I know, I’ve been slacking quite a bit lately here, but there really isn’t much to report on the Leafs’ end, and playoff hockey is like a drug – once you watch a little, you’re hooked and all of a sudden you’re up to your neck in overtime, and have gotten nothing done. There have been a few tidbits of Leaf news lately, and so I’ll jump through those before discussing the Leafs that have been chosen to represent their countries at the 2011 World Hockey Championships.
First of all, how good of a pickup was Francois Allaire at goalie coach? Does Burke even have to call these goalie prospects anymore or is it like part of the deal -“Oh, you were the best goalie in your league this season? Congratulations, here’s a trophy and a ticket to Toronto.” Mark Owuya finished the 2010-11 season with a 2.18 GAA and .927 save percentage in 32 games, then bettered those numbers in the 7 playoff games he appeared in, posting a 1.66 GAA and .934 save percentage. This week, he became the latest in a growing list of young goalies that can’t say no to Burke and Allaire.
The kid’s obviously got some talent, and despite a Leafs’ goaltending prospect depth chart that includes this year’s starting goalie for Team Canada, James Reimer, the two most highly coveted European tenders of the past two offseasons in Jonas Gustavsson and Jussi Rynnas and a Hobey Baker Finalist in Ben Scrivens, Owuya still felt that the best place to begin his NHL career was under the tutelage of Allaire. A more in-depth look at the Leafs’ goaltending depth will be forthcoming, but for now it’s safe to say I think, that there is no need for Burke to go out and spend big money on a long-term contract for a star goalie. With four highly regarded prospects and Reimer looking to prove he’s more than just a one-shot wonder, one would have to think the goalie of the future is already in the organization.
As for international hockey, the Canadians got off to a great start to the tourney, getting a solid performance from Reimer against Belarus on Friday. Reimer made 21 saves, including a couple on Leaf teammate Mikhail Grabovski, who’s captaining the Belarusian squad. Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn both had even ratings for the game, while Phaneuf collected an assist and 6 penalty minutes as well.
Nikolai Kulemin and the Russians were upset by the Germans, 2-0, in what might be the biggest shocker of this year’s tourney. Leaf prospects Marcel Mueller and Korbinian Holzer were both active in the game, with Mueller registering a +1 rating and 2 penalty minutes.
Today, both of the Leafs’ American Mikes – Brown and Komisarek – will faceoff against the Austrians, while Carl Gunnarsson will play in Sweden’s opener against Norway. I’ll try and keep track of all the Leafs in action across the pond in Slovakia as they battle for gold over the next two weeks. Just to keep you all excited about James Reimer, here’s a clip of Mike Keenan giving the kid some love in his post-game wrapup.
Oh, and before I forget – I did make these picks before the playoffs started, and I’m hoping to keep it rolling in the second round, since the only series I got wrong last round was the Detroit-Phoenix debacle. For Vancouver-Nashville, I think the Canucks will roll, but I’ll give Pekka Rinne and the Preds two games – Canucks in 6. In a rematch from last year, I know the Wings made me look dumb in the first round, but I really like the way San Jose plays their game. Big, fast, physical and loads of talent. Sharks in 7. Back in the East, I think the Bruins will have their hands full with the Flyers, especially after the Flyers appeared to finally wake up in their shellacking of the Sabres in Game 7. The wildcard is the Philly goaltending, but I think Philly takes it. Flyers in 6. Finally, I’ve got the Bolts and Steven Stamkos upsetting their division rivals from Washington, with really no real evidence to support it. Alex Ovechkin had a great year against the Lightning and the Caps owned the season series 4-1-1, although the games got much closer after the acquisition of Dwayne Roloson. I don’t know why exactly, but my gut says – Lightning in 6.
There you have it – enjoy the second round of the playoffs. Go Leafs! (awww, dammit.)