The Story of Valentina Allen: Half the Heart, but Twice the Fight

On February 15, 2013 Danielle and Ryan Allen gave birth to their second child, Valentina. However, this beautiful baby girl was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) 20 weeks into Danielle’s pregnancy, but Valentina was quite the fighter.

Throughout the pregnancy, Danielle and Ryan knew they had to make a very difficult decision. They visited several hospitals and received many recommendations from different doctors. Most did not give Valentina much of a chance at all. However, one hospital would match Valentina’s fight. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia gave her the fighting chance that the parents needed to hear.

The birth of Valentina, which was a question mark in itself, was a success. When examining her condition, the doctors realized not only was she born with half a heart, but also what was on the left should have been on the right and vice versa. This made every surgery even more difficult.

Valentina went through countless surgeries before she did not have any more fight left in her. On May 12, 2015, at just two years old, Valentina passed. Many looked at this as a battle that was lost. However, those same people did not realize that the battle was just beginning.

Danielle and Ryan could have sat back and grieved, which would have been completely understandable, but they did not do that. They were inspired by their daughter’s two-year fight and they continue till this day to raise money and fight for other’s who are in the same shoes that Valentina once was.

Their story and fight has inspired others to join along. The battle started off small with small donations, and wristbands and t-shirts being sold in Valentina’s name. However, it continued to grow. In the two years since her passing, Danielle and Ryan have raised nearly $200,000 through various fundraisers. Most recently, the Angels of the Bay Foundation donated over $40,000 in Valentina’s name to CHOP. The family also collects toys during the holiday season to bring to the hospital so the kids who are spending their days there have something to bring them joy. The ultimate goal is to have a cardiology examining room at CHOP to be named in Valentina’s honor.

The fight is far from over and people are still getting on board. I encourage you to help continue this fight and hopefully a cure can be found. There are various treatments for patients who are diagnosed with HLHS, but a cure is yet to be found. Some do live with this disease, but there are complications that they face their whole lives. They have to deal with taking medicine day after day, check-ups too often, and even additional surgery may be required. Some patients are lucky enough to receive heart transplants, but even then the fight does not stop. These patients have to take medicines for the rest of their lives to prevent the body from rejecting the new heart.

It is time that HLHS becomes more known so we can stop others from suffering down the road. The people fighting this battle have been tremendous so far, but it is far from over. The support system continues to grow and it has now reached college sports. The St. Joseph’s Brooklyn Women’s Basketball team will be playing in Valentina’s honor for their first six home games. These games will be played on November 15th, 21st, 28th, and 30th, and December 2nd and 5th. During these games the team will be collecting donations with all the proceeds going towards CHOP, while collecting toys as well for the kids who spend their holidays at the Hospital. On December 5th they will hold a ceremony in honor of Valentina. I urge you to come support these girls as they play for a growing cause. Do not let the battle stop now. Help us in making sure this continues to grow. The fight is far from over, but the light is in sight.

HLHS is a disease that is overlooked too often and awareness needs to increase. All I ask is that you spread the word about HLHS. I am not expecting anyone to donate or take further action, but anything helps. Visit the donation page if you wish to help the cause. You can also help the cause by coming out and supporting the St. Joseph’s College Women’s Basketball Team. As mentioned, they will be collecting donations via 50/50 raffle and donation jars, while collecting toys as well. You can learn more about Valentina and the growing community who has been helping support the cause and raise awareness by visiting the Facebook page that was started by her parents, Ryan and Danielle. Once again, just help spread the word by sharing this article, retweeting the tweet about it on New York Groove’s Twitter page, or just talking about HLHS in your community. Let’s continue this fight together, so one day we can finally put an end to HLHS.

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Leafs Week 6: Winning

By Pat Cancilla

The Leafs won four in a row this week, three of them without Auston Matthews, proving the Buds have a lot more depth and heart than most people give them credit for.

NOV. 6: LEAFS V. LAS VEGAS KNIGHTS

After a dismal week in which the Buds lost three out of four games, Leafs Nation was nervous about Toronto’s first-ever meeting with the Las Vegas Knights and their 9-4-0 record.

But there was no need for nerves because the Leafs, playing in front of their home crowd at the Air Canada Centre, dominated from the start.

Nazem Kadri opened up the scoring early in the first period with a power play goal around the four-minute mark, even though it looked like James van Riemsdyk had redirected the puck into the net. Las Vegas tied it up less than a minute later (James Neal), but the Leafs were not done.

Despite the fact that Matthews was suffering from an “upper-body” injury, the Toronto superstar looked just fine as he skated the puck to the Las Vegas zone and made an impressive spinning move to shake off a couple of Golden Knights before shooting the puck at the net and van Riemsdyk finally got his goal on the rebound, putting Toronto up 2-1.

Not only was Matthews incredible offensively, he also saved a goal on the Leafs by clearing the puck from the crease after it got past Frederik Andersen and Toronto held on to its lead. There isn’t much Matthews can’t do, even when injured.

