I want to thank PPP from Pension Plan Puppets for being such a good sport and for having a great idea that I'm probably going to steal. How fun is it to chat with the enemy before a game and also to get some inside info from an enemy fan? I asked PPP from Pension Plan Puppets five questions about the Leafs and all the answers are below. If you are interested in what he asked me and my answers than get over there and check them out.
1. You can count me in as one of the people that thought that Vesa Toskala was going to come in and improve the goaltending in Toronto immediately. It hasn't turned out that way thus far with Toskala sporting a 3.72 GAA and a .886 save percentage. Is this a result of Toskala playing poorly or more that the Leafs defense resembles that of a midget team?
Toskala is the answer to the goaltending question as he has been all that he was billed to be but the question has changed to, as you noted, when will the Leafs' defence remember that their main responsibility is to stop the other team from scoring. Actually, that's not even fair to the defence corps, the Leafs' need to start defending as a unit. The road games against the Rangers and the Pens showed that when the forwards make a consistent effort to hold the defensive zone a little bit longer and simplify the breakout that the Leafs are a good team. Unfortunately, the forwards are like a relapsed alcoholic, they know how to improve things but they get a taste of goal scoring glory and defensive responsibilities are forgotten.
2. We were told a long time ago by the hockey experts that Nik Antropov was going to be an outstanding NHL player and we kept waiting for it to happen but it never became reality. Before this season Antropov had never scored more than 18 goals in a season but this year he has nine goals in just 16 games...What happened to make Nik Antropov turn into the player he was supposed to be?
It wasn't just hockey experts it was discerning fans too. Nik's main problem has been a propensity for getting injured (not unlike Timmy Connolly). Both of his knees have been rebuilt back-to-back which really delayed his development especially in terms of adjusting to his size. The injuries also really affected his confidence. Since the lockout he has really grown used to his body. He always had good vision and soft hands but he was too easy to knock off of the puck. In 2005-2006 after the Olympics he was on a line with Poni and Sundin that almost propelled the Leafs into the playoffs. Of course, that momentum was lost when he missed the first few weeks of the season and a large chunk in December. He came back strong in the second half to whet the fans' appetites...again. This year he has blossomed so far in part because he is healthy and because he is really taking advantage of his size and reach. Playing centre has helped but with the return of Wellwood and Bell he'll return to Sundin's wing and the chemistry those three have will help him keep his momentum. If he stays healthy then 80 points and fulfilling his promise is well within his grasp. Keep in mind that at 27 he is just entering his prime as well.
3. Sabres fans always feel tortured because they have never won a Stanley Cup in franchise history. The Leafs have suffered through similar fate having not one a Cup since 1967 what is it that keeps the fans of the Leafs so passionate about their team even though they have suffered through so many years of futility?
We're masochists! The only really tough era was the 80s when Harold Ballard, may he rot in pieces, owned the team. In the late 70s the Leafs had actually put together a pretty good team with Sittler and McDonald and a young squad and looked poised to build something (they even upset the Isles in 78) but then Punch Imlach destroyed the nucleus of that squad. Since Ballard's sale of the Leafs the club has been to the Conference Finals four times (93, 94, 99, 02) so it's not like we've been out in the wilderness completely but there has been a lack of tangible success.
Truth be told, the Leafs benefitted from being the only game in town for English Canada until 1967. The domination of Hockey Night in Canada since then has helped but it really is a family tradition. Huge portions of Canada grew up cheering on the blue and white Saturday nights and they have passed on the tradition to their kids. And of course now it doesn't hurt that MLSE is a marketing machine. Also, it's important to note that fandom is about going through the good and the bad without quitting or bandwagonning. The winning isn't as satisfying if you've just arrived at the table. If our fans weren't so dedicated the team could go bankrupt ;)
4. The Buffalo Sabres hold an all time series lead over the Leafs of 82-49-22 so it's fairly easy for a Sabres fan to have memories of games against the Leafs but do you have any fond memories of games against the Sabres?
Somehow, regardless of the team's relative talents the Leafs always find a way to lose against the Sabres more often than not. Seeing that record almost makes me laugh because if the term 'bogey team' could ever be applied to someone for the Leafs it would be the Sabres although the sens are closing in on that kind of all-time dominance.
Lots of memories but good ones? Probably watching Hasek limp off the ice in the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals. Of course, Dwayne Fucking Roloson then proceeded to eliminate the Leafs so it has a pyrrhic overtone to it.
5. The last game between the two teams ended in all to familiar fashion for Leafs fans with Buffalo winning 5-4 in overtime. The Leafs held the lead on three different occasions but couldn't hold on to the victory, what is your prediction for Friday night?
McCabe will be back in the lineup so you can't discount a repeat of the infamous own goal. The game is in Buffalo so a blowout isn't out of the question however the Leafs are pretty good about bouncing back from bad performances so I think that they'll get their defensive game in order and win 4-2 since the Leaf have been really good about getting 4 goals on Ryan Miller of late (6 of last 9 regular season games).