Thursday, January 08, 2009

Habs Leafs

Guest Preview

One of the wonderful benefits that the Score Sports Federation provides us with is a natural set of bloggers to argue and share thoughts with about hockey and the NHL in Canada. Ahead of only the second all-Canadian meeting for the Habs since LIW joined the Federation, I spoke with Sean of Down Goes Brown about the Leafs, our rivalry and the game tonight.

I put a few questions to Sean about some obvious topics and some that hopefully are not so obvious. Read on to see his responses.

Sean also put some very creative and cleverly worded questions to me, you can see my answers on his site now.

Q1) We look at your team a foreign fans and think Kaberle, Toskala and Antropov... Can you tell us from a Leafs perspective who the players to look for tonight will be?

Sean: Nik Hagman is just a solid, smart player who can skate and score and play defense. He's been the best of Fletcher's acquisitions. Jonas Frogren is a crazy Nordic viking on the blueline who doesn't score much, but is the sort of guy who likes to block shots with his face. Dominic Moore is having a career year on the checking line - he's got great wheels, and will continue to contribute until he's dealt at the deadline for a second round pick.

Also, this Grabovski kid isn't bad. You've probably never heard of him.

Q2) By the same token, who are the players you as Leafs key on when you think of a match up with the 2008-09 Canadiens (if you recognize anyone on our roster anymore)?

Sean: Well, the main guy we'll be keying on is Tom Kostopoulos. He's going down. You do not want to get into a "hitting-from-behind" battle with a team that employs Ryan Hollweg. Kostopoulos better hope that whichever purse he steals this week has a gun in it.

Other than that, we watch for the usual suspects: Koivu, Kovalev, Lang, and all the various other divers. And of course, we'll try to convince Carey Price it's a playoff game so that he'll completely wet the bed.

Q3) We have an interesting history between our teams. But in all honesty, is this rivalry petering out a bit? Do you hate the Canadiens as much as perhaps you used to?

Sean: The rivalry has been pretty dormant since it's been a while since both teams were good at the same time. But it's still easily the Leafs best rivalry. There have been occasional mini-rivalries like the Senators, but at the end of the day nobody cares about Ottawa. I get more excited for Habs games than any other team, by far.

All that said, here's the weird thing: I don't actually hate the Habs, or their fans. I hate plenty of other teams, but there's a grudging respect for Montreal. The Senators could fold tomorrow and no Leaf fan would care, but the Habs are different. The rivalry still feels like it means something, and I hope it heats up again soon.

Q4) Mats Sundin. Open wound, I know. Would you have taken him back if he turned down Vancouver?

Sean: Leaf fans don't agree on Sundin, but virtually nobody wanted him back. Half of us are too mad at him, and the other half know that this season is about a high draft pick and Sundin would only hurt that. If he had re-signed after the deadline, or even during the summer, we would have welcomed him back. But once he finished taking fishing trips or shilling for gambling web sites and got around to actually thinking about hockey in November, he was dead to me. I look forward to him faking an injury to get out of the Canucks/Leaf game in February.

Q5) If you're not in the playoffs, I'm assuming you hope for a lottery position. Let's say the chips fall for you: Hedman or Tavares?

Sean: After watching the World Juniors, I've been sporting a Tav-erection for two straight weeks. Besides, the Leafs have far more blue-chip defensive prospects than we do forwards. Which is to say, we currently have one blue-chip defensive prospect.

Q6) Will Justin Pogge crack it soon? How bad will the save percentages have to be to pull the trigger on that? It looks to us, the casual observers, like you have a David Aebischer situation on your hands.

Sean: Pogge should play regularly in the NHL when he's ready, and it suits his development path. That's the only criteria. Toskala has been shaky this year, and Joseph has been brutal, but that doesn't matter this year. It's about the future, so if Pogge isn't ready then he should be in the AHL. And that's especially true since he hasn't been all that sharp the past few years, and is starting to look like he may not be the blue-chip prospect we were hoping for.

And if Toskala is traded and Joseph plays so badly the rest of the year that we drop into last place overall, well, that's a risk we'll just have to take. Cough.

Finally, as with the Calgary preview, we had a look at some players, people and places that mean something to either side. I asked both Sean from Down Goes Brown and our own Tobalev to state whatever came to mind (in a word or two) when they read the following list (the answers are good):

a) Shayne Corson
Sean (Leafs): Head-kicker
Tobalev (Habs): Bar fights

b) Jonas Hoglund
Sean (Leafs): Sundin's excuse
Tobalev (Habs): How was he good on the Leafs?

c) Ken Dryden
Sean (Leafs): Stop talking
Tobalev (Habs): Could have been the best ever

d) LA Kings
Sean (Leafs): Kerry Fraser high stick gretzky scores ears bleeding can't stop cutting myself argh i hate you...
Tobalev (Habs): 1993 Finals collapse

e) Conn Smythe
Sean (Leafs): Maple Leaf Gardens
Tobalev (Habs): Patrick Roy

Never one to shy away from controversial statements, apparently. Thanks Sean for taking part. As for you dear readers, Down Goes Brown is a great blog to get the pre-game and post-game analysis from the Leaf perspective and to correct Sean about some of his wild claims regarding the Habs (or just generally mock because he had to mention Dominic Moore in an answer about best players).

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