (After years of having no youth to speak of, it's nice to see at least some talent developing on this team.)
- I remarked to my friend during the game that Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen is one of the Top 10 netminders in the league, and through the game's first half, he showed that. The only goal I think he could be faulted on was Bryan McCabe's knuckler with less than three minutes to remain, although it was clear by that point that Lehtonen's team wouldn't be mounting any sort of comeback.
- If I was the Thrashers GM for a day, I would...
a) This team still needs help on the blue line. Greg de Vries played 24 minutes last night, and Jaroslav Modry and Niclas Havelid weren't far behind. If I was Waddell, I'd stop making guarantees and start retooling this team's back end to give Lehtonen some substantial help by adding a true 'star' to the defence core. Granted, it's easy to say, but what this team needs more than anything is a Chris Pronger type who can play big minutes on special teams.
b) Atlanta may be ranked ninth in times shorthanded, but there's a real dearth of muscle up front. You can really see how much this team misses a big, hard-nosed player like Bob Holik (out with a broken foot since early January). His absence, as much as anything, will be why this team misses the playoffs.
UPDATE Thanks to Ben Wright for passing along a link to a massive hit on Mats Sundin by Garnet Exelby last night.
Speaking of Mr. Wright, you heard it here first — his site, The Net Files, is no longer. Hockey blogs are dropping like flies this week...