Not to be outdone by the Leafs’ shining star, Kadri took back the spotlight when he scored his second goal of the game off a great pass from Patrick Marleau and the Leafs led 3-1 after one.

As has been a common theme by the Buds this season, they got a little lax in the second period, allowing the Golden knights to come within one after scoring (Reilly Smith) on their third power play late in the frame.

The Leafs did a great job on the penalty kill during a five-on-three advantage by the Golden Knights, who managed just one shot on goal, but they shouldn’t have taken the two penalties in the first place. It seemed as if Lady Luck was on Toronto’s side tonight, however. The house always wins, after all.

It looked like van Riemsdyk had scored his second goal of the night early in the third, but it was ruled no goal.

Las Vegas tied the game shortly afterwards (Deryk Engelland), but the Leafs fought back and had a couple of great chances that, unfortunately, failed to hit their target. Matthews shot the puck wide, Morgan Rielly hit the post and JVR almost scored another goal. The Golden Knights had a few good opportunities of their own, including a close shot on which Andersen made a great glove save. But neither team could break the deadlock, and the game went into overtime.

Watching the Leafs play in OT is never boring and this was no exception. But it was scarier than usual this time, because Las Vegas outshot the Buds 5-2. Thankfully, Freddie kept Toronto in the game by stopping all five shots and the game progressed to the dreaded shootout.

It was Toronto’s first shootout of the season and Leafs Nation cringed as they recalled the Buds’ shootout record of a season earlier — 1-8.

But the Leafs’ goalie came up big again, stopping all three Golden Knights’ shots, and the Leafs were victorious after Mitch Marner scored Toronto’s only goal of the shootout. It was enough for the win and it was a great confidence booster for both the Leafs and Marner, who had endured a long scoreless streak.

NOV. 8: LEAFS V. MINNESOTA WILD

Toronto was playing without Matthews two nights later and Leafs Nation was in a panic. Although Matthews had looked spectacular playing injured against Las Vegas, he was listed as “day to day” and fans worried that the team would falter without him.

But the Buds dug deep and played their hearts out, making up for Matthews’ absence.

Kadri continued his scoring streak when he picked up his third goal in two games, opening up the scoring in the first period against Minnesota. The Wild tied the game (Jason Zucker) with less than two minutes to go and the first frame ended 1-1.

Marleau, playing center tonight due to Matthews’ absence, made coach Mike Babcock look brilliant in his line juggling efforts as he took a great pass from Zach Hyman and scored a bullet that put the Leafs up 2-1.

Even though Minnesota outshot Toronto 23-12 and the Leafs received a few questionable penalties — including a ridiculous one called against defenseman Andreas Bergman who did absolutely nothing to cause his opponent to jump and dive — the second period ended in a 2-1 lead for Toronto as Andersen was stellar in the net once again.

The Leafs scored less than four minutes into the third period when Connor Carrick was credited with a goal that went off a Minnesota player. At first glance, it wasn’t clear whether the goal was Carrick’s, Kadri’s, Rielly’s, Matt Martin‘s or Leo Komarov‘s, proving that every Leaf on the ice was working hard to make things happen, and it was 3-1.

The Wild outshot the Leafs again in the third and got one back (Zucker), but that’s all they could muster. Connor Brown scored an empty-net goal, putting Toronto up 4-2, and that’s how it ended.

NOV. 10: LEAFS V. BOSTON BRUINS

The Leafs played their third game in a row at home and were hoping for their third win in a row in the first of back-to-back games against division rival Boston on Friday night.

Again, Toronto was playing without Matthews.

Although the Leafs had several scoring chances in the first period — I counted at least three for JVR alone, including Toronto’s first shot on goal — and a couple of power play opportunities, the Buds couldn’t capitalize.

Boston had its share of chances as well, but Andersen was clutch in net again for the Leafs, and the first frame ended in a scoreless tie.

The Bruins opened up the scoring in the second period (Patrice Bergeron) and the Leafs answered by getting a penalty. Lucky for them, Boston’s power play was not successful and the score remained 1-0.

The Leafs got a power play four minutes later and Toronto evened up the score when van Riemsdyk finally put one in the net. It was destined to happen after many attempts by the Leafs’ veteran, who picked up his third power play goal of the season, tied for the team lead, as well as tying him for the team lead in power play points with nine.

Boston took the lead again in the third period, capitalizing with one second left on a penalty to Josh Leivo to make it 2-1 (David Pastrnak). The Leafs took another penalty, this time by Jake Gardiner, but Boston’s power play was powerless against the great penalty-killing efforts of Toronto, especially Rielly, who was brilliant.

The Leafs kept pressing and van Riemsdyk was the hero once again when he kept the puck in the Bruins’ zone and redirected a shot by Marner to score the tying goal with one minute left in the third to send the game into overtime.

