Can’t Beat Cujo!


    Remember the way back in the day when the “Can’t Beat Cujo” signs filled the ACC on those passionate, rambunctious (always wanted to use this word) Saturday nights? Well tonight, we got a brief glimpse of the glory days as Joseph turned in a magnificient performance down the stretch to steal a point away from Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

    Joseph didn’t even end up reaching 6 minutes of ice-time but made brilliant save after brilliant save, turning away 8 shots in the overtime period and all 3 breakaways in the shootout. No signs of rust, no lack of confidence, just the poise and lightning quick reflexes of 3-time all-star and Olympic Gold Medalist that we had come so accustomed to seeing at the turn of the millenium.

    After coming out flat for the better part of the first period, the tides seemed to turn after defenseman Milan Jurcina took a tripping penalty that sent Toronto to its first powerplay of the game. The Leafs buzzed around the zone for most of the 2 minutes, generating a slew of quality scoring chances and playing a very strong passing game. After that, the Leafs dictated the pace of the game which included an agressive forecheck that kept the already thin Washington defense constantly on its toes. Halfway through the period, it was nice to see the rook, big Phil Oreskovic net his first career NHL goal. Good instincts by the young defenseman just to get the puck on the net and good things happen from there. It’s a deflection off the Washington defender for everyone who saw the game tonight, but in about 30 years time, when Phil tells the story to his grandkids, expect there to be a brilliant rush down the wing and a perfectly placed laser to the top corner.

    Speaking of rookies, John Mitchell turned it yet another quietly solid performance today, generating a shot and making grabbing 3 key defensive takeaways. The young forward has gained more and more confidence from Wilson, who has been consistently upping his ice-time over the last little while. Despite averaging only about 12 minutes through the first two-thirds of the season, John has earned 18, 21, 20, 22, 18, and 18 over his last 6 games. With the Antropov and Moore trades clearing up a chance for Mitchell to grab some more minutes at the center position, he’s taken that opportunity and has done very well for himself.

    Matt Stajan turned in a gutsy performance tonight with 4 hits, 2 blocked shots, 0 giveaways, 3 takeaways, and a 60% clip in the faceoff circle. He also made a great play near the end of the game to tie up the stick of Alexander Semin and prevent an easy tap-in into the open net and even had the presence of mind to kick the puck out of the crease shortly afterwards.

    The wildly inconsistent Mikhail Grabovski has now switched from “Cold” to “Hot” mode and recorded 2 assists and a +1 rating. He has now scored 10 points over his last 5 games played.

    Jeff Finger had a good night as well, checking in with 23 minutes of ice-time, no giveaways, 2 hits and a team-leading 4 blocked shots. The guy who was thrown under the bus by many, the moment he put pen to paper and inked that large multi-year contract has shown that he can handle the criticism and the pressure. He hasn’t strayed away from what made him such an effective player for the Colorado Avalanche, and that’s quietly do your job (unappreciated for the most part), keep the puck out of your net while you’re on the ice, and continue to stat stuff those defensive categories.

    And last but not least, “Mr. Underrated”, Ian White played a team leading 25:43 minutes, hammering home the fact that with he is now the logging the 2nd most ice-time on the Leafs next to Tomas Kaberle, with a robust 22:45 minutes/night, despite starting off the year as a healthy scratch and then a handful of games as a 13 minute/night forward. Good for him.

    For a big-time draft enthusiast, two points further away from a top 5 pick is always a tough pill to swallow, but it’s nice to see the right systems being put into place, a high standard of intensity and character, as well as development from the young players. Phew, my first time covering the Game Night stuff, so I apologize if it’s a little different than what you guys are used to. Great game.

    Always a pleasure,

    Alex Tran