By HOWARD BERGER
ANAHEIM (Nov. 28) – Though it is still difficult, albeit tantalising, for fans of the Maple Leafs to gauge the improvement of their team, one thing became crystal clear while sitting in the Honda Center on Sunday night: the Leafs are no longer part of the weak and feeble in the NHL.
The contrast between the home team and the visitors in this game was astounding. Less than half-a-decade removed from winning a Stanley Cup, the Anaheim Ducks are barely able to float anymore – the 5-2 drubbing they absorbed from the Leafs inciting constant jeers and cat-calls from an annoyed gathering said to be 13,685 (someone must have been counting legs). Randy Carlyle’s moribund outfit looks frighteningly similar to the non-playoff Leaf teams of the post-lockout era, and you get the sense that hockey heads are going to roll here in the shadow of Disneyland.
This is not to deny credit to the Maple Leafs, who have been able to sense when a home team is flat this season and move in for the kill. The Leafs have feasted on the Rangers, New Jersey, Columbus, Tampa Bay and Anaheim in five-such games, out-scoring the opposition, 25-9, while building a terrific 8-5-0 record on the road. They return from southern California having conquered three consecutive teams in this four-game trip to remain atop the Northeast Division by one point over Boston, though the defending champions have played two fewer games.
Toronto has the third-most points in the league (30), trailing only Pittsburgh and Chicago. A home-and-home set with the Bruins this week (Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre; Saturday in Boston) will provide a clearer indication of how the Leafs match up with the big boys. At the moment, however, I think we can all but confirm they no longer reside among the dregs.
Please enjoy my photo-review of another beautiful night here in Anaheim:
THE CONTRAIL OF A JETLINER (ABOVE) PIERCES THE SOUTHERN-CALIFORNIA SKY AT DUSK ON SUNDAY. THE LEAFS AND DUCKS FACED OFF AT 6 P.M. LOCAL TIME.
MAIN ENTRANCE TO THE HONDA CENTER (ABOVE) – OFF KATELLA AVE. – ONE HOUR BEFORE THE TORONTO-ANAHEIM GAME.
A CRESCENT MOON HOVERS OVER THE ARENA IN THESE TWO PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN FROM THE MEDIA PARKING LOT ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE.
LAST TIME THE LEAFS PLAYED HERE IN ANAHEIM, THEY ACHIEVED A DUBIOUS MILE-STONE: THEIR FIRST VICTORY OF THE 2009-10 SEASON AFTER AN 0-7-1 STAGGER FROM THE GATE THAT KILLED ANY REASONABLE HOPE OF COMPETING FOR A PLAYOFF SPOT. THE TEAMS WARM UP (ABOVE) ON SUNDAY NIGHT.
AN ATTRACTIVE YOUNG LADY (DAWN WRIGHT) SANG THE CANADIAN AND AMERICAN NATIONAL ANTHEMS PRIOR TO THE GAME, AND ROOKIE MATT FRATTIN (39) SNEAKED A PEAK FROM THE VISITORS’ BENCH.
PHIL KESSEL HAS ENCOUNTERED A BIT OF A DRY SPELL, GOING SCORE-LESS IN THREE CONSECUTIVE GAMES, THOUGH HE STILL LEADS THE NHL WITH 16 GOALS, TWO AHEAD OF STEVEN STAMKOS. IN THE GAME HERE ON SUNDAY, DUCKS’ DEFENSEMAN FRANCOIS BEAUCHEMIN KEPT A CLOSE EYE ON HIS FORMER LEAF TEAMMATE, AS EVIDENCED ABOVE AND BELOW. BEAUCHEMIN ALSO OPENED THE SCORING FOR ANAHEIM.
BEAUCHEMIN WAS LESS EFFECTIVE AGAINST KESSEL’S LINE-MATE – TYLER BOZAK – WHO ENJOYED HIS SECOND TWO-GOAL EFFORT OF THE ROAD TRIP. THE FORMER LEAFS BLUE-LINER SKATES AWAY (ABOVE) AS TEAMMATES CONGRATULATE BOZAK ON HIS GAME-TYING POWERPLAY GOAL AT 14:10 OF THE FIRST PERIOD.