Marleau was clutch once again, scoring the overtime goal for the Leafs, but the Bruins challenged the goal, claiming he was offside. The goal, however, was deemed good and the Leafs’ 3-2 win was their third in a row at home.

NOV. 11: LEAFS V. BOSTON BRUINS

The following night, the Leafs were in Boston for the rematch. Again, Matthews was not in the lineup. Neither was the red-hot Andersen, whom Toronto rested in favor of backup goalie Curtis McElhinney.

Could the Leafs keep their winning streak alive without two of their best players in the lineup in a back-to-back game on the road?

Hell, yeah!

Toronto opened up the scoring when Marner put one past Tuuka Rask close to the nine-minute mark of the first period and who else but van Riemsdyk got his ninth goal of the season five minutes later to stake Toronto to a 2-0 lead.

Boston got one back a minute later (Frank Vatrano), but the Leafs still led 2-1 after the first frame.

Despite the Leafs being outshot in the first 40 minutes of play, the Buds were on their game defensively and McElhinney was excellent in net to keep the Bruins off the scoreboard in the second period. Toronto also managed to stay out of the penalty box in the frame, which helped matters.

The Leafs weren’t so lucky in the third period, picking up two questionable penalties early in the frame and giving Boston a five-on-three advantage for more than a minute. But Toronto’s penalty killing was phenomenal and the Bruins failed to capitalize.

Rielly added to the Leafs’ lead, scoring shortly after the Buds killed off the two penalties, and it was 3-1 Toronto.

The officials seemed to miss a couple of glaring infractions committed by Boston, which just made the Leafs more determined to win.

Even though Boston kept pressing, outshooting Toronto 13-8 in the third and 39-25 overall, the Leafs held their ground and McElhinney was excellent, letting in just the one Bruins’ goal.

Marleau (again!) scored the empty-netter to give the Leafs a 4-1 victory and their fourth win in a row for a 12-7-0 record.

The Leafs now have an extended rest (they deserve it) until Thursday, when they play the New Jersey Devils at the ACC.

Leafs Week 5: The Defense Rests

The Leafs literally have no defense for their performance this past week.

OCT. 30: LEAFS V. SAN JOSE SHARKS

The night started off on an emotional note as San Jose gave former Shark Patrick Marleau a heartfelt tribute as the fans welcomed him back for the first time since he left to join the Leafs. Marleau had spent his entire career in San Jose before coming to Toronto this season. It was a classy move by San Jose and you could tell Marleau was moved by the gesture.

I was hoping those tears I shed at the tribute would be the only ones that night and, for a while, things looked good for Toronto.

The Leafs opened up the scoring halfway through the first period when Auston Matthews got his ninth goal of the season following some great puck handling from William Nylander to create the scoring opportunity.

Although it was a late start — 10:30 p.m. EST — the Buds kept the Toronto-based faction of Leafs Nation awake and engaged in the early stages of the game if Twitter action was any indication. I, among others, tweeted appreciatively: “William Nylander is amazing.” And later: “Thanks for not putting me to sleep, #Leafs.” And then: “Freddie!” in appreciation of Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen, who keeps San Jose scoreless in the opening frame.

It was a whirlwind 20 minutes that passed in a flash. “That was a quick and exciting period,” I tweeted at 11:16. “At this rate, the game will be done before 1.”

By 11:45 in the second period, I was tweeting a different tune. “Damn!” and “Game tied 1-1” (Joe Pavelski). Mad-face emoji.

Although the Leafs had some great scoring chances, including a couple for Marleau, they couldn’t actually hit the net, garnering only two shots on goal in the entire second period. I think I was only exaggerating slightly when I tweeted: “San Jose has about 8,000.” The Leafs had Andersen to thank for keeping the Sharks at bay rather than their defensive play, which, as usual, was sorely lacking.

The Sharks scored a power play goal early in the third (Tim Heed) after Dominic Moore took a penalty for cross-checking and it was downhill for the Leafs from there. To be fair to Andersen, he was screened on that shot and hardly had a chance.

Toronto kept giving away the puck — I don’t like throwing players under the bus, but sleep deprivation makes me angry-tweet: “Oh, (Roman) Polak.” “Another giveaway!” “Why does it look like San Jose is always on the PP? Stop giving away the puck, #Leafs (Polak).”

The rest of the third period basically went like this: “Come on, #Leafs … Freddie deserves better.” “Another amazing save by Freddie.”

“CLEAR.THE.DAMN.PUCK.”

“How do I just auto-tweet: Great save by Freddie!”

Then the Leafs started playing a bit better: “JVR trying to make things happen.” “(Morgan) Rielly showing off now.” “But #Leafs just can’t score.”

