Groundhog Day

By HOWARD BERGER

CALGARY (Oct. 31) – One month into the 2013-14 National Hockey League season, Toronto Maple Leafs have patented a winning formula that requires the club to get bludgeoned on the shot-clock just about every night. I can assure you the unorthodox technique was not drawn up in training camp by coach Randy Carlyle, or sanctioned by Carlyle’s soon-to-be worn out goaltenders, Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer.

But, hey, nobody argues with success.

Nor are fans of the Maple Leafs moaning about a No. 1 perch in the Eastern Conference on Halloween, though we must caution that the Blue and White stood atop the entire league on Nov. 3 of the last 82-game schedule – a couple of seasons back – only to miss the playoffs for a seventh consecutive spring. Division and Conference titles, however, can be patterned in the early weeks; look no further than the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks and their undefeated string in the first half of the lockout-shortened season a year ago. Piling up points in October is hockey’s version of the RRSP, though players do not have to wait until they turn 65 to reap dividends.

Remarkable goaltending has enabled the Leafs to fashion a 10-4-0 start; and, yes, 14 games is a “start”, even in my books. It was Bernier’s turn to sparkle last night here in Calgary, as Leafs doubled the Flames, 4-2, despite getting out-gunned, 43-22. Reimer pulled off similar magic during the opener of a three-game western swing Tuesday night in Edmonton – blanking the Oilers, 4-0, on the same number of shots. Hockey teams at any level come away smiling when their goalies stop 84 of 86 opposition attempts and Maple Leafs will try for a sweep of the road trip late Saturday afternoon in Vancouver.

REFEREE BRAD MEIER GETS SET TO DROP THE PUCK BETWEEN DAVID BOLLAND (63) AND FORMER LEAF JOE COLBORNE DURING LAST NIGHT’S GAME AT THE SADDLEDOME.

In fairness to the Leafs, they managed to survive an exceptionally tough challenge here in Alberta – playing consecutive-night games, two time zones away, in less than 24 hours. Garnering four points was therefore impressive, no matter the approach. A breather in Vancouver today will be followed by practice tomorrow afternoon at Rogers Arena and Saturday’s trip finale against the Canucks – also an uncommon situation with a 4 p.m. local start for the early game on Hockey Night In Canada.  

JAMES REIMER CONGRATULATES GOALTENDING PARTNER JONATHAN BERNIER AFTER A 4-2 VICTORY BY THE MAPLE LEAFS LAST NIGHT IN CALGARY.

For the second consecutive Saturday, Leafs will be involved in a “statement” game, having prevailed at home over Pittsburgh last week with a three-goal eruption in the third period (following Reimer’s perfect, 16-save middle frame). A victory at Rogers Arena over Roberto Luongo and Co. would add immeasurably to growing respect for the Blue and White. The method for determining which goalie to start in Vancouver could involve a quick game of eenie-meenie-miney-mo for Carlyle.

Any call he makes, right now, is the correct one.

Watching hockey last night at the Saddledome was quite a unique experience, given the disastrous flood here in Calgary on June 20. The Bow River overflowed into the city and nearly destroyed the 30-year-old arena. More on that, here, courtesy of my trusty Nikon: 

THE 60-STORY CALGARY TOWER (ABOVE) IS THIS CITY’S MOST RECOGNIZED LANDMARK.

SCOTIABANK SADDLEDOME (ABOVE) – HOME OF THE CALGARY FLAMES SINCE OCTOBER 1983. ONLY AFTER SNAPPING THIS PHOTO DID I REALIZE AN ALIEN WALKED PAST ME.

SADDLEDOME FLOOD

I CANNOT TELL YOU THE NUMBER OF TIMES I HAVE VENTURED DOWN THE PAVED RAMP (ABOVE) TOWARD THE LOADING DOCK AND EMPLOYEE/MEDIA ENTRANCE OF THE SADDLEDOME (BOTTOM-LEFT). ONE CAN BARELY IMAGINE MILLIONS OF GALLONS OF WATER CASCADING DOWN THE RAMP AND INTO THE ARENA LAST JUNE – COMPLETELY IMMERSING THE EVENT-LEVEL CORRIDOR (BOTTOM-RIGHT).

EVERYTHING IN THE CALGARY FLAMES DRESSING ROOM – STALLS, CARPETING, WORKOUT EQUIPMENT – WAS UNDER WATER AND DESTROYED. NEW PANELING AND DECORATION (ABOVE) HAD TO BE CONSTRUCTED.

I TOOK THIS PHOTO WHILE STANDING AT THE VISITORS’ BENCH AFTER LAST NIGHT’S HOCKEY GAME. THE ARENA FLOOR WAS IMMERSED IN 14 FEET OF WATER – TO THE LEVEL OF 10 ROWS FROM THE ICE (PRESS BOX VIEW, BELOW).

FLAMES WARM UP GOALIE KARRI RAMO BEFORE LAST NIGHT’S GAME.

VETERAN BRIAN McGRATTAN OF CALGARY WAS TYPICALLY OBNOXIOUS – HAVING WORDS IN FRONT OF RAMO (ABOVE) AND THEN GAINING A DECISION OVER LEAFS ROUGHNECK FRAZER McLAREN (BELOW) IN OPENING PERIOD TUSSLE.

WITH THE GAME STARTING AT 6 P.M. LOCAL TIME, THE ARENA FILLED UP SLOWLY.

JOFFREY LUPUL OPENED THE SCORING FOR LEAFS (ABOVE) AT 7:56 OF FIRST PERIOD.

DAVID BOLLAND FACES OFF AGAINST 19-YEAR-OLD ROOKIE SEAN MONAHAN.

A REAL DAGGER TO CALGARY WAS SHORTHANDED GOAL BY JAMES van RIEMSDYK (ABOVE) AT 19:56 OF THE OPENING FRAME, GIVING LEAFS A 2-0 EDGE.

FORMER LEAF MATT STAJAN (18) SCORED THE FIRST GOAL AGAINST TORONTO ON THE ROAD TRIP (BELOW) AT 17:13 OF THE SECOND PERIOD.

JOE COLBORNE PRESSURED BERNIER (ABOVE) BEFORE LEAFS GOALIE DEFLECTED THE PUCK OUT OF PLAY, EARNING A BREATHER (BELOW) DURING TV TIME-OUT.

BERNIER’S MASK WAS KNOCKED LOOSE IN THE THIRD PERIOD AND HE DID SOME REPAIR WORK (ABOVE AND BELOW) UNDER WATCHFUL EYE OF REFEREE PAUL DEVORSKI.

WHEN BERNIER AGAIN LOST HIS MASK MOMENTS LATER (ABOVE), VETERAN MIKE CAMMALLERI OF THE FLAMES (13) LOOKED ON IN DISBELIEF.

RANDY CARLYLE DIAGRAMS PLAY DURING LATE TIME-OUT CALLED BY CALGARY.

LEAFS SALTED THE VICTORY (ABOVE) WITH ANOTHER SHORTHANDED GOAL, AS PAUL RANGER SCORED INTO EMPTY NET AT 18:38. DAVID CLARKSON WAS IN PENALTY BOX.

THE SHOT-CLOCK WAS GORY FOR THE VISITORS.

FORMER LEAFS COLBORNE (TOP-LEFT) AND STAJAN IN DRESSING ROOM AFTERWARD.

AMONG THE HAPPY MULTITUDES…

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