THERE WAS A TIME WHEN YOU COULDN’T GET A TICKET FOR A DUCKS GAME. ON SUNDAY NIGHT, THOUSANDS OF SEATS WERE EMPTY… THOSE ADORNED IN LEAF JERSEYS FILLING OUT MANY OF THE ROWS THAT WERE OCCUPIED (ABOVE).
LINING UP BESIDE THE AGELESS TEEMU SELANNE ON A FACE-OFF AT CENTRE ICE (ABOVE), LEAFS WINGER CLARKE MacARTHUR WOULD LATER SCORE HIS NINTH GOAL OF THE SEASON, PROVIDING THE VISITORS A LEAD THEY WOULD NOT RELINQUISH.
ON THIS NIGHT, TYLER BOZAK NOT ONLY STAYED CLOSE TO THE LEAGUE’S REIGNING MVP (ABOVE), HE OUTSCORED COREY PERRY OF ANAHEIM 2-1.
FOR A TECHNO-KLUTZ LIKE ME, SUCH A PHOTO AS THE ONE ABOVE MAY NEVER BE EQUALLED: THE PUCK BULGING THE ANAHEIM GOAL-MESH ON JOEY CRABB’S DEFLECTION OF A LUKE SCHENN SLAPPER FROM INSIDE THE POINT AT 2:36 OF THE SECOND PERIOD, GIVING TORONTO A 3-1 LEAD.
ANAHEIM’S RYAN GETZLAF WAITS PATIENTLY (ABOVE) WHILE BOZAK IS KICKED OUT OF THE FACE-OFF CIRCLE BY LINESMAN VAUGHAN RODY.
BRIAN BURKE AND DAVID NONIS WATCH THE CARNAGE PERPETRATED AGAINST THEIR FORMER TEAM FROM THE VISITORS’ EXECUTIVE BOOTH IN THE HONDA CENTER. BURKE LATER VIDEOTAPES AN INTERVIEW WITH A FEMALE REPORTER (BELOW).
DUCKS’ GOALIE JONAS HILLER IS ALL DISCOMBOBULATED (ABOVE) AS THE LEAFS CELEBRATE BOZAK’S SECOND OF THE NIGHT AT 0:47 OF THE THIRD PERIOD, INCREASING TORONTO’S LEAD TO 4-1.
THE DUCKS WERE SO BAD ON SUNDAY, THAT SOME PLAYERS COULDN’T BEAR TO WATCH (ABOVE). ACTUALLY, RYAN GETZLAF WAS PROTECTING HIMSELF FROM A SHOOT-IN DURING A THIRD-PERIOD LINE CHANGE… COREY PERRY (10) POISED TO LEAP THE BOARDS IN FRONT OF COACH RANDY CARLYLE.
THE LEAFS WELCOMED BACK CENTRE MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI (FACING OFF, ABOVE, AGAINST BRANDON McMILLAN) AFTER A FIVE-GAME ABSENCE WITH AN UPPER-BODY INJURY. OR WAS IT LOWER-BODY?
TRAILING BY TWO, ANAHEIM SKATED WITH A SIXTH ATTACKER DURING THE FINAL MINUTE (ABOVE), BUT THE MOVE BACK-FIRED WHEN LUKE SCHENN SLID THE PUCK 120 FEET INTO THE VACATED NET AT 19:48 FOR HIS FIRST GOAL OF THE SEASON.
RON WILSON WAS THE WINNING COACH, THOUGH YOU’D NEVER KNOW IT BY THE ABOVE EXPRESSION. IN FACT, YOU MIGHT FIND A HAPPIER FACE ON A BOTTLE OF IODINE. WILSON CONTINUED TO APPEAR DOUR MOMENTS LATER WHILE FIELDING MEDIA QUESTIONS (BELOW). EVEN TSN RADIO’S JONAS SIEGEL LOOKED LIKE HE WAS ATTENDING A WAKE.
AT LEAST THIS GUY HAD REASON TO FEEL DOWNTRODDEN: LOSING GOALIE JONAS HILLER OF THE DUCKS.
Facebook: Howard Berger [Thornhill ON]