At 12:57: “Now #Leafs firing all kinds of shots at the net.” “Only three minutes left in the game…”

San Jose got an empty-net goal (Joel Ward) to make it 3-1 with two minutes left in the game before the Leafs scored to come within one again. Toronto’s second goal was originally awarded to Kadri, but it was credited to Andreas Borgman the following day, giving the Swedish defenseman his first NHL goal. I had (rightfully) given the goal to Borgman the night before: “Andreas Borgman scores his first NHL goal and it’s 3-2 with 1:05 to go!”

But it was too little too late and the Sharks won it 3-2.

It was the Leafs’ third loss in a row.

NOV. 1: LEAFS V. ANAHEIM DUCKS

By Wednesday night, I was exhausted from having watched both the Leafs and Raptors play until 1 a.m. days before as both Toronto teams were on west-coast road trips, not to mention having stayed up until 2 a.m. to watch the World Series in between hockey and basketball.

Needless to say, I was not in a good mood and another Leafs’ loss would’ve sent me over the edge. Luckily, the Buds did not disappoint me this time.

Toronto started strong in the first period, scoring first when Connor Brown picked up his fourth goal off an excellent pass from James van Riemsdyk. The Leafs outshot the Ducks, but Anaheim evened the score (Ondrej Kase) and the opening frame ended in a 1-1 tie.

The Buds had a great chance in the second period when Matthews had a breakaway, but he hit the post. The Leafs had four penalties in two periods of play, but Anaheim could not score on the power play and Andersen stopped all 17 shots in the second frame, which ended the same as the first, tied at one goal apiece.

Marleau had the night he should’ve had in San Jose, scoring early in the third period to put the Leafs in the lead after showing some great hustle in front of the net. Marleau’s goal ended up being his 100th game-winning goal.

The Ducks thought they had scored with less than two minutes left to play, but it was ruled no goal after it was determined the puck was kicked into the net.

Andersen stopped 27 of 28 shots on goal by Anaheim, while Leo Komorov scored an empty-net goal to seal the 3-1 win for the Leafs.

NOV. 2: LEAFS V. LOS ANGELES KINGS

Playing back-to-back games is never easy, especially when you’re on the road and your opponent is the Los Angeles Kings AND you’re staying at the same hotel as the World Series champions, the Houston Astros, who may or may not have kept you up all night with their noisy celebrations…

Although the Leafs beat L.A. in their first meeting this season, tonight would be a different story.

The Kings took the lead early in the opening period after Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner fell on the ice and L.A. capitalized (Michael Amadio). Maybe it wasn’t Gardiner’s fault as he wasn’t the only Leaf to slip on the so-called “terrible ice” that night, but the Buds looked even more tired than I was. “The #Leafs look sleepier than I do.”

The Kings scored again on the power play and it was 2-0 before Leafs’ backup goalie Curtis McElhinney knew what had hit him. “I think the #Leafs were AT the party…”

Toronto has always relied on its offence to bail the team out during defensive lapses, but the Buds failed in that department as well and were unable to score on two power plays. L.A. scored again seconds before the first period ended, taking a 3-0 lead.

“That was a garbage first period for the Leafs,” said one of the TV talking heads at the beginning of the first intermission and I didn’t disagree with him.

The Leafs looked a little more awake in the second period, which is more than I could say for myself, but they just could not score. And it didn’t help that they kept getting penalties. L.A. scored (Tyler Toffoli) during the second Toronto penalty kill and it was 4-0 by midnight. Less than two minutes later, the Kings scored again (Toffoli again) and it was 5-0.

I was ready to call it a night (or morning) by this time, but then Matthews got his first ever penalty shot and scored a great goal — his 10th — to make it 5-1. Just two minutes later, Matthews made an excellent pass to Rielly, who scored with 1.5 seconds remaining in the period and it was 5-2 after 40 minutes of play.

I couldn’t go to bed now.

Brown scored early the third period during a Leafs power play and the Buds were now within two goals. Incredibly, the Leafs got another penalty shot when the Kings knocked their net off its moorings and Matthews took that one as well — that alone was worth staying up for — but, unfortunately, his shot was wide this time and the Leafs ran out of time.

Again, it was too little too late for the Leafs.

NOV. 4: LEAFS V. ST. LOUIS BLUES

Fan favorite Borgman got Toronto on the board first with his second NHL goal. It was a great goal by the 22-year-old defensemen off a great pass from Matt Martin and the Leafs led St. Louis 1-0.

The Blues outshot the Leafs 10-6 in the first period, but Andersen once again kept Toronto in the game by stopping all 10 shots on goal.

But the Blues came back with a vengeance in the second period, scoring early (Vladimir Tarasenko) to tie it up. St. Louis took the lead just past the seven-minute mark (Joel Edmundson) and made it 3-1 (Alex Pietrangelo) by the halfway point. The Leaf’s defense, once again, was in shambles.

St. Louis scored again early in the third period (Magnus Paajarvi) to make it 4-1. Although Tyler Bozak made it 4-2 less than a minute later, the Blues answered back 17 seconds after that (Vladimir Sobotka), restoring their three-goal lead.

