Winners of three of their last four games, I like the plucky, youthful vibe emanating from this Maple Leafs team. Second youngest in the NHL, this team knows they’re competing for jobs and to impress president and general manager Brian Burke.
The Maple Leafs goal was to make the playoffs and they’ll fall well short of that but in order to give the faithful some hope in Leafs Nation, a winning streak like we just saw can at least encourage loyalists that the club has a solid core with which to build around.
Of the so-called kids, the one who really seems to be coming into his own is Tyler Bozak
. He’s established some strong chemistry with Phil Kessel
and has showcased the playmaking instincts and soft hands that were coveted by the Maple Leafs brass. Viktor Stalberg has also shown flashes of promise, especially with his speed on the outside, which even he admits he didn’t take full advantage of until he was at the University of Vermont. Much preferred to be contender rather than spoiler, but at least give credit to the Buds for showing some passion when it would be far too easy to lick a stamp and mail it in.RAPTORS
Going forward, the margin of error for this year’s Raptors team is going to be thinner than Lara Flynn Boyle. They say that adversity reveals character. If that’s the case then we’ll find out very shortly what this year’s Toronto Raptors team is made up of: Intestinal fortitude or just intestinal matter.
Having lost five straight games and 9 of 10, there are two issues that have most critically wounded the Raptors plight this season-perimeter defence and rebounding. Golden State and Portland combined for 28 three pointers against Toronto and over the last five losses, the Raptors have allowed their opponents to shoot 52 percent from downtown. A good number for a decent team is between 35-40 percent. And the Trail Blazers gobbled up 19 offensive rebounds which led to numerous second chance opportunities and conversions. Quite simply, what this road trip did was further confirm the scouting report on the Raptors - excellent offensive ballclub (21 assists on 39 made field goals while shooting 55 percent from the field in Portland) but prone to droughts (a confidence-killing 19 point 2nd quarter) and can’t win with consistency away from Air Canada Centre (10-23).
They’re now under .500 for the first time since January 20th and haven’t won a road game since they were at New Jersey - which will be their next game away from the ACC this Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back which has been anathema to the Raptors winning ways. Just a game up on the Bulls for the final playoff spot, the Raptors can only be grateful that the west coast road trip is finished and two key games at home against Atlanta and Oklahoma City lay ahead for a team in search of right answers.
Don’t be surprised if head coach Jay Triano tinkers with the starting lineup, perhaps installing Jose Calderon ahead of Jarrett Jack and even sitting DeMar DeRozan to start. They’ll need their starters to be stars, beginning with Andrea Bargnani who mustered just two boards versus LaMarcus Aldridge and Hedo Turkoglu, booed lustily at the rose garden.OTHER STUFF ON MY MIND
- Bless the fine folks at Criterion for re-issuing forgotten treasures and resurrecting film classics. Finally saw the criterion edition of Missing
, the 1982 drama starring Jack Lemmon as a father in search of his missing idealistic writer son, who’s been misplaced somewhere in 1973 Chile. The movie won director Costa-Gavras an Oscar for best adapted screenplay and Lemmon (Best Actor), Sissy Spacek(Best Actress) and the film were nominated for Best Picture that year. The movie crackles with political intrigue and Lemmon as a cantankerous father packs the right mix of righteous indignation and pathos. Sadly, the Friends of Eddie Coyle
(1973) was a disappointment for its derivative script and lack of dramatic tension although anything with the great, sleepy eyed Robert Mitchum in the lead role can never be a complete write-off. The climax features Mitchum and his gangster buddies at a Chicago Blackhawks game, which might be the only case of a movie not named Slap Shot featuring hockey scenes in the 1970’s.
- Also re-watched one of my favourite indies, the triumphantly charming and bittersweet comedy Big Night
. The late Gene Siskel named it his runner up for Best Picture of 1996 and 14 years later, it holds up as a real gem. The story of Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) and their desperate desire to keep their charming Italian restaurant running in the face of bankruptcy and their competitor’s populist enterprise (a ruthlessly riotous Ian Holm), they’re hoping a visit from jazz great Louis Prima can turn around their sagging fortunes. A story of small business, and undeniable brotherly love, the film will make you starved for some rich Italian cuisine and features a riveting five minute final scene without a single cut. A real triumph for Tucci who just earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for The Lovely Bones
and co-wrote, co-starred, co-produced and co-directed Big Night
- Most obscure pop culture reference of the week from Family Guy: Peter’s wife, Lois says, “I’m not a big star. I mean, Penelope Ann Miller and Nancy Travis - those are stars!” Miller’s crowning work was of course playing a stripper in Brian DePalma’s Carlito’s Way
- Finished Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback
in one week. An addictive, 250 page, easily digested compendium of his popular columns for SI.COM. You expect the list of his top 100 NFL Players All-Time and 100 Top Current NFL players but his musings on crazy things you hear at airports, predictions that he badly whiffed on(like calling the raiders to beat the bucs in the super bowl before they gave up 48 points), and his top ten Seinfeld episodes are pleasant surprises(a shocker that ‘the contest’ didn’t make the top 5!)
- Track of the week is Classified’s Oh Canada. Patriotism with some style and substance including a Gordon Lightfoot shout out.