The Blues took a 6-2 lead (Pietrangelo again) just five minutes later and Leafs Nation experienced that now-familiar sinking feeling.

As they’ve done lately in the third period, the Leafs fought back, with Brown scoring halfway into the period and Bozak netting his second of the night on a power play, cutting the Blues’ lead to 6-4. Toronto outshot St. Louis 12-8 in the third period, but they couldn’t score again and suffered another brutal loss.

It’s difficult to blame Andersen for the loss because the Leafs did not give him much support. As Bozak told media after the game: “We left him out to dry there and we have to be better in front of him.”

He’s right.

But while it’s easy to blame the Leafs for their poor defensive showing — and the Buds, to their credit, have no trouble owning up to their shortcomings — coach Mike Babcock needs to shoulder a lot of the blame. It is, after all, his job to lead his mostly young charges.

Leafs Nation — which is usually effusive in its praise of Babcock when Toronto is winning — was quick to roast the coach on this night, especially after he failed to challenge what was definitely interference on Andersen, which resulted in a goal for St. Louis. It was not fair to Freddie, no matter how badly the rest of the team was playing.

The bottom line is Babcock and the Leafs need to get their act together and soon, before their still-winning record becomes a losing record.

Leafs Week 4: No Need to be Scared

By Pat Cancilla

The Leafs lost two games in a row this past week. Cancel the parade.

I’m kidding, of course. But the Leafs have to play better defensively if they want to keep their winning record.

OCT. 23: LEAFS V. LOS ANGELES KINGS

The Buds started the week off well, breaking the L.A. Kings’ four-game winning streak on Monday.

Toronto came out fighting — literally — minutes into the game when Matt Martin took offense to a hit on Dominic Moore and both teams went to the penalty box.

Martin also opened up the scoring in the first period when he deflected a shot from Roman Polak, who played his first game with the Leafs after signing a one-year, $1.1-million contract the day before. But the goal was orchestrated by Mitch Marner, who has played some of his best hockey since being moved to the fourth line. The Kings challenged the goal, claiming there was goalie interference, but there clearly wasn’t and the goal stood. Martin looked like he was ready to fight anyone who said otherwise.

Polak seemed to forget that slashing to the hand is a penalty now and went to the box shortly after assisting on the goal, but L.A. was unable to capitalize as Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen was great in front of the net.

L.A. got a slashing penalty next, but the Leafs couldn’t put the puck past Jonathan Quick on the power play. But they did accidentally hit the Kings’ goalie in the head, who refused at first to leave the ice for concussion protocol. He left for about two seconds, came back on to the ice and then went back to the bench where the trainer checked him out for about 30 seconds.

The Kings, in fact, spent more time reviewing Leafs goals than they did reviewing Quick for a possible concussion. It was a bit of a farce in my opinion. The first period ended with Toronto leading 1-0.

Martin opened up the fighting in the second period, getting into his second scrap of the night. All the Leafs played a very physical game, including Andreas Borgman, who made some key hits. It was a nice change from the snoozer two nights earlier in Ottawa.

The Leafs scored again when Tyler Bozak made it 2-0 on a power play goal, but L.A. retaliated less than a minute later (Adrian Kempe) to make it a one-goal game once again. The Kings kept coming at the Leafs, but Andersen kept them from scoring any more in the frame and the second period ended with the Buds leading 2-1.

Marner thought he had scored in the third and so did the sold-out crowd at the Air Canada Centre, but it was deemed no goal after the officials claimed there was goalie interference. They got that wrong in my opinion. Patrick Marleau scored minutes later and that goal was challenged, too, but this time it went the Leafs’ way and Toronto led 3-1.

Bozak and James van Riemsdyk have taken a lot of heat lately for not pulling their weight, but tonight the two veterans worked their butts off. Bozie was rewarded with a goal and JVR was injured after falling in an awkward position against the boards. He crawled off the ice in pain but returned for his next shift. That shut up the haters for a minute.

Andersen continued to make some key stops for the Leafs, including a great splits save, until the Kings scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-2 (Trevor Lewis). It actually was a bad break for the Leafs who, up until that point, had been playing pretty well defensively. The Leafs continued to hold off the Kings in a real nail-biter toward the end of the game, culminating in a great win for the Buds.

OCT. 26: LEAFS V. CAROLINA HURRICANES

After coming off a hard-fought victory against the league-leading L.A. Kings, Leafs Nation expected Toronto to have an easy time against the lower-ranked Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, so did the Leafs. They should know better than to underestimate their opponents, having been underestimated all last season. But now the rest of the NHL is on to them and everyone knows the Leafs are a top-tier team and play them accordingly, which is just what Carolina did.

A lot of credit goes to the Hurricanes, who pounced on the Leafs early and often, taking a 2-0 lead before the Buds knew what hit them three minutes into the game (Josh Jooris, Teuvo Teravainen). Leafs Nation breathed a little easier when Auston Matthews got one back for the Buds near the halfway point of the first period and the Leafs looked to make a comeback, firing 15 shots at Carolina goalie Scott Darling. When Andersen made an incredible glove save while sprawled out in front of the net, the ACC erupted into chants of “Go Leafs Go!” But the Buds couldn’t muster any more goals and their defense let Freddie down as the Hurricanes scored again to end the period leading 3-1.

The Leafs were back within one after Moore scored early in the second period and Martin’s assist gave him his 100th point of his career. Zach Hyman tied it up a minute and a half later and the Leafs looked like they still had some life. But their offensive effort couldn’t make up for their defensive shortcomings and Carolina took the lead back (Victor Rask) before the end of the second period.

The Hurricanes scored two more (Brock McGinn, Jooris) in the third and the Leafs were unable to come back. It was the Leaf’s third loss of the season by a score of 6-3.

As Matthews said in the media scrum following the game: “We weren’t very good defensively. When we start like that, it’s going to be tough to win games.”

Yup.

OCT. 28: LEAFS V. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

After a lackluster performance against Carolina, the Leafs were expected to put up a better effort against Philadelphia.

With Martin and van Riemsdyk out with injuries, the Leafs called up Josh Leivo and Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Marlies, their AHL affiliate, so there was some hope that the “fresh blood” would help shake things up for the Buds. But although the two played well, it wasn’t enough to lead the Leafs past the Flyers.

It was a promising start for Toronto, defensively speaking, when the game was still scoreless almost halfway into the first period. When the Buds got on the board first — Nazem Kadri off a gorgeous pass from Matthews at 9:07 — Leafs Nation could almost smell a victory. After all, losing consecutive games was unheard of for the Leafs so far this season.

But the Buds’ lead disintegrated three minutes later when the Flyers tied it up (Brandon Manning) and then took the lead (Jakub Voracek) before the first period ended.

Philadelphia went up 3-1 after a power play goal (Valtteri Filppula) at the halfway point of the second period and it was deja vu all over again for Leafs Nation. Two minutes later, Kadri scored his second of the night to put the Leafs within one, but the Flyers scored again (Claude Giroux) two minutes after that to restore their two-goal lead.

Although the Leafs had several scoring chances in the third period, they couldn’t capitalize and they fell to the Flyers 4-2.

Like in the game against Carolina, there were some questionable calls by the officials — including a terrible icing call — and some non-calls against the Flyers — reminiscent of the Broad Street Bullies of old — who got away with several hacks, trips and slashes. The Leafs also had some bad luck and hit a few posts, so this loss wasn’t all down to poor performance.

That’s not to absolve the Buds of any blame, but as coach Mike Babcock put it after the game: The Leafs were not as good as they thought they were (when they were winning) and they’re not as bad as they think they are (now).

 

Leafs: Week 3

Two out of three ain’t bad

The Leafs started the week off flying and ended it crashing back to Earth.

OCT. 17: LEAFS V. WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Right off the opening faceoff, the speedy William Nylander jumped on the puck and flew to the net, but he shot it wide in the first of many great scoring chances for the Leafs. By just the three-minute mark, it seemed as if virtually every Leaf had taken a shot on goal, or at least attempted to hit the net, but they kept missing their target. Still, it was an exciting first period, as the Capitals just couldn’t keep up with the speedy Buds. Washington had a few scoring opportunities as well, but they could not put the puck past Frederik Andersen and the first period ended in a scoreless tie with seven shots on goal for each side.

Despite both Toronto’s and Washington’s incredible offensive starts (Leafs first overall; Capitals fourth), neither side managed to score in the second period either with 10 shots apiece. That’s not to say that either side’s defense was great, because it wasn’t. But the game wasn’t boring either, as the first two periods seemed to fly by.

The Leafs continued to shoot wide or hit goal-posts and failed to score on the power play when Alexander Ovechkin was finally penalized in the third period. Washington failed to capitalize on its power play shortly after that when Tyler Bozak sat in the penalty box, managing just one shot on goal.

Finally, Connor Brown broke the deadlock and the Leafs led 1-0. Defenseman Morgan Rielly got the assist.

Brown was playing with Bozak and James van Riemsdyk on this night after coach Mike Babcock “demoted” their usual linemate, Mitch Marner, to the fourth line. There was some debate about whether it was Bozie or JVR who were the real problems with the line, not Mitch, but there were also some calls to “trade Marner” as Leafs Nation lost its mind. Then everyone regained their composure after remembering that Nylander had been demoted last year amid calls to trade him and then became one of the Leafs’ best players. Maybe Mitch could use a change; after all, he has been a little off his game recently. (And already we have seen some improvement in his performance, so calm down, everyone.)

And speaking of Nylander, he put on a great show of speed, skating and puck-handling skills, controlling the puck like there was glue on his stick, and embarrassing the Capitals in the process.

Another talented Leaf who was a thorn in the Capitals’ side, especially Ovechkin’s, on Saturday night (as he was in the playoffs earlier this year) was Nazem Kadri. He had a great chance to score in the third, but his shot was too high and missed the net.

After that, the Leafs got a bit sloppy in their own end, but they managed to keep their opponents from scoring, forcing the Capitals to pull their goalie late in the period.

In a brilliant effort to escape the clutches of Ovechkin, Kadri cemented the Leafs’ 2-0 victory with an empty-net goal and silenced whatever little crowd was left in the Washington stands.

Frederik Andersen earned the shutout, stopping all 30 of Washington’s shots.

OCT. 18: LEAFS V. DETROIT RED WINGS

The Leafs were back home at the Air Canada Centre the next night to take on the Red Wings.

To be honest, I didn’t expect the Buds to have any gas left in the tank after such an energetic performance in Washington less than 24 hours earlier. But I was wrong.

After playing two scoreless periods in the U.S. capital Tuesday night and scoring only two in the third (low in terms of Leafs’ standards), the Buds were hungry for points in Toronto Wednesday night.

After scoring the last goal the night before, Kadri opened up the scoring on home ice, and the Leafs led 1-0 early in the first period. Zach Hyman scored 43 seconds later to make it 2-0 Toronto. The Leafs had two shots and two goals with less than seven minutes played.

Detroit got one past Leafs’ backup goalie Curtis McElhinney (Henrik Zetterberg) before Auston Matthews restored the two-goal lead and, 40 seconds later, Brown made it 4-1 for the Buds. At this point, the Leafs had four goals on just five shots, prompting all kinds of abuse on Twitter against Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who was pulled after the Matthews goal and replaced by backup Petr Mrazek. The Leafs have made a habit of chasing goaltenders out of the game after just one period . . .

But the abuse was also leveled against McElhinney, who didn’t really deserve it as the Leafs’ defense did not help him out much on the next two Detroit goals in the second period (Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Ericsson). But there was nothing wrong with the Leafs’ offense as Rielly got one back on the power play to give Toronto a 5-3 lead after 40 minutes of play. Shots were tied at 17 apiece.

The third period got off to a flying start as there was no whistle until about the six-minute mark. The Red Wings fired 15 shots at McElhinney in the final frame, but he managed to keep them from scoring. He may be no Freddie Andersen, but he did the job of a backup goalie and the Leafs got the win. Nylander got the empty-net goal to make it a 6-3 final.

OCT. 21: LEAFS V. OTTAWA SENATORS

That game I was expecting the Buds to lose came Saturday night at the expense of Ottawa. This time, it was the Leafs who would fall 6-3.

The Senators have been accused of being boring for their defensive style of play and tonight was no exception. They even made the Leafs look boring and that’s hard to do. Even worse, they made the Buds look slow, which is something they’re not. Needless to say, the game was a snooze-fest for Leafs Nation.

I actually felt bad for the boring Senators because they couldn’t even fill their own rink with fans. Many of the fans present Saturday night were Toronto fans loudly chanting “Go Leafs Go!” Despite its billing as “The Battle of Ontario” I personally don’t consider Ottawa to be such a hated rival on the scale of Montreal or Boston, so if the Leafs are going to lose to a tough defensive team after playing hard and winning two high-flying, high-scoring games in the same week, I can live with that.

But that’s not to say that the Leafs are off the hook for their less-than-stellar performance. They knew Ottawa’s style of play and they should have been prepared for it. They weren’t and it cost them.

The Senators lulled the Leafs to sleep early in the opening period, limiting Toronto to eights shots on goal to their 13. I, too, was in danger of nodding off until Ottawa scored (Nate Thompson) late in the period and the incredibly loud bullhorn shook me out of my slumber. The first frame ended 1-0 for Ottawa.

Although the Leafs looked a little more awake in the second period, they couldn’t get a shot past Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson. The Senators, however, had no trouble scoring (Ryan Dzingel, Derick Brassard) against the Leafs’ Andersen, leading 3-0 after 40 minutes.

By this point, I was ready to turn my attention to the Toronto Raptors, who were beating the crap out of the 76ers, or the Astros, who were doing the same to the Yankees, but being the loyal Leafs fan that I am, I resumed watching the hockey game following the second intermission.

And for a while in the third, it looked like the Buds were ready to mount a comeback when van Riemsdyk tipped in a shot by Ron Hainsey, cutting Ottawa’s lead to 3-1. Less than three minutes later, Matthews scored off a pass from Nylander and it was a one-goal game.

Leafs’ fans in the stands went wild and no amount of filters could dampen their loud cheers or their spirits. Then boring Ottawa called a timeout and scored shortly afterwards (Mark Stone). But the fans kept cheering for their beloved Leafs and that got them going to the point that Ottawa had to take an interference penalty. Nylander promptly scored on the power play and Toronto was back within one goal. Marner had a great chance to tie it up, but Anderson made sure he didn’t and the Leafs ran out of time after Ottawa scored an empty-net goal (Stone).

Boring Ottawa won the game and I still had time to watch the Raptors obliterate Philly and the Astros eliminate the Yankees.

Just like the Leafs’ week, two out of three ain’t bad.

What we learned after back to back games in Florida

The Pittsburgh Penguins split back to back games in Florida, beating the Panthers on Friday 4-3 and getting blown out by the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-1. This follows a familiar pattern this year where they play strong in the first game of a back-to-back series, then play poorly in the 2nd game. Why is this? Let’s see what we learned:

1) The Penguins have backup goaltender problem

There’s no hiding it now – Antii Niemi is awful. In 3 games, he has a Goals Against Average of 7.50. He hasn’t given the team a chance to win and you have to wonder how long he’ll be on this team. Do they need to make a trade? Should they call up Tristan Jarry? Do they stick with him? Time will tell.

2) Are they tired?

Why does the NHL force teams to play 2 games in 2 nights? The Penguins next game is in 3 days. They easily could’ve scheduled a game on Friday and Sunday. It doesn’t help the Penguins, who have played more games than any other team the last 2 years. After the Lightning game, coach Sullivan called the team ‘flawed’ and that it doesn’t’ have to do with back-to-backs. Then why do they always play strong in the first game of the back-to-back and terrible in the 2nd game?

3) Help is on the way!

The Penguins traded Scott Wilson and a 2018 3rd round pick to Detroit for center Riley Sheahan and a 2018 5th round pick. Sheahan will be 3rd line center that the Penguins badly need. Greg McKegg was in that role and did okay but he’ll be better as the 4th line center. Hopefully this fills the void left by losing Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen in the offseason.

Islanders @ Rangers Pre-Game 10/19/17

The first of 3 match-ups between the cross-town rival New York Islanders is tonight starting in the World’s Most Famous Arena at 7:00pm. This is a great opportunity to get back into the win column since both teams have been struggling this season, Rangers 1-5-1 and the Islanders 2-3-1. After a gut-wrenching and horribly played overtime in Tuesday’s game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers look to improve on their game and not make too many mental mistakes in their own zone.

The forward lines and D-pairs will be the same as Tuesday:

Forwards:

Nash – Zibanejad – Zuccarello

Kreider – Desharnais – Miller

Vesey – Hayes – Fast

Grabner – Cracknell – Buchnevich

Defense:

McDonagh – DeAngelo

Skjei – Smith

Staal – Shattenkirk

Goalies:

Lundqvist – Pavelec

Personally, seeing David Desharnais as the second line center Tuesday night was baffling knowing his play style. But he impressed me, he hustled and made plays in the offensive zone that I didn’t know he was capable of (not to mention he sniped one over Matt Murray’s shoulder with a surprise release. I witnessed it live). Another lineup move that shocked me was Buchnevich on the 4th line. He’s been one of the most effective forwards on the team since the start of this season, disregarding the -3, he has a goal and 3 assists this year through 7 games. Thankfully he’s getting power play time with Zibanejad and Nash, his production with increase drastically with those two.

Nothing changes on defense. I don’t like Staal and Shattenkirk on a pairing together because Shattenkirk is offensive-minded so if he pinches and gets beat it’s up to Staal to make a play and he’s been declining for 2 years now. Neither are a defensive powerhouse, especially not the veteran Staal. What I do enjoy, however, is McDonagh and DeAngelo on the first pairing. As much as I would like to see Skjei and McDonagh play together, it’s better to keep Skjei and Smith as the 2nd pair because of their chemistry.

Lundqvist gets the start over Pavelec because he’s seen the Islanders more frequently than his back-up.

The Islanders lines and D-pairs look like this*:

Forwards:

Lee – Tavares – Eberle

Ladd – Barzal – Bailey

Chimera – Nelson – Ho-Sang

Pulock – Cizikas – Clutterbuck

Defense:

Leddy – Boychuk

De Haan – Pelech

Hickey – Mayfield

Goalies:

Halak – Greiss

*subject to change

All eyes are on rookie Ryan Pulock making his debut tonight. The #15th overall pick from the 2013 entry draft is a mobile puck-moving defenseman with a 102mph slapshot from the blue line. He registered 46 points for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 55 games last season, 15 of those points being goals. He practiced on the power play with Tavares, Leddy, Eberle, and Lee Wednesday morning (Cory Wright). Doug Weight did not specify who would be out of the lineup for the 23-year-old Pulock.

No surprise to see that Halak is the guy in net tonight for the Isles at the Garden. His numbers against the Rangers are incredible. Toting a 7-3-0 record, 2.39GAA and a .931 SV% with a shutout since joining the team in 2014.

Puck drop is at 7pm tonight at Madison Square